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All major indices rose Wednesday, led by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which increased 3.44% to close above 23,000 for the first time since March 13. Investors seemed heartened by comments made by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who said Wednesday that the U.S. death count from COVID-19 is lower than initially modeled thanks. He warned that the death count will continue to climb even as new cases slow. The action Wednesday followed rallies earlier this week. Still, it should be noted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average still closed below yesterday’s high of 23,537.44, suggesting that this could be a bear market run. Here’s the breakdown at closing: Dow Jones rose 3.44%, or 779.71 points, to close at 23,433.57 S&P 500 increased 3.41%, or 90.57, to close at 2,749.98 NASDAQ popped 2.58%, or 203.64 points, to close at 8,090.90 Equities were also buoyed by oil prices and news that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whose policies fueled concerns about higher taxes, was dropping out of the race. The transportation saw a bump today. Uber rose 4.66% to close at $26.94. That’s still more than 34.7% below this year’s high of $41.27 reached in February. Meanwhile, Lyft also saw shares rise 7.78% to close at $29.64. Again, it’s the same story as Uber. Lyft’s share price is still off — about 45% — from the year-to-date highs. Among today’s leaders were airlines, which have been one of the harder hit industries in this COVID-19 era. United led the pack with a 12.38% bump to close at $27.51, followed by American Airlines and Delta, which rose 109.% and 4.4% respectively. Tesla had a volatile day that ended nearly where it began, with a 0.62% increase to close at $548.84. Automakers also saw shares rise. GM shares rose 8.59% to close at $23.13, while Ford increased 6.59% to $5.03 and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles closed up 3.15% to $7.86 a share.

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NASA has chosen a new lunar surface delivery partner from its list of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) vendors to actually transport stuff on its behalf – Mojave’s Masten Space Systems, which is being tapped by the agency to take eight payloads, including non science and tech instruments, to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022. Masten is the fourth company awarded a lunar delivery contract under CLPS, after NASA announced that three other companies would be tasked with taking payloads back in May, 2019. Those included Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, as well as Orbit Beyond. Orbit Beyond later dropped out of its contract, though Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are still aiming to deliver their payloads using landers they’ve created sometime next year. The new Masten contract, like the others in the CLOPS program, is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to return human tot he surface of the Moon, and set up permanent scientific exploration there, with the ultimate aim of using it as a stepping stone to taking humans to Mars and potentially beyond. NASA has focused on public-private partnerships like those formed through the CLPS program to assist it in making its Moon and Mars missions possible, and bringing commercial interests along for the ride. Masten’s contract is a $75.9 million award, that specifies end-to-end delevirey of the payloads, as well as their integration with the company’s XL-1 lander. They’re also required to land on the Moon and operate for at least 12 days post-landing. The specific instruments that XL-1 will carry include tools for measuring and mapping the lunar surface temperature, as well as radiation, and the presence of hydrogen and other gases that could indicate the presence of water. The XL-1 lander developed by Masten is an evolution of lander designs that took part in, and won the NASA Centennial Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X-Prize Challenge in 2009. Masten has also developed and flown a number of vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rockets on behalf of NASA, including the Xaero test vehicle.

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Latin America’s leading legacy food delivery company iFood and Delivery Hero-owned Domicilios.com are merging in a bid to take on the food startup Rappi on its home turf. The price of the transaction was undisclosed, but will result in iFood holding a 51% equity stake in the partnership, while Delivery Hero will hold the remaining 49%. Domicilios, the Colombian online food ordering startup, raised $47.7 million before it exited to Berlin-headquartered Delivery Hero for an undisclosed price in 2014. And while iFood’s has operations in Colombia and Mexico in addition to Brazil, it hasn’t achieved the same kind of market penetration outside of its home country — where it serves +147,000 restaurants registered in over 1,000 cities. iFood says the combined companies will have the largest geographic presence in Colombia with more than 12,000 restaurants in more than 30 cities across the country. With the merger, iFood inches closer to overtaking the top-spot in the Colombian market, behind the Bogota-based billion-dollar-valued hometown hero, Rappi.  Rappi has raised a total of $1.4B in funding over 8 rounds, including a $1 billion injection from SoftBank in 2019 that marked the largest single investment into a Latin American startup. Despite that capital, Rappi was hit with a wave of layoffs in January 2020, cutting 6% of staff amounting to roughly 300 employees.  We’re not certain whether the layoffs had any effect on the company’s valuation, which has been estimated at $3.5 billion.  Since its launch, Rappi has expanded its delivery portfolio to pharmaceuticals, banking services, and furniture in addition to groceries and restaurant delivery. Investors in the Latin American market speculate that Rappi is burning money as it battles UberEats and Didi (also both heavily backed by SoftBank)  iFood hopes the acquisition will boost business growth for restaurant and delivery partners in the region, while generating more competitive delivery products and services for Colombians.  iFood prides itself on business intelligence and management solutions, and is backed by Movile Group and Just Eat, a leading global hybrid marketplace for online food delivery. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to hit Brazilian retailers and restaurants hard, as zero-tech restaurants are forced to enable digital delivery to stay in business. In response, iFood announced a $9.8 million fund to help sustain restaurants within its network. 

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Startups big and small, across all industries, are affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. From Etsy to MongoDB, from Twilio to Foursquare, these companies are looking for ways to capitalize and ultimately thrive in what has become a survivalist landscape. These companies also happen to be portfolio companies of one, Albert Wenger. We’re excited to have Union Square Ventures’ Managing Director Albert Wenger join us for a live discussion on the impacts of COVID-19 on the firm, the advice he’s offering to his portfolio companies, and adaptation strategies for the broader startup ecosystem. Wenger has been vocal about how startups should approach PPP loans, and has an interesting perspective on this week’s news of Foursquare’s merger with Factual. We’re amped to hear more from him on both topics and plenty more. Before he began his investment career, Wenger was an entrepreneur himself, cofounding five (FIVE!) companies, including a management consulting firm, a hosted data analytics company, a technology subsidiary for Telebanc, and DailyLit (a service for reading books by email or RSS). Wenger also served as President of Del.icio.us prior to and through its sale to Yahoo. We have a handful of questions we’d like to ask, but Wenger has graciously offered to answer questions from the audience, as well. So come prepared! The chat will begin tomorrow (Thursday, April 9) at 12pm EDT/9am PDT and go for about an hour. We look forward to seeing you there! Sign up here to add the call details to your calendar.

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As more companies find their workflows upended by remote work in the pandemic crisis, there are plenty of SaaS startups aiming to sell them a new path to streamlining processes. Tonkean is an SF startup selling a no-code automation platform to do just that, and it’s in the fortunate position of just having closed a hefty Series A. The company closed a $24 million round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tonkean’s team tells TechCrunch. Lightspeed’s Raviraj Jain is joining Tonkean’s board. The company has raised just over $31 million to date. Their software is a robotic automation and management platform catered towards ops that integrates with a bunch of data sources and allows customers to set up their own customizations. These customizations can help with routing tasks to the right person, automating follow-ups or moving data between systems. The software is meant to enable nearly endless customizations but a big focus seems to be on stripping repeatable tasks from the workflows of ops teams or taking care of early steps in those processes. “The future of enterprise software is adaptive and personalized,” CEO Sagi Eliyahu told TechCrunch in an interview. The company frames its tech as “human-in-the-loop robotic process automation,” essentially using its no-code platform to allow the people completing tasks manually to create the automation processes for letting bots take over. The visual drag-and-drop workflow of creating these processes seems to be a big selling point. New customers can also shop around for functionality via templates added by other customers. RPA has been a hot area in recent years with players like Automation Anywhere and UIPath achieving sky high private valuations. As the big players in the space focus on courting bigger and bigger clients, Tonkean’s tighter focus on streamlining workflows for operations teams could give them an inroad, even as they look to scale during uncertain times.

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LinkedIn has pledged to making no COVID-related layoffs until at least June 2020, the professional network has confirmed to TechCrunch. While the promise is only until the end of the fiscal year, it follows the lead of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s claim last month to have no significant layoffs for the next 90 days. Other business leaders such as Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan and Morgan Stanley’s CEO James Gorman have also agreed to pause any potential layoffs until the end of 2020. Layoffs are trickling down to all industries, starting in the hospitality and travel industry and moving to recruitment startups and scooter companies. Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, which serves as a social media platform for professionals and recruiters alike, is thus poised to be a critical connector for those laid off. So as job security remains on everyone’s mind, LinkedIn’s promise to not have any layoffs will quell some of that fear within the organization, at least in the near future. LinkedIn has approximately 16,000 full-time employees across 30 cities in the world. Regardless of how healthy LinkedIn may appear from this news, it’s not immune from making specific cost-saving measures as the economy struggles. The company, reports The Information, has “paused most of its hiring as it figures out business planning.” It had more the 1 million job applicants last year, according to the piece.

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Motherly CEO Jill Koziol admits that it was a tough pitch when she and her co-founder Liz Tenety first tried to get investors on-board in 2015. “We wanted to create a brand first and foremost,” Koziol told me. “We did not want to go and build a media company or a [direct-to-consumer] company or Facebook for moms — because, spoiler alert, it’s called Facebook.” Instead, she described Motherly as a company that sits at the “intersection” of all three approaches. It started out by publishing motherhood-themed content on its website and on social media (and more recently in podcast form), which in turn encouraged the audience of 30 million unique users to start “engaging with us and with each other.” Now that there’s a big audience and a real community, the company is getting ready to launch the Motherly Store. And it’s announcing that it has raised $5.4 million in Series A funding. Koziol described her approach as building a trusted brand “that’s woman-centered — not baby-centered — and expert-driven,” then using that brand to sell products. She said Motherly has reversed the strategy of direct-to-consumer startups that sell products, then add content and community to support those commerce goals. “Everyone says we did all the hard stuff first,” Koziol said. “We’re showing the world that motherhood is not niche, that you can build a brand through content and then create the natural extensions out of that.” Image Credits: Motherly The Series A funding was led by 8VC, with participation from Founders Fund, Muse Capital, AET and AmplifyHer Ventures. “We’re long on millennial moms, and Motherly has demonstrated a unique ability to be at the center of this hyper-engaged market already,” AmplifyHer’s Meghan Cross told me via email. “Its content has organically sparked a vibrant conversation, and commerce is the logical extension.” Koziol, meanwhile, said that Motherly was able to build this audience with “virtually” no audience spend. That sounds particularly difficult given all the other parenting and motherhood-themed content already online, but Koziol said that she and Tenety (a former Washington Post editor) are both millennial mothers themselves, and they realized that “in media brands across the board, motherhood was treated as cartoonish … everything was very baby-centered.” She argued Motherly has succeeded so far because it’s aimed at a more educated and more diverse group of women, who are more likely to continue working after they have children. And as Motherly moves into commerce, she said that will include both company-branded products (Sounds True is publishing the startup’s second book, “The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey”), as well as a Motherly Store, which will offer a curated selection of products for moms, largely from smaller, direct-to-consumer brands. Koziol suggested that these brands will benefit from access to Motherly’s audience (particularly as advertising costs have grown to unsustainable heights for many D2C brands), while moms will benefit from having a “credible” source that can help “narrow down those choices.” Social network for motherhood Peanut raises $5M, expands to include women trying to conceive Of course, the landscape for media, commerce and parenting have all changed dramatically in the past few weeks thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Koziol noted that as a “100% work from home company,” Motherly was better-prepared for this shift. More broadly, she suggested that moms are going to need more help and support than ever — which Motherly is trying to provide, for example by offering its online birth class for free. “This woman in our audience has been layering roles on for years,” Koziol said. “And what we are now seeing, in addition to carrying the mental load of parenthood disproportionately and being a full-time bread winner, you’re layering full-time child-care and homeschooling. These are three different jobs.”

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Microsoft announced its latest Windows 10 preview build today and while that is a pretty routine affair these days, the company also used today’s announcement to also launch the beta version of a new news consumption experience that anybody on a Windows 10 device can try out today. The Microsoft News Bar aggregates news from the 4,500 publishers in the Microsoft News network and then displays those as a semi-persistent bar on any side of your screen. Windows 10 has long featured the Microsoft News app, which is more of a fully-features news reading experience (though I admit I always forget it even exists). The idea behind the News Bar is to give you a news ticker that is either always visible or that you can hide away at will. In order to make sure you don’t forget it, you can choose to have it pop back up in either two or eight hours — or never, if you’re seriously tired of the news right now. Nobody would blame you. Right now, this is a pretty barebones affair, without the ability to really personalize the news you see beyond the country you are in. What you can do is select some stocks you want to monitor and over time, Microsoft will add weather and sports options (hopefully with the ability to turn off sports news, because who cares, right?). It’d be nice to at least get some sense of what’s breaking news in the news bar, but as of now, there are no timestamps attached to the updates. If you’ve been around long enough, you may remember Windows Active Desktop, PointCast and Wired’s (in)famous Push cover story. Somehow this Microsoft News Bar feels a bit reminiscent of that and it seems a bit old-school to have a moving ticker on your desktop in 2020. But if that’s your style, you can now give this new experience a try by downloading the application from the Microsoft Store.

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Public markets around the world have been tanking for the past few weeks, and many companies simply can’t operate during a lockdown. Sheltering in place has had some terrible economic consequences, with a record number of Americans getting laid off, including many startup employees. But what is happening in Europe? You might also be wondering whether European tech startups have to lay off a significant chunk of their workforce and whether financial capital has become scarce. That’s why I interviewed Jean de La Rochebrochard, a partner for Kima Ventures, backed by French telco and media entrepreneur Xavier Niel. They focus on seed and Series A investments and invest in dozens of startups each year. He oversees hundreds of startup investments at any given time, which means he has his finger on the pulse of the tech ecosystem in France and across Europe. The interview was translated from French and edited for clarity and brevity. TechCrunch: At Kima Ventures, have you seen any change when it comes to investment pace? Jean de La Rochebrochard: There has been a big change at the deal-flow level. But we already committed to some deals before the lockdown. We’re currently closing all the deals that we were looking at. Over the past 15 days, we’ve closed 15 deals, I think. So it might slow down in the next 15 or 30 days… Yes, it’s going to slow down, that’s for sure. But we’ll only know for sure in a month when we’re done with our backlog.

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Airbnb is tweaking its landing page and introducing new features all aimed at longer-term stays, as the online rental marketplace looks to capitalize on a growing segment of its business. The changes are being rolled out just days after Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said the company had raised $1 billion and laid out plans to direct its attention and new funds toward three core products: hosts, long-term stays and Airbnb experiences. Airbnb raised the $1 billion in debt and equity from private equity firms Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners. Chesky acknowledged Monday that while the desire to connect and travel has been reinforced during this time, the “way it manifests will evolve as the world changes.” Airbnb is betting how and where people work will evolve; in the company’s view, it’s heading towards longer term stays. Recent data shared by Airbnb supports that view. In last two weeks of March, the company saw the number of guests booking longer-term stays within their same cities nearly double. Meanwhile, 80% of Airbnb hosts now accept longer-term stays and about half of the company’s active listings now provide discounts for stays of one month or longer. On Thursday, Airbnb will change its main landing page to highlight longer-term stays. The company introduced a new notification hosts to educate them on the benefits of longer-term stays as well as a guide to update their listings to accept these types of bookings. Airbnb has decided to make that a permanent feature in the portal that hosts use to manage their listings. Image Credits: Airbnb When the new landing page launches Thursday, Airbnb will have more than 1 million listings that offer monthly stays, according to the company. These homes are equipped with the kinds of amenities required for a longer stay such as kitchens, laundry facilities, and wifi. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted travel and sparked a need among healthcare and other essential workers to find places to stay in their own cities, has contributed to that growth. However, it appears this trend was already afoot in 2019. According to Airbnb, one in every seven nights booked in 2019 was for a longer-term stay. The push into longer term stays will likely butt up against property management companies that handle traditional one-year leases. There’s already some evidence that Airbnb’s longer term stays are looking more like traditional rentals. The company said it’s seeing more people such as students, doctors and nurses in residency, or others in long term work assignment turning to Airbnb to find housing for six- to nine-month stays. Already in 2020, Airbnb said it has seen bookings for more than 600 days; the longest booking made so far this year was more than 700 days.

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Rocket Lab is in the process of developing a way to recover the rockets it launches, despite their originally being designed as fully expendable launch vehicles. The company had a surprise announcement on Wednesday: It’s actually already managed to successfully catch an Electron in mid-air, during a test meant to prove out the feasibility of that part of the operation. The whole process involves Rocket Lab employing an onboard guidance system to orient an Electron first stage to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere after it has deployed its kick stage and payload, at such an angle that it won’t burn up. After that, the spent stage will deploy a parachute and float back towards Earth, where this mid-air recovery maneuver will come into play, with a helicopter snagging the gently falling rocket component out of the sky and flying it back to Rocket Lab suspended underneath the aircraft. During this test, which took place earlier in March before the current guidelines around practicing social isolation were in place, Rocket Lab simulated the actual launch component, instead taking an Electron test article that resembles the first stage in size, design and weight, and then dropping that from a first helicopter over the ocean off the coast of New Zealand. A second helicopter then swooped in to capture the test article, after it had deployed its own parachute, when it reached an altitude of around 5,000 feet. Rocket Lab has already been testing the re-entry portion of its recovery system, first with a launch last December, and then again this January. In both missions, the Electron used during the launch was equipped with guidance and navigation systems for data collection, and in the later mission, the rocket also had a system for reorienting itself to hit the atmosphere at the proper angle to slow its rate of descent. Those tests proved that part of the process should work as intended, and the next step now that this part has been validated is to attempt to actually recover a first stage, which Rocket Lab intends to do sometime later this year. That will involve having the Electron first stage on a forthcoming mission reorient itself to slow its descent, and actually deploy a parachute, but it won’t include the catch attempt. Instead, Rocket Lab will look to recover the booster from the ocean after it splashes down, and return it to its own facilities for refurbishment and potential re-use.

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Netflix is launching a new series on Instagram that will focus on taking care of yourself and your mental health during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The series, which will begin airing on Instagram Live tomorrow at 7 PM PT, features the stars of some of Netflix’s top Young Adult shows and movies, including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “The Kissing Booth,” “Stranger Things,” “Cheer,” and “13 Reasons Why.” The series will run every Thursday from now through May 14 on the @Netflix Instagram account, and will discuss the sort of challenges that young people are facing during the health crisis. For example, it will touch on topics like “what helps if you’re having trouble sleeping?,” “how do you stay connected during social distancing?,”  “how do we manage anxiety?,” and “what self-care actually means.” Participating in the effort are stars including Noah Centineo (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Joey King (The Kissing Booth), Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why), Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things), Lana Condor (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Jerry Harris (Cheer), and Alisha Boe (13 Reasons Why). The stars will be talking with trusted mental health experts from partner organizations including National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, The Trevor Project, Crisis Text Line and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The debut episode on Thursday, April 9 at 4:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT will be with Noah Centineo from “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” who will talk with Dr. Ken Duckworth, Chief Medical Officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the topic of self-care. While Netflix is no stranger to marketing on Instagram, this new live series is less about promoting Netflix’s shows and more about leveraging the existing stars’ power to do some good. Young people have had their lives upended by the pandemic at a time when their social connections with friends can outweigh those of others, including family members. It has also disrupted major milestones that signify the end of childhood and the stepping into adulthood, like prom and graduation. In other words, the types of struggles young people face when coping with COVID-19 are different from those of adults, who are more concerned about things like job security, getting the bills paid, and their family’s health. Netflix has released a trailer for the series today that explains the concept and introduces the stars. The company says it will share more details about upcoming episodes on Instagram throughout the month.   View this post on Instagram   if you’re feeling really stressed and anxious, talking through the realities of this strange and confusing time can be super helpful. starting tomorrow at 4pm PT we’re launching Wanna Talk About It? a weekly LIVE series on our Instagram about how to take care of yourself during a global pandemic. featuring interviews with Netflix talent and mental health experts who will dig into topics like sleep disorders, self care, and anxiety ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ @afspnational, @crisistextline, @mentalhealthamerica, @namicommunicate, @trevorproject A post shared by Netflix US (@netflix) on Apr 8, 2020 at 7:30am PDT

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Zoom has been served with another class action lawsuit — this time by one of its shareholders, who says he lost money after the company “overstated” its security measures, which led its share price to tank. The video conferencing giant has seen its daily usage rocket from 10 million users to 200 million since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced vast swathes of the world to stay and work from home. As its popularity rose, the company also faced a growing number of security and privacy problems, including claims that Zoom was not end-to-end encrypted as advertised. Zoom’s later admission saw the company’s share price fall by almost 20 percent. Shareholder Michael Drieu, who filed the suit in a California federal court on Tuesday, said he and others have “suffered significant losses and damages” as a result. According to the complaint, Drieu bought 50 shares priced at $149.50 but lost out when he sold the shares a week later at $120.50 per share. Zoom did not respond to a request for comment. It’s the latest class action served against Zoom in recent weeks. Zoom was slapped with another suit last month after Zoom’s iOS app was found to have shared data with Facebook — even when users did not have a Facebook account. Zoom has doubled down on its efforts to improve its image in the past week, including a promise to improve its encryption efforts and by changing its default settings to prevent trolls and intruders from accessing Zoom calls without permission, coined “Zoombombing.” The security problems have led to New York City schools banning Zoom in favor of Microsoft Teams. The Taiwanese government also banned its agencies from using the app. Just today, former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos said he joined Zoom as an advisor. Zoom also said it has enlisted security experts and leaders to advise on the company’s security strategy. Zoom admits some calls were routed through China by mistake

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Earlier this week, the Equity crew caught up with Work-Bench investor Jon Lehr to get his take on the current market, and how his firm goes about making investment decisions. The conversation was a treat, so we cut a piece of it off for everyone to listen to. The full audio and a loose transcript are also available after the jump. What did Danny and Alex learn while talking to Lehr? A few things, including what Seed II-level investments need these days to be attractive (Hint: It’s not a raw ARR threshold), and what’s going on in SaaS today (deals slowing, but not for select founders; relationships are key to doing deals today), and why being a VC is actually work. But what stood out the most was how Lehr thinks about finding investment opportunities. While some VCs like to cultivate images of being gut-investors, cutting checks based on first meetings and the like, Lehr told TechCrunch about how he researches the market to find pain-points, and then the startups that might solve those issues. You can listen to that bit of the chat in the clip below: Extra Crunch subscribers, the rest of the goodies are below. (A big thanks to Danny for cleaning up the written transcript.) The audio

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Mozilla Corporation announced today that it has chosen long-time chairwoman Mitchell Baker to be CEO, replacing Chris Beard who announced he would be stepping down at the end of the year last August. Baker represents a logical choice to lead the company. At a time of great turmoil in the world at large, she brings the stability of someone who has been with Mozilla Corporation since 2003. Writing in a company blog post, she certainly recognized the challenges ahead, navigating through the current economic uncertainty and the competitive challenges the company faces with its flagship Firefox browser.. “It’s a time of challenge on many levels, there’s no question about that. Mozilla’s flagship product remains excellent, but the competition is stiff. The increasing vertical integration of internet experience remains a deep challenge. It’s also a time of need, and of opportunity. Increasingly, numbers of people recognize that the internet needs attention,” Baker wrote. Baker has been acting as interim CEO since December when Beard officially left the company. In a blog post from the board announcing Baker’s official new title, they certainly recognized that it would take someone with her unique combination of skills and experience to guide the company through this next phase. “Mitchell’s deep understanding of Mozilla’s existing businesses gives her the ability to provide direction and support to drive this important work forward,” they wrote. Adding, “And her leadership style grounded in openness and honesty is helping the organization navigate through the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created for Mozillians at work and at home.” Mozilla Corporation was founded in 1998 and is best known for its flagship, open source Firefox browser. The company faces stiff competition in the browser market from Google, Apple and Microsoft. Mozilla CEO Chris Beard will step down at the end of the year

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Google’s game-streaming service Stadia is now free for anyone with a Google account, the company announced today. Assuming you’ve got a compatible device and controller — and good internet in one of the 14 supported countries — you can sign up right now and get the “Pro” edition with a handful of built-in games for two months. Until today, Stadia was only available via a $129 “Premiere Edition.” In a blog post, the company explained that the intense pressures of the pandemic led them to open up the service. “We’re facing some of the most challenging times in recent memory. Video games can be a valuable way to socialize with friends and family when you’re stuck at home, so we’re giving gamers in 14 countries free access to Stadia for two months,” writes Stadia VP and GM Phil Harrison. Although the post makes no mention of a permanent free tier, a Google representative confirmed that it exists and players signing up today will be able to switch to it if they decide not to pay for Pro after two months. Existing subscribers, who have been vocally critical of the barebones offering they paid a premium to access, will not be charged for the next two months. Also, in order to cope with what will no doubt be a flood of demand, Stadia will be defaulting everyone’s streams to 1080p, though you’ll be able to change that in your preferences. That’s interesting considering YouTube just downgraded its quality worldwide to lower overall bandwidth usage. YouTube defaults to SD quality worldwide to tame bandwidth surge For now, though, it won’t do to look a gift horse in the mouth. Stadia is a solid way to play games on a PC, or TV that would normally not be able to do so — an underpowered laptop, for instance. Streaming to your phone or tablet is also an option. On supported iOS and Android devices, you’ll need to download the app; on computers, you’ll need Chrome; and for a TV you need a Chromecast Ultra — the regular one won’t cut it. You have to provide your own controller; a list of compatible ones is available here, and while Google’s own Stadia controller is the only one that works with Chromecast, the controllers for the other major consoles generally work for Chrome and Android phones. As for games, well, that’s a bit confusing. You’ll be getting access to the Stadia Pro tier of membership, which gets a free game every month to keep, like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus. Right now, though, that only amounts to 9 games, though some are pretty great — Destiny 2, SteamWorld Dig 2, Metro Exodus, GRID, and a few more. If you want to play something like Borderlands 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, you’ll have to buy the games on the Stadia marketplace. But the games are then only available to stream through Stadia, and if you ever left the service you would lose access to them. The fact is Stadia hasn’t yet proven itself to be worth the money for everyone, but a free trial will help potential subscribers decide if the service is for them. You can sign up for your free trial via the main Stadia site here.

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There will be plenty of jokes. “Why is tonight different from all other nights,” the first of The Four Questions, will almost certainly serve as a laugh line in all but the most serious Seders this year. As for the plague — haven’t we had enough plague talk already? For Jews across the world, Passover will serve as another attempted return to normalcy. There are few things in the calendar as reliably consistent as Passover, with its customs, prayers and extremely set menu. Here in the States, Passover is the most commonly celebrated holiday among Jews. According to Pew, roughly 23% of the Jewish American population attend services monthly, while 70% say they attended a Seder a year prior. That the figure includes 42% of non-religious Jews is a testament to how transcendent the consistency and practice can be. This year, however, things will be different. Because everything is different. It has been clear for some time now that this year’s holiday would be profoundly transformed by COVID-19, first through bans on social gatherings that made religious services an impossibility and ultimately due to international stay at home orders that are keeping many family members apart. For Passover 2020 (or, 5780, depending on where you start counting), teleconferencing services — Zoom in particular — will have to do in a pinch. “Judaism does not have a central governing body that can tell individuals or congregations how to respond in this crisis, and in Judaism’s very long relationship with technological development rabbis have almost always been playing catch-up to norms established by the Jewish public; even after the Industrial Revolution, rabbis were rarely the first to respond,” David Zvi Kalman, Fellow in Residence at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America told TechCrunch. “That being said, the religious questions that this pandemic raises are often about how a Jewish community is supposed to function, and so rabbis have an unusually large role to play in shaping the communal response.” Late last month, a group of 14 orthodox rabbis signed a ruling declaring that families would be allowed to use teleconferencing technology to conduct Seders. The document cited similar exceptions as those invoked during Shabbat, which otherwise has a blanket ban against the use of technology. “Just as it is permissible for a non-critical patient to receive treatment on Shabbat in order to cure him of illness, such is the case here,” the rabbis explained. “We have made the decision, in these emergency situations, to knowingly put aside some of the restrictions regarding the use of electronics on Shabbat in order to stay spiritually connected even though we are physically separated,” New York-based Rabbi Rachel Ain told TechCrunch. She has been among those leading congregations in services for much of the city’s stay at home order. “We have made the decision, in these emergency situations, to knowingly put aside some of the restrictions regarding the use of electronics on Shabbat in order to stay spiritually connected even though we are physically separated,” she add, explaining that the synagogue has explored a wide variety of different avenues. When Passover begins tonight at sundown, Jews all over the world will be engaged in TeleSeders — most for the first time, including all of the trials, tribulations and novelty that brings. For many Christians, the event will also, perhaps, set an interesting precedent for the upcoming Easter holiday, as Trump’s earlier promises to end the shutdown ahead of then have become increasingly unrealistic. Like so many aspects of our life, there’s a pervasive question of whether this will ultimately serve as a kind of new normal, going forward. The phrase “Next year in Jerusalem,” sung by many at the Seder’s end, will take on a special sort of diasporic resonance, as many are forced to remain at distance from friends and family. “While I suspect that virtualized learning will be taken much more seriously after this crisis is over, I think a vast majority of Jews would prefer to attend prayer services in person (at least among those Jews who attend services at all),” Zvi Kalman tells TechCrunch. “A lot of rabbis are definitely worried about setting precedents for virtual community that will end up diminishing in-person gatherings. At the same time, this crisis is causing a lot of rabbis to take social isolation — which isn’t a problem specific to this pandemic — a lot more seriously.”

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On Wednesday, two-time Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders announced that he would end his bid for the party’s nomination, marking an end to a deeply influential progressive political campaign. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” Sanders said in a livestream Wednesday morning delivering the news. In states with remaining primaries, the former candidate will stay on the ballot in an effort to exert ongoing influence on the Democratic party as it moves toward nominating former Vice President Joe Biden. “While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not,” Sanders said. Today I am suspending my campaign. But while the campaign ends, the struggle for justice continues on. https://t.co/MYc7kt2b16 — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 8, 2020 Sanders built momentum quickly in the 2020 race, with strong early showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, but his momentum was upended when Biden surged back in South Carolina in late February. With the remaining centrist candidates dropping out in quick succession just before Super Tuesday, a blitz of support recharged the lagging Biden campaign as Sanders struggled to build a winning coalition. After Super Tuesday, it became clear that the Sanders campaign was not driving record turnout among young voters, a critical metric for the campaign’s success. More than any candidate, Sanders reshaped the Democratic race—and often the entire political conversation—pushing the party left with a tireless message of fair wages, universal health care, and financial reform. It’s not a stretch to argue that the policies core to the Sanders campaign could have provided some protection for the U.S. against the existential threat it’s facing now, with record unemployment, dangerous working conditions for hourly and gig workers, and uninsured Americans left out in the cold. With Elizabeth Warren out of the race, Sanders appeared to pose the last major Democratic threat of sweeping reform to the tech industry, though some comments from Biden in January suggest otherwise. Over the last few years, the tech industry has faced intense scrutiny for its monopolistic tendencies, questionable labor practices, and the failure of social media platforms to prevent Russia from interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree that tech needs to be held responsible for its failings, their motivations and proposed reforms don’t always overlap. Elizabeth Warren, big tech’s sworn foe, drops out of 2020 race Biden hasn’t suggested that regulating tech would be a central priority for his presidency, but he has stated that breaking up big tech is “something we should take a really hard look at” without making any firm commitment to do so. In January, Biden also said that he believed tech platforms should no longer be shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a deeply controversial policy stance that could upend some of tech’s biggest businesses while causing a cascade of side-effects that could prove extremely consequential for a broad swath of the internet and its users. With Sanders out, Biden will likely be building out his policies with more clarity, and we’ll be following those developments closely. Sanders’ exit from the 2020 race marks the end of an era, even if his ideals live on in future candidacies. From 2016 to 2020, no Democratic political figure exerted as much influence from the outside, completely transforming the national political conversation. And even out of the race, the leftmost wing of the party Sanders championed continues to wield influence as the 2020 race marches on—influence Biden would be smart to court to expand his support beyond the moderate coalition that paved his way to the nomination.

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Facebook’s ad review system is failing to prevent coronavirus misinformation from being targeted at its users, according to an investigation by Consumer Reports. The not-for-profit consumer advocacy organization set out to test Facebook’s system by setting up a page for a made-up organization, called the Self Preservation Society, and creating ads that contained false or deliberately misleading information about the coronavirus — including messaging that claimed (incorrectly) that people under 30 are “safe”, or that coronavirus is a “HOAX”. Another of the bogus ads urged people to “stay healthy with SMALL daily doses” of bleach, per the report. The upshot of the experiment? Facebook’s system waived all the ads through, apparently failing to spot any problems or potential harms. “Facebook approved them all,” writes Consumer Reports . “The advertisements remained scheduled for publication for more than a week without being flagged by Facebook.” Of course the organization pulled the ads before they were published, saying it made certain no Facebook users were exposed to the false or misleading claims. But the test appears to expose how few barriers there are within Facebook’s current ad review system for picking up and preventing harmful ads targeting the coronavirus pandemic. The only ad in the experiment Facebook rejected was flagged because of its image, per Consumer Reports — which says it had used a stock shot of a respirator-style face mask. After swapping the image for a “similar alternative” it says Facebook approved that too. Last month, as part of its own business response to the threat posed by COVID-19, Facebook announced it was sending home all global content reviewers “until further notice” — saying it would be relying on more automated review as a consequence of this decision. “As we rely more on our automated systems, we may make mistakes,” it wrote then. Consumer Reports’ investigation highlights how serious those mistakes can be, as a result of Facebook’s decision to lean so heavily on AI moderation — given the company is waiving through clearly harmful messages that urge users to ignore public health advice to stay home and socially distance themselves, or even drink a harmful substance to stay “safe”. In response to the Consumer Reports investigation Facebook defended itself — saying it has removed “millions” of listings for policy violations related to the coronavirus. Though it also conceded its enforcement around COVID-19 misinformation is far from perfect. “While we’ve removed millions of ads and commerce listings for violating our policies related to COVID-19, we’re always working to improve our enforcement systems to prevent harmful misinformation related to this emergency from spreading on our services,” a Facebook spokesperson, Devon Kearns, told Consumer Reports. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to specify how many humans it has working on ad review during the coronavirus crisis when we asked. Though the company told Consumer Reports it has a “few thousand” reviewers now able to work from home. Back in 2018 Facebook reported having some 15,000 people employed doing content review. It’s never been clear what proportion of those are focused on (user) content review vs ad review. But a “few thousand” vs 15k suggests there has likely been a very considerable drop in the number of eyeballs checking ads. (Pre-COVID, Facebook also liked to refer to having a safety and security team of over 35,000 people globally — with the 15k reviewers sitting within that.) Facebook’s content review team has clearly shrunk considerably as a result of coronavirus-related disruption to its business. Though the company is refusing to come clean on exactly how many (few) people it has doing content review right now. It’s also clear that the risk of harm from tools like Facebook’s ad platform — that can be used to easily and cheaply amplify damaging online disinformation — could hardly be higher than during a pandemic, when there is a pressing need for governments and health authorities to be able to communicate facts, official guidance and best practice to their populations to keep them safe. Facebook’s platform becoming a conduit for false and/or maliciously misleading messaging risks undermining public health at a critical time. Last month the company was also revealed to have blocked links to legitimate news and other websites that were sharing coronavirus-related content — following its switch to AI-led moderation. While, in recent weeks, the company has faced criticism for failing to live up to a pledge to take down ads for coronavirus masks. At the same time, Facebook’s platform remains a hotbed of user generated coronavirus-related misinformation — with individuals widely reported sharing posts that claim bogus home remedies such as gargling with salt water to kill the virus (it doesn’t) or playing down the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic by claiming it’s ‘just the flu’ (it’s not).

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A new startup called twine wants to help people feel less isolated and alone. Though the project has been in the works for around six months, it’s launching at a time when people are struggling with being cut off from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting government lockdowns and self-quarantines. Described simply as a “Zoom for meeting new people,” twine is a group video chat experience where people are encouraged to have meaningful discussions that spark new friendships. In twine, users are matched with four other partners who they’ll then have 1-to-1 conversations with for 8 minutes apiece. The full gathering lasts for a total of 40 minutes, including the virtual guide portion where the ground rules are set. Participants choose from a library of over 250 “deep” questions, then get matched with partners who want to explore the same topics. They then RSVP for twine’s digital gatherings in their time zone and check in when it’s time to start. The overall experience is meant to help people find connections by skipping the small talk and going straight to what matters. But the focus is on friendships, not dating. Afterward, users are encouraged to set reminders to get back in touch and meet again in future gatherings. There’s a hint of Chatroulette to this idea, given that users could be matched to people who are only there to disrupt the experience, in theory at least. But the company aims to reduce the potential for this sort of shock trolling by permanently banning members who are flagged for making others uncomfortable in any sort of way. We also noticed the app asks for your email, phone and zip code during its onboarding process, so it’s not entirely an anonymous experience. In addition, twine requires users rate each conversation when it ends and members have to pre-approved before joining a chat. The company says it’s looking to move towards “real ID only” in the future to further reduce the potential for trolling. That said, there’s still a bit of a risk in chatting openly with strangers about highly personal topics. Twine’s guidelines say that conversations are not to be discussed with others, but this is not a doctor-patient relationship with legal protections for confidentiality. It’s just a group chat app with people who may or may not be there to follow the rules. That said, the internet is currently experiencing a rebirth of sorts, due to COVID-19. People are coming online to look for connections. Social media is actually becoming social. This is an ideal environment to test something as optimistic as twine, which at its core believes people are largely good and will use the technology appropriately. The idea for twine comes from serial entrepreneurs Lawrence Coburn and Diane Rau. Coburn previously spent the last nine years as founder and CEO of mobile events technology provider DoubleDutch, which was acquired by Cvent in 2019. Rau, meanwhile, was co-founder at CEO of Veterati, a digital mentoring platform for Veterans that had also leveraged 1-to-1 conversations as part of its community-building experience. The founders already knew each other from the Georgetown entrepreneurship ecosystem. And Coburn was an advisor to Veterati, and Rau had worked at DoubeDutch, as well. Coburn describes his vision for twine as something in between a new social network and a substitute for those who are spiritual, but not religious, in terms helping people who want to “be better humans.” Rau says she wanted to work on twine to help end loneliness by giving people a place to explore humanity on a one-on-one basis. The app was originally intended to connect people who would meet up in real-life gatherings, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted those plans and accelerated launch plans. “Launching a new company during the best of times is really, really hard. During a global pandemic? Yikes!,” wrote Coburn, in a blog post about the launch. “But as the new reality settles in, it has become clear to me that the world needs twine or something like it more than ever. The macro forces that inspired Diana and I to start twine – loneliness, polarization, isolation – will only be exacerbated by social distancing. A societal loneliness that was already classified as an epidemic pre coronavirus, is about to get way, way worse,” he added. The startup is backed by $1.4 million in seed funding, closed on March 12, led by DoubleDutch investor, Hinge Capital. Other investors from DoubleDutch have also returned to fund twine, including FJ Labs, Brand Foundry, and Bragiel Brothers. Angels in the round include April Underwood (Slack), Jay Hoffmann (Rocketmiles), Scott Heiferman (Meetup), and Vishal Kapur (Screenhero). In the future, twine aims to be subscription-based and launch real-life gatherings, as originally planned, when it’s safe to do so. The app is currently in private beta on iOS and web. Currently, it has a waitlist of around 1,000 users mainly from New York City and San Francisco, but twine will be available worldwide.

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France’s health minister Olivier Véran and digital minister Cédric O have officially announced that the French government is working on a smartphone app to slow the spread of coronavirus. The government is putting a stamp of approval on the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) project but remains cautious about what to expect from an app. Using mobile apps to track the coronavirus is a sensitive issue in Europe. Dozens of nonprofit organizations have written a common statement urging governments to respect human rights. They fear that governments could use this opportunity to enforce far-reaching surveillance measures that don’t comply with the regulatory framework and that remain in place after the coronavirus crisis. The European Commission reminded governments that they should implement “appropriate safeguards” as EU citizens are not going to trust contact-tracing apps if they don’t treat personal information appropriately. That’s probably why the government is preventively trying to reassure people before releasing the Stop Covid app. According to a statement, the Ministry for the Digital Sector says that it is working with the Health Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation to coordinate tech-based initiatives. Led by Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute for telecoms (HHI), the PEPP-PT project that was unveiled last week is a coalition of dozens of research institutions across multiple countries. France’s INRIA is a member of the PEPP-PT and the French government is willing to collaborate with the INRIA as part of the PEPP-PT effort. They’re working on an open standard to develop contact-tracing apps. Those apps would rely on Bluetooth Low Energy to identify other phones running the same app. If, at some point, you are near an infected person, you would be notified. And the French government says that there will be an app specifically designed to track people living in France. That app will leverage the PEPP-PT protocol. People in favor of contact-tracing apps say that it would help break infection chains if you combine those apps with proactive tests and self-isolations. In an interview with Le Monde, Cédric O and Olivier Véran detailed the effort. France isn’t going to force you to install the app and Stop Covid is only going to use Bluetooth. A prototype is in the works, but it’s going to take three to six weeks to develop. Even then, the French government might not even release the app. “We’re not sure that we can overcome all the technical difficulties because Bluetooth hasn’t been designed to measure the distance between individuals. We will decide later if it would be useful to roll out such an application or not,” Cédric O told Le Monde. When it comes to privacy, Cédric O says the app will be open-source and France’s privacy watchdog the CNIL will have a say. We’ve reached out to the CNIL for comment but the agency said it was too early to comment. More importantly, details are still thin on the implementation of the PEPP-PT protocol in France. Privacy experts are debating the design of the system. Some argue that it should be as decentralized as possible. Smartphones should keep a log of your social interactions (via ephemeral Bluetooth identifiers). Your phone would regularly fetch a list of infected ephemeral Bluetooth identifiers and do the heavy lifting. The PEPP-PT project currently supports centralized and decentralized approaches, which means that governments have to decide on an implementation. In a centralized system, a server would assign each user an anonymized identifier and collect data about your social interactions. Each user would be able to fetch the status of its identifier to check whether they’ve been potentially infected or not. It creates a single point of failure and presents risks if someone is able to match anonymized identifiers with real names. EU privacy experts push a decentralized approach to COVID-19 contacts tracing The Ministry for the Digital Sector also detailed how France is leveraging tech in general to understand the coronavirus outbreak, improve COVID-19 treatments and plan the end of the lockdown in France. In addition to the app that is currently in the works, the French government has rolled out an official website to inform people, is encouraging telemedicine services to treat patients (such as Covidom from public hospitals in Paris), is mining aggregated data from telecom companies to understand how people move around the country and is leveraging machine learning on big data to forecast the coronavirus outbreak.

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The CEO of Twitter and Square makes a major commitment to COVID-19 relief, Tesla shuts down its U.S. factories until May and PlayStation unveils its latest controller. Here’s your Daily Crunch for April 8, 2020. 1. Jack Dorsey creates $1B COVID-19 relief fund using Square equity Jack Dorsey announced in a series of tweets that he is shifting $1 billion in his Square equity to create a fund dedicated to COVID-19 relief. The Twitter and Square CEO is calling the fund Start Small and posting a tally of disbursements and recipients in a public spreadsheet. The first Start Small contribution listed is $100,000 to America’s Food Fund — an effort led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurene Powell Jobs dedicated to providing meals to vulnerable populations disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2. Tesla to cut salaries, furlough workers as COVID-19 shutdowns expected to last until May 4 Tesla will suspend production at its U.S. factories until at least May 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the company to cut pay for salaried employees between 10% and 30% and furlough workers, according to an internal email sent Tuesday night. 3. PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller is a sleek and futuristic gaming accessory Sony has revealed the design of the PlayStation 5‘s controller. It’s a follow-on to its popular DualShock line that takes on a new name for a new generation: DualSense. The DualSense controller is kitted out in black and white, and in some ways looks like a futuristic, plastic armor-plated robot companion more than a gamepad. 4. Netflix now lets you lock your personal profile with a PIN to keep kids (and roommates) out Want to let your kids poke around Netflix without them wandering their way beyond the kids section? Got a roommate who keeps inexplicably forgetting to use their profile and is totally screwing up your “Continue Watching” list? This is good news for you. 5. Dear Sophie: Is unemployment considered a public benefit? Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column from Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn. This time, she looks at whether getting unemployment benefits would hurt a green card petition — yours or your spouse’s — under the new public charge rule. (Extra Crunch membership required.) 6. Target’s Shipt shoppers walked off work Yesterday, Shipt’s shoppers walked off work in protest of the way it has treated shoppers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa-based shopper Angie Kufner told TechCrunch, “Unless you get tested for COVID-19 or you’re half dead, Shipt’s not going to care.” 7. Borderlands 3 bridges the gap between citizen science and blockbuster games Borderlands 3 publisher 2K and developer Gearbox Software is elevating the series’ latest game to lofty new ideals with a new in-game experience called Borderlands Science, a crowdsourced citizen science project that will leverage the hit game’s massive player base to conduct actual scientific research. 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.

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Fintech startups were hot news before the COVID-19 era, but the pandemic hasn’t bumped the sector out of the headlines. Companies that were pitching optimistic news a few weeks ago are now cutting staff. Others are facing a surge of users trying to find their financial footing in the face of uncertainty. Some fintech shops are sharing data by the heap, while others refuse to disburse even a morsel.  And what about all those credit card startups? As a startup category, fintech is in a complex spot as the global markets shed value. Small businesses hampered by shelter-in-place orders are scrambling for alternate capital sources and individuals are eager to secure their financial health. It’s a time of utmost use — or uselessness — for fintech solutions. To make sense of all the changes, we dug our teeth into several news stories. We also collected and peppered in fresh data from a host of startups in the space and mixed in commentary from investor Kyle Lui of DCM, a venture firm that invested in the recent (and successful) fintech IPO of Bill.com. So here’s a brief, contentedly complete look at the world of fintech. We’ll start with who we know is struggling, move on to companies that are either quiet or unclear in their recent performance and we’ll close with some companies that are performing well in the odd world we find ourselves in. Who is struggling? The snap from rapid growth and layoffs was rapid for many players in the space. A number of firms that we’ve covered recently have rapidly seen their fortunes change.

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Thrive, founded by Twitter alumni Deepak Rao and Siddarth Batra, wants to fund student expenses by looking at job offer letters as a way to evaluate loans. Today, it launched its loan platform and is accessible to students on over 400 campuses across 31 states. The San Francisco company helps underfunded students, a group that isn’t typically accounted for by traditional financial institutions that issue loans based on credit score. According to co-founder Rao, Thrive is for people like “first generation Americans, people who come from low-income families, or first generation students.” Before launching broadly, Thrive secured $10.25 million in funding and $5 million in venture debt. Today, the company also announced that it has picked up a $200 million credit line from Credit Suisse. Investors include Max Levchin, founder of PayPal and Affirm, Adam Bain, former COO of Twitter, and David Sacks, a general partner at Craft Ventures. “We started the company with the mission to invest in human potential,” Rao said. “We basically built a product that empowers underfunded students and gives them access to funds for whatever things they need in order to transition into their professional lives.” The cash can be used flexibly for items like new laptops or flights home. Students can sign up on the platform and upload an offer letter for an upcoming summer internship or full time college postgraduate offer. Thrive validates the document then offers a loan to the students. For an internship, Thrive unlocks 25% of the student’s total internship salary for a loan. For a full-time job, Thrive will offer 25% of an individual’s first three months’ salary. Thrive charges students between $7 to $15 per every $1,000 they receive per month, and they’re allowed to take as much as they need from the dollar amount that Thrive offers them. If you take $1,000 and your internship starts in three months, and if you want to pay it back in one go, you have to pay between $21 to $45 above the $1,000 when you pay it back. Once students prove they’re soon going to be employed, they can access the funds within one business day and then start paying back Thrive once they start their new job. Thrive’s payback structure is similar to the income-sharing format that a company like Lambda School uses. Lambda School says it gives students the option to pay zero dollars for tuition, and then pay 17% of their salary they earn from a job that pays a minimum of $50,000 annually for two years. So while it’s not new to bet on salary, Thrive is looking at turning the concept of incoming sharing on its head and applying it to loan financing. Lambda School aims to cash in by upskilling untapped talent When they founded  the company in 2017, Rao and Batra were both classmates at Stanford and then co-workers at Twitter. Rao comes from a low income family, so he personally felt the blow of costs that come with being a grad student in the United States, from flying home to paying for your laptop. Or just even dinner. Thrive declined to share specific financials or comment on profitability. Rao did say that the company is growing “5 times year over year” and has enough funds to avoid raising venture capital until the end of 2021. “Our biggest expense is the ability to fund loans, and we are not funding loans through equity money,” Rao said. “At the end of the day, it’s like a software business, our biggest cost is the cost of goods, which is capital, and someone else is funding the capital.” Not needing more venture capital might be especially helpful as we enter a time of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. Unlike other fintech companies, which have had to harshen their underwriting standards to prepare for risk due to the uncertain economy, Rao tells TechCrunch that Thrive will not change how willing they are to write loans. Some tech internships have been canceled due to COVID-19, he noted, and if students have had an offer rescinded, Thrive “updates the payment plan accordingly.” “As long as your internship is still active, your offer is still issued,” he said. That doesn’t matter whether the intern will be remote or in-person. Thrive is expanding its business as undergraduate and graduate students are entering a job market with historically high unemployment. We’ll see how a tough job market impacts a company that depends on offer letters for loans, and whether their bet on alternative financing pays off.

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With more folks working at home than ever, and many on machines outside the purview of IT and security teams, it’s becoming increasingly imperative to find creative ways to protect them from harm. Today, Box announced it was adding automated malware detection tools to Box Shield, the security product it announced last year. Aaron Levie, CEO at Box, says that it’s important to find new ways of thinking about security, especially with millions of people suddenly working at home using cloud solutions. “As people have begun working from home in greater numbers, you’re seeing an increase in malware and phishing attacks. [Bad actors] are starting to spread these security vulnerabilities in a much more aggressive manner, and so we’re launching Box Shield with malware protection built-in with advanced tools and policies around that malware detection,” he said. The company is taking a three-pronged approach with this solution. For starters, it will let users view a file without actually having to download it first, while indicating if there is a risk associated with it. Next, it will actually prevent users from downloading a file with malware attached, and finally it will alert the security team when a file with malware has been uploaded to Box. The idea is to keep the file from infecting whatever device that employees are working on, alerting end users when there is a problem, while letting them see the content of the file gives them all the information they need to know if the file is actually legitimate in the first place. It’s so much easier right now to be spreading this kind of malicious package with people working from home, and sharing files at a far greater rate than ever before. This new feature is designed to give everyone in the loop from the end user to the IT security team some confidence that they can know when files are infected or not and keep them from proliferating inside of Box. Box introduces Box Shield with increased security controls and threat protection

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