posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Supply chain logistics is a headache and a half across any industry, but the difficulty level goes way up within the world of cannabis. Because of federal laws, FedEx, UPS and USPS are not an option. Distributors need a variety of licenses and must operate within specific regulation. For example, cannabis brands must either become their own first-party distributor, with W2 employees and company-owned cars, distribution centers, etc., or use a licensed third-party distributor. Wayv, the B2B cannabis logistics platform founded by serial entrepreneur Keith McCarty, is looking to solve this problem with the launch of its Dynamic Distribution platform. Of course, Wayv has been operational for upwards of a year, having received $5 million in seed led by Craft Ventures’ David Sacks (former coworker to McCarty from the Yammer days) back in October 2018. Today, however, marks the public launch of Dynamic Distribution, which not only connects brands, retailers and distributors to streamline cannabis supply chain logistics, but allows brands to list themselves as third-party distributors for other brands. Plus, the platform automatically checks for compliance with all parties on the platform across federal, state and local laws. While companies like Anvyl and Flexport are looking to support other, less regulated industries in their supply chain logistics evolution, the cannabis industry has been mostly left in the paper age. Wayv aims to streamline that by providing a single interface for brands, retailers and distributors to move cannabis products within the state of California. For the past year, Wayv’s platform has helped power logistics among several cannabis brands — Caliva, Kurvana, High Style Brewing Company, and GoldDrop to name a few — as well as distributor Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group. With Dynamic Distribution, brands who handle their own distribution can hop on the Wayv platform and get listed as a third-party distributor for other brands, opening up new revenue streams. Plus, this will allow brands across the state to access a much bigger pool of distribution options, allowing for small upstart brands to get selling without scaling up their own distribution operation. Wayv generates revenue on a per transaction basis, charging a 15 percent fee to brands. Thus far, the startup has more than 80 brands on the platform. McCarty says that one of the obstacles of an on-demand logistics business is supply constraint. He likened it to consumer on-demand services, like Uber and Lyft, whose growth is dependent on the number of drivers they can get on the platform. “In the cannabis environment, there are so many compliance and licensing requirements, along with packaging and product testing requirements — which are all amazing and necessary — that we live in this environment that is very fragmented,” said McCarty. “It’s the fastest growing industry in the world, and there’s no Coca-Cola or Starbucks. There are no big chains. Just small companies individually. This means a lot more friction and a lot more need for something like Wayv to help solve the problem.” McCarty has plenty of experience in the cannabis sector. Prior to Wayv, McCarty founded Eaze, the on-demand cannabis delivery platform for consumers. Before Eaze, McCarty was an early employee at Yammer, which was sold to Microsoft in June 2012 for $1.2 billion.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Google said today it is bringing its mobile payments app — Google Pay — to businesses in India and introducing a jobs discovery feature as the Android-maker rushes to maintain its lead in one of its key overseas markets before its global rival Facebook expands its payment offerings in the country. At its annual event in India, the company said even as more than 400 million people in India are online today, most businesses in the nation remain unconnected. Through a Google Pay for Business standalone app, they will be able to quickly start accepting digital payments and build their digital business profile. Additionally, Google announced Spot Platform that will allow businesses to create their own store fronts on Google Pay app itself. For instance, they can use QR-like codes to offer some offerings to customers without having to build their own apps, company executives said. Google launched its payments app Google Pay (called Tez then) in 2017. Its payments service, built on top of Indian government-backed UPI payments infrastructure, is already among the top payment apps in the category. But without any additional services, Google Pay would have had a tough time competing with Facebook’s WhatsApp, which is set to expand its mobile payments feature, also built on top of UPI, to all of its 400 million users in India. WhatsApp’s popularity remains unmatched in India. The payments market in India — which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2023, according to a Credit Suisse — is aggressively crowded and competitive. Google today competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe, Amazon Pay, and Paytm, the country’s most popular mobile wallet app whose parent company has raised over $2.3 billion from investors. Paytm is currently focusing on expanding its reach in the nation and not profits. The company, which posted more than half a billion of loss last year, said earlier this month it intends to invest another $3 billion into its business in the next two years. The company is also bringing a feature that will enable users to discover jobs through Google Pay apps itself.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Over the years, Google has expanded the reach of its digital assistant service to include people who own internet-enabled feature phones. Now the search giant is bringing the service to users who don’t have access to internet at all. At an event in New Delhi on Thursday, the company announced phone line that will anyone on Vodafone-Idea telecom network could dial to have their questions answered. Users will be able to dial 000-800-9191-000 and they won’t be charged for the call or the service. More to folliow…

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
French startup Qwant, whose non-tracking search engine has been gaining traction in its home market as a privacy-respecting alternative to Google, has made a change to its senior leadership team as it gears up for the next phase of growth. Former Mozilla Europe president, Tristan Nitot, who joined Qwant last year as VP of advocacy, has been promoted to chief executive, taking over from François Messager — who also joined in 2018 but is now leaving the business. Qwant co-founder, Eric Leandri, meanwhile, continues in the same role as president. Nitot, an Internet veteran who worked at Netscape and helped to found Mozilla Europe in 1998, where he later served as president and stayed until 2015 before leaving to write a book on surveillance, brings a wealth of experience in product and comms roles, as well as open source. Most recently he spent several years working for personal cloud startup, Cozy Cloud. “I’m basically here to help [Leandri] grow the company and structure the company,” Nitot tells TechCrunch, describing Qwant’s founder as an “amazing entrepreneur, audacious and visionary”. Market headwinds have been improving for the privacy-focused Google rival in recent years as concern about foreign data-mining tech giants has stepped up in Europe. Last year the French government announced it would be switching its search default from Google to Qwant. Buying homegrown digital tech now apparently seen as a savvy product choice as well as good politics. Meanwhile antitrust attention on dominant search giant Google, both at home and abroad, has led to policy shifts that directly benefit search rivals — such as an update of the default lists baked into its chromium engine which was quietly put out earlier this year. That behind the scenes change saw Qwant added as an option for users in the French market for the first time. (On hearing the news a sardonic Leandri thanked Google — but suggested Qwant users choose Firefox or the Brave browser for a less creepy web browsing experience.) “A lot of companies and institutions have decided and have realized basically that they’ve been using a search engine which is not European. Which collects data. Massively. And that makes them uncomfortable,” says Nitot. “They haven’t made a conscious decision about that. Because they bring in a computer which has a browser which has a search engine in it set by default — and in the end you just don’t get to choose which search engine your people use, right. “And so they’re making a conscious decision to switch to Qwant. And we’ve been spending a lot of time and energy on that — and it’s paying off big time.” As well as the French administration’s circa 3M desktops being switched by default to Qwant (which it expects will be done this quarter), the pro-privacy search engine has been getting traction from other government departments and regional government, as well as large banks and schools, according to Nitot. He credits a focus on search products for schoolkids with generating momentum, such as Qwant Junior, which is designed for kids aged 6-12, and excludes sex and violence from search results as well as being ad free. (It’s set to get an update in the next few weeks.) It has also just been supplemented by Qwant School: A school search product aimed at 13-17 year olds. “All of that creates more users — the kids talk to their parents about Qwant Junior, and the parents install Qwant.com for them. So there’s a lot of momentum creating that growth,” Nitot suggests. Qwant says it handled more than 18 billion search requests in 2018. A growing business needs money to fuel it of course. So fundraising efforts involving convertible bonds is one area Nitot says he’ll be focused on in the new role. “We are raising money,” he confirms. Increasing efficiency — especially on the engineering front — is another key focus for the new CEO. “The rest will be a focus on the organization, per se, how we structure the organization. How we evolve the company culture. To enable or to improve delivery of the engineering team, for example,” he says. “It’s not that it’s bad it’s just that we need to make sure every dollar or every euro we invest gives as much as possible in return.” Product wise, Nitot’s attention in the near term will be directed towards shipping a new version of Qwant’s search engine that will involve reengineering core tech to improve the quality of results. “What we want to do [with v2] is to improve the quality of the results,” he says of the core search product. “You won’t be able to notice any difference, in terms of quality, with the other really good search engines that you may use — except that you know that your privacy is respected by Qwant. “[As we raise more funding] we will be able to have a lot more infrastructure to run better and more powerful algorithms. And so we plan to improve that internationally… Every language will benefit from the new search engine. It’s also a matter of money and infrastructure to make this work on a web scale. Because the web is huge and it’s growing. “The new version includes NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology… for understanding language, for understanding intentions — for example do you want to buy something or are you looking for a reference… or a place or a thing. That’s the kind of thing we’re putting in place but it’s going to improve a lot for every language involved.” Western Europe will be the focus for v2 of the search engine, starting with French, German, Italian, Spanish and English — with a plan to “go beyond that later on”. Nitot also says there will also be staggered rollouts (starting with France), with Qwant planning to run old and new versions in parallel to quality check the new version before finally switching users over. “Shipping is hard as we used to say at Mozilla,” he remarks, refusing to be fixed to a launch date for v2 (beyond saying it’ll arrive in “less than a year”). “It’s a universal rule; shipping a new product is hard, and that’s what we want to do with version 2… I’ve been writing software since 1980 and so I know how predictions are when it comes to software release dates. So I’m very careful not to make promises.” Developing more of its own advertising technologies is another focus for Qwant. On this front the aim is to improve margins by leaning less on partners like Microsoft . “We’ve been working with partners until now, especially on the search engine result pages,” says Nitot. “We put Microsoft advertising on it. And our goal is to ramp up advertising technologies so that we rely on our own technologies — something that we control. And that hopefully will bring a better return.” Like Google, Qwant monetizes searches by serving ads alongside results. But unlike Google these are contextual ads, meaning they are based on general location plus the substance of the search itself; rather than targeted ads which entail persistent tracking and profiling of Internet users in order to inform the choice of ad (hence feeling like ads are stalking you around the Internet). Serving contextual ads is a choice that lets Qwant offer a credible privacy pledge that Mountain View simply can’t match. Yet up until 2006 Google also served contextual ads, as Nitot points out, before its slide into privacy-hostile microtargeting. “It’s a good old idea,” he argues of contextual ads. “We’re using it. We think it really is a valuable idea.”  Qwant is also working on privacy-sensitive ad tech. One area of current work there is personalization. It’s developing a client-side, browser-based encrypted data store, called Masq, that’s intended to store and retrieve application data through a WebSocket connection. (Here’s the project Masq Github page.) “Because we do not know the person that’s using the product it’s hard to make personalization of course. So we plan to do personalization of the product on the client side,” he explains. “Which means the server side will have no more details than we currently do, but on the client side we are producing something which is open source, which stores data locally on your device — whether that’s a laptop or smartphone — in the browser, it is encrypted so that nobody can reuse it unless you decide that you want that to happen. “And it’s open source so that it’s transparent and can be audited and so that people can trust the technology because it runs on their own device, it stores on their device.” “Right now it’s at alpha stage,” Nitot adds of Masq, declining to specify when exactly it might be ready for a wider launch. The new CEO’s ultimate goal for Qwant is to become the search engine for Europe — a hugely ambitious target that remains far out of reach for now, with Google still commanding in excess of 90% regional marketshare. (A dominance that has got its business embroiled in antitrust hot water in Europe.) Yet the Internet of today is not the same as the Internet of yesterday when Netscape was a browsing staple — until Internet Explorer knocked it off its perch after Microsoft bundled its rival upstart as the default browser on Windows. And the rest, as they say, is Internet history. Much has changed and much is changing. But abuses of market power are an old story. And as regulators act against today’s self-interested defaults there are savvy alternatives like Qwant primed and waiting to offer consumers a different kind of value. “Qwant is created in Europe for the European citizens with European values,” says Nitot. “Privacy being one of these values that are central to our mission. It is not random that the CNIL — the French data protection authority — was created in France in 1978. It was the first time that something like that was created. And then GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] was created in Europe. It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a matter of values and the way people see their life and things around them, politics and all that. We have a very deep concern about privacy in France. It’s written in the European declaration of human rights. “We build a product that reflects those values — so it’s appealing to European users.”

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Indonesia has one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world, but the logistics industry there is still very fragmented, creating headaches for both vendors and customers. Shipper is a startup with the ambitious goal of giving online sellers access to “Amazon-level logistics.” The company has raised $5 million in seed funding from Lightspeed Ventures, Floodgate Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners and Y Combinator (Shipper is part of the accelerator’s winter 2019 batch), which will be used for hiring and customer acquisition. Shipper was launched in 2017 by co-founders Phil Opamuratawongse and Budi Handoko, and is now used by more than 25,000 online sellers. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is growing rapidly, but online sellers still face many logistical hurdles. The country is large (Indonesia has more than 17,500 islands, of which 600 are inhabited) and unlike the United States, where Amazon dominates, e-commerce sellers often use multiple platforms, like Tokopedia, Shopee, Bukalapak and Lazada. Smaller vendors also sell through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social media. Once an order has been placed, the challenge of making sure it gets to customers starts. There are more than 2,500 logistics providers in Indonesia, many of whom only cover a small area. “It is really hard for any one provider to do nationwide themselves, so the big ones usually use local partners to fulfill locations where they don’t have infrastructure,” says Opamuratawongse. The startup’s mission is to create a platform that makes the process of fulfilling and tracking orders much more efficient. In addition to a package pick-up service and fulfillment centers, Shipper also has a technology stack to help logistics providers manage shipments. It is used to predict the best shipping routes and consolidate packages headed in the same direction and also provides a multi-carrier API that allows sellers to manage orders, print shipping labels and get tracking information from multiple providers on their phones. When it launched three years ago, Shipper began by focusing on the last-mile for smaller vendors, who Opamuratawongse says typically keep inventory in their homes and fulfill about five to 10 orders per day. Since many give customers a choice of several logistics providers, that meant they needed to visit multiple drop-off locations every morning. Shipper offers pick-up service performed by couriers (who Opamuratawongse says are people like stay-at-home parents who want flexible, part-time work) who collect packages from several vendors in the same neighborhood and distribute them to different logistics providers, serving as micro-fulfillment hubs. Shipper signs up about 10 to 30 new couriers each week, keeping them at least 2.5 kilometers apart so they don’t compete against each other. The company began setting up fulfillment centers to keep up with vendors whose businesses were growing and were turning to third-party warehouse services. Shipper has established 10 fulfillment centers so far across Indonesia, including Jakarta, with plans to open a new one about every two weeks until it covers all of Indonesia. Opamuratawongse says he expects the logistics industry in Indonesia to remain fragmented for the next decade at least, and perhaps longer because of Indonesia’s size and geography. Shipper will focus on expanding in Indonesia first, with the goal of having 1,000 microhubs within the next year and 15 to 20 fulfillment centers. Then the company plans to tackle other Southeast Asian countries with rapidly-growing e-commerce markets, including Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
Cannalysis, a testing company for cannabis, has raised $22.6 million in a new round of financing as it prepares to bring a new test for vaping additives to the market. The test, which the company is preparing to unveil later this week, will test for the presence and amount of Vitamin E acetate, a chemical compound that may be linked to the vaping related illness that has swept through the U.S. in the past month. Cannalysis chief executive Brian Lannon said the new product was developed in response to the current crisis in the cannabis industry over illnesses related to vaping cannabis products. “The big story that’s been going out over the last week isn’t the product that’s going out in cannabis, but an additive called Vitamin E acetate. We have  developed a test for that,” Lannon says. “As part of the different compliance testing that’s required, it’s not mandated to test for any of these additives… What I’m anticipating based on the phone calls we’ve been getting is that a lot of our customers want to get the test to show that they’re not using the stuff.” The Santa Ana, Calif.-based company tracks cannabis products across its companies supply chain and provides data management and integration services for its customers so they can immediately update their own tracking systems with the results of Cannalysis’ tests. It also integrates directly with consumer services like Weedmaps, so consumers can get third party verification of the strength of the dosage. Quality assurance for cannabis products isn’t just a matter of legal compliance. The percentage of THC that’s available in different strains can impact the price producers can charge for their product, Lannon says. “The price of a cannabis product can vary greatly based on its potency,” he says. “Right now the number in the market is 20 percent. If your product tests at 18 percent instead of twenty percent, that can mean a huge difference in cost.” While testing variance is a problem for the industry, Cannalysis says its highly automated lab, which relies on robotics and machine learning to increase the speed and accuracy of its testing, along with the integrated software services it offers to customers, exceeds the standards for ISO accreditation. Certainly that’s what attracted CanLab, the nation’s largest testing service to commit $22 million to the company as a strategic investor. Lannon says the new cash will be used to expand into new markets including Oregon, where the company has already made an initial hiring push, and other highly regulated cannabis markets. A serial entrepreneur who previously founded an action sports apparel company called HK Army and MetaThreads, an esports clothing company, Lannon came to the cannabis industry initially as a user of the substance. As the market matured his interest was piqued in developing technologies that could ascertain the quality of various cannabis products. His timing was exceptional. Investors have spent nearly $16 billion on North American cannabis companies in 2018, double the amount invested just three years ago,  according to data from the analytics company New Frontier Data cited by the Associated Press. And the Marijuana Business Factbook projects that the economic impact of the legal industry was somewhere between $20 billion and $23 billion in 2017. Its a number that could grow to $77 billion by 2022.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Netflix is today a company whose valuation hovers around $130 billion, but it was, of course, once a little startup, and in his new book “That Will Never Work,” Netflix’s cofounder and its first CEO Marc Randolph takes readers on a fun and surprisingly vivid journey through the streaming giant’s earliest days. It’s also instructive, though this is more memoir than business book, and Randolph, who is the great nephew of Edward Bernays — a  public relations pioneer — turns out to be a very compelling writer, explaining in sometimes humbling detail how and why the company eventually outgrew him, and the reason he doesn’t regret stepping away when he did. In fact, rather than lament past decisions, Randolph seems to relish his longtime work as a startup advisor, one who often has no financial ties to the companies he helps. As he explains it, there is a “role for someone in a founder’s life who isn’t a board member or an investor or an employee. The role of a founder-CEO is extremely lonely. You can’t always be fully forthcoming with your board or investors or employees. And if you go to your peers and you bring them an issue, they don’t really understand. So it’s very valuable for a founder who doesn’t have an ulterior motive but also understands a problem well enough that they can give really good advice.” We had a chance to catch up with Randolph earlier today to discuss the book and his current relationship with his Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings, who he met when the company that Hastings began running in 1991, Pure Atria, acquired Randolph’s company, Integrity QA Software, (They both found themselves searching out the next big thing when Pure Atria was itself acquired.) Randolph also shared why it took him 16 years to tell his story about what has become one of the most impactful companies in the history of television. TC: We’re still zipping through the book but there is a lot of great storytelling here, from scenes with you and Reed carpooling to the office together, to some of earlier startup ideas you ran past him and he didn’t think much of, including customized baseball bats. Did you write this alone? MR: Of course, I had help, you can’t write about something as important as Netflix by yourself. Over the course of one-and-a-half years, I spent tons of time on the phone and [engaged in] email correspondence and in meetings with everyone I could track down, because I wanted to hear all those stories again. But this isn’t a ghostwritten book and it’s not a as-told-to book. I did write it with the help of a great editor. In fact, the book was originally conceived as more of a self-help book, but my editor came back and said, “You shouldn’t do this as a ‘you’ book. Make it a ‘me’ book. Make the lessons you’ve learn over your career implicit instead of explicit.” But I’ve been writing all my life. I was a direct marketing guy [before founding Netflix]. I had to restrain myself from writing things like, “Frankly, I’m puzzled,” and “But wait! There’s more!” TC: You left Netflix in 2003. Why not write a book sooner? MR: I needed to wait all that time. Even though I needed to tell the story, I didn’t really understand the lessons. It has taken me working with other early-stage companies and mentoring them and investing in them to make these connections. Why did Netflix work? What were my failings? What could I have done better? TC: You’re pretty candid in the book about not being punctual and not having great attention to detail, but these are minor offenses. 

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
It’s getting down to the wire for your opportunity to show off your early-stage startup in Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this October 2-4. There’s simply no better way to place your ideas and technology in front of influential change agents that can help you propel your business forward and set the stage for future success. Here are just four of the many reasons you should exhibit in Startup Alley. 1. Awesome exposure to the media  Along with 10,000+ attendees, Disrupt SF will have more than 400 members of the media. We’re talking the big guns — CNBC, Bloomberg, Forbes, Financial Times — alongside TechCrunch writers, scouring the floor looking for stories about fascinating founders, emerging tech trends or maybe even a future unicorn. Scoring media coverage can work wonders for your bottom line — as Luke Heron, CEO of TestCard, learned when he exhibited in Startup Alley: We got a fantastic writeup in Engadget, which was really valuable. Cash at the beginning of the start-up journey is difficult to come by, and an article from a credible organization can help push things in the right direction. Last year, TestCard closed a $1.7 million funding round. 2. Beaucoup investor attention Journalists aren’t the only influencers perusing the tech and talent on display in Startup Alley. Investors are just as eager to find up-and-coming prospects to add to their portfolios. It’s the perfect place to start conversations and develop relationships that lead to big changes. And we’ve got a plethora of investors (both traditional VCs and corporate folk) in the Valley: Sequoia, Verizon Ventures, GV, SoftBank, Naspers, AT&T, Honda Innovations and more. Here’s what David Hall, co-founder of Park & Diamond, had to say about his experience: Exhibiting in Startup Alley was a game-changer. The chance to have discussions and potentially form relationships with investors was invaluable. It completely changed our trajectory and made it easier to raise funds and jump to the next stage. Last year, Park & Diamond closed its first round of funding, allowing the company to relocate to New York and make its first key hires. 3. Wild Card shot at the Startup Battlefield competition Missed out on the Startup Battlefield applications? All exhibitors in Startup Alley get a chance to win one of TWO Wild Card entries to the Startup Battlefield pitch competition. TechCrunch editors will select two standout startups as Wild Card teams that will go on the Main Stage to compete head-to-head in Startup Battlefield for $100,000 equity-free cash, the Disrupt Cup and even more glorious investor and media attention.  4. Free hotel stay for Startup Alley companies who book now With all of those reasons, it’s hard to top all the value you’ll get from a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, but we’ll even sweeten the deal and throw in a complimentary 3-night stay at a SF hotel if you book by Wednesday, September 25. All of this opportunity for $1,995 sounds like it’s too good to be true, but if you act now, this can become your reality. There you have it. What are you waiting for? Buy your Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and strut your stuff at Disrupt San Francisco 2019.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Colin Bendell Contributor Share on Twitter Colin is Senior Director of Analytics and Strategy for Cloudinary, the co co-author of High Performance Images, and passionate about data, web performance and user experience. Brands are often left to act like the person who searches for their keys under the streetlight simply because that is where the light is better. However, when brand marketers focus only on engaging with the customers they can more easily see — where online activity is visible — they risk overlooking the valuable opportunities hiding in darker spaces. One of the most valuable of those dark web spaces is in the realm of what we call “microbrowsers” — the messaging apps like Slack, WhatsApp and WeChat. We call them microbrowsers because they display miniature previews of web pages inside private message discussions. These previews, also known as ‘unfurled links’, create your brand’s first impression and play a big role in whether or not the person on the receiving end will click through to buy, or read or engage. Google Analytics lumps all microbrowser-generated web traffic into the ‘Direct’ bucket, which we often just ignore. This means we look for customers where we know how to create campaigns easily — on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and buying Google Ad Words. And as more people rely more heavily on messaging apps for primary communication, these link previews from microbrowsers are becoming the leading segment of your direct traffic visitors. In Cloudinary’s 2019 State of Visual Media Report, which drew on data from more than 700 customers and 200 billion transactions, we found that 77% of link sharing in Slack occurs during working hours and that the vast majority of the click-throughs are reported as ‘direct’ traffic. The rise of microbrowsers gives us an opportunity to engage and attract customers through word of mouth discussions. The good news is that the ‘leads’ that microbrowsers send to your brand site are usually highly qualified and close to the bottom of the traditional sales pipeline funnel. When consumers arrive on your site they are often ready and eager to buy (or read, view and listen to your content). Whether it be for sneakers, tickets to a concert, a birthday gift idea, or an article to read — a trusted peer recommendation typically happens in that fleeting moment when the appetite to buy is right now. That isn’t just valuable, it’s the holy freaking grail! Top tips for creating links that engage Image via Getty Images / drogatnev The way to get the most value from microbrowser traffic is by helping along this peer influencing that happens in the dark. By creating compelling, informative links with images, video and text information specifically for microbrowsers, you increase the likelihood that peer-to-peer recommendations in groups convert into sales and reads. What follows are some top tips to ensure that the links unfurling within microbrowsers have the greatest impact. First, remember the golden rule: your audience is human. When creating content for microbrowsers, design it for humans, not machines.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
There are apps out there that help you find friends, find dates and find your distant family histories, but when it comes to “growing your professional network,” the options are shockingly bad, we’re talking LinkedIn here. LunchClub is a startup that’s looking to help users navigate finding new connections inside specific industries. The company has recently closed a $4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz with other investments coming in from Quora’s co-founder, the Robinhood cofounders, and Flexport’s cofounders. The app follows in the footsteps of others that aimed to be dating app-like marketplaces for growing out your professional network via 1:1 lunch and coffee meetings. LunchClub is more focused on setting up a handful of meetings for users that have a specific goal in mind rather than just putting its users inside a web of wannabe workfluencers. LunchClub is aiming to be your warm intro and connect you with other users via email that can assist you in your professional goals. When you’re on-boarded to the service, you are asked to highlight some “objectives” that you might have and this is where the app really makes its goals clear. Options include, “raise funding,” “find a co-founder or parter,” “explore other companies,” and “brainstorm with peers.” These objectives are pretty explicit and complementary, i.e. for every “raise funding” objective, there’s an “invest” option. There isn’t a ton being asked for on the part of the user when it comes to building up the data on their profile, LunchClub is hoping to get most of the data that they need from the rest of the web. “Our view is that there’s tons of data already out there,” LunchClub CEO Vlad Novakovski told TechCrunch in an interview. “Anything that comes from the existing social networks, be in things like Twitter, be it things that are more specific to what people might be working on, like Github or Dribble or AngelList — all of those data sources are in the public domain and are fair game.” LunchClub’s sell is that they can learn from what matches are successful via user feedback and use that to hone further matches. Novakovski most previously was the CTO of Euclid Analytics which WeWork acquired in 2017. Previous to that, he led the machine learning team at Quora. The web app, which currently has a lengthy-waitlist, is available for users in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London.

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law gig worker protections bill AB5. This comes shortly after AB5 passed in the California State Assembly and Senate. “Today, we are disrupting the status quo and taking a bold step forward to rebuild our middle class and reshape the future of workers as we know it,” bill author and Assemblyperson Lorena Gonzalez said in a statement. “As one of the strongest economies in the world, California is now setting the global standard for worker protections for other states and countries to follow.” AB5 will help to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codify the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors. According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.” Last week, Uber made it clear it plans to do whatever it takes to keep its drivers independent contractors. “We will continue to advocate for a compromise agreement,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said on a press call last week. As Uber outlined last month, the company is pushing for a framework that would establish a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, offer portable benefits and enable drivers to “have a collective voice.” He went on to say that Uber is continuing to explore several legal and political options to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020. Uber and Lyft announced a $60 million joint initiative last month, and now, West is saying Uber is open to investing even more money in that committee account. “This is not our first choice,” West said. “At the same time, we need to make sure we are exploring all options and all alternatives to put forward a framework that works for the 21st-century economy and we believe we have a framework that does that.” Despite opposition from Uber and other gig economy companies, the law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Kamiu Lee Contributor Share on Twitter Kamiu Lee is CEO at Activate, an influencer marketing technology platform and agency that partners with brands and influencers to tell engaging and compelling stories across social media at scale. For new brands, growing awareness and gaining the trust and credibility of consumers are two of the most important yet challenging marketing objectives. As an added constraint, most startups don’t have the budgetary flexibility to activate mega-influencers and celebrities that have national attention at their fingertips. However, new research from ACTIVATE found that smaller-tier, more accessible influencers are a top choice for marketers – they enable brands to tap into niche communities and offer superior engagement rates. Surveying over 110 brand marketers, PR professionals, social media managers and agency executives, we found that 64 percent of marketers are choosing to utilize micro-influencers very often, as opposed to larger creators, mega influencers and celebrities. We also found that more than 44 percent of marketers are repurposing influencer-created content following a sponsorship, a practice that extends the ROI of an influencer campaign and can help startups attain valuable visual assets for future marketing use. While mega-influencer content rights are often negotiated to steep rates, those of smaller tier influencers are more affordable, as the influencers themselves also benefit from the added exposure. With this in mind, when developing an influencer campaign, it’s critical not to feel constrained to the most popular creators, and instead think out of the box and consider what factors will be most important to the audience you’re specifically trying to reach. When being thoughtful about how you’re implementing influencers, smaller creators can be just as impactful as their larger counterparts. Let’s go through some of the most impactful emerging influencer strategies, to grow awareness, without growing debt. Key influencer casting strategies to drive targeted impact

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posted about 14 hours 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. Facebook launches Portal TV, a $149 video chat set-top box The Portal TV lets you hang out with friends using your home’s biggest screen. It’s part of a new line of Portal devices that bring the platform’s auto-zooming AI camera, in-house voice assistant speaker, Messenger video chat and end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp video calls to smaller form factors. Facebook says it also will provide a lot more clarity around privacy — although human review of voice recordings is still turned on by default. 2. Apple Watch Series 5 review The Apple Watch Series 5 doesn’t include any hardware additions quite as flashy as the LTE functionality and ECG monitor it introduced with previous updates. But taken as a whole, the new features maintain the device’s spot at the top of the smartwatch heap. 3. Google Fi gets an unlimited plan For the longest time, Google Fi didn’t play the unlimited calls, text and data game. That’s changing this week. 4. Roboticist and YouTube star Simone Giertz is coming to Disrupt SF With 1.92 million YouTube subscribers, Giertz is best known for her “shitty” robotic creations, including arms that serve soup and breakfast, draw holiday cards and apply lipstick — to hilariously uneven results. 5. Documents reveal how Russia taps phone companies for surveillance Documents reviewed by TechCrunch offer new insight into the scope and scale of the Russian surveillance system known as SORM, and how Russian authorities gain access to the calls, messages and data of customers of the country’s largest phone provider. 6. Podcast app Pocket Casts is now available for free, with an optional $0.99 subscription Previously, you had to pay a one-time fee of $3.99 to access the Android or iOS apps, but CEO Owen Grover said this approach seemed increasingly at odds with Pocket Casts’ goals, and with the vision of the public radio organizations that acquired it last year. 7. In a social media world, here’s what you need to know about UGC and privacy For a brand, is it worth the effort to incorporate UGC into their marketing strategy? And if so, how can they do it within the rules — and more importantly, in adherence with the expectations of consumers? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Full Disrupt SF agenda posted We have an amazing slate of speakers stopping by TechCrunch Disrupt SF this year, including two full days scheduled for the debut of our Extra Crunch stage, which will focus on how founders can overcome the challenges they face through discussions of tactics with some of the most successful founders and leaders in our industry. Want to learn how to raise your first dollars with Russ Heddleston at DocSend? How to get into Y Combinator with YC CEO Michael Siebel? How to iterate your product with the chief product officers of Uber, Tinder, Okta, and Instagram? How to evaluate talent with Ray Dalio? These and almost two dozen more panels are waiting for attendees on the EC stage. Be sure to grab your tickets soon. And if you are an annual EC subscriber, be sure to use your 20% membership discount by emailing [email protected] How to get your ads working, and whether PR is worth it Growth expert Julian Shapiro of BellCurve.com launched a new series of articles for Extra Crunch members on how to grow your startup using battle-tested growth hacks and techniques from heads of growth across Silicon Valley. His first piece came out on Friday on how to work with influencers, and now in this second edition, he investigates advertising and how to evaluate the value of PR firms. How to make Snapchat ads profitable Based on insights from Tim Chard. Snap has niche audiences you’ll want to take advantage of. Examples include “people with digestive issues.” Facebook doesn’t have that. Plus, ad clicks on Snap can be cheap ($0.30 USD isn’t uncommon). However, Snap traffic typically converts poorly once it arrives on your site or app. Here’s a technique to mitigate that: cross-target your Snap traffic. Meaning, use unique UTM tags on your Snap ad links. Then, in Facebook/Instagram, detect that unique UTM to create a custom audience of Snap visitors. Finally, retarget those visitors with FB/IG ads, which tend to convert much better than Snap. How to get people to open your emails In Julian’s third edition of the Growth Report, he offers even more tips on how to increase open rates, whether you should use Bing Ads(!), and whether and how to handle multi-touch attribution.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Microsoft’s GitHub today announced that it has acquired Semmle, a code analysis tool that helps developers and security researchers discover potential vulnerabilities in their code. Semmle takes a lot of the manual work out of security testing and instead offers a query language that allows researchers to test their code, using the service’s analysis engine. Over time, the GitHub team plans to integrate Semmle closely into the GitHub workflow. GitHub did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but Semmle, which was originally spun out of research done at Oxford University, officially launched last year, with a $21 million Series B  round led by Accel. In total, the company raised $31 million before this acquisition. “Just as relational databases make it simple to ask very sophisticated questions about data, Semmle makes it much easier for researchers to identify security vulnerabilities in large code bases quickly,” writes Shanku Niyogi, GitHub’s SVP of Product, in today’s announcement.” Many vulnerabilities have the same type of coding mistake as their root cause. With Semmle, you can find all variations of a mistake, eradicating a whole class of vulnerabilities. Furthermore, this approach makes Semmle far more effective, finding dramatically more issues and with far fewer false positives.” Current Semmle users include the likes of Uber, Nasa, Microsoft and Google and the company’s core analysis platform, with automated code reviews, project tracking and, of course, security alerts, is available for free for open-source projects. “GitHub is the one place where the community meets, where security experts and open source maintainers collaborate, and where the consumers of open source find their building blocks,” says Semmle CEO and co-founder Oege De Moor. “GitHub’s recent moves to secure the ecosystem (with maintainer security advisories, automated security fixes, token scanning, and many other advances in secure development) are all pieces of the same puzzle. The Semmle vision and technology belong at GitHub.” GitHub CEO Nat Friedman echoes this in a blog post today and notes that he believes that GitHub has a “unique opportunity and responsibility to provide the tools, best practices, and infrastructure to make software development secure.” As part of this overall mission, GitHub also today announced that it is now a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) Numbering Authority. With this, maintainers will now be able to report vulnerabilities from their repositories and GitHub will handle assigning IDs and adding the issues to the National Vulnerability Database (NVD). Ideally, this should mean that developers will disclose more vulnerabilities (since it’s now significantly easier) and that others who use this code will get alerts sooner.  

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
After 13 years at the helm of video advertising company Eyeview, founder Oren Harnevo is stepping down as CEO. The company’s new chief executive is Rob Deichert, who was most recently COO at digital advertising company 33Across. The company is also announcing two other new hires — Sean Simon as senior vice president of sales and Risa Crandell as vice president of sales. Harnevo, meanwhile, will remain on Eyeview’s board of directors. “It’s been a long and incredible ride for the last 13 years since I co-founded Eyeview, and I feel it’s time to let a new leader help propel Eyeview to its next chapter,” he said in a statement. “2019 has been a great year for Eyeview. With strong revenue growth, and seasoned additions to our leadership team, it’s the perfect time to bring on [ad] industry veterans like Rob, Sean and Risa to accelerate our business as I depart to work on my next venture while supporting Eyeview on the board of director.” Deichert acknowledged that it can be challenging to step into the shoes of a company’s founder, but he said he consulted with Harnevo before taking the job. “I was just emailing with him today,” he added. “He’s going to be a great partner going forward.” Rob Deichert Deichert also said he has a standard on-boarding process when he joins a new company, which involves holding 30-minute, one-on-one meetings with every single person. (In this case, that means holding nearly 100 meetings.) And while Eyeview has been around for more than a decade, Deichert suggested that there’s still plenty of room for its “outcome-based video marketing” (its specialty is video ads that are personalized based on viewer data) to grow. In particular, he predicted that as direct-to-consumer brands are “maxing out on Facebook,” they’ll start turning back to traditional ad channels like television. With Eyeview, they can do that without losing the measurement and customization of online video. Eyeview Brings Its Personalized Video Ads To Internet-Connected TVs

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Startup founders are hard-pressed to find the right investors — not only to fund their businesses but to help their businesses grow. These days, investors represent a variety of backgrounds and industries — traditional venture capital, Hollywood even the NBA. When Golden State Warriors point guard and two-time MVP Stephen Curry isn’t playing basketball, he’s working with his business partner and former college basketball teammate Bryant Barr. Together, Barr and Curry run SC30 Inc, which manages Curry’s investment, media, philanthropy and brand partnership interests. SC30 Inc.’s third investment came in December 2018, when the fund participated in hotel-booking platform SnapTravel’s $21.2 million Series A round. Stephen Curry to talk passion projects Nothing But Nets, Slyce at Disrupt SF Curry’s foray into the tech ecosystem started when he co-founded marketing automation platform Slyce. Since then, Stephen has taken a more structured approach to investing through SC30 Inc., where the portfolio has grown to eight investments in companies such as TSM and Palm. It’s worth noting Curry is not the only baller in the tech investment game. There are his former teammates Andre Igoudala, an investor in Lime and board member of Jumia, and Kevin Durant, an investor in a number of startups through his fund Thirty Five Ventures. At Disrupt SF 2019, listen as the three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry and SC30 Inc. President Bryant Barr discuss SC30 Inc. Investments, featuring SnapTravel CEO Hussein Fazal as he shares how he determined SC30 Inc. would make a good strategic investor. We’ll also talk to Curry about his general investment strategy and overall ambitions in tech. Disrupt SF runs October 2 – 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Passes are available here. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-661cf9b1b8f85f5aae09b8946cafadba') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-661cf9b1b8f85f5aae09b8946cafadba' }, "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 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Google’s parental control software, Family Link, is getting a noteworthy update today with the addition of new features that will allow parents to limit screen time per app, instead of the device as a whole, as well as let them more easily extend screen time as needed. The features were first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, and help to make Family Link a more complete parental control and screen time solution. While the simplest way to manage screen time is to just not give kids a device in the first place, it’s not the most realistic. As parents, we need to teach our kids to navigate the world — and that means we have to show them how to establish a healthy, non-addictive relationship with technology, too. Certain apps make that more difficult as they’ve been intentionally designed to steal our focus for long periods of time. And even as adults, many of us struggle with this same problem. For years, platform makers like Apple and Google were complicit with regard to users’ app addictions. They were thrilled about the success of the third-party developers and the money they brought in. Only more recently, have these companies realized that their popular devices are starting to be seen as the digital equivalent of junk food — sure, it fuels you. But it’s bad for your health and should be limited. And that, of course, is bad for business. Hence, the arrival screen time and digital well-being features. Family Link is not a perfect system, but it now comes built-in to Android devices with Android 10 and up, and can be downloaded as a standalone app from Google Play if you don’t have it available. It’s to Google’s credit that it has integrated it now into the core mobile OS, where it’s easier to find and use. Already, it’s able to do things like setting device “bedtimes,” track activity per app, set daily limits, view the device’s location on the map and ring it (you’ll need Family Link for this feature alone), and more. But what was sorely lacking was the ability to more narrowly define how a child’s screen time should be used. Today, there are plenty of educational apps — from flashcards to study guides to Kindle books — that kids don’t deserve to be locked out from, just because they’ve used their phone over a certain number of hours per day. And as a parent myself, I was hesitant to enforce daily limits in Family Link because it locked my child out of her phone entirely, except for the ability to make calls. She just as often uses texting to reach me, so I didn’t want to cut her off from that ability. With the new per-app limits, you’ll be able to limit how long each, individual app on the device can be used. That means I can drastically trim the number of hours per week she spends on TikTok and YouTube (sorry, not sorry, Google!), or in mobile games. It also now means that chores around the house aren’t tied to “screen time” as a whole, but time in a favorite app, like Roblox. (Oh, the motivation!) However, per-app limits will require a lot of manual labor on parents’ part. I don’t mind the extra work, because I appreciate the granular control, but a lot of parents would be better-served by category-based limits. (e.g. “mobile gaming.”) This could be something Google addresses in a future update. The other update rolling out today is Bonus Time, which lets you up the amount of screen time in sort of a one-off situation. For example, if the child is in the middle of something and just needs a few more minutes, you can now grant this extra time without having to disable the screen time setting. You’ll know screen time is running out because the child gets warnings at 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. And they’ll be sure to tell you about this. These updates are rolling out today to the cross-platform Family Link service. Parents can control Family Link settings from their Android or iOS device, and the child can use an Android or Chrome device.    

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
At Greta Thunberg heads back to Europe from the US after radicalizing a generation, entrepreneurs are quickly realizing that there is a zeitgeist to be gotten hold of here. With food production a major contributor to climate change, tt’s no surprise then that on-demand food startups are appearing to cater to this new audience. Simple Feast launched its plant-based food product in early 2017 and since then has developed a fast-food range which is catching the climate and taste fashion wave. The company has now raised a total of $33 million in a Series B round led by US-based venture capital firm 14W, with a number of other existing investors, including Europe’s Balderton Capital, which is increasing their investment in the business. The company was partly self-funded in the beginning, then added Sweet Capital (London/Stockholm) and ByFounders (CPH/SF) as the first VCs. Later, Balderton Capital (London) and 14W (NYC) joined in the Series A and B. The total funding to date is now north of $50M. The founders are Jakob Jønck and Thomas Ambus and Jønck was co-founder of Endomondo, acquired by MyFitnessPal. Jønck says: “The future of food does not just belong to plants, but will be both plant-based and unprocessed. This movement is pivotal to save not only our planet, but also human health. With this investment, we can continue our journey and bring our products to more people, in existing as well as new markets, while also strengthening our R&D efforts in new food innovation.” Simple Feast is ticking the climate agenda boxes, with packaging made solely by FSC-approved cardboard boxes, to the cooling element they use to keep the food fresh (frozen tap water in drinkable cartons) and their use of all-organic produce. Alex Zubillaga from 14W commented: “Over the past year since first investing in Simple Feast, we have continued to be impressed by the caliber and deep operational experience of the management team that Jakob Jønck has built around him.. We believe Simple Feast has the opportunity to become a global, category-defining brand as they expand to the US early next year.” Typical customers are meat-eating families in their 30s and 40s who are trying to cut down on their meat consumption. They are well educated, have a middle or high income and demand high quality and transparency in the food they consume. Their main competitors are restaurants, meal-kits and take-away. The idea is not to compromise on taste or quality, nor convenience or packaging.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Plex has added a new content partner for its soon-to-launch ad-supported video service. The company announced this morning its service will now also include movies from Lionsgate, which will join Plex’s existing partner Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, in helping to fill out the forthcoming video-on-demand library. However, unlike with Warner Bros., whose videos will be limited to U.S. viewers, the deal with Lionsgate is for worldwide streaming. (There may be a few titles with geo-restrictions, Plex noted.) “Lionsgate is one of the biggest names in the business and we know our millions of users will enjoy free access to their library of movies,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement. “Plex caters to the most passionate and discerning media lovers all over the world, so it is important for us to be able to bring great content like this together in one beautiful app for all of our users across the globe.” TechCrunch first reported on Plex’s plans to enter the ad-supported movies market back in January. The company described a strategy that is similar to Roku’s — that is, instead of just facilitating streaming through its platform, it will actually broker deals that bring a selection of free content directly to its users. It can then tap into the ad revenue that’s generated to boost its bottom line as Roku does with The Roku Channel. Though Plex began as a media organizer, it has, in recent years, expanded to focus on becoming a one-stop-shop for all your media needs. This includes streaming and recording from live TV, streaming music by way of a TIDAL partnership, plus access to podcasts, news and web series. Plex now has 20 million users, and while it doesn’t detail its subscriber numbers, it has achieved profitability. That said, the one media organization challenge it hasn’t yet solved is helping users search for, discover, and track the shows and movies they want to watch outside of live TV or its ad-supported streams. Plex did once say it’s looking into paid subscriptions further down the road, as it’s a natural next step beyond the ad-supported streaming deals. Plex says its video-on-demand library will launch later this year.

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posted about 17 hours ago on techcrunch
Nothing can get built without talented people with the right skillsets, which is why startups hitting their growth phases have to go from hiring a smattering of employees to building systems that can hire dozens to hundreds of people per year. How can startups double and triple headcount year after year in a sustainable way, all while not losing the culture that made them what they are in the first place? We’ve got an incredible discussion lined up on the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this year that answers that prompt from some of the most knowledgeable people in the business. First, we have Harj Taggar of Triplebyte, a platform designed to accelerate the hiring of quality and vetted engineers for tech startups. Taggar was the first partner to join Y Combinator, where he spent five years helping some of the most successful startups in the world grow from humble origins to debuting at the New York Stock Exchange. Taggar brings a wealth of experience of observing high-growth companies hire, and also brings significant expertise from Triplebyte on what works and what doesn’t at scale for startup hiring. Next, we have Liz Wessel, CEO and co-founder of WayUp, a platform for student professionals to connect with new jobs and opportunities that has raised more than $27 million in venture capital from Trinity and General Catalyst. Wessel brings a deep operational background to the discussion, not just hiring dozens of people for her own startup, but also seeing how hiring operates horizontally across industries and sectors through her employment platform. Finally, we have Scott Cutler, CEO and co-founder of StockX, an ecommerce platform for buying and selling sneakers as well as streetwear, handbags and more. StockX has raised $160 million across several rounds of venture capital, and has hundreds of employees. Before he founded StockX, Cutler was head of the Americas for eBay and president of StubHub. He brings both a large tech and a rapidly-growing startup perspective to the discussion. We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate! Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email [email protected] to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

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posted about 17 hours ago on techcrunch
Walmart is partnering with Capital One to launch a new credit card program, which rolls on September 24, and includes both co-branded and private-label cards. The former, the Capital One Walmart Mastercard, includes 5% back on purchases made on Walmart.com or paid for in-store using Walmart Pay (the latter for the first 12 months.) The private label card, the Walmart Rewards Card, will offer those same perks, but is limited to being used only in Walmart stores and on Walmart.com. After the 12-month introductory period, the co-branded Mastercard will drop to 2% on Walmart purchases in stores, instead of 5%. However, it will continue to offer 5% on Walmart.com purchases, including Walmart Grocery. It also offers 2% back on restaurants and travel and 1% back everywhere else. The card doesn’t include any annual fee or foreign transaction feeds, and its rewards can be used any time, Walmart says. Customers can apply for the new card via Walmart’s website or app, or through CapitalOne.com. The application itself can be filled out using a mobile device and, once approved, customers gain access to the card immediately. They can also load the card into Walmart Pay or into the Walmart app before the physical card arrives in the mail — similar to how Apple’s new Apple Card works. Through Capital One, customers will receive purchase notifications, security alerts, 0% fraud liability, and the ability to lock/unlock a lost or stolen card from the Capital One app. The new Walmart store card, meanwhile, also offers 5% back on purchases on Walmart.com, in Walmart app, and on Walmart Pay in-store purchases during the introductory period. It then offers 2% back on Walmart purchases afterward. It also earns 2% back at Walmart Fuel Stations. Current Walmart cardholders will be converted to the Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard or the Walmart Rewards Card, starting October 11, with physical cards arriving in November. They’ll also earn 5% back through Walmart Pay through October 14, 2020. Walmart’s prior card, from Synchrony Bank, offered smaller rewards, noted Sara Rathner, credit cards expert at NerdWallet, in a statement published this morning. “The Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard is definitely helping to cement 5% back as the gold standard among retail cards. We already see this rewards rate with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card and the Target REDcard. The previous Walmart card issued by Synchrony Bank only offered 3% back on Walmart.com and a paltry 1% back in-store, so the new card is a huge step up,” she said. Credit card partnerships are an area of importance to major retailers, including Walmart’s chief rival, Amazon. Its credit card program includes a variety of options, including store cards, travel cards, prepaid cards, no annual fee cards, reward points cards and more. And of course both retailers today are, to some extent, challenged by Apple, which just entered the credit card space, too. Branded store cards not only help to increase customer loyalty, they also drive more purchases, reduce credit card processing fees, create additional profit in the form of interest, and generate records of customer purchases that can be used for targeted advertising. “As our company has evolved to serve customers shopping in stores, online, and on the Walmart apps, we also recognized the need to fully digitally enable the cardholder experience,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president, Walmart services and digital acceleration, in a statement. “That’s why we’ve worked with Capital One to make it possible for cardholders to manage essentially every interaction with the program right from the palm of their hands,” he said.  

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
As expectations from seed investors intensify, a new stage of investment has established itself earlier in the venture-backed company life cycle. Known as “pre-seed” investing, one of the first legitimate outfits to double down on the stage has refueled, closing its second fund on $77 million. Afore Capital’s sophomore fund is likely the largest pool of venture capital yet to focus exclusively on pre-seed companies, or pre-product businesses seeking their first bout of institutional capital. In many cases, a pre-seed startup may even be “pre-idea,” yet to fully incorporate. Afore invests between $500,000 and $1 million in nascent startups. As it kicks off its second fund, founding partners Anamitra Banerji and Gaurav Jain tell TechCrunch they plan to lead all of their investments. We have the opportunity to build a firm that defines a category. - Afore founding partner Anamitra Banerji Standouts in Afore’s existing portfolio include the no-fee credit card company Petal — which has raised roughly $50 million to date — mobile executive coaching business BetterUp, childcare information platform Winnie and Modern Health, a B2B mental wellness platform. Afore portfolio companies have raised more than $360 million in follow-on funding, with an aggregate market cap of $1.5 billion, Jain, the founding product manager at Android Nexus and former principal at Founder Collective, tells TechCrunch. “These are high-quality teams with high-quality projects and ideas.” Jain and Banerji — a founding product manager at Twitter and former partner at Foundation Capital — began raising capital for Afore’s $47 million debut fund in 2016. Since then, the landscape for seed investing has shifted. Early-stage investors have begun funneling larger sums of capital to standout teams at the seed, while billion-dollar venture capital funds set aside capital for serial entrepreneurs working on their next big idea. As a result, deal sizes have swelled and deal count has shrunk simultaneously. “Pre-seed has replaced seed in the venture ecosystem,” Banerji tells TechCrunch. “We saw this early as a result of both of us having been at funds. We knew that this was going to be a massive category just like seed was before it. Now we think it’s clearly here to stay and we have the opportunity to build a firm that defines a category.” Since launching the firm, the pair explain they’ve noticed more and more founders explicitly stating that they are in the market for a pre-seed round, a statement you wouldn’t have heard as recently as two years ago. This is a result of Afore’s efforts to legitimize the stage through investments and programming, including its annual Pre-Seed Summit. Though Afore is certainly not the only VC fund focused on the earliest stage of startup investing — other firms deploying capital at the stage include Hustle Fund, which closed an $11.8 million debut fund last year, plus the $20 million immigrant-focused pre-seed fund Unshackled Ventures and the predominant seed and pre-seed stage firm Precursor Ventures, which announced a $31 million second fund earlier this year. In the past year alone, more than $200 million has been dedicated to the pre-seed stage, with at least nine new funds launching to nurture early-stage startups. More and more firms are setting up shop at the pre-seed stage as competition at the seed stage reaches new heights. As we’ve previously reported, monster funds are becoming increasingly active at the seed stage, muscling seed funds out of top deals with less dilutive offers. While the pre-seed stage, for the most part, remains protected from competition at the later stage, these firms still have to compete. The fight for seed “Nobody wants to lose sight of a deal, so they are willing to toss small amounts of capital very early behind interesting founders,” Jain said. “But frankly, we aren’t sure if it’s good for a company to raise that much capital that early in their life cycle.” Working with a fund that isn’t passionate about what you are building or familiar with the plights of the stage of your business is terrible for founders, adds Jain. Pairing with a focused fund like Afore, on the other hand, allows for “incentive alignment.” Afore invests across all industries, preferring to back startups in categories “before they are categories.” “What we are looking for is deep authenticity and passion around the product they are building,” says Banerji. “Ideas on their own aren’t enough. Founder resumes on their own aren’t enough. While we do care about all of those aspects, we get crazy about their clarity of thought in the short term.” “We don’t take the point of view of ‘here is some money, it’s OK to lose it,’ ” he adds. “For us to invest, the founder must be all in. And we generally don’t invest in celebrity founders; we are going after the underdog founder.”

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, and then return once they’re ready for a pick-up and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment. This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later – essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks. The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right. Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well. Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result. Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

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posted about 18 hours ago on techcrunch
Julo, a peer-to-peer lending platform in Indonesia, said on Wednesday it has extended its $5 million Series A raise to $15 million as it looks to scale its business in the key Southeast Asian market. The $10 million Series A2 round for the Jakarta-headquartered startup was led by Quona Capital, with Skystar, East Ventures, Provident, Gobi Partners, and Convergence participating in it. The two-year-old startup, which has raised about $16 million to date, is now closing the round, Adrianus Hitijahubessy, co-founder and CEO of Julo, told TechCrunch in an interview. Through its eponymous Android app, Julo provides loans of about $300 to users at aggressively competitive rate of 3-5% per month — one of its key differentiating factors. Julo has managed to keep its interest rate low because its credit scoring system is more efficient than those of its rivals, claimed Hitijahubessy, who has amassed more than a decade of experience in credit scoring system using alternative data from his previous stints. “There are lots of players in this market. Not just Indonesia, but globally. But it comes down to who actually knows what they are doing. The bar is becoming higher and it is increasingly becoming difficult for digital lending companies to just launch an app and charge high interest rate,” he said. Julo works with banks and individuals to finance loans to customers. It says it has disbursed about $50 million to date. Hitijahubessy said Julo will use the fresh capital to expand the team and enhance its credit score system. The startup intends to focus on growing its business in Indonesia itself. In a statement, Ganesh Rengaswamy, co-founder and partner of Quona Capital, said, “a significant majority of JULO’s loans are used for productive purposes that can enhance the economic well-being of families and small businesses — driving financial inclusion in Indonesia, which is a cornerstone of Quona’s focus.” Digital lending is becoming an increasingly crowded space in South Asian markets. In India, for instance, a growing number of digital mobile wallets including Paytm and MobiKwik have recently started to offer credits to customers. Indonesia’s KoinWorks raises $12 million to grow its P2P SME lending platform

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