posted 2 days ago on techcrunch
Sleek, a startup that is making it easier for other startups and companies to incorporate and operate in Singapore and Hong Kong, said today it has extended its seed financing round to raise $5 million. The extended seed round for the two-year-old startup was led by private investors Pierre Lorinet and Fabio Blom, and MI8, an Asia-focused European backed private investment company. Sleek also counts a number of high profile individuals including Martin Crawford, former Group CEO of corporate services giant Vistra, Olivier Gerhardt, founder of Wavecell, Eric Barbier, founder of TransferTo, and Olivier Legrand, MD Asia at Linkedin among its investors. Sleek, founded by French entrepreneurs Julien Labruyere and Adrien Barthel, today helps more than 2,000 startups and companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, an additional market it extended to in mid-2019. Some of its clients include Yours Cosmetics (funded by Sequoia), Aspire Financials (which raised $30 million recently), Ematic Solutions, Devialet, and oil and gas giant Total. As we wrote about them in June this year, Sleek not only helps startups and companies incorporate themselves in Singapore (and now, Hong Kong), but also takes care of their accounting, taxes, regulatory compliance and other administrative work. Sleek founders Julien Labruyere (right) and Adrien Barthel (left) Singapore and Hong Kong have emerged as epicenters for startups and tech worldwide. “Hong Kong is a historical Asian financial hub, with six times more operating companies than in Singapore and an amazing business ecosystem,” said Barthel, adding that despite the current situation in Hong Kong, the business is growing in the market. Both Singapore and Hong Kong today offer a range of benefits including government-backed startup programs to attract businesses, but setting up shops there still require a lot of paperwork. The traditional way of dealing with accounting and incorporation is a cumbersome task, and the last thing founders want to deal with, Barthel explained to TechCrunch in an interview. Plus, there’s no transparency in what the actual cost of doing these tasks would be, he said. Sleek offers a subscription business, where it charges a fixed amount — about $600 — to its customers each year. Starting second year, it waives some of its fee, said Barthel. “We also offer a simple dashboard for our clients to quickly check the progress we have made on any front,” he added. To make the deal even better, Sleek offers vouchers with subscription to AWS, Stripe, Google Cloud — that they are likely going to use in their businesses anyway — worth thousands of dollars. The startup also connects its partner entrepreneurs with financial institutions to help them access working capital. Barthel said before signing up a client, Sleek does its own due diligence. “Singapore, for instance, has stringent on KYC (know your customer) processes. Among other things, we use a number of APIs that are tied with all the major global databases to ensure that our potential clients are not doing notorious business,” he said. Sleek, which today employs 85 people, will use the fresh capital to expand its tech team, build new features for clients, and increase its operational capacity.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest industrial houses, has acquired a majority stake in NowFloats, an Indian startup that helps businesses and individuals build online presence without any web developing skills. In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited said (PDF) it has acquired an 85% stake in NowFloats for 1.4 billion Indian rupees ($20 million). Seven-and-a-half-year old, Hyderabad-headquartered NowFloats operates an eponymous platform that allows individuals and businesses to easily build an online presence. Using NowFloats’ services, a mom and pop store, for instance, can build a website, publish their catalog, as well as engage with their customers on WhatsApp. The startup, which has raised about 12 million in equity financing prior to today’s announcement, claims to have helped over 300,000 participating retail partners. NowFloats counts Blume Ventures, Omidyar Network, Iron Pillar, IIFL Wealth Management, and Hyderabad Angels among its investors. Last year, NowFloats acquired LookUp, an India-based chat service that connects consumers to local business — and is backed by Vinod Khosla’s personal fund Khosla Impact, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures and Global Founders Capital. Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, said that it would invest up to 750 million Indian rupees ($10.6 million) of additional capital into the startup, and raise its stake to about 89.66%, if NowFloats achieves certain unspecified goals by the end of next year. In a statement, Reliance Industries said the investment will “further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives.” NowFloats is the latest acquisition Reliance has made in the country this year. In August, the conglomerate said it was buying a majority stake in Google-backed Fynd for $42.3 million. In April, it bought a majority stake in Haptik in a deal worth $100 million. There are about 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India. Like hundreds of millions of Indians, many in small towns and cities, who have come online in recent years thanks to world’s cheapest mobile data plans and inexpensive Android smartphones, businesses are increasingly building online presence as well. But vast majority of them are still offline, a fact that has created immense opportunities for startups — and VCs looking into this space — and major technology giants. New Delhi-based BharatPe, which helps merchants accept online payments and provides them with working capital, raised $50 million in August. Khatabook and OkCredit, two digital bookkeeping apps for merchants, have also raised significant amount of money this year. In recent years, Google has also looked into the space. It has launched tools — and offered guidance — to help neighborhood stores establish some presence on the web. In September, the company announced that its Google Pay service, which is used by more than 67 million users in India, will now enable businesses to accept digital payments and reach their customers online.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Salesforce announced today that it has named Bret Taylor as president and chief operating officer of the company. Prior to today’s promotion, Taylor held the position of president and chief product officer. In his new position, Taylor will be responsible for a number of activities, including leading Salesforce’s global product vision, engineering, security, marketing and communications. That’s a big job, and as such he will report directly to chairman Marc Benioff. Taylor has had increasing responsibilities over the last couple of years, taking the lead on many of Salesforce’s biggest announcements at Dreamforce, the company’s massive yearly customer conference. In fact, Benioff said in a statement that Taylor has already been responsible for product vision, development and go-to-market strategy prior to today’s promotion. “His expanded portfolio of responsibilities will enable us to drive even greater customer success and innovation as we experience rapid growth at scale,” Benioff said in the statement. Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, who has been watching the company since its earliest days, says it feels like this could be part of a succession plan down the road. This promotion could be a signal that Taylor is being groomed to take over for Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to move on. “It’s been feeling like he’s being groomed for the big chair somewhere down the line. He’s a generation behind the current leadership, but his experiences at startups and creating iconic technologies at iconic companies uniquely positioned him for a move like this at a company like Salesforce,” Leary told TechCrunch. Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, agrees, saying Taylor is a rising star at Salesforce. “As the guy who invented the Like button at Facebook, Google Maps and other innovations, he’s the Chosen One to take the technologies teams further,” Wang said. Wang added that Taylor’s strengths are about quickly determining a pragmatic path to market for ideas, but also simplifying the complex. “It’s a good move for Salesforce, and shows the deep bench strength the team has,” he said. Taylor came to Salesforce when the company purchased Quip in August 2016 for $750 million. He was promoted to president and chief product officer in November 2017. Prior to launching Quip he was chief technology officer at Facebook. Salesforce buys word processing app Quip for $750M

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Bill.com went public today after pricing its shares higher than it initially expected. The B2B payments company sold nearly 10 million shares at $22 apiece, raising around $216 million in its IPO. Public investors felt that the company’s price was a deal, sending the value of its equity to $35.51 per share as of the time of writing. That’s a gain of over 61%. On the heels of its successful pricing run and raucous first day’s trading, TechCrunch caught up with Bill.com CEO René Lacerte to dig into his company’s debut. We wanted to know how pricing went, and whether the company (which possibly could have valued itself more richly during its IPO pricing, given its first-day pop) had considered a direct listing. Lacerte detailed what resonated with investors while pricing Bill.com’s shares, and also did a good job outlining his perspective on what matters for companies that are going public. As a spoiler, he wasn’t super focused on the company’s first-day return. For more on the Bill.com IPO’s nuts and bolts, head here. Let’s get into the interview. René Lacerte The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Questions have been condensed. TechCrunch: How did your IPO pricing feel, and what did you learn from the process? Lacerte: I think the whole experience has been an incredible learning experience from a capitalism perspective; that’s probably a broader conversation. But you know, it really came down to how our story resonated with investors, and so there’s three components that we kind of really talked to folks about.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Last month, Carbon announced its first new CEO in the company’s history. With $260 million worth of investments and a $2.5 billion, it’s a big job. But Carbon’s 500-person headcount is small potatoes compared to Ellen Kullman’s last gig. For six years, Kullman headed up DuPont, the culmination of a nearly 30-year career at the chemical giant. After leaving the role in 2016, she joined a number of different boards, including Goldman Sachs and Dell. It was, however, a three-year-old Bay Area-based 3D printing company that ultimately drew her interest. After six years at the helm of the company, co-founder Joe DeSimone stepped aside in November and became Executive Chairman of the Board. His background as a chemist helped birth the startup, while Kullman’s experience leading a Fortune 500 clearly indicate a company looking to take the next steps. As several substantial funding rounds can attest, there’s clearly massive interest in Carbon’s potential. Over the past few years, the company has formed partnerships with Adidas, Ford, Ridell and a number of other manufacturers. As its newly-minted CEO, Kullman’s job will be following through on those deals and proving the company’s potential as a key player in the future of manufacturing. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. When was it clear that your time [at DuPont] had kind of run its course? It was a proxy contest, and we won the proxy contest, but the activists made it clear that he was going to keep coming after the company. I really was the lightning rod, right? It became personal to him that DuPont beat him, right? The only thing that was going to get that settled down, I decided, was me leaving. I’d been there 27 years. I’d run seven years as the CEO. I had a great track record on gross, and on TSR, versus the S&P and things like that. It was just the right time to exit. Basically the decision came up in the middle of ’15 and you know, I stepped down in late October, I think it was. That was pretty quick for a transition and so that’s why I took a couple of years to figure out what I wanted to do. Actually the first thing I took on was agreed to come on Carbon’s board about four months after I left DuPont. You’ve been on a number of boards. What attracted you to Carbon, specifically? Being a mechanical engineer and running a company like DuPont with polymers, I understood injection molding pretty well. I understood how we at DuPont were helping customers try to optimize what they were doing with pure material science. What hit me when I came out here is that digitization, technology, had impacted everything we do. Supply chain, our ERP, our HR systems. Everything around the manufacturing have been touched except, manufacturing itself. Yeah, we might have smarter DCS systems that are running the lines and things like that, but injection molding hasn’t changed for hundreds… the fundamentals. And this has an opportunity to fundamentally change it at a scale and a cost that was relevant. My big thing at DuPont is we could do amazing things with creating new materials, new ecosystems for those materials. As someone who is familiar with manufacturing and injection molding, you’ve surely known about 3D printing/additive manufacturing for a long time now. To your mind, what is Carbon’s differentiator?

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Pandora has begun to test a new type of advertising format that allows listeners to respond to the ad by speaking aloud. In the new ads, listeners are prompted to say “yes” after the ad asks a question and a tone plays. The ads will then offer more information about the product or brand in question. Debut advertisers testing the new format include Doritos, Ashley HomeStores, Unilever, Wendy’s, Turner Broadcasting, Comcast, and Nestle. The ads begin by explaining what they are and how they’ll work. They then play a short and simple message followed by a question that listeners are supposed to respond to. For example, the Wendy’s ad asks listeners if they’re hungry, and if they say “yes” the ad continues by offering a recommendation about what to eat. The DiGiorno’s pizza ad asks listeners to say “yes” to hear the punchline of a pizza-themed joke. The Ashely HomeStores ad engages listeners by offering tips on getting a better night’s sleep. And so on. The new format capitalizes on Pandora’s underlying voice technology which also powers the app’s smart voice assistant, Voice Mode, launched earlier this year. While Voice Mode lets Pandora users control their music hands-free, the voice ads aim to get users to engage with the advertiser’s content hands-free, as opposed to tapping the on the screen or visiting a link to get more information. The company believes these types of ads will be more meaningful as they force listeners to pay attention. For the brand advertisers, voice ads offer a way to more directly measure how many people an ad reached — something that’s not possible with traditional audio ads, which by their nature aren’t clickable. Pandora announced its plans to test interactive voice ads back in April of this year, initially with San Francisco-based adtech company, Instreamatic. At the time, it said it would launch the new format into beta testing by Q4, as it now has. The ad format arrives at a time when consumers have become more comfortable talking to digital voice assistants, like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. There’s also an increased expectation that services we interact with will support voice commands — like when we’re speaking to Fire TV or Apple TV to find something to watch or asking Pandora or Spotify to play our favorite music. But consumers’ appetite for interactive voice advertisements is still largely untested. Even Amazon limited voice ads on its Alexa platform for fear of alienating users who would find them disruptive to the core experience. In Pandora’s case, however, users don’t have to play along. The company says if the user doesn’t respond within a couple of seconds or if they say no, the music resumes playback. Pandora says the ads will begin running for a small subset of listeners using its app starting today.  

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
DataRobot, a company best known for creating automated machine learning models known as AutoML, announced today that it intends to acquire Paxata, a data prep platform startup. The companies did not reveal the purchase price. Paxata raised a total of $90 million before today’s acquisition, according to the company. Up until now, DataRobot has concentrated mostly on the machine learning and data science aspect of the workflow — building and testing the model, then putting it into production. The data prep was left to other vendors like Paxata, but DataRobot, which raised $206 million in September, saw an opportunity to fill in a gap in their platform with Paxata. “We’ve identified, because we’ve been focused on machine learning for so long, a number of key data prep capabilities that are required for machine learning to be successful. And so we see an opportunity to really build out a unique and compelling data prep for machine learning offering that’s powered by the Paxata product, but takes the knowledge and understanding and the integration with the machine learning platform from DataRobot,” Phil Gurbacki, SVP of product development and customer experience at DataRobot, told TechCrunch. Prakash Nanduri, CEO and co-founder at Paxata, says the two companies were a great fit and it made a lot of sense to come together. “DataRobot has got a significant number of customers, and every one of their customers have a data and information management problem. For us, the deal allows us to rapidly increase the number of customers that are able to go from data to value. By coming together, the value to the customer is increased at an exponential level,” he explained. DataRobot is based in Boston, while Paxata is in Redwood City, Calif. The plan moving forward is to make Paxata a west coast office, and all of the company’s almost 100 employees will become part of DataRobot when the deal closes. While the two companies are working together to integrate Paxata more fully into the DataRobot platform, the companies also plan to let Paxata continue to exist as a standalone product. DataRobot has raised more than $431 million, according to PitchBook data. It raised $206 million of that in its last round. At the time, the company indicated it would be looking for acquisition opportunities when it made sense. This match-up seems particularly good, given how well the two companies’ capabilities complement one another, and how much customer overlap they have. The deal is expected to close before the end of the year. Boston-based DataRobot raises $206M Series E to bring AI to enterprise

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
After last year’s stellar turn out of almost 1,000 Silicon Valley shakers and movers, TechCrunch is returning with the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize in San Francisco on February 7. The party will feature tasty beers, wine and canapés, party games and activities, plenty of photo ops (and our infamous karaoke), giveaways and some fun surprises. As you network your way across the sea of attendees, you’ll also get to check-out a handful of promising early-stage startups just waiting for their big break. The shindig will be held in the multi-level facility at Galvanize in San Francisco on Friday, February 7. While the venue is large, it won’t be able to hold all of Silicon Valley, so tickets are very limited and will be released on a rolling basis for $85 each. If you’re a startup and want to demo your product at this event, demo tables are available for purchase at $1,500 each. Demo tickets are limited too, so get yours before we sell out! More about the Winter Party: When? Friday, February 7, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Where? Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105 How? Get tickets here for just $85 each. There are only a limited number of tickets for this event. Tickets will be released in batches, so if you don’t see any availability, stay tuned to TechCrunch for our next release, as they sell out quickly. TechCrunch parties have a history of being the place you want to meet your future investor, acquirer or co-founder. And to top it all off, we’re going to give away some really great door prizes, like TC swag and tickets to Disrupt SF, our flagship event coming in September 2020. Hope to see you all there! Our sponsors help make TechCrunch events happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team by filling out this form.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Google Cloud today announced Transfer Service, a new service for enterprises that want to move their data from on-premise systems to the cloud. This new managed service is meant for large-scale transfers on the scale of billions of files and petabytes of data. It complements similar services from Google that allow you to ship data to its data centers via a hardware appliance and FedEx or to automate data transfers from SaaS applications to Google’s BigQuery service. Transfer Service handles all of the hard work of validating your data’s integrity as it moves to the cloud. The agent automatically handles failures and uses as much available bandwidth as it can to reduce transfer times. To do this, all you have to do is install an agent on your on-premises servers, select the directories you want to copy and let the service do its job. You can then monitor and manage your transfer jobs from the Google Cloud console. The obvious use case for this is archiving and disaster recovery. But Google is also targeting companies that are looking to lift and shift workloads (and their attached data), as well as analytics and machine learning use cases. As with most of Google Cloud’s recent product launches, the focus here is squarely on enterprise customers. Google wants to make it easier for them to move their workloads to its cloud, and for most workloads, that also involves moving lots of data as well.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Allen Miller Contributor Share on Twitter Allen Miller is a principal at Oak HC/FT based in San Francisco. He's excited by bold entrepreneurs building great companies across categories, especially in fintech. More posts by this contributor 2019 looks to continue another lights-out year for fintech startups Financial technology startups emerged as serious challengers to financial services in 2017 As we barrel towards the start of a new decade, it’s amazing to think about the ongoing transformation within real estate. In the U.S., housing’s contribution to our GDP is ~15-18% spread across residential transactions, construction and housing services (i.e. rent, utilities, insurance, etc.) For the average homeowner, their primary residence is the biggest component of their net worth. And for employers, affordable housing programs can increase employee retention, productivity and success on the job. Apple, Google and Facebook have all launched different programs focused on addressing the high cost of living, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area.           Technology has allowed for some real progress  Technology has accelerated the rate of progress within the real estate vertical. There are now more than a dozen real estate tech companies valued at an aggregate ~$75 billion (depending on where The We Company lands in the coming months). This batch includes three publicly-traded companies (Zillow, Real Page and Redfin), two others primed to go public in the next year (Airbnb and Procore) and one other that recently put its IPO plans on hold (Lemonade). New entrants have succeeded by bringing a fresh take to the category and/or creating entirely new categories. Airbnb, WeWork, Knotel and Sonder have all used the “monetize underutilized assets” playbook — applied in either residential or commercial settings. Compass and Redfin are re-imagining what it means to be a modern, tech-enabled brokerage firm. Realpage and Procore are bringing application software solutions to property management and construction. Lemonade and LendingHome are more traditional fintech companies applied to the real estate transaction ecosystem. Significant opportunities remain Over the coming decade, we at Oak HC/FT expect more innovation to come within real estate as we anticipate a continued influx of talent into the sector. And we think the total market cap of real estate tech companies could more than double to $200 billion in aggregate value by 2030. Here are some of the innovations and companies we are watching in 2020 and beyond: More value for buyers and sellers: Zillow brought much needed transparency into what was “on the market” (i.e. the top of the funnel). But the home transaction process is still convoluted and prohibitively expensive. In recent years, there has been a wave of new entrants focused on improving the transaction process in different ways, each with a slightly different approach. The iBuyers, like Opendoor and Offerpad, allow for sellers to sell instantly. Flyhomes allows buyers to put down cash offers. ZeroDown and Divvy lower the barrier to entry to buying a home. And Homie brings assembly-line specialization and vertical integration to drive down agent commissions. In the coming years there will be multiple wins here, with each appealing to different segments of this massive market.     Better tools for ecosystem players: Agents and other providers are itching for better software tools to do their jobs. Side provides agents with all the tools they need (across marketing, vendor management, legal, insurance and transaction coordination) to run their own business — rather than relying on the incumbent brokerages with their hefty fees. Qualia, Spruce and Modus provide next generation title and escrow services. Great Jones, TenantCloud, Avail and Mynd help landlords better manage their properties.  Increased access to data: The availability of data for decision making, especially on the commercial side, is still very much underdeveloped. Crexi has brought a Zillow-like experience to listing commercial properties. Reonomy has made nice progress using machine learning to surface key financial and asset-level data on commercial properties. We expect these and other new entrants to win big by bringing more transparency to commercial real estate. Greater flexibility in how we work and live: As the demands of modern life have changed, so too have the ways in which consumers desire to work and live. The Wing and HubHaus provide communities that appeal to more targeted groups. Feather allows its customers to rent furniture wherever they live or work. And prefab housing companies, including Dvele, enable consumers to design their home before moving in. But core challenges need to be addressed

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Olivia Moore Contributor Share on Twitter Olivia Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Justine. More posts by this contributor After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting What VidCon means for the future of social media platforms Justine Moore Contributor Share on Twitter Justine Moore is a venture investor at CRV and co-founded Cardinal Ventures alongside her sister, Olivia. More posts by this contributor After a breakout year, looking ahead to the future of podcasting What VidCon means for the future of social media platforms The writing is on the wall for Facebook — the platform is losing market share, fast, among young users. Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study from early 2019 showed that 62% of U.S. 12–34 year-olds are Facebook users, down from 67% in 2018 and 79% in 2017. This decrease is particularly notable as 35–54 and 55+ age group usage has been constant or even increased. There are many theories behind Facebook’s fall from grace among millennials and Gen Zers — an influx of older users that change the dynamics of the platform, competition from more mobile and visual-friendly platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and the company’s privacy scandals are just a few. We surveyed 115 of our Accelerated campus ambassadors to learn more about how they’re using Facebook today. It’s worth noting that this group skews older Gen Z (ages 18–24); we suspect you’d get different results if you surveyed younger teens. Overall penetration is still high, as 99% of our respondents have Facebook accounts. And most aren’t abandoning the platform entirely — 59% are on Facebook every day, and another 32% are on weekly. Daily Facebook usage is much lower than Instagram, however, which 82% of our respondents use daily and 7% use weekly. Data from our scouts also confirms that the shift in usage in the last few years is particularly dramatic among younger users. 66% report using Facebook less frequently over the past two years, compared to 11% who use it more frequently (23% say their usage hasn’t changed). What’s most interesting is what college students are using Facebook for. When we were in high school and college in the early/mid 2010s, our friends used Facebook to post (broadcast) content via their status, photos, and posts on friends’ Walls. Today, very few students use Facebook to “broadcast” content. Only 5% of our respondents say they regularly upload photos to Facebook, 4% post on friends’ Walls, and 3.5% post content to the Newsfeed (statuses). What are they doing instead?

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Small satellite startup Kepler Communications is teaming up with SpaceX to make good on its deployment goals for its first nanosatellite constellation. SpaceX will carry two separate batches of nanosatellites from Kepler aboard its Falcon 9 launch vehicles. Kepler Communications, a Toronto-based space startup, will be building out a low-power, direct IoT connectivity satellite-based network, as well as a more high-capacity network powered with the same satellites to provide high-speed data transfer capabilities. In total, Kepler will launch 400 kg (around 880 lbs) of payload with SpaceX, making use of the rideshare program that the Elon Musk-run company announced earlier this year. This launch will put the Kepler spacecraft into sun-synchronous orbit, which means that they will pass over specific points on Earth at the same time each day as judged by the Sun’s position. All told, Kepler will aim to put a total of 140 satellites in orbit across three phases of launch spanning 2020 to 2023. The goal is to operate the constellation as a relay system to help transfer data to other satellite constellations in orbit.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Hulu today is launching a new kind of ad experience that allows brands to specifically target binge-watchers — that is, viewers who are watching multiple episodes of a favorite program over a long stretch of time. These “binge watch ads” utilize machine learning techniques to predict when a viewer has begun to binge watch a show, then serves up contextually relevant ads that acknowledge a binge is underway. This culminates when the viewer reaches the third episode, at which point they’re informed the next episode is ad-free or presents a personalized offer from the brand partner. The binge watch ad concept was first announced at Hulu’s annual NewFronts presentation in May, where it introduces its new shows, features and ad formats to advertisers. The company regularly experiments with new advertising formats designed to better cater to a streaming audience in a less obtrusive way. For example, Hulu already offers “pause ads” which only appear when the viewer presses the pause button. Hulu says it made sense to target binge watchers because binging is now such a common way for people to watch their favorite shows. Today, 75% of U.S. consumers say they binge watch, and on Hulu specifically, nearly 50% of ad-supported viewing hours are spent during binge watch sessions. Hulu defines a “binge” as a viewer watching three or more episodes of a series at a given time. The debut advertisers to capitalize on the new binge watch ad format include Kellogg’s, Maker’s Mark, and Georgia-Pacific, by way of Hulu’s exclusive launch agency partner, Publicis Media. Kellogg’s will promote Cheez-It Snap’d snacks during their binge ads, while Georgia Pacific will tout its Sparkle paper towels. Marker’s Mark, of course, will promote its bourbon. The brands say they were interested in the new format because it gives them a way to reach and reward the consumer during a marathon entertainment session, and because it’s a better fit with how today’s consumers watch TV. Thanks the rise of ad-free subscription video services like Netflix, viewers are less receptive to disruptive advertising that interrupts their viewing. In fact, they can even sour on a brand when its ad plays repeatedly throughout the viewing session. Offering brands the ability to sponsor an episode, ad-free, instead creates more positive sentiments among viewers. Hulu’s focus on developing new ad formats that better fit how today’s consumers watch TV may give it an advantage over rivals. Its ad-supported product is now one of many options for streaming TV — and one that goes up against a number of free services, including The Roku Channel, Amazon’s IMDb TV, Sinclair’s Stirr, Viacom’ s Pluto TV, Tubi, YouTube, Vudu’s Movies on Us (Walmart), Plex and others.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Atlassian has a portfolio of developer tools like Bitbucket, Jira and Confluence. It also has a marketplace with hundreds of add-ons, but what it lacked was a development platform to call its own. Today, that changed when the company announced the Forge platform. “Forge will empower developers to more easily build and run enterprise-ready cloud apps that integrate with Atlassian products,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new tools. The platform consists of three main components. For starters, it’s providing a serverless Function as a Service (FaaS) for developers to build hosted applications on Forge without worrying about the underlying infrastructure resources required to run the applications. The tool is actually built on AWS Lambda, AWS’s FaaS. This should allow more developers to get involved because it strips away a layer of complexity around managing infrastructure. “A FaaS platform also lets us eliminate common pain points such as authentication, identity, scaling and tenancy,” the company wrote in the blog post. The tool kit also includes a UI component called Forge UI for building user interfaces on the web or devices. Forge UI uses a declarative language that should make it easier to build user interfaces, and as with the function layer, the idea here is to simplify the process for users. Atlassian will deal with all of the security involved in building a user interface, something that many developers struggle with. “By abstracting away the process of rendering the UI layer, Forge makes stronger guarantees about how apps present or transmit sensitive data, such as user-generated content and personally identifying information,” the company wrote. The final piece is a command line interface (CLI) called Forge CLI. The idea here is to build continuous delivery pipelines with Bitbucket and run them from the command line. If you put all three of these components together, you have a pretty comprehensive development environment with tools for building functionality and designing user interfaces, while managing operations from a command line. There are lots of platform service offerings out there, so Atlassian faces some competition here, but for developers who planned on building apps for the Atlassian marketplace, this set of tools could prove useful and help push more developers to join in. Atlassian expands Jira Service Desk beyond IT teams

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
With just under a year until U.S. Election Day, Twitter is bringing back its Election Labels, which provide information about political candidates — including what office they’re running for and their state and district number. The labels will also have a small ballot box icon to accompany this information. The feature was first launched during the 2018 U.S. midterms, where the labels were seen 100 million times per day by Twitter users in the week before Election Day. In addition, 13% of U.S. election-related conversations on Twitter included a tweet with an Election Label, the company says. Now the labels are making a return ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections. The labels will appear on accounts of candidates who are running for the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, or Governor in the 2020 election who have qualified for the general election ballot, says Twitter. And they will begin to appear on candidates’ Twitter accounts after they qualify, which will happen on a rolling basis as states have different caucus and election dates, the company notes. The first takes place on March 3rd. To enable the feature, Twitter has again partnered with Ballotpedia, a civic nonprofit that publishes non-partisan information about federal, state and local politics. The organization will help Twitter to identify which candidates have qualified for the general election ballot so their accounts can be appropriately labeled. The Election Label will appear on the profile page of a candidate’s Twitter account and on every tweet and retweet they post to their account, even when embedded on sites off of Twitter. Ahead of this, Twitter today will also start to verify the campaign Twitter accounts of those who have qualified for primary elections for the U.S. House, Senate or Governor. This is different from how Twitter handled candidate verification during the 2018 midterms. Back then, it only verified candidates after they qualified for the general election ballot. This time around, Twitter says it will proactively verify the primary candidates. This verification is the same checkmark other high-profile accounts receive — like those belonging to celebrities or other public figures. These verifications will start today and will continue on a rolling basis as states have different filing deadlines. Ballotpedia is also assisting on this effort as well, by helping Twitter identify the candidates. Twitter, like other social platforms, had been heavily impacted by foreign interference with the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Last year, Twitter said that 1.4 million people had interacted with Russian trolls during the presidential campaign, which is more than double the 677,775 that Twitter originally believed had either seen, followed, or retweeted one of those accounts. These interference issues have been ongoing, as thousands of Twitter accounts spreading false information remained active in the weeks ahead of the U.S. midterms. Bots continue today to infect the platform, in an effort to sway public opinion. For example, in April, Twitter removed over 5,000 bots with ties to a social media operation that previously promoted messages sympathetic to Saudi Arabia’s government. The bots had more recently been promoting the “Russiagate” hoax. Disinformation efforts like this are not just impacting social platforms in the U.S. nor are they only associated with Russian bots. In a report released at the beginning of 2019, Twitter said it had banned more than 4,000 disinformation accounts originating in Russia, 3,300 from Iran, and more than 750 from Venezuela. When Twitter first introduced the Election Labels for the U.S. midterms, it stressed how important it is for people using its platform to be able to identify the original sources and authentic information. Today, Twitter’s system to label and verify politicians and candidates’ campaigns is now a part of a number of efforts Twitter has underway to make sure conversations taking place on its platform are authentic. The company says it will later release more tools to help better find quality news and have more informative conversations on Twitter.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Launch provider Rocket Lab has opened the doors on LC-2, its first launch facility in the U.S., adding capacity and versatility for providing trips to orbit. And LC-2 already has its first customer: the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program. The company had a little shindig today at the facility, located on Wallops Island in Virginia — home to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility as well. There they took the wrapper off LC-2, which has been under construction since it was announced last October. The team breaks ground back in 2018. It’s not some wild new concept, just a typical launchpad and support facilities where the rockets live, get checked, fueled, and so on. The most important difference with this one, for Rocket Lab, is that it’s here in the U.S.; So far, all its 10 commercial launches have been from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, where the company is based. The new facility will be put to use soon: the Air Force is first in line to put a payload into orbit in a launch currently planned for Q2 of 2020. All we know about the mission, STP-27RM, is that it will “test new capabilities that we will need in the future.” Rocket Lab launches 10th Electron mission with successful rocket booster re-entry “It’s an honor and privilege to be launching a U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program payload as the inaugural mission from Launch Complex 2,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in a press release. “We’ve already successfully delivered STP payloads on Electron from Launch Complex 1, and we’re proud to be providing that same rapid, responsive, and tailored access to orbit from U.S. soil.” Right now LC-2 is “only” equipped to handle up to 12 launches a year, while LC-1 can theoretically do 120. Rocket Lab is nowhere near hitting those rates just yet, but they’re well on their way with a perfect track record and a demonstration of its ability to quickly adjust timeframes. The goal is eventually to be launching weekly, or even more frequently than that. And the more launch sites they have to pull that off, the better.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Amazon is having another go at expanding its reach to listeners in India. The company, which launched pay-to-use Audible in the country last year, today introduced a new service called Audible Suno that offers free access to “hundreds of hours of audio entertainment, enlightenment and learning.” And it’s banking on major Indian celebrities to draw the listeners. Audible Suno, which is exclusively available to users in India, features more than 60 original and exclusive episodes (of 20 to 60 minutes in length) in both Hindi and English languages. Audible, the world’s largest seller and producer of audio content, said Suno is aimed at filling the “idle time” listeners have each day during their commutes and performing other daily chores. The company says Audible Suno, available to users through a dedicated Android app and via iOS Audible app, is also free of advertisements. The launch of Audible Suno in India illustrates the commitment the company has in the country, said Audible founder and chief executive Don Katz. Amazon has invested more than $5.5 billion in its business in India to date. The company’s tentacles today reach a number of categories in the country including e-commerce, payments, online ticketing business, video and audio streaming, and VC deals. “I’ve always been passionate about the transformative power of the spoken word, and I’m delighted to be able to offer this breadth of famous voices and culturally resonant genres with unlimited access, ad-free and free of charge,” said Katz. Who are these famous voices you ask? Here’s the list: Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif, Karan Johar, Anil Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar, Mouni Roy, Anurag Kashyap, Neelesh Misra, Tabu, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Diljit Dosanjh, Vir Das and Vicky Kaushal. Audible Suno currently offers shows in a range of genres, including horror (Kaali Awaazein), romance and relationships (Matrimonial Anonymous and Piya Milan Chowk), suspense (Thriller Factory), and comedy series (The Unexperts by Abish Mathew). Non-fiction series include interviews with some of the country’s biggest stars, and socially relevant subjects such as mental health, sex education and the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. Amazon’s Audible expands its original programming with new comedy series

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Samsung Electronic’s President Young Sohn revealed the company had sold 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold smartphones. Estimates from October pegged sales at that time at 500,000 units. “And I think that the point is, we’re selling [a] million of these products,” Sohn said. “There’s a million people that want to use this product at $2,000.” Today’s conversation at Disrupt Berlin focused around growth through innovation. Sohn commented on the sales number while explaining Samsung’s process of releasing products to get feedback. He said, in part, if they kept devices like the Fold in labs, they wouldn’t get the input they needed. And Samsung got a lot of feedback about the Galaxy Fold. The foldable phone was first announced early this year at MWC 2019, where it was among a handful of foldable devices. It launched several months later in April, where reviewers quickly discovered multiple problems, including screens that cracked. The company soon (though perhaps not quickly enough) reworked the product, re-releasing it in late September. The re-released Galaxy Fold was more durable, though our review unit still had screen issues. Today at Disrupt Berlin, I asked if Samsung is comfortable selling a $2,000 device that is essentially a beta device. He said yes, and pointed to the new sales number as justification. Previous media reports stated Samsung is ramping up plans to sell 6 million foldable devices in 2020.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
At the very beginning, there were 14 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner. Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup. After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Gmelius, Hawa Dawa, Inovat, Scaled Robotics and Stable. These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Andrei Brasoveanu (Accel), Andrew Reed (Sequoia Capital), Carolina Brochado (SoftBank Vision Fund), Lila Preston (Generation Investment Management) and Mike Butcher (TechCrunch). Winner: Scaled Robotics Scaled Robotics has designed a robot that can produce 3D progress maps of construction sites in minutes, precise enough to detect that a beam is just a centimeter or two off. Supervisors can then use the software to check things like which pieces are in place on which floor, whether they have been placed within the required tolerances or if there are safety issues like too much detritus on the ground in work areas. Read more about Scaled Robotics in our separate post. Runner-Up: Stable Stable offers a solution as simple as car insurance, designed to protect farmers around the world from pricing volatility. Through the startup, food buyers ranging from owners of a small smoothie shop to Coca-Cola employees can insure thousands of agricultural commodities, as well as packaging and energy products. Read more about Stable in our separate post.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Gustavo Parés Contributor Share on Twitter Gustavo Parés is CEO of NDS Cognitive Labs, a leader in cognitive computing and AI business solutions. A Professor at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), he's partnered with Microsoft, IBM and Google to deliver digital transformation and cognitive technology services. The global industry potential of artificial intelligence is well-documented, yet the vision of this AI future is uncertain. AI and automation trends are generating significant debate among economists and governments, particularly around employment impact and uncertain social outcomes. The mainstream attention is warranted. According to PwC, AI “could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined.” AI is at a crossroads, and its long-term outlook is still hotly debated. Despite social media giants, automotive companies and numerous other industries investing hundreds of billions of dollars in AI, many automation technologies are not yet directly generating revenue and instead are forecasted to become profitable in the coming decades. This creates additional uncertainty of AI’s true market potential. The realistic potential value of AI is unknown, yet, as the technology advances, the ultimate impact could be of great consequence to virtually every economy. There are many reasons to view AI’s future from an optimistic lens, however: chatbots provide significant evidence for AI’s positive impact on both business growth and employment markets. Today, chatbots are increasingly capable of mimicking human interactions and conversations to assist business-to-business, business-to-consumer, business-to-government, advertising audiences and other diverse groups. The evolution of the cognitive computer science behind conversational chatbots is perhaps one of the best examples of AI technologies driving revenue. Further, chatbot technology shows some of the greatest promise for augmenting, rather than replacing human workers. AI is driving value while augmenting human workers Chatbots are delivering real revenue today for some of the world’s leading financial services (Bank of America), retail (Levi’s), and technology companies (Zendesk) . We’re seeing more consumers taking the next step in a transaction or even making a purchase decision based off conversations with chatbots. Beyond driving sales, chatbots have numerous applications to a wide range of organizations. Nonprofits, NGOs, and even political campaigns find value in deploying chatbots to help handle the influx of inquiries from stakeholders and relevant audiences. Rather than these chatbots replacing human workers, organizations are finding chatbots to be a helpful and value-creating opportunity that frees employees to focus on more strategic tasks. Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana aren’t replacing executive assistants today, but these technologies are all capable of supporting the executive assistant function in the workplace. Gartner predicts AI augmentation, defined as a “human-centered partnership model of people and AI working together to enhance cognitive performance,” could generate $2.9 trillion of business value by 2021. Many industries see potential for chatbots to augment functions like sales, customer support and IT, enabling workers to create value in more strategic ways. Bain & Company finds chatbots to be among the most notable examples of artificial intelligence and automation in practice: “Companies use AI applications to understand industry trends, manage their workforce, address problems, power chatbots and personalize content to enable self-service.” Clearly, the implications of scaled, human-like engagement are stunning in their capacity to carry out tasks. A chatbot’s ability to simultaneously hold tens of thousands of conversations — pulling from many millions of data points — is comparable to what a human customer service rep could accomplish in more than 1,000 years of nonstop work. Scaling customer service via AI allows service professionals to focus on big picture and more complex issues, and it provides rich data on customer interactions. We anticipate seeing more companies look to build better customer service experiences through chatbots, as Google and Salesforce announced in April. The transformative impact of chatbots across industries From our research and work with leading global companies, it’s clear that enterprises are finding that chatbots bring about tremendous value while supporting both people employment and long-term business growth opportunities today. Ultimately, chatbots are on track to showcase some of the most optimistic examples of AI augmentation. Consider three examples:

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the grey space in between. This morning we’re digging into the current IPO market, asking ourselves how much damage WeWork really did to other companies hoping to go public. Is the IPO window closed, and if not, what sort of companies can still get out? There’s some good news out today for late-stage startups looking to debut — along with a few impending tests regarding the market’s appetite for risk that we should understand as we head into 2020. Bill.com’s good news In terms of IPOs, Bill.com’s felt comfortably standard for 2019. Bill.com was a heavily venture-backed company that had raised just under $350 million while private across myriad rounds, and by the time it wanted to go public it still lost money. At the same time, the company had a number of strengths. These include historically slim losses as a percent of revenue ($7.3 million in its most recent fiscal year, against $78.4 million in revenue), differentiated revenue sources (subscription income and rising interest payments), and improving gross margins (74 percent in its most recent quarter, up from a little under 72 percent in the year-ago period). Those factors combined were sufficient to entice investors to price the company’s IPO far above its initial expectations of $16 to $18 per share. Instead, Bill.com raised its range once and then priced above the higher interval. At $22 per share, the company’s value rose by about 60% compared to its most recent private financing. (You can read more on the debut here.) This matters as WeWork was said to have closed the IPO window for companies more focused on growth than profits. The way the market reality was discussed in venture circles seemed to indicate that WeWork’s implosion had slashed investor interest in growth, with public market players now favoring profits, or something close. Bill.com’s most recent three-month period featured far-larger losses than its year-ago quarter, which mattered little in the end. The firm’s solid growth and moderate losses, it seems, were more than enough to secure a strong welcome to the public markets. Yes, but… You may be wondering why we just spent so much time explaining why a healthy company managed to go public. The goal, simply, was to point out that not only can companies still losing money and burning cash go public, they may even get a strong reception. But what about companies in slightly less good shape? What does Bill.com’s IPO pricing indicate for Sprout Social, a company of similar size that’s going public this week which is also unprofitable, but growing more slowly (29.5% year-over-year in Q3 2019, compared to Bill.com’s 57%)? Its pricing and debut will be a more interesting test. And luckily for us, it should price its shares this evening. (Even more fun, it targeted the same $16 to $18 per-share initial IPO price range that Bill.com initially had in its own sights.) If Sprout Social manages to price in-range, we’ll have another data point in favor of the IPO window being comfortably open. It’s not surprising that Bill.com’s IPO priced well, but Sprout Social’s slower growth rate likely make its losses less palatable; if it can debut all the same we’ll know that the band of venture-backed companies that can public post-WeWork in the dead of December is wide. That’s good news for illiquid unicorns and their backers, provided that their companies are at least as healthy as Chicago’s Sprout. WeWork 2.0 Finally, we have one more test of the IPO market ahead of us. China-based Ucommune is a co-working company with self-described “global impact and ambitions.” Claiming to be the “largest co-working space community in China,” Ucommune espouses “sharing, innovation, responsibility and success for all.” In its F-1 document, filed yesterday and setting in motion a possible US-listed IPO, Ucommune details comical levels of unprofitability and growth. If all that sounds familiar, it should. It should feel similar to WeWork, which makes the timing of Ucommune’s IPO filing all the more amazing. WeWork’s pulled IPO was minutes ago, and here we are, staring down the filing of yet another coworking IPO? The situation gets even better. Observe the following results: Ucommune Q1, Q2, Q3 revenue: $122.4 million

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Waymo has acquired Latent Logic, a UK company that spun out of Oxford University’s computer science department, as the autonomous vehicle company seeks to beef up its simulation technology. The acquisition also marks the launch of Waymo’s first European engineering hub will be in Oxford, UK. This likely won’t be the end of Waymo’s expansion and investment in Europe and the UK. The former Google self-driving project that is now an Alphabet business said it will continue to look for opportunities to grow the team in the UK and Europe. Earlier this year, Waymo locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan. In October, Waymo said that its working with Renault to study the possibility of establishing an autonomous transportation route in Paris. Waymo has made simulation a one of the pillars of its autonomous vehicle development program. But Latent Logic could help Waymo make its simulation more realistic by using a form of machine learning called imitation learning. Imitation learning models human behavior of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The idea is that by modeling the mistakes and imperfect driving of humans, the simulation will become more realistic and theoretically improve Waymo’s behavior prediction and planning. Waymo isn’t sharing financial details of the acquistion. But it appears that the two founders Shimon Whiteson and João Messia, CEO Kirsty Lloyd-Jukes and key members of the engineering and technical team will join Waymo. The Latent Logic team will remain in Oxford. “By joining Waymo, we are taking a big leap towards realizing our ambition of safe, self-driving vehicles,” said Latent Logic co-founder and chief scientist Shimon Whiteson. “In just two years, we have made significant progress in using imitation learning to simulate real human behaviors on the road. I’m excited by what we can now achieve in combining this expertise with the talent, resources and progress Waymo have already made in self-driving technology.”

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
After rolling out on smart speakers and displays earlier this year, Google’s interpreter real-time translation mode finally landing on mobile. A far more handy application for such functionality, the feature arrives on both Android and iOS handsets globally, starting today. The feature works in tandem with Assistant. Say something like, “Hey Google, be my German translator” or “Hey Google, help me speak Thai,” and the feature kicks in, offering up a real-time translated transcript and audio. The feature also offers some Smart Replies a la Gmail, to help keep the conversation going. The feature is now available in 44 languages (full list here), up from the 29 available on the smart displays/speakers. It’s integrated directly into the Google Assistant app, negating the need to download an additional translation app. Between this and Lens, Google’s apps have quickly become a necessary part of traveling abroad.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
One share of Amazon stock costs over $1700, locking out less wealthy investors. So to continue its quest to democratize stock trading, Robinhood is launching fractional share trading this week. This lets you buy 0.000001 shares, rounded to the nearest penny, or just $1 of any stock with zero fee. The ability to buy by millionth of a share lets Robinhood undercut Square Cash’s recently announced fractional share trading, which sets a $1 minimum for investment. Robinhood users can sign up here for early access to fractional share trading. “One of our core values is participation is power” says Robinhood co-CEO Vlad Tenev. “Everything we do is rooted in this. We believe that fractional shares have the potential to open up investing for even more people.” Fractional share trading ensures no one need be turned away, and Robinhood can keep growing its user base of 10 million with its war chest of $910 million in funding. As incumbent brokerages like Charles Schwab and E*Trade move to copy Robinhood’s free stock trading, the startup has to stay ahead in inclusive financial tools. In this case, though, it’s trying to keep up since Schwab, Square, Stash, and SoFi all launched fractional shares this year. Betterment has actually offered this since 2010. Robinhood revives checking with new debit card & 2% interest Robinhood has a bunch of other new features aimed at diversifying its offering for the not-yet-rich. Today its Cash Management feature it announced in October is rolling out to its first users on 800,000 person wait list, offering them 1.8% APY interest on cash in their Robinhood balance plus a Mastercard debit card for spending money or pulling it out of a wide network of ATMs. The feature is effectively a scaled-back relaunch of the botched debut of 3% APY Robinhood Checking a year ago which was scuttled since the startup failed to secure the proper insurance it now has for Cash Management. Additionally, Robinhood is launching two more widely requested features early next year. Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIIP) will automatically reinvest cash dividends Robinhood users receive into stocks or ETFS. Recurring Investments will let users schedule daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly investments into stocks. With all this, Crypto trading, and  Robinhood is evolving into a full financial services suite that will be much harder for competitors to copy. How Robinhood Fractional Shares Work “We believe that if you want to invest, it shouldn’t matter how much money you have. With fractional shares, we’re opening up a whole universe of stocks and funds including Amazon, Apple, Disney, Berkshire Hathaway, and thousands of others” Robinhood product manager Abhishek Fatehpuria tells me. Users will be able to place real-time fractional share orders in dollar amounts as low as $1 or share amounts as low as 0.000001 shares rounded to the penny during market hours. Stocks worth over $1 per share with a market capitalization above $25 million are eligible, with 4000 different stocks and ETFs available for commission-free, real-time fractional trading. “We believe that participation is power. Since day one, we’ve focused on breaking down barriers like trade commissions and account minimums to help people participate in the financial system” says Fatehpuria. “We have a unique user base — half our customers tell us they’re first time investors, and the median age of a Robinhood customer is 30. This means we have a unique opportunity to expand access to the markets for this new generation.” Robinhood is racing to corner the freemium investment tool market before other startups and finance giants can catch up. It opened a waitlist for its UK launch next year which will be its first international market. But in just the past month, Alpaca raised $6 million for an API that lets anyone build a stock brokerage app, and Atom Finance raised $10.6 million for its free investment research tool that could compete with Robinhood’s in-app feature. Meanwhile, Robinhood suffered an embarrassing bug letting users borrow more money than allowed. The move fast and break things mentality triggers new dangers when introduced to finance. Robinhood must resist the urge to rush as it spreads itself across more products in pursuit of a leveler investment playing field.

Read More...
posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Star Wars has come to Facebook’s Messenger app. Facebook today announced a new set of Star Wars-themed features for Messenger users, including a chat theme, reactions, stickers, and AR effects. The features were developed in partnership with Disney to help promote the upcoming film, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which premieres nationwide on December 20. Both the stickers and the reactions allow users to express themselves using characters from both sides of The Force, says Facebook. Disney also helped to create a set of limited-edition AR effects which can be used both while taking photos and selfies or when you’re on video calls. One, the Lightspeed Effect, gives the appearance of jumping into hyperspace. Another, the Cockpit Effect, lets you see yourself as a member of the Resistance, traveling across the galaxy in Poe Dameron’s X-Wing. The Dark vs Light Effect lets you choose your side of the Force. There’s also a Star Wars chat theme you can enable from the Messenger thread settings. (You access the Settings by tapping the thread’s name — typically the name or names of those you’re chatting with at the top of the screen, unless you or someone else has already renamed the chat.) This isn’t the first time Disney has partnered with a major tech company on a big marketing push around the Star Wars franchise. In 2015, Disney teamed up with Google to built out a new tool that let you theme its suite of apps, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps Chrome and others with either a Light Side or Dark Side effect. Facebook that year also let users change their profile photo to a Star Wars-themed pic where they posed with a red Dark Side cross-guard lightsaber or a Light Side blue one. And in 2017, Google launched an AR Stickers app with a set of licensed characters from Star Wars to promote The Last Jedi. Apple got on board, too, with an updated version of its Clips app with a set of new “Selfie Scenes,” including those for the Millennium Falcon and Mega-Destroyer, also from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The sorts of collaborations benefit both parties. In the case of this new Messenger partnership, Disney gets to market its new movie to Messenger’s over one billion users. Meanwhile, Facebook gains increased usage and engagement for its popular Messenger app in a competitive market, where AR effects alone can be a key selling point for attracting users. The new Star Wars features are rolling out today, December 12, to Messenger.  

Read More...