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How many government demands for user data has Zoom received? We won’t know until “later this year,” an updated Zoom blog post now says. The video conferencing giant previously said it would release the number of government demands it has received by June 30. But the company said it’s missed that target and has given no firm new date for releasing the figures. It comes amid heightened scrutiny of the service after a number of security issues and privacy concerns came to light following a massive spike in its user base, thanks to millions working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. In a blog post today reflecting on the company’s turnaround efforts, chief executive Eric Yuan said the company has made “made significant progress defining the framework and approach for a transparency report that details information related to requests Zoom receives for data, records, or content.” “We look forward to providing the fiscal [second quarter data in our first report later this year,” he said. Transparency reports offer rare insights into the number of demands or requests a company gets from the government for user data. These reports are not mandatory, but are important to understand the scale and scope of government surveillance. Zoom said last month it would launch its first transparency report after the company admitted it briefly suspended the Zoom accounts of two U.S.-base accounts and one Hong Kong activist at the request of the Chinese government. The users, who were not based in China, held a Zoom call commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that’s cloaked in secrecy and censorship in mainland China. The company said at the time it “must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate,” but later said that it would change its policies to disallow requests from the Chinese government to impact users outside of mainland China. A spokesperson for Zoom did not immediately comment. Zoom admits some calls were routed through China by mistake

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Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok said on Wednesday that the popular short-form video app complies with “all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law,” two days after New Delhi banned 59 apps including Mayer’s citing security concerns. Addressing TikTok’s 2000 employees in India on Wednesday, Mayer said ByteDance, the parent firm of the Chinese app, would do “everything in our power to restore the positive experiences and opportunities that they can be proud of.” With more than 200 million of its users in India, TikTok counts Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest overseas market. New Delhi announced late Monday that it was blocking 59 apps that have been developed by Chinese firms. Among the apps that have been blocked include Tencent’s WeChat, and Alibaba Group’s UC Browser and UC News. An Alibaba Group spokesperson in India did not respond to a request for comment. The Indian government alleged that these apps were “compiling, mining and profiling” users’ data that posed threats to “national security and defence of India.” In his address today, which TikTok later published on its blog, Mayer said that his firm “places highest importance on user privacy and integrity.” TikTok was working with various stakeholders in India to address their concerns, he said. Mayer’s address to his employees comes a day after TikTok pulled its app from Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store in India and revoked existing users in the world’s second largest internet market from accessing its service. Visiting TikTok app or mobile website in India currently returns an error that states TikTok is in the process of complying with New Delhi’s order. “Today, it is a staple and reality for TikTok users even in remote cities, towns and villages across the country. Empowered individual creators have become the most sought-after for digital marketing campaigns. Small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs have been able to realise their growth ambitions and dreams by reaching out to thousands of potential customers and consumers on a daily basis, through the platform,” said Mayer. It remains unclear at this point when — and if — India would reverse its ban on TikTok and other apps. TikTok, the most popular app among the 59 apps blocked by India, has been particularly hit by New Delhi’s order. Google and Apple said Tuesday that the Indian government had asked them to only pull the TikTok app from their stores and that TikTok had voluntarily delisted its app from the nation. Other apps remain available on Google Play Store and App Store at the time of writing. Though India’s Department of Telecommunications has since ordered Vodafone, Airtel, and Reliance Jio to block access to all the banned apps on their networks with “immediate effect.” TikTok has been facing backlash in India for several weeks as an anti-China sentiment gains pace in the nation. A skirmish between the two neighboring nations at a disputed Himalayan border site that left 20 Indian soldiers dead last month further escalated that tension. In May, several users unearthed and shared numerous recent TikTok videos on Twitter that appeared to promote domestic violence, animal cruelty, racism, child abuse and objectification of women. This prompted many in India to leave a poor rating of the TikTok app in the Google Play Store to express their disgust. “Our partnership efforts with credible national and global organisations such as UN Women, United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, and CRY have raised awareness and advocated for concerted action to end gender-based, domestic violence and child marriage,” Mayer said today.

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Bluedot, a geofencing and location data startup used by companies like Dunkin’, KFC and McDonald’s, is announcing that it has raised $9.1 million in Series B funding. The San Francisco-headquartered company claims that its technology its 20 times more accurate than competing solutions — something that CEO Emil Davityan attributed to its roots in the toll road industry, where it needed to deliver “lane-level” accuracy. “Since then, we’ve delivered location-based solutions for retail, restaurants and other verticals,” Davityan told me via email. “The focus is on valuable, contactless experiences that prioritize the consumer’s needs.” The company is extending its capabilities with the launch of a new product called Tempo, which is supposed to incorporate data like traffic patterns — and even the time it takes to get in and out of a car — to deliver real-time alerts when a customer is approaching. That sounds particularly desirable in the middle of a pandemic, when businesses are increasingly interacting with customers via curbside pickup and drive-through — and presumably want to minimize contact even when the customers are inside the store. It also sounds a little creepy, but Davityan emphasized that the data is encrypted and anonymized. Location marketing platform Uberall raises further $25M and acquires competitor Navads “We don’t collect personal data, or track, share, or sell location data,” he said. “It’s easy to make claims about being ‘privacy friendly.’ The real challenge is to live and breathe it, to make it central to your business.” Bluedot says its footprint — as measured by unique monthly users — has increased 2,471% over the past year, and that it’s now powering more than 121 million location events each month. The startup has now raised a total of $21.9 million. The new funding was led by Autotech Ventures, with participation from previous backer Transurban and new investors Forefront Ventures, IAG Firemark Ventures and Mighty Capital. Autotech’s Alexei Andreev is joining the Bluedot board, with Mighty Capital’s Jennifer Azapian joining as board observer. “Software that can enable businesses to minimize contact is vital,” Andreev said in a statement. “Moving forward, we see the market favoring contactless solutions and Bluedot is poised to meet this demand. Bluedot’s differentiated offering, focus on consumer experience, and scalability are key factors for any business’s future success, especially as we all rethink mobility and brand interactions.” Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

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Luckin Coffee’s drips and drops of news the past few weeks — including a boardroom feud that is pitting the company’s chairman against a special investigation committee looking into an alleged massive fraud — is now turning into a flood. Luckin Coffee will unluckin’ly delist from Nasdaq following fraud allegations In a new SEC filing this morning, the company’s Special Committee, which was tasked with investigating claims that the one-time China-based coffee darling overstated its revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars, has returned with its verdict. And the verdict is that the company did indeed inflate revenues by nearly $300 million. In its filing, the company said “In the course of the Internal Investigation, the Special Committee and its advisors reviewed over 550,000 documents collected from over 60 custodians, interviewed over 60 witnesses, and performed extensive forensic accounting and data analytics testing.” What it found is that starting around April 2019, or roughly contemporaneous with the IPO of the company on Nasdaq, the company began inflating revenues. According to the company’s analysis, revenues were overstated by $35 million in Q2, $99 million in Q3, and almost $166 million in Q4, in present day U.S. dollars. The fraud was first discovered by unknown private investigators in a report that was later circulated online by the short-seller Muddy Waters in January of this year. That short-seller report eventually led the company to begin an investigation roughly three months ago, which led to today’s conclusions. Luckin Coffee’s board initiates investigation into $300M potential fraud The filing further stated that “Following the Special Committee’s recommendations, the Board terminated its former Chief Executive Officer and former Chief Operating Officer based on evidence demonstrating their participation in the fabricated transactions.” That news was released a few weeks ago. Now, this is where things get interesting because this week, the boardroom feud is spilling out into the open. There are competing proposals on who will run Luckin going forward, with the chairman of the board attempting to fire the board’s Special Committee, while the rest of the board is trying to fire the chairman. Yes, it’s complicated, but the vote is happening this week, with the firing of the chairman for July 2, and the firing of the rest of the board in a shareholders meeting on July 5. Luckin Coffee’s board is forcing out its chairman (also, chairman is forcing out the rest of the board) We’ll be following those developments closely, but I will say this: whoever read 550,000 pages of evidence in roughly three months deserves … at least $300 million in Luckin Coffee free coupons. I’d even say it’s grounds for a permanent and free coffee subscription. Let’s just hope the board spills even more beans on what is going on here. (Okay, I am going to stop now).

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Jason Geter, who previously co-founded Grand Hustle Records, told me that he’s looking to “redefine what a record label is today” with his new startup Heavy Sound Labs. Geter said he sees Heavy Sound — which is part of startup studio Science Inc. — as an extension of the work he’s been doing for decades: Before co-founding Grand Hustle with T.I., Geter signed on as the rapper’s manager back when T.I. was only 18. He said he also signed Travis Scott back when Scott only had 500 views on YouTube. “For me,  I want to continue doing what I’ve always done, which is prepare [artists] to go to major labels,” Geter said. Of course, the music business has changed dramatically since Grand Hustle was founded in 2003, a change that’s only accelerating as the coronavirus pandemic has brought in-person concerts and tours to a halt. For one thing, Geter argued, “Traditional labels, they’re pretty much not in the development business anymore” — in other words, they’re not interested in finding young, undiscovered artists and nurturing their careers. At the same time, he suggested that musical subcultures (like the Atlanta hip-hop scene that he calls home) are no longer tied to specific cities. “Lil Nas X stayed online,” he said. “By the time I found out about him, everyone else did too. It all happened at once.” Fortnite hosted a psychedelic Travis Scott concert and 12.3M people watched As a result, he suggested that finding the next up-and-coming artist no longer means focusing on a geographic scene: “I wanted to be able to put myself out there in a way that someone in Memphis, Houston, Kentucky, Seattle — they really truly are disconnected from the music industry, but they can come to Heavysound.com and it’s available for everyone [to apply] without any gatekeepers.” Heavy Sound Labs has an open application process on its website, and it’s already signed artists including AllStarrDaGreat (ADG), 47 Gino and Ralph Weah. The goal is to help those artists build their audience and get them signed to a major label within 24 months. Geter said he also wants the incubator to avoid what he sees as one of the main structural issues of a traditional label — namely, its exclusive focus on music. Instead, he said Heavy Sound can also help artists explore other avenues, whether that’s fashion or cannabis. The specific contracts will differ from industry to industry, but Geter said the goal is to always partner with the artist in a 50-50 split. “The music business is traditionally very linear,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about record sales or streams, it’s always one kind of vertical. If you want to talk publishing, they’ll send you to the next floor to talk about publishing, which I’ve never understood.” Geter added that he’s hoping to reinvent industry internships at the same time. Heavy Sound has already recruited 1,200 people to what it calls its Heavy Crew. Those Crew members gets access a special Slack channel and to industry talks, and they’re then called upon to help promote Heavy Sound artists. As for how Heavy Sound became part of Science, Geter said he met the startup studio’s co-founder Peter Pham at South by Southwest last year, who quickly suggested that Geter meet with Science co-founder and managing partner Mike Jones. “Heavy Sound pairs Jason’s unmatched ability to identify and grow talent at the earliest stages of development with the Heavy Crew, a powerful digital network of creatives and fans who can help the artists gain cultural traction,” Jones said in a statement. “The music incubator’s focus on empowering artists and providing a supportive community sets it apart from anything else in the industry. We’re thrilled to work closely with Jason and help Heavy Sound scale this new model in music.” Science, the L.A.-based incubator, just closed on $75 million for its first real venture fund

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Databases have always been a complex part of the equation for developers requiring a delicate balance to manage inside the application, but Fauna wants to make adding a database a simple API call, and today it announced $27 million in new funding. The round, which is technically an extension of the company’s 2017 Series A, was led by Madrona Venture Group with participation from Addition, GV, CRV, Quest Ventures and a number of individual investors. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $57 million, according to the company. While it was at it, the company also added some executive fire power, announcing that it was bringing on former Okta chief product officer Eric Berg as CEO and former Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia as Chairman. Companies like Stripe for payments and Twilio for communications are the poster children for the move to APIs. Instead of building sophisticated functionality from scratch, a developer can use an API call to a service, and presto, has the tooling built in without any fuss. Fauna does the same thing for databases. “Within a few lines of code with Fauna, developers can add a full featured globally distributed database to their applications. They can simplify code, reduce costs and ship faster because they never again worry about database issues such as correctness, capacity, scalability, replication, etc,” new CEO Berg told TechCrunch. To automate the process even further, the database is serverless, meaning that it scales up or down automatically to meet the needs of the application. Company co-founder Evan Weaver, who has moved to CTO with the hiring of Berg, says that Stripe is a good example of how this works. “You don’t think about provisioning Stripe because you don’t have to. […] You sign up for an account and beyond that you don’t have to provision or operate anything,” Weaver explained. Like most API companies, it’s working at the developer level to build community and developer consensus around it. Today, they have 25,000 developers using the tool. While they don’t have an open source version, they try to attract developer interest with a generous free tier, after which you can pay as you go or set up a fixed monthly pricing as you scale up. The company has always been 100% remote, so when COVID hit, it didn’t really change anything about the way the company’s 40 employees work. As the company grows Berg says it has aggressive goals around diversity and inclusion. “Our recruiting and HR team have some pretty aggressive targets in terms of thinking about diversity in our pipelines and in our recruiting efforts, and because we’re a small team today we have the ability to impact that as we grow. If we doubled the size of the company, we could shift those percentages pretty dramatically, so it’s something that is definitely top of mind for us.” Weaver says that fund raising began last year before COVID hit, but the term sheet wasn’t signed until April. He admits being nervous throughout the process, especially as the pandemic took hold. A company like Fauna is highly technical and takes time to grow, and he worried getting investors to understand that, even without a bleak economic picture, was challenging. “It’s a deep tech business and it takes real capital to grow and scale. It’s a high risk, high reward bet, which is easier to fund in boom times, but broadly I think the best companies get built during recessions when there’s less competition for talent and there’s more focus on capital.” Twilio 2010 board deck gives peek at now-public company’s early days

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Women have long had the short end of the stick when it comes to employment, regularly finding themselves struggling to break through the glass ceiling for promotions and on average getting paid less than their male counterparts. That situation often gets compounded when the woman in question is a parent, balancing the needs of professional and home life and more. But we’re seeing a gradual shift among companies to “do better” on inclusion, and that’s opening the door to new opportunities. And to underscore that, The Mom Project — a Chicago startup that focuses on connecting women, including parents, with jobs from organizations specifically open to employing people who meet that profile — is announcing a $25 million round of funding to expand its business. The funding comes on the heels of some significant traction for The Mom Project . Since we first profiled the company in December 2018 (when it had raised a round of $8 million led by Initialized Capital) it has grown to 275,000 users (up from 75,000), and doubled the number of organizations posting jobs on the platform to 2,000, including several major tech companies other brands like Facebook, Nike, Uber, Apple, Google and Twitter. The company has also made an acquisition of a startup called Werk to add analytics tools to for its business customers. The Series B round of funding brings the total raised by the startup to $36 million, and it is being led by 7CG — a VC that has backed the likes of Jio (the Indian juggernaut raising like crazy right now), Cheddar (the media platform acquired by Altice) and fintech Acorns — with participation also from Citi Ventures, Synchrony Financial, SVB and High Alpha, as well as previous investors Initialized Capital, Grotech Ventures, OCA, Aspect Ventures, Wintrust Financial, Irish Angels and Engage VC. The Mom Project is built around a two-sided platform and both of those sides will be getting a boost with this funding. On one side, the startup works with businesses to post job listings that specifically target women and those returning to work who might need more flexible terms in their employment engagements, as well as analyse its overall HR strategies around those efforts. On the other side, it provides a platform to women who fit that basic profile — the average age of its users is between 28 and 44, its CEO and founder Allison Robinson (pictured above with her child) said — providing them both with job listings and other support. The plan will be to enhance both aspects of the business: more tools for enterprises to better engage The Mom Project’s community, as well as manage the recruitment and employment of people better; and more tools for Mom users, including building out an interactive community (and forums) to better “address the pain points of family and career,” Robinson said. While there are a lot of job boards online — indeed recruitment dot-coms were some of the earliest successful business in the earliest days of the World Wide Web, meaning there are giant legacy players out there — The Mom Project is a strong example of how that model has been evolving. Specifically, we’re seeing a flourishing of startups, and sites, focused on identifying and cultivating job opportunities for specific segments of the market, be it specific types of jobs like engineers, or a specific demographic, or both — in ways that more general job boards like those on LinkedIn or Indeed either don’t highlight as well or simply cannot address. These are not only connecting with specific talent groups, but speaking to the needs of businesses that are trying to make more of an effort to boost their workforce diversity as part of larger inclusion policies: they are also struggling, in their case to find effective ways to target specific kinds of candidates. As we noted when we previously profiled The Mom Project, it was started when Robinson herself struggled to return to work — her previous career had he working as an executive at Pampers — after having a child, and it’s a problem that she is not alone in having identified, and the focus on addressing that and executing well on it is one reason The Mom Project has grown. Needless to say, recent events have had a huge impact on how all those general employment trends, and the recruitment industry, have been going. We’ve seen unprecedented job losses, hiring freezes, a push for remote working all suddenly become the norm. All of that has had a mixed impact on The Mom Project. In some ways, it plays into what the startup has been building all along: currently some two-thirds of all jobs posted and that people are looking to do are focused on fixed-term projects, rather than permanent positions, and so as companies slow down their normal recruiting, it leaves a space for the kind of work that people who need more flexible schedules may be able to do. That’s at the same time that the companies themselves may be reducing headcount overall for all kinds of work, however. Another big theme of the last several months has been the big shift to inclusiveness when it comes to racial diversity, and that too has direct relevance in the female workforce, Robinson noted. “Sixty percent of the job losses in the pandemic have been women, and the statistics have been even worse for women of color,” she said. “It’s like a canary in the coalmine.” While The Mom Project doesn’t have any tools today to surface candidates that meet more diverse profiles, Robinson said that they are considering it and how to approach that in a way that works. Meanwhile, The Mom Project is also trying to do more to speak to the other side of its marketplace and the struggles they are having. It’s launched a $500,000 fund, distributing grants specifically to small businesses that are its customers (that is, hiring via The Mom Project) the are finding it especially tough right now. (And indeed, many have pointed to the especially hard hit that SMBs are taking at the moment.) All of this is to say that there remains a huge market opportunity here and there is an argument to be made that companies that good at identifying clever ways of targeting gaps, and executing on that well, are strong candidates for identifying and filling other gaps in the future, one reason why investors are knocking. “There is a material disconnect between senior female talent and executive roles at major corporations, not for lack of interest, however the difficulty to institutionalize in large enterprise. The Mom Project’s platform enables corporates to source, onboard and manage variable labor at the highest skill level, a function historically which has been offline and manual for FTEs and even more so difficult for flexible employees,” said Jack Leeney, founding partner at 7GC, in an emailed interview. “In our diligence, the value add to senior HR managers of an analytic platform which enables the oversight of a variable work force was the single most important factor to integrating The Mom Project initially and at scale. There is no other growth company, digital first HR company or large scale talent agency that is addressing the female exec population with an enterprise grade digital solution.”

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become the name of the game for knowledge workers in the tech industry. Today, a startup that was an early mover on the opportunity of that model is announcing some news to double down on the concept. Andela, the New York startup that helps tech companies build remote engineering teams while at the same time shrinking the digital divide by tapping talent out of hubs in Africa for those teams, is today announcing a big step up in its efforts. The company is itself going fully remote, and as part of that it’s widening the pool of people that it taps to work and train by extending its reach across the whole of the African continent, while also shutting down its existing physical campuses. Jeremy Johnson, the co-founder and CEO, said that he believes that the move will extend the talent pool that it can tap to more than 500,000 engineers from the 250,000 that it could reach through its earlier model. To date some 100,000 engineers have applied to and used Andela’s skills training tools (it works in partnership with a number of other tech companies to provide these, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook) and it has connected some 1,000 people to job opportunities. The news comes on the heels of the company laying off 135 employees in May, with senior employees taking 10%-30% pay-cuts ahead of what the company hinted would be a big change in its business — the news that’s getting announced today. Andela has confirmed that it is not making any more cuts to its staff with today’s news. (It has around 1,200 employees globally.) We’re seeing a huge shift right now to remote working due to the persistent existence of COVID-19 and the need to keep more social distancing in place, and a byproduct of that has been people actively moving out of expensive tech hubs now that it’s been accepted that being in them isn’t a fundamental requirement to do work. At the same time, a lot of companies have either slowed down or frozen hiring of full-time employees but are continuing to tap people for project-based work because their businesses are no less in need of talent to operate. Both of those trends are an endorsement of the model that Andela helped to pioneer with its remote teams concept, and they more pointedly spell opportunity for companies like it that already have networks in place to speak to those demands. All the same, it’s a major shift for the startup, not least because it’s closing down its physical campuses. Founded in 2014 out of Lagos, Nigeria, and backed by investors like Generation (Al Gore’s fund), the Omidyar Network, Spark Capital and Chan Zuckerberg Education and valued at $700 million as of its most recent funding round last year, Andela has for the last six years focused on building a network based around the biggest tech hubs on the continent, building physical spaces in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, that helped source, vet and further train talent to become part of remote company teams for some 200 customers, with a large proportion of those in the US, including Cloudflare, Wellio, ViacomCBS, and Women Who Code. As Andela started to scale that model, starting with a pilot in Ghana in 2018 and a second in Egypt last year, it saw that the more efficient route was to forego the physical hubs completely for virtual ones. Indeed, Jeremy Johnson, the CEO who co-founded the company with Christina Sass, said that its move was not a direct response to the pandemic per se, although global events have definitely given a fillip to the concept.  “What we’ve done historically is go and build campus in each location and in early days that made a ton of sense because that was helpful for training and from an infrastructure standpoint it was what we needed to do,” he said in an interview. “But as we’ve transitioned to focus more on the breadth and depth of talent and diversity across the continent, we opened satellites in Egypt and Ghana where we didn’t require a campus. It’s actually worked really well and some ways feels like it’s opening opportunities for even greater growth.” Our own interview was via Zoom, with me in London and Johnson in New Hampshire: Andela’s New York office (where he is normally based) closed for the moment. “Our headquarters has technically been the internet, but we’ve had a big presence in NYC,” he said referring to its US base. He added that the expansion in Africa using the satellite/remote concept is the limit to how it apply the remote concept, with the question of what will happen in the future to even its US offices still not fully answered. “We announced a few weeks ago we are going to be a remote-first company overall going forward,” he said. “It lets you think differently about where to live and more. I don’t know what it means longer term but for now we are all living on Zoom.” While Andela is obviously expanding its talent pool with this move, and potentially giving a huge boost to providing more job opportunities for technology talent on the continent, the interesting next step for all of us will be to see how that connects with the other side of the marketplace — that is, the big tech companies themselves and how much they need to and are willing to invest in growing their own workforces. That is not a minor issue, considering the millions that have been laid off so far in the last few months. Andela, Johnson said, has no plans to raise more capital at the moment with money in the bank and revenues continuing to come in. Last year, it confirmed that it was on an annual revenue run rate of $50 million, but it’s not updating that figure at the moment.

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Spotify today announced it is expanding Premium Duo, a feature that allows two people who live at the same place — say couples or flatmates — to share one subscription plan while maintaining their own individual accounts, to dozens of new markets. Premium Duo is a remarkable concept from Spotify, which it first began testing in March last year and expanded to 19 markets months later. Starting Wednesday, Spotify Premium Duo is now available in 55 markets. The new subscription offering is remarkable mostly because it’s solving a problem that very few people face today. At a glance, it appears that Premium Duo is designed to help people save money and gain access to a shared playlist that represents music they both cherish. Two people can split the cost by joining Premium Duo, and it would save them a few bucks had they subscribed to the music streaming service individually. The problem is that if you are looking to save money, you can save even more by subscribing to Spotify’s family plan that supports six members in a group. In the U.S., Premium Duo is priced at $12.99 a month. In India, it’s priced at Rs 149 a month ($2). (In India, subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music, Apple TV+ and a vast range of services are more affordable generally.) Spotify says it also creates a special Duo Mix playlist for participating members of a Premium Duo tier that will comprise songs both listeners like. But it offers a similar feature for members of the family plan as well. I think I have figured out why Premium Duo exists. On its website, Spotify says that “with two separate accounts you can both enjoy your own music without having to take turns.” Couples, Spotify will really appreciate if both of you got your own paid accounts instead of listening to the streaming service from one account. Alex Norström, who is Spotify’s “Chief Freemium Business Officer” said in a statement that the streaming giant was proud to launch Spotify Premium Duo. “With two individual Premium accounts, you can both listen independently, uninterrupted and get all of your personalized playlists and features tailored just for you. We are thrilled to bring this unique Spotify Premium plan to even more markets around the world.”

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More personnel moves in European early-stage VC, this time it’s the latest career move of former Spotify global director of marketing Sophia Bendz, who is leaving Atomico to join Berlin’s Cherry Ventures. TechCrunch understands that the full Atomico staff are being informed of Bendz’ departure at an all-hands currently taking place. Her stated reason for leaving the London VC firm — which mainly does Series A and Series B rounds — is that, having made the difficult transition from seasoned operator to venture capitalist, she wants to focus on seed-stage where she can do more deals and work closely with founders and their teams at a much earlier stage. Swedish Bendz is already a prolific angel investor, with a total of 44 deals in the last 9 years! Notably, although she was promoted to partner at Atomico in November 2018, having joined the firm initially as an “executive in residence,” she as helped sourced and done due diligence on deals, but was yet to lead any. I wouldn’t read too much into that but it speaks to the fact that a Series A and beyond firm does many fewer deals per year than a seed investor, and likewise the investment process is very different, too. In the several calls over the years I’ve had with Bendz, I always got the impression that her passion is early-stage and especially consumer. In a brief catch up call yesterday, she made that abundantly clear. That’s borne out by one of her main projects at Atomico, where she conceived of and led the Atomico angel programme – a scheme designed to “activate” the latent angel investing potential of well-connected and talented people within the European ecosystem who don’t necessarily have the funds to angel invest on their own. As well as fronting the money, Atomico — led by Bendz — provides mentoring and legal support for angel investors recruited to the program. To that end, I’m told that the angel programme will continue and that Bendz will remain as an advisor. Officially, she remains at Atomico over the summer as she transitions Nordic sourcing over to other members of the Atomico investment team, before starting with Cherry in September.

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Like other ride-hailing companies, Bolt has been suffering from the coronavirus-related lockdown and economic downturn around the world. But the company is trying to find another revenue stream by launching electric bikes in Paris. Bolt plans to launch a similar service in other European capitals this year. For the past couple of weeks, the only bike-sharing service that has been operating in Paris is Vélib’, the public bike-sharing service based on docked bikes and electric bikes. Many private companies have tried to compete with Vélib’ but they’ve all failed so far — Gobee.bike, Obike, Ofo, Mobike… The most recent example is Jump, Uber’s micromobility subsidiary. Following a financial transaction with Lime, Jump has removed all its bikes from the streets of Paris, London, Rome, Brussels and more. Those electric bikes now belong to Lime, but Lime hasn’t relaunched the service yet (if it ever gets relaunched). Lime closes acquisition of Jump assets in Europe as Jump bikes and scooters disappear But it doesn’t mean bikes aren’t popular. The public bike-sharing service in Paris is even reaching record highs these days. Let’s see if it means that people are willing to give Bolt’s e-bikes a try. In addition to ride-hailing and scooters, you’ll be able to access the bike-sharing service from the same Bolt app. Like other free-floating vehicles, you can unlock a bike by scanning a QR code. When it comes to pricing, Bolt is trying to make its service as cheap as possible to attract its first users. There won’t be any unlock fee and it’ll cost €0.10 per minute. It’s still unclear how much it’s going to cost after the launch phase. Vélib’ still feels more attractive when it comes to pricing. It costs €2 to rent an e-bike for up to 30 minutes, or €8.30 per month to rent as many e-bikes as you want in a given month. With Bolt, you pay €2 for a 20-minute ride — and that’s without any unlock fee. Bolt has 30 million users in 35 countries. It operates a scooter service in 21 cities around Europe.

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Beyond Meat is starting to hit supermarket shelves in China after it first entered the country in April by supplying Starbucks’ plant-based menu. Within weeks, it had also forayed into select KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut outlets — all under the Yum China empire. China, the world’s biggest market for meat consumption, has seen a growing demand for plant-based protein. Euromonitor predicted that the country’s “free from meat” market, including plant-based meat substitutes, would be worth almost $12 billion by 2023, up from just under $10 billion in 2018. The Nasdaq-listed food giant is now bringing its signature Beyond Burgers into Freshippo (“Hema” in Chinese), Alibaba’s supermarket chain with a 30-minute delivery service that recorded a spike in orders during the pandemic as people avoided in-person shopping. The tie-up will potentially promote the animal-free burgers to customers of Freshippo’s more than 200 stores across China’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. They will first be available in 50 stores in Shanghai and arrive in more locations in September. “We know that retail will be a critical part of our success in China, and we’re pleased to mark this early milestone within a few months of our market entry,” Ethan Brown, founder and chief executive officer of Beyond Meat, said in a statement. Plant-based meat has a long history in China, serving the country’s Buddhist communities before the diet emerged as a broader urban lifestyle in more recent times. Amid health concerns, the Chinese government told citizens to cut back on meat consumption in 2016. The middle-class urban dwellers have also been embracing fake meat products as they respond to climate change. “Regardless of international or local brands, Chinese consumers are now only seeing the first generation of plant-based offerings. Purchases today are mostly limited to forward-thinking experimenters,” Matilda Ho, founder and managing director of Bits x Bites, a venture capital firm targeting the Chinese food-tech industry, told TechCrunch. “The good news is China’s per capita consumption of plant-based protein is amongst the highest in the world.” “For these offerings to scale to mass consumers or attract repeat purchases from early adopters, there is tremendous opportunity to improve on the mouthfeel, flavor, and how these products fit into the Chinese palate. To appeal to health-conscious flexitarians or vegetarians, there is also plenty of room to improve the nutritional profile in comparison to the conventional tofu or Buddhist mimic meat,” Ho added. The fake meat market is already rife with competition. Domestic incumbent Qishan Foods has been around since 1993. Hong Kong’s OmniPork and Alpha Foods were quick to capture the new appetite across the border. Nascent startup Zhenmeat is actively seeking funding and touting its understanding of the “Chinese taste.” Meanwhile, Beyond Meat’s rival back home Impossible Foods may be having a harder time cracking the market, as its genetically-modified soy ingredient could cause concerns among health-conscious Chinese.

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When in 2010, former VC Michael Kim set out to raise a fund that he would invest in a spate of micro VC managers, the investors to which he turned didn’t get it. Why pay Kim and his firm, Cendana Capital,  a management fee on top of the management fees that the VC managers themselves charge? Fast forward to today, and Kim has apparently proven to his backers that he’s worth the extra cost. Three years after raising $260 million across a handful of vehicles whose capital he plugged into up-and-coming venture firms, Kim is now revealing a fresh $278 million in capital commitments, including $218 million for its fourth flagship fund, and $60 million that Cendana will be managing expressly for the University of Texas endowment. We talked with Kim last week about how he plans to invest the money, which differs slightly from how he has invested in the past. Rather than stick solely with U.S.-based seed-stage managers who are raising vehicles of $100 million or less, he will split Cendana into three focus areas. One of these will remain seed-stage managers. A smaller area of focus — but one of growing importance, he said — is pre-seed managers who are managing $50 million or less and mostly funding ideas (and getting roughly 15% of each startup in exchange for the risk). A third area of growing interest is in international managers. In fact, Kim says Cendana has already backed small venture firms in Australia (Blackbird Ventures), China (Cherubic Ventures, which is a cross-border investor that is also focused on the U.S.), Israel (Entree Capital), and India (Saama Capital), among other spots. Altogether, Cendana is now managing around $1.2 billion. For its services, it charges its backers a 1% management fee and 10% of its profits atop the 2.5% management fee and 20% “carried interest” that his fund managers collect. “To be extremely clear about it and transparent,” said Kim, “that’s a stacked fee that’s on top of what our [VC] fund managers charge. So Cendana LPs are paying 3.5% and 30%.” One “might think that seems pretty egregious,” he continued. “But a number of our LPs are either not staffed to go address this market or are too large to actually write smaller checks to these seed funds. And we provide a pretty interesting value proposition to them.” That’s particularly true, Kim argues, when contrasting Cendana with other, bigger fund managers. “A lot of these well-known fund of funds are asset gatherers,” he says. “They’re not charging carried interest. They’re in it for the management fee. They have shiny offices around the world, they have hundreds of people working at them, they’re raising billion-dollar-plus kind of funds, and they’re putting 30 to 50 names into each one, so in a way they become index funds. [But[ I don’t think venture is really an asset class. Unlike an ETF that’s focused on the S&P 500, venture capital is where a handful of fund managers capture most of the alpha. Our differentiation is that we’re taking we’re creating very concentrated portfolios.” Specifically, Cendana typically holds positions in up to 12 funds, plus makes $1 million bets on another handful of more nascent managers that it will fund further if they prove out their theses. Some of the managers it has backed has outgrown Cendana from an assets standpoint. It caps its investments in funds that are $100 million or less in size. But over time, it has backed 22 managers over the years. Among them: 11.2 Capital, Accelerator Ventures, Angular Ventures, Bowery Capital, Collaborative Fund, Forerunner Ventures, Founder Collective, Freestyle Capital, IA Ventures, L2 Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, MHS Capital, Montage Ventures, Moxxie Ventures, Neo, NextView Ventures, Silicon Valley Data Capital, Spider Capital, Susa Ventures, Uncork VC (when it was still SoftTech VC), Wave Capital and XYZ Ventures. As for its pre-seed fund managers, Cendana is now the anchor investors in 10 funds, including Better Tomorrow Ventures, Bolt VC, Engineering Capital, K9 Ventures, Mucker Capital, Notation Capital, PivotNorth Capital, Rhapsody Venture Partners, Root Ventures, and Wonder Ventures. As for its returns, Kim says that Cendana’s very first fund, a $28.5 million vehicle, is “marked at north of 3x” and “that’s net of everything.” He’s optimistic that the firm’s numbers will look even better over time. According to Kim, Cendana currently has 38 so-called unicorns in its broader portfolio. It separately hold stakes in 160 companies that are valued at more than $100 million.

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Facebook’s recently launched app, Hobbi, an experiment in short-form content creation around personal projects, hobbies, and other Pinterest-y content, is already shutting down. The app first arrived on iOS in February as one of now several launches from Facebook’s internal R&D group, the NPE Team. Hobbi users have now been notified by way of push notification that the app is shutting down on July 10, 2020. The app allows users to export their data from its settings. In the few months it’s been live on the U.S. App Store, Hobbi only gained 7,000 downloads, according to estimates from Sensor Tower. Apptopia also reported the app had under 10K downloads and saw minimal gains during May and June. Though Hobbi clearly took cues from Pinterest, it was not designed to be a pinboard of inspirational ideas. Instead, Hobbi users would organize photos of their projects — like gardening, cooking, arts & crafts, décor, and more — in a visual diary of sorts. The goal was to photograph the project’s progress over time, adding text to describe the steps, as needed. The end result would be a highlight reel of all those steps that could be published externally when the project was completed. But Hobbi was a fairly bare bones app. There was nothing else to do but document your own projects. You couldn’t browse and watch projects other users had created, beyond a few samples, nor could you follow top users across the service. And even the tools for documentation were underdeveloped. Beyond a special “Notes” field for writing down a project’s steps, the app experience felt like a watered-down version of Stories. Image Credits: Hobbi Facebook wasn’t alone in pursuing the potential of short-form creative content. Google’s internal R&D group, Area 120, also published its own experiment in this area with the video app Tangi. And Pinterest was recently spotted testing a new version of Story Pins, that would allow users to showcase DIY and creative content in a similar way. It’s not surprising to see Hobbi wind down so quickly, given its lack of traction. Facebook already said its NPE Team experiments would involve apps that changed very rapidly and would shut down if consumers didn’t find them useful. In addition to Hobbi, the NPE Team has launched a number of apps since last summer, including meme creator Whale, conversational app Bump, music app Aux, couples app Tuned, Apple Watch app Kit, audio calling app CatchUp, collaborative music app Collab, live event companion Venue, and predictions app Forecast. Before Hobbi, the only one to have shut down was Bump. (Some are not live in the U.S., either.) Of course, Facebook may not intend to use these experiments to create a set of entirely new social apps built from the ground-up. Instead, it’s likely looking to collect data about what features resonate with users and how different creation tools are used. This is data that can inform Facebook’s development of features for its main set of apps, like Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment but one had not been provided at the time of publication.

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Lyft’s self-driving vehicle division has restarted testing on public roads in California, several months after pausing operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft’s Level 5 program said Tuesday some of its autonomous vehicles are back on the road in Palo Alto and at its closed test track. The company has not resumed a pilot program that provided rides to Lyft employees in Palo Alto. The company said it is following CDC guidelines for personal protective equipment and surface cleaning. It has also enacted several additional safety steps to prevent the spread of COVID. Each autonomous test vehicle is equipped with partitions to separate the two safety operators inside, the company said. The operators must wear face shields and submit to temperature checks. They’re also paired together for two weeks at a time. Lyft’s Level 5 program — a nod to the SAE automated driving level that means the vehicle handles all driving in all conditions — launched in July 2017 but didn’t starting testing on California’s public roads until November 2018. Lyft then ramped up the testing program and its fleet. By late 2019, Lyft was driving four times more autonomous miles per quarter than it was six months prior. Lyft had 19 autonomous vehicles testing on public roads in California in 2019, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the primary agency that regulates AVs in the state. Those 19 vehicles, which operated during the reporting period of December 2018 to November 2019, drove nearly 43,000 miles in autonomous mode, according to Lyft’s annual report released in February. While that’s a tiny figure when compared to other companies such as Argo AI, Cruise and Waymo, it does represent progress within the program. Lyft has supplemented its on-road testing with simulation, a strategy that it relied on more heavily during COVID-related shutdowns. And it will likely continue to lean on simulation even as local governments lift restrictions and the economy reopens. Simulation is a cost-effective way to create additional control, repeatability and safety, according to a blog post released Tuesday by Robert Morgan, director of engineering, and Sameer Qureshi, director of product management at Level 5. The pair said simulation has also allowed the Level 5 unit to test its work without vehicles, without employees leaving their desks and, for the last few months, without leaving their homes. Level 5 employs more than 400 people in London, Munich and the United States. Using simulation in the development of autonomous vehicle technology is a well-established tool in the industry. Lyft’s approach to data — which it uses to improve its simulations — is what differentiates the company from competitors. Lyft is using data collected from drivers on its ride-hailing app to improve simulation tests as well as build 3D maps and understand human driving patterns. The Level 5 program is taking data from select vehicles in Lyft’s Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options like long-term leasing.

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TransferWise, the London-headquartered international money transfer service recently valued at $3.5 billion, has secured an additional license with U.K. regulators to enable it to offer investment products in the future. This will mean that U.K. customers who have money deposited in a TransferWise multi-currency or so-called “borderless” account will be given the option to make that money work harder on their behalf. Total deposits currently sit at £2 billion, so there is quite a lot of customer cash potentially idle. However, the company isn’t revealing much detail on its future investments product, except to say that it will initially offer “simple, affordable funds from reputable providers” so that customers can earn a return on their balances. Up to £85,000 of money held as investments within a TransferWise account per customer will be protected under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The new offering is still in development and will launch “in the next 12 months.” Zooming out further, TransferWise says an increasing number of its 8 million customers are using the borderless account as an international banking solution. Around one million TransferWise debit cards have been issued since 2018, and the TransferWise account now also supports direct debits, instant international payments to friends, and Apple and Google Pay. With the addition of savings and investments, TransferWise says its vision is for the borderless account to replace “expensive, old-world international banking” for expats, freelancers and travelers. “You and I have been talking since 2011, when you first reported that TransferWise was going live, and I think you’ll appreciate that over time we’ve expanded the features that TransferWise offers our customers, for sure,” co-founder and current CEO Kristo Käärmann tells me on a call. “We launched the borderless account to let people receive money in-roads and to hold money. We added the debit cards so that they can use that money that they hold in places where they can use the card. And this is, in some ways, no different.” Sticking to broad brush strokes rather than specific product details (despite my persistent questioning), Käärmann says that after listening to customers TransferWise wants to help them hold their balance in a smarter way. “Clearly they’ve already figured out that TransferWise works for them,” he says. “And not merely as a medium of sending money from one country to another but also to get paid internationally, to kind of run their international part of banking, if you like. For businesses, for freelancers, for ex-pats, for people that have just moved countries. So this is another feature along the same string of things that people want us to do for them.” That, of course, begs the question: Does TransferWise have any plans to become an actual bank, with a full banking license, further adding to its existing permissions from regulators. Käärmann gives a pretty emphatic answer. “No, we don’t have any plans to apply for a banking license,” he says. “We haven’t applied for any banking licenses anywhere in the world… The only thing that the banking license in Europe lets banks do is lend out the deposits that customers give them, and that’s not what our customers are asking for. They’re not asking us, you know, can you please lend out our deposits?” In fact, Käärmann confesses to not being a huge fan of the predominant current account business model, which he believes serves the interests of banks, not account-holding customers. “I do think the way current accounts work with banks is not sustainable in the long term. That the money we keep in banks is being lent out to mortgages and business loans and overdrafts and so on, yet the customers holding that money, they’re not really getting much benefit from it. So why do it?” he asks, somewhat rhetorically. Returning to the forthcoming investment product — and after a little more prodding from me — he says to expect it to have the same transparency as the company’s core money exchange offering, with clear pricing and working as hard for customers as possible. In line with TransferWise’s existing modus operandi, I would also expect it to be financially sustainable, rather than being cross-subsidised in order to pull customers in or grab easy headlines, which is common practice amongst many investments and savings products. Adds the TransferWise CEO: “We want to be clear what the problem is we’re solving. [It] comes back to giving people a choice of where and how they hold their balances. And that might give you a hint of the product that we’re building. I can say now that we’re not building an active trading product, that’s not the goal. Our customers aren’t asking how can they speculate on the markets. There are tools for this, and they are increasingly [getting] better for this purpose. What we’re solving with the investments product is going to be a much more passive way of choosing where your balances sit.”

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Two years and over $17 million after it first began working on its robots for quality assurance, the Los Angeles-based Elementary Robotics has finally made its products commercially available. The company already boasts a few very large initial customers in the automotive industry, consumer packaged goods, and aerospace and defense, including Toyota, according to chief executive Arye Barnehama. Now, the robotics technology that Barnehama and his co-workers have been developing for years is broadly available to other companies beyond its six initial pilot customers. The company’s robots look like a large box with a gantry system providing three degrees of freedom, with vertical and horizontal movement as well as a gimbal-mounted camera that can visualize products. Image credit: Elementary Robotics As objects are scanned by the robots they’re compared against a taxonomy of objects provided by the companies that Elementary works with to determine whether or not there’s a defect. Barnehama also emphasizes that Elementary’s robots are not designed to replace every human interaction or assessment in the manufacturing process. “Machine learning paired with humans always performs better,” says Barnehama. “At the end of the day the human is running the factory. We’re not really a lights out factory.” Behind the new commercialization push is a fresh $12.7 million in financing that Elementary closed at the end of 2019. The lead investor in that round was Threshold Ventures and the firm’s partner, Mo Islam, has already taken a seat on the Elementary Robotics board of directors. Existing investors Fika Ventures, Fathom Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, and Ubiquity Ventures also participated in the round, which will be used to allow Elementary Robotics to continue developing and deploying its automation products at scale, the company said. “Robotics and particularly robotics applied to manufacturing has been an interest of mine,” said Islam. In Elementary Robotics, Islam saw a company that could compete with large, publicly traded businesses like Cognex. The low complexity and ease of deployment of Elementary’s hardware was another big selling point for Islam that convinced him to invest.  Elementary says that it can be up and running at a site in a matter of days and with businesses emphasizing cost-cutting and enabling remote work to ensure worker safety, companies are embracing the technology. “That’s where we’re really excited to be launching it,” said Barnehama. “If we get parts or data examples we can get that up and running same day. We can usually show customers within that week we can start showing them the value of that as we get more and more data through the system.”

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NASA has announced its latest batch of small business grants, providing more than 300 businesses a total of $51 million in crucial early-stage funding. These “phase I” projects receive up to $125,000 to help bring new technologies to market. The Small Business Innovation Research/Technology Transfer programs help entrepreneurs and inventors transition their work from lab to commercial availability. The money is like a grant, not an investment, and Phase I recipients are eligible for larger Phase II grants if they’re warranted. This year’s selections, as always, cover dozens of disciplines and apply to a wide range of industries. Among NASA’s own highlights in a news release are high-power solar arrays, a smart air traffic control system for urban flight, a water purification system for use on the Moon, and improved lithium-ion batteries. There’s even one award for a company making “a compact sterilizer for use on spacecraft materials” that could also be employed by health workers. NASA puts $7M toward long-shot research, from moon mining to solar lenses Perusing the lists I was struck by the number of neuromorphic computing efforts, from radiation-hardened chips to software techniques. I take these to be chips and approaches that utilize and accelerate machine learning methods, rather than attempts at computers that truly employ the spikes and plasticity of actual neuronal networks. The 2020 Phase II announcements won’t come for a while — NASA just released 2019’s last month. The SBIR program is one of the federal government’s inadvertently best-kept secrets, with billions allocated to a dozen agencies to distribute to small businesses. You can learn more at SBIR.gov.

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I have had a few occasions to see Skygauge’s drones in-person, primarily on visits to Asia. The Canadian team is involved in HAX’s program and has spent time working out of their Shenzhen offices. In fact, they competed at our last hardware battlefield in the city late last year. To a person, everyone I’ve spoken with seems impressed by the company’s tiltable rotor technology, which allows the massive industrial drones to maneuver in ways more traditional quadcopters can’t. I have little doubt the startup has had no trouble getting the attention of companies looking for an edge in the drone space, and like so many other robotics and robotics/drone/automation companies, it’s gotten a pretty significant boost in interest due to COVID-19. Today the startup announced that it has opened pre-orders on its drones, with plans to launch in 2021 — it’s not disclosing pricing, but interested parties can plunk down a refundable $1,000 deposit. The company has already lined up “100 potential customers,” along with planned demos for 10 Fortune 500 companies. The pandemic, meanwhile, has opened up increased potential for these sorts of automated industrial inspection devices. The company notes a recent temporary FAA exemption for additional drone-based inspections of oil and gas sites in Texas, as workers are expected to stay home. “Our goal is to get people out of dangerous environments and the need for this has never been greater because of COVID-19,” co-founder and CEO Nikita Iliushkin says in a statement. Skygauge apparently maxed out its early adopter program during the pandemic. I’ll be curious to see if the company’s success ultimately lies in producing its own drones or licensing its impressive technology to third-parties. Meantime, it has raised $400,000 in pre-seed funding, with plans to raise more.

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Dfinity appeared in 2018, amid the flurry of investments in the blockchain space, It raised $102 million in funding at a $2 billion valuation in a round jointly led by Andreessen Horowitz and Polychain Capital, along with other investors including KR1. I must admit that at the time it appeared to all intents and purposes as if it would be yet another attempt to replace Ethereuem. Or at least something similar. But then something odd happened. It started behaving like an actual software company. In January this year it didn’t talk about blockchain at all, but instead demonstrated an open social network called “LinkedUp” sort of open version of LinkedIn. The demonstration didn’t go live and technically-speaking it was under-whelming until you realized it wasn’t running or any server, and performed faster than a native mobile app. Dfinity, it turned out, wasn’t a traditional blockchain startup, but was taking a leaf out of that world’s championing of the move towards decentralization. In fact, it was building its so-called “Internet Computer”: a decentralized and non-proprietary network to run the next generation of ‘mega-applications’. Today it announced that the “Internet Computer” is now open to third-party developers and entrepreneurs to build that next generation. The vision is to “reboot” the internet in a way that destroys the ability to create virtual monopolies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and WhatsApp. As its next technical demonstration, it launched “CanCan”, a TikTok-like app that will run in a browser (though it is not publicly available as such) and which is not owned by a company. The idea is that anyone could build their own TikTok. The tantalizing part of Dfinity’s ideas is that because of the nature of the architecture, apps like CanCan can be built with less than 1,000 lines of code. Facebook, to take an example, contains over 62 million lines of code.  To achieve this, Dfinity is drawing on the work of Andreas Rossberg, co-creator of WebAssembly, who has now created Motoko, a new programming language optimized for Dfinity’s Internet Computer. The Internet Computer’s serverless architecture allows the Internet to natively host software and services, eliminating — claims Dfinity — the need for proprietary cloud services. Without web servers, databases, and firewalls, developers can create powerful software much more quickly, and that software then runs far faster than normal. Dominic Williams, founder and Chief Scientist at DFINITY said in a statement: “One of the biggest problems emerging in technology is the monopolization of the internet by Big Tech — companies that have consolidated near-total control over our technologies. They collect vast amounts of information about us that they sell for profit and leverage to amass greater market share, and acquire or bulldoze rivals at an alarming rate… The Internet Computer provides a means to reboot the internet — creating a public alternative to proprietary cloud infrastructure. It will empower the next-generation of developers and entrepreneurs to take on Big Tech with open internet services. It aims to bring the internet back to its free and open roots — not dominated by a handful of corporations.” This “Tungsten” release of the Internet Computer means third-party developers and entrepreneurs, will be able to start kicking the tyres on this platform and start spitting out web apps and even smartphone apps. Projects currently being built include a decentralized payment application and a “pan-industry platform for luxury goods”, whatever that is. Successful and promising applications may also benefit from Beacon Fund, an ecosystem fund stewarded by the DFINITY Foundation and Polychain Capital that aims to support ‘DeFi’ apps and open internet services built on the Internet Computer.  Interested developers and enterprises can submit an application to access the Internet Computer starting July 1, 2020 via dfinity.org.

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Facebook took action to remove a network of accounts Tuesday related to the “boogaloo” movement, a firearm-obsessed anti-government ideology that focuses on preparing for and potentially inciting a U.S. civil war. “As part of today’s action, we are designating a violent US-based anti-government network under our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy and disrupting it on our services,” Facebook wrote in the announcement. “As a result, this violent network is banned from having a presence on our platform and we will remove content praising, supporting or representing it.” In its announcement, the company made a distinction between “the broader and loosely-affiliated boogaloo movement” and the violent group of accounts it identified and we’ve asked Facebook to clarify how or if it will distinguish between the two moving forward. On Tuesday, Facebook removed 220 Facebook accounts, 28 pages, 106 groups (some public, some private) and 95 Instagram accounts related to the network it identified within the boogaloo movement. A Facebook spokesperson clarified that today’s actions don’t mean all boogaloo content will be subject to removal. The company will continue to focus on boogaloo activity that focuses on potential real-world violence, like the new cluster of content taken down. The new designation of some boogaloo networks as “dangerous organizations” does mean that Facebook will scan its platform for symbols connected to the accounts that meet that designation. The company notes that it has been monitoring boogaloo content since 2019, but previously only removed the content when it posed a “credible” threat of offline violence, citing that the presence of that threat in its decision to more aggressively identify and remove boogaloo content. “… Officials have identified violent adherents to the movement as those responsible for several attacks over the past few months,” the company wrote in its blog post. “These acts of real-world violence and our investigations into them are what led us to identify and designate this distinct network.” Earlier this month, an Air Force sergeant found with symbols connected to the boogaloo movement was charged with murder for killing a federal security officer during protests in Oakland. In an April report, the watchdog group Tech Transparency Project detailed how extremists committed to the boogaloo movement “[exchange] detailed information and tactics on how to organize and execute a revolt against American authorities” in Facebook groups, some private. Boogaloo groups appear to have flourished on the platform in the early days of the pandemic, with politicized state lockdowns, viral misinformation and general uncertainty fueling fresh interest in far-right extremism. As the Tech Transparency Project report explains, the boogaloo movement initially used the cover of humor, memes and satire to disguise an underlying layer of real-world violent intent. Boogaloo groups have a mix of members with varying levels of commitment to real-world violence and race-based hate, but organizations studying extremism have identified overlap between boogaloo supporters and white supremacist groups. Facebook’s action against the boogaloo movement come the same day that Democratic senators wrote a letter to the company demanding accountability for its role in amplifying white supremacy and other forms of far-right extremism. In the letter, addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, Lawmakers cited activity by members of boogaloo groups as part of Facebook’s “failure to address the hate spreading on its platform.” With advertiser boycott growing, lawmakers press Facebook on white supremacy

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Ravi Mehta Contributor Share on Twitter Ravi is a consumer tech leader who was most recently Chief Product Officer at Tinder. Previously, he was a product leader at Facebook, TripAdvisor and Xbox. He writes about scaling products and teams at http://ravi-mehta.com. In 36 hours, a diverse group of young entrepreneurs and technologists raised more than $200,000 for three charities supporting people of color and the LGBTQ community: The Okra Project, The Innocence Project and The Loveland Foundation. How did they do it? Why did they do it? The answers are important to understanding the future of tech. This is the first real example of how and why Gen Z will build companies. .fm and the people behind it reflect broader trends in youth culture. VCs should take note. These are the people who will build the next Facebook. Everyone else should rejoice. Young technologists are building a new future on a new set of values. Their values are informed by the first-hand experience of growing up with the perverse incentives of yesterday’s social media and a genuine desire to create a better world — online and off. It all began on Thursday night when a group of friends started riffing on a TikTok meme. In today’s world, language is constantly evolving — emerged as a particular spin on the phrase: “It is what it is.” Josh Constine explains, “ means you feel helpless amidst the chaotic realities unfolding around us, but there is no escape.” The group of friends added the emojis to their Twitter handles and began tweeting about .fm, a nonexistent invite-only social app. Unexpectedly, the trend started gaining momentum and the inside joke got out of hand. Conversations erupted on the group’s Discord server as they discussed what to do next. Could they channel the hype into impact? Vernon Coleman, founder of synchronous social app Realtime and “Head of Hype” at .fm reflected, “What started as a meme quickly gained steam! We realized the opportunity and felt that we had a responsibility to convert the momentum for social good. I think it’s amazing what can happen when skilled creatives get together and collaborate in real-time.” Where should the team focus their efforts? The answer was clear. The group wrote in a post on Friday, ” … we didn’t have to think too hard: In this moment, there’s pretty much no greater issue to amplify than the systemic racism and anti-Blackness much of the world is only beginning to wake up to.” Since Thursday, the group accumulated over 20,000 email sign-ups, more than 11,000 Twitter followers and raised over $200,000 in donations. Cynics have called it a “well-executed marketing campaign” or suggested that it was an ill-intentioned prank. Not everything went perfectly, and the team has acknowledged the missteps. But, we shouldn’t trivialize or marginalize what they accomplished and why they did it. In one fell swoop, the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked. This group of 60 young tech leaders took the tools of the titans into their hands to make an impact while making a statement. They weren’t the most connected people on Twitter. Many of the team have follower counts in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. But, they understand the tools as well as the tech elite. This is the latest in a string of movements created by Gen Z leaders and activists. Gen Z is able to amplify their voice — even on platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, considered the domain of millennials and Gen X. We first saw this with the Parkland school shooting when high school students took over Twitter then Facebook then cable news to add a voice of reason to a gun debate that had devolved into partisan talking points. Over the last three years, I’ve spent dozens of hours talking with young users and product builders — this has been an important part of my job as the chief product officer at Tinder, a product director on Facebook’s Youth team and an angel investor. Many of the sentiments expressed by the .fm team reflect broader feelings in Gen Z: Gen Z is tired of a boomer generation that seems more focused on reaping their last bit from the world than passing it on in better shape. Gen Z is fed up with exclusive clubs and virtual velvet ropes. The latest example is Clubhouse, an invite-only social app that raised at a $100 million valuation despite being only a few months old and catering to only a few thousand users — among them Oprah and Kevin Hart. For tech insiders, Clubhouse is the place to be. For Gen Z outsiders, it’s the latest example of Black celebrity being used to make predominantly white founders and investors rich. Gen Z entrepreneurs and tech leaders are tired of a tech industry that talks about inclusivity, but then uses exclusivity as a marketing ploy. This has been a practice for more than a decade. It started with Gmail, the first app to use private invites at scale — a tactic widely copied. Today, Silicon Valley insiders are clamoring for invites to HEY, a recently released email app that notoriously charges for two- and three-letter email addresses ($999 per year for a two-letter address and $375 for a three-letter address). The short name up-charge is a cynical money-making scheme from a company whose founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, evangelize a fairer and more empathetic approach to technology. Critics have pointed out that their business model unfairly — and likely unintentionally — targets ethnic groups who have a tradition of shorter names. Finally, Gen Z is tired of a tech industry that talks about diversity, but doesn’t practice it. Black and Hispanic people continue to be underrepresented at major tech companies, particularly at the leadership level. This underrepresentation is even worse for entrepreneurs. Just 1% of venture-backed founders are Black. Silicon Valley isn’t trying hard enough. “We hear repeatedly that there’s a pipeline problem in tech VC and employment … that’s bullshit. We were able to bring together different age groups, cultural backgrounds, skills, genders and geographies … all based on a random selection process of people putting a meme in their profile … the Valley should realize that you can literally throw darts and get results,” said Coleman. “If the industry is about that action imagine the magic we’d all create together.” The story of .fm highlights an important truth. If the tech industry doesn’t create the future Gen Z wants, there’s no need to worry. They’ll create it for themselves. Will you help them? Make the hire. Send the wire. — Tiffani Ashley Bell, founding executive director at The Human Utility. The team behind .fm supports: The Okra Project — a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black trans people by bringing home-cooked, healthy and culturally specific meals and resources to Black trans people wherever we can reach them. The Innocence Project — its mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment — a plight that disproportionately affects people of color. The Loveland Foundation — makes it possible for Black women and girls nationally to receive therapy support. Black women and girls deserve access to healing, and that healing will impact generations.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
Jamf, the Apple device management company, filed to go public today. Jamf might not be a household name, but the Minnesota company has been around since 2002 helping companies manage their Apple equipment. In the early days, that was Apple computers. Later it expanded to also manage iPhones and iPads. The company launched at a time when most IT pros had few choices for managing Macs in a business setting. Jamf changed that, and as Macs and other Apple devices grew in popularity inside organizations in the 2010s, the company’s offerings grew in demand. Notably, over the years Apple has helped Jamf and its rivals considerably, by building more sophisticated tooling at the operating system level to help manage Macs and other Apple devices inside organizations. Jamf raised approximately $50 million of disclosed funding before being acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2017 for $733.8 million, according to the S-1 filing. Today, the company kicks off the high-profile portion of its journey towards going public. Apple device management takes center stage In a case of interesting timing, Jamf is filing to go public less than a week after Apple bought mobile device management startup Fleetsmith. At the time, Apple indicated that it would continue to partner with Jamf as before, but with its own growing set of internal tooling, which could at some point begin to compete more rigorously with the market leader. Other companies in the space managing Apple devices besides Jamf and Fleetsmith include Addigy and Kandji. Other more general offerings in the mobile device management (MDM) space include MobileIron and VMware Airwatch among others. Vista is a private equity shop with a specific thesis around buying out SaaS and other enterprise companies, growing them, and then exiting them onto the public markets or getting them acquired by strategic buyers. Examples include Ping Identity, which the firm bought in 2016 before taking it public last year, and Marketo, which Vista bought in 2016 for $1.8 billion and sold to Adobe last year for $4.8 billion, turning a tidy profit. Inside the machine Now that we know where Jamf sits in the market, let’s talk about it from a purely financial perspective. Jamf is a modern software company, meaning that it sells its digital services on a recurring basis. In the first quarter of 2020, for example, about 83% of its revenue came from subscription software. The rest was generated by services and software licenses. Now that we know what type of company Jamf is, let’s explore its growth, profitability and cash generation. Once we understand those facets of its results, we’ll be able to understand what it might be worth and if its IPO appears to be on solid footing. We’ll start with growth. In 2018 Jamf recorded $146.6 million in revenue, which grew to $204.0 million in 2019. That works out to an annual growth rate of 39.2%, a more than reasonable pace of growth for a company going public. It’s not super quick, mind, but it’s not slow either. More recently, the company grew 36.9% from $44.1 million in Q1 2019 to $60.4 million in revenue in Q1 2020. That’s a bit slower, but not too much slower. Turning to profitability, we need to start with the company’s gross margins. Then we’ll talk about its net margins. And, finally, adjusted profits. Gross margins help us understand how valuable a company’s revenue is. The higher the gross margins, the better. SaaS companies like Jamf tend to have gross margins of 70% or above. In Jamf’s own case, it posted gross margins of 75.1% in Q1 2020, and 72.5% in 2019. Jamf’s gross margins sit comfortably in the realm of SaaS results, and perhaps even more importantly are improving over time. Getting behind the curtain When all its expenses are accounted for, the picture is less rosy, and Jamf is unprofitable. The company’s net losses for 2018 and 2019 were similar, totalling $36.3 million and $32.6 million, respectively. Jamf’s net loss improved a little in Q1, falling from $9.0 million in 2019 to $8.3 million this year. The company remains weighed down by debt, however, which cost it nearly $5 million in Q1 2020, and $21.4 million for all of 2019. According to the S-1, Jamf is sporting a debt-to-equity ratio of roughly 0.8, which may be a bit higher than your average public SaaS company, and is almost certainly a function of the company’s buyout by a private equity firm. But the company’s adjusted profit metrics strip out debt costs, and under the heavily massaged adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) metric, Jamf’s history is only one of rising profitability. From $6.6 million in 2018 to $20.8 million in 2019, and from $4.3 million in Q1 2019 to $5.6 million in Q1 2020. with close to 10% adjusted operating profit margins through YE 2019. It will be interesting to see how the company’s margins will be affected by COVID, with financials during the period still left blank in this initial version of the S-1. The Enterprise market in general has been reasonably resilient to the recent economic shock, and device management may actually perform above expectations given the growing push for remote work. Completing the picture Something notable about Jamf is that it has positive cash generation, even if in Q1 it tends to consume cash that is made up for in other quarters. In 2019, the firm posted $11.2 million in operational cash flow. That’s a good result, and better than 2018’s $9.4 million of operating cash generation. (The company’s investing cash flows have often run negative due to Jamf acquiring other companies, like ZuluDesk and Digita.) With Jamf, we have a SaaS company that is growing reasonably well, has solid, improving margins, non-terrifying losses, growing adjusted profits, and what looks like a reasonable cash flow perspective. But Jamf is cash poor, with just $22.7 million in cash and equivalents as of the end of Q1 2020 — some months ago now. At that time, the firm also had debts of $201.6 million. Given the company’s worth, that debt figure is not terrifying. But the company’s thin cash balance makes it a good IPO candidate; going public will raise a chunk of change for the company, giving it more operating latitude and also possibly a chance to lower its debt load. Indeed Jamf notes that it intends to use part of its IPO raise to “to repay outstanding borrowings under our term loan facility…” Paying back debt at IPO is common in private equity buyouts. So what? Jamf’s march to the public markets adds its name to a growing list of companies. The market is already preparing to ingest Lemonade and Accolade this week, and there are rumors of more SaaS companies in the wings, just waiting to go public. There’s a reasonable chance that as COVID-19 continues to run roughshod over the United States, the public markets eventually lose some momentum. But that isn’t stopping companies like Jamf from rolling the dice and taking a chance going public.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
SpaceX successfully launched a GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force today. The Space Force took over the U.S. in-space GPS assets from the Air Force when it became its own dedicated wing of the U.S. armed forces. The launch employed a Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of which was new and fresh from SpaceX’s factory floor. This launch did include a recovery attempt of the Falcon 9 booster, however, unlike the first GPS III launch that SpaceX launched in December 2018. SpaceX says that it was able to work with its customer to ensure that it could complete its mission as planned, while retaining enough reserve fuel for a recovery attempt – something that didn’t happen with the first launch. That’s good news for SpaceX, since it means it won’t be losing that booster this time around, with a confirmed  successful controlled burn and landing on its floating drone landing ship at sea. That can now be refurbished and used again for future Falcon 9 missions. The GPS spacecraft launched on this flight includes greater capabilities, better security and the potential to impact up to 4 billion users worldwide, the Space Force notes. It’ll enter a geosynchronous orbit and work with other existing GPS III satellites on orbit, as well as other existing earlier generation GPS satellites operated by the U.S. SpaceX also says that its Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief ships will attempt fairing recovery at sea, not via catch but by fishing them out of the water. The fairing protects the satellite during the launch on its trip to space, and then falls back to Earth – where SpaceX generally tries to recover the pieces for later refurbishment and re-use. The deployment of the satellite will occur around an hour and a half after launch, so while the launch has been successful, the full mission status will only be determined then. We’ll update this post with the results of that maneuver.

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posted 4 days ago on techcrunch
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A major company just announced that it will not be taking part in an in-person trade show, instead opting to go online only. After early reports from South Korean press, Samsung has just confirmed with TechCrunch that it will not be taking part in Europe’s largest consumer tech trade show.  “We have taken the exciting decision to share our latest news and announcements at our own digital event in early September,” the company tells TechCrunch. “While Samsung will not be participating in IFA 2020, we look forward to our continued partnership with IFA in the future.” The decision comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge. Earlier today, the European Union announced that it will be opening travel from 15 countries starting tomorrow, while continuing to ban travelers from the United States, Brazil and Russia, where COVID-19 remains an on-going concern. Berlin’s IFA tech conference will go ahead in-person this September — with caveats I’ve been in touch with individuals involved with the show recently, and it seems clear that everyone is monitoring the situation closely. I’ve also sent a followup in the wake of this Samsung news. Likely it won’t be enough to sink the show by itself, but we’ve seen the domino effect played out several times this years — most notably in the case of fellow European trade show Mobile World Congress, which seemed to die a bit of a slow death over the course of a month of so. IFA’s organizers announced the planned return of the show back in mid-May, with a number of precautions. “While the organizers hope that the overall public health situation will improve between now and September,” the org wrote at the time, “they have decided to err on the side of caution and meet the strictest safety standards possible.” Amid the precautions are limiting attendance to 1,000 people a day, along with a strict invite-only press release. The way things are going on the COVID-19 front, however, it seems likely that many attendees will simply opt to monitor the show from afar.

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