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Months after its $80 million Series B fundraise, Course Hero has acquired Symbolab, an artificial intelligence-powered calculator that helps students answer and understand complex math questions. The price of the deal was undisclosed. The 9-person Symbolab team, based in Tel Aviv, will join Course Hero . The platforms will live under independent branding for the near future, according to Andrew Grauer, CEO of Course Hero. Founded in 2011, Symbolab is an advanced calculator and question solver that is on track to answer 1 billion questions this year, Grauer says. The service has a deep focus on college-level math, and solves complex geometry problems with explanations and proofs. Course Hero is a question and answer platform at its core. The addition of a calculator and company that holds a data-set on the most asked mathematics questions could give Course Hero a bigger edge on its math services, which the company says is one of its most popular subjects among its current students. The service will be offered to Course Hero subscribers as a deal-sweetener. Edtech startups flirt with unicorn-style growth The model of using a computational engine to give solutions to stuck students is fairly common. In a remote schooling word, flexibility is key for students who might be lost in their classes. While teachers and tutors might only be available for a certain amount of hours, a technology service powered by AI could prove to be a 24/7 solution that students can rely on — and pay for. Symbolab feels similar to Wolfram Alpha, a popular computational engine. While Grauer says that Wolfram Alpha is a “powerful tool” he thinks that Symbolab does a better job on depth and explanations. Big companies have added similar services too, such as Google, which acquired homework helper app Socratic in 2019, and Microsoft, which built Microsoft Solver in the same year. Grauer had to decide between building or buying. The founder ultimately decided to acquire the technology because the true success of artificial intelligence only comes if a platform is able to compound data over time. Symbolab was founded nearly a decade ago, and back-end information is valuable. Grauer says he’s excited to approach the solver problem differently than Google and Microsoft. “You can’t just [do this] in a short amount of time,” he said. “You’re looking for how do we get the right, accurate answer. But then, how am I going to get, not just accurate, but step by step solutions that are actually helpful.” Consolidation remains rare in the sector that has historically been underfunded. Edtech acquisitions have been growing steadily but slowly. In 2018, edtech had less than 40 acquisitions. In that same year, fintech had 193 acquisitions, according to Crunchbase. Edtech exits are increasing, but by how much? Still, amid edtech’s larger boom, this acquisition makes a good amount of sense. Course Hero recently raised its biggest tranche of money yet, passed $100 million in annual run revenue, and became profitable. Thus, the company likely had money in the bank to afford the deal. In 2012, Course Hero bought InstaEdu, an on-demand video platform. Grauer says that he expects Course Hero to make more acquisitions across a variety of subject areas in the future. In edtech more broadly, he thinks that the next 5 to 10 years will have more acquisitions. “If you look back 15 years, there just weren’t that many education technology businesses,” Grauer said. “Now, I think there’s enough of them that potentially have this scale, and both have metrics on the distribution side technology and built out product market fit during the expansion phase.” ‘Edtech is no longer optional’: Investors’ deep dive into the future of the market

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“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it. The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today. “We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.” After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing. Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year. “We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.” Canters restaurant royalty raises $9.5 million for Ordermark, a takeout order management service It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats . Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders. Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees. Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”. The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide. It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter. In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.” For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said. To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services. Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates. Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company. “We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.” While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system. “We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward. Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer. The next big restaurant chain may not own any kitchens

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The first mission to officially carry astronauts to the International Space Station for a standard crew rotation is now tentatively set for November 14. NASA provided an updated date for the mission this week, after it shifted from an original planned timeframe of sometime in October. This is the first time that Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s human-rated capsule, will be flown in for an operational ‘shift-change’ mission at the ISS, after its historic Demo-2 mission earlier this year officially concluded its testing phase and certified it for NASA use. This launch will carry three NASA astronauts, including Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi of Japan to the ISS, where they’ll join the crew and carry out regular station operations, including upkeep and upgrades, as well as conducting experiments in partnership with researchers on Earth. They’ll join the existing ISS crew, including Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. Once they arrive, the full crew size will be seven astronauts, which is up from the usual six, but this will help ensure that more time is spent on research and experimentation vs. the regular duties that the crew takes on just to ensure continued smooth operation of the station. Crew-1 is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, and is targeting a 7:49 PM EST liftoff. That’s subject to change, of course, but for now, mark your calendars.

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Zoom, the video calling company that millions turned to during the pandemic, has finally launched end-to-end encrypted video calls for free accounts. The company said last week that it was readying the feature, months after it drew criticism for denying end-to-end encrypted calls to free users, effectively drawing a line between paid users whose conversations could not be accessed by Zoom and those with free accounts whose conversations weren’t as private. Zoom said the new end-to-end encryption feature, which makes it much harder for anyone outside of the video call — including Zoom — access to the conversation, will roll out as a technical preview starting in Zoom 5.4.0 for desktop and mobile apps. Zoom acquired Keybase in May in part to bring its encryption technology to Zoom calls. But there’s a catch — or a handful. Because end-to-end encryption has to be enabled for every user joining the call, some other features will not be available. Users on an encrypted call won’t be able to use Zoom’s cloud recording, live transcription, and meeting reactions features, and participants won’t be able to join the call by phone or use one-to-one private chat. And, all participants have to use a Zoom app that supports end-to-end encryption, as the browser version will not work. Any free account wanting to use end-to-end encryption will have to verify a phone number and add billing information — which Zoom says is necessary to prevent abuse. Zoom’s chief information security officer Jason Lee said end-to-end encryption was a “highly requested feature from our customers, and we’re excited to make this a reality.” It’s better late than never. Zoom misses its own deadline to publish its first transparency report

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Postmates is now rolling out what could be the biggest update to the company’s service in a long time — adding a retail option for users to shop local stores and for local merchants to set up a virtual on-demand storefront in the app. Starting in Los Angeles — and building on yesterday’s test run pop-up shop with the Los Angeles Rams — Postmates users will be able to shop local merchants listed in the company’s new retail tab in the Postmates app called, appropriately, “shop”. LA Rams, Fanatics and Postmates coordinate on an on-demand pop-up It’s the first public launch of a new initiative headed up by Mike Buckley, a veteran Nike exec who Postmates poached in August to become the company’s senior vice president of business. At Nike, Buckley served as the vice president of digital commerce operations and new business models. While Postmates has made some small steps in retail delivery (primarily electronics), Buckley said the new service greatly expands that footprint. Shops available to willing Los Angeles customers to cover everything from home goods, cosmetics, and clothes to even vinyl records. Buckley said the company decided to launch its efforts in Los Angeles, because it was a market where Postmates had a good penetration of delivery workers and big market. “We wanted to create an experience where, as a consumer, if you went there you would feel there’s good coverage,” Buckley said. “Most of the LA metro area will have access to the tab. We started the test in Venice Beach in Abbott Kinney… that’s where you’d find the best coverage.. We have reasonable coverage throughout broader urban LA.” Postmates new senior vice president of retail, Mike Buckley. Image Credit: Postmates At launch, there will be nearly fifty retailers on the site including shops like Buck Mason, Le Labo, Parachute Home, the Venice Beach boutique, Coutula 12th Tribe, Timbuk2, Zadig & Voltaire, Supervinyl and Urbanic.   Retailers can decide how many products they want to sell through the app, and the main goal, according to Buckley is to see what kind of products resonate with consumers for delivery. For local merchants who have been hit hard by the lockdown orders put in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on-demand delivery options from Postmates could create a new line to wary would-be shoppers that still don’t feel like braving the checkout line at a small boutique. As case counts spike in the U.S. the prospect of a return to lockdown looms large for some regions. That could have an impact on retail sales that were already projected to be dismal. In fact, the online analytics service eMarketer projected a 10.5% decline in total US retail sales this year, and a 14.0% drop in brick-and-mortar sales… even before the second wave of the pandemic began surging in the U.S. earlier this month. The new on-demand option could also provide retailers with another avenue to lure customer through timed flash sales, exclusive “drops” to Postmates users, and other retailing tricks that were Buckley’s stock and trade at Nike. “That’s absolutely one of the ways we think we can drive engagement to these merchants and create calls to action with these merchants,” Buckley said.  In some ways, the move into consumer retail shopping takes Postmates back to its earliest days, when the service allowed users to demand delivery of almost anything. “I think about this continuing… the company’s original vision of anything anytime anywhere… They had an aspiration to deliver all kinds of different products and food became the killer app given the frequency,” Buckley said.  The ‘Shop’ button is going live for Los Angeles residents and will be restricted to Los Angeles throughout the fourth quarter before a wider rollout in the first quarter of 2021. Buckley expects the new service to be phased in at other big metro areas across the Southwest first before hitting markets on the East Coast.  Within the Postmates ‘Shop’ tab shops will be able to sell their inventory and showcase products with configurable catalogues including high resolution images. Shops can also offer customers a choice between on-demand delivery, in-store pickup, or non-contact curbside pickup. Delivery and service fees will apply to the shopping experience, but Postmates unlimited subscribers will get free delivery, according to the company. “This year, COVID really changed the landscape of how we purchase essentials, spend time recreationally, and even how we treat ourselves,” said Heather DeLeon, Director of Sales, Anastasia Beverly Hills, one of the retailers using the new service, in a statement. “Shop is such an interesting opportunity because it lets people get their hands on our products in a completely new and exciting way.”

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Salto, a Tel Aviv-based open-source startup that allows you to configure SaaS platforms like Salesforce, NetSuite and HubSpot with code, is coming out of stealth today and announced that it has raised a $27 million Series A round. This round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures. The general idea here — which is similar to the ‘infrastructure-as-code’ movement — is to allow business operations teams to automate the labor-intensive and error-prone ways they currently use to manage SaaS platforms. While others in this space are betting on no-code solutions for managing these systems, Salto is going the other way and is betting on code instead. “We realized the challenges BizOps teams face are very similar to the problems encountered by software and DevOps engineers on a daily basis,” writes Salto co-founder and CEO Rami Tamir in today’s announcement. “So we adapted software development fundamentals and best practices to the BizOps field. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; the same techniques used to make high-quality software can also be applied to keeping control over business applications.” Image Credits: Salto Salto makes the core of its service available as open source. This open-source version includes the company’s NaCI language, a declarative configuration language based on the syntax of HashiCorp’s hcl, a command-line interface for deploying configuration changes (and fetching the current configuration state of an application) and a VS Code extension. In combination with Git, business operations teams can collaborate on writing these configurations and test them in staging environments. The company is essentially taking modern software development practices and applying them to business operations. Image Credits: Salto “Defining a company’s business logic as code can make a fundamental change in the way business applications are delivered,” writes Tamir. “We like to think about it as ‘company-as-code,’ much in the same way as ‘infrastructure-as-code’ transformed the way we manage data centers.” Some of the use cases here are configuring custom Salesforce CPQ fields, and syncing profiles across Salesforce environments and maintaining audio logs for NetSuite. For now, the company only supports connections to Salesforce, HubSpot and NetSuite, with others following soon. Like other open-source companies, Salto’s business model involved selling a hosted version of its service, which the company is also announcing today. In terms of raising this new round, it surely helped that the founding team, which includes Benny Schnaider and Gil Hoffer, in addition to Tamir, previously sold the three companies they founded. Pentacom was acquired by Cisco earlier this year; Oracle acquired Ravello Systems in 2016 and Qumranet was acquired by Red Hat in 2008. “Business agility is more important than ever today, and the alignment of external business services to real business needs is increasing in strategic importance,” said Alex Kayyal, Partner and Head of International at Salesforce Ventures . “BizOps teams are becoming more and more crucial to the success of companies. With Salto they are empowered to meet the tasks they are charged with, equipped with modernized methodologies and a greatly enhanced toolbox.”

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As a hardware startup, Astrohaus stands apart because of its unique offerings focused specifically on writers and writing. Its debut product, the Freewrite, looked like an old-school travel typewriter with an e-ink screen. Now, it’s back with a new device it’s been working on for the past couple of years: The Freewrite Traveler. This more portable e-ink typewriter has a clamshell design and isn’t much larger than a Nintendo Switch, making it a flexible, go-anwyhere writing companion. The basics Astrohaus began teasing the Traveler a few years ago, before eventually launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in November 2018 to get it made. The crowdfunding was very successful, raising over $600,000 on the platform before the campaign ended, and then another $200,000+ in pre-orders after that. Like many hardware efforts, it encountered a few delays relative to its original delivery timeline, but now the Freewrite Traveler is shipping out to pre-order customers. Image Credits: Darrell Etherington In terms of specs, it has up to four weeks of battery life with regular usage, and weighs under two pounds, with a folding design that’s roughly half the surface area of most laptops. The screen on the top half is an e-ink display, and there’s a sub-screen for providing info like network status. The bottom half houses the keyboard, which boasts over 2mm of travel for a great keypress feel. The case is plastic, as are most of the components, and the exterior is a glossy black. The Traveler connects via wifi, like the original Freewrite, and allows you to register an account to sync to up to three separate folders of documents. When out of wifi range, your work is stored locally, and it can sync to the cloud service of your choice via Freewrite’s integrations whenever you’re connected. Design and features The Traveler’s design is all about portability and convenience, while retaining the core usability features that make the original Freewrite such an ideal device for focused writing. The clamshell design is intentionally large enough to fit that full-sized keyboard comfortably, but keeps the screen small like with the original, which makes it more portable and ensures that distractions are kept to a minimum – aided by the fact that all you can do on it is type text, since there are no apps, browser or other functions. Astrohaus has stayed very close to their original vision for the Traveler, with some minor tweaks including the hinge design. The end result is a light and durable-feeling portable digital typewriter, with a keyboard that feels excellent to type on – better than any laptop in my experience. The keyboard is really the star of the show here, since this is a purpose-built device created for typing. The travel feels ample, especially for a notebook-style device, and the raised, rounded keycap wells make it easy to touch type comfortably all day if you want. Image Credits: Darrell Etherington The display, while small, provides excellent legibility and contrast, though it’s worth noting that you’ll have to supply your own light source, because as with the original Freewrite, there’s no backlight or frontlight built in, and e-ink doesn’t provide its own light like LED. E-ink is incredibly power efficient, however, which is why you’ll get so much useful life out of the Traveler. In my testing, it’s been operating on its original charge for nearly two weeks now, which is in line with the Astrohaus estimates. The Traveler’s case features a piano black glossy exterior, which looks great, but quickly picks up fingerprints. And existing Freewrite users might notice that the display has a slightly glossy sheen as well, where the original was fully matte. That’s because of a thin piece of optically transparent plastic that goes across the entire width of the clamshell to protect the e-ink display against the keyboard, according to Astrohaus. To me, it hasn’t been an issue in terms of usability or quality, just something to note in terms of differences. Image Credits: Darrell Etherington Astrohaus has created a design that stands out, regardless of what you think of the piano black finish. The contrast of the black with the white interior gives it a unique, quirky and attractive design that helps ensure you’ll never confuse the Traveler with any other gadget. And the materials keep it lightweight and durable for easily taking it with you anywhere you might want to go. [gallery ids="2066025,2066026,2066027,2066028,2066029,2066030"] The Traveler’s hinge allows it it to open up to roughly 135 degrees, which is a good position for laptop typing. It can also be positioned at any angle less than that for when you have it elevated at a table or desk. Bottom line The Freewrite Traveler is a unique device, with a special appeal for people who are hyper-focused on a writing tool that offers all the benefits of cloud-connectivity with none of the downsides of a multipurpose tool like a laptop or computer. It can sync to Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive so that you can easily create a cross-device workflow for finishing up manuscripts and drafts, but on its own, the Traveler will ensure you remain focused on the task at hand – and enjoy yourself while doing so. A portable, digital writing device like this one isn’t unique in the world – many distraction-free writing enthusiasts use the Pomera line of products from Japan for this purpose. But Astrohaus is unique in providing hardware tailor-made for North American and European markets, and they’ve done an amazing job at delivering on the potential of this device even in a field of relatively few competitors. The Traveler is fairly expensive at $599, but there’s truly nothing else like it, if what you want is a laser-focused writing device that combines portability with great ergonomics, long-lasting battery and cloud storage convenience.

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Ankhi Das, a top Facebook executive in India, is leaving the company on Tuesday months after she was alleged to interfere in how the company enforced its hate speech policy in the country to show favoritism to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Facebook has denied the allegations, and people close to Das (pictured above) said her departure was not related to recent stories in the press. Das, who served as the Public Policy Director for Facebook India, South and Central Asia, said she was leaving the company to pursue her interest in public service. In a message to her colleagues, Das recounted the earlier days of Facebook and internet ecosystem in India when she joined the company in 2011. “We were a small unlisted startup back then guided only by our mission and purpose to connect people in India. After nine long years, I feel that mission has largely been met,” she wrote. “There is an enormous amount I have learnt from incredibly smart and talented people in the company, particularly from people on the policy team. This is a special company and a special group of people. Thank you, Mark for creating something beautiful for the world. I hope I have served you and the company well. I know we will be in touch on Facebook,” she added. In a statement, Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India, said, “Ankhi was one of our earliest employees in India and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company and its services over the last 9 years. She has been a part of my leadership team over the last 2 years, a role in which she has made enormous contributions. We are grateful for her service and wish her the very best for the future.” According to reports from WSJ, Das shielded politicians affiliated to the ruling party in India from Facebook’s hate speech / content moderation policy because she thought it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India, Facebook’s biggest market by users. Facebook, which reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, has spread its tentacles in several categories in the country in recent years including startup investments and education. In the days following the publication of WSJ’s report, both top political parties in India accused Facebook of showing favoritism to the opposing party. Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT minister, further accused Facebook of suppressing right-leaning pages. Das, who received intense backlash after the publication of reports, filed a criminal complaint against several people who she alleged attempted to defame her among other charges. One of the people she named in her criminal complaint was a journalist. A review of the journalist’s post, over which Das had raised concern, found that it was just a summary of a news article. Das as well as Mohan have appeared before several panels in recent weeks where they have been asked questions on a wide-range topics by Indian politicians. Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments

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TikTok is further investing in social commerce with today’s announcement of a new global partnership with e-commerce platform Shopify. The deal aims to make it easier for Shopify’s over 1 million merchants to reach TikTok’s younger audience and drive sales. The partnership will eventually expand to include other in-app shopping features, as well, the companies said. At launch, the agreement allows Shopify merchants to create, run and optimize their TikTok marketing campaigns directly from the Shopify dashboard by installing the new TikTok channel app from the Shopify App Store. Once installed, merchants will have access to the key functions from the TikTok For Business Ads Manager at their disposal. These ad tools allow merchants to create native, shareable content that turns their products into In-Feed video ads that will resonate with the TikTok community. Merchants will be able to target their audiences across gender, age, user behavior, and video category, and then track the campaign’s performance over time. The campaigns’ costs will vary, based on the merchant’s own business objectives and how much they want to spend. As a part of this effort, Shopify merchants can also install or connect their “TikTok Pixel” — a tool that helps them to more easily track conversions driven by their TikTok ad campaigns. Currently, e-commerce merchants can track user actions like a user browsing their page, a registration on a website, adding items to their cart, placing an order, and completing the payment. Image Credits: Shopify Shopify tells TechCrunch a small number of merchants previously gained access to these features as part of a beta test. But as of today, Oct. 27, the product is being made available to all merchants across the U.S. “TikTok is one of the world’s fastest growing entertainment platforms with over 100 million highly engaged users in the U.S. alone,” said Satish Kanwar, Vice President of Product at Shopify, in a statement about the new partnership. “The TikTok channel means Shopify merchants—even those without a strong TikTok following of their own yet—can connect with these new audiences using content that feels authentic and genuine to the TikTok experience,” Kanwar added. Image Credits: Shopify To get started with the new features, merchants who want to advertise on TikTok will first install the TikTok channel app, then create and connect their TikTok For Business account and install the one-click pixel. They can then deploy In-Feed shoppable video ads by selecting the product they want to feature using ad templates specifically designed for commerce. Because these templates use existing imagery or videos, the TikTok channel can work for merchants of any size, Shopify notes. To kick off the partnership, merchants are being offered a $300 ad credit to get started with their first TikTok campaign. In addition, the two companies have partnered on their first co-branded Hashtag Challenge Plus campaign, #ShopBlack, to celebrate Black-owned businesses. Shopify had earlier featured Black-owned businesses in its own app, Shop. But from Nov. 10 through Nov. 15, the TikTok community will be able to browse videos from over 40 Shopify merchants via the new hashtag and its accompanying branded effect within TikTok, too. Shopify and TikTok had been working together to test various social commerce initiatives ahead of today’s announcement. The companies, for example, had been spotted trialing a new shopping button that allowed TikTok creators to link their Shopify storefront from their videos. (Teespring was also testing this with TikTok). TikTok had offered a TikTok Ads Pixel for Shopify merchants before today, as well.  But the partnership makes the pixel integration a 1-click install, so merchants don’t have to manipulate code. Image Credits: Shopify “We are delighted to partner with Shopify and provide a channel for their merchants to reach new audiences and drive sales on TikTok,” said Blake Chandlee, Vice President, Global Business Solutions at TikTok, in a statement. “As social commerce proliferates, retailers are recognizing that TikTok’s creative and highly engaged community sets it apart from other platforms. We’re constantly exploring new and innovative ways to connect brands with our users, and Shopify is the perfect partner to help us grow and expand our commerce capabilities globally,” he said. TikTok and Shopify’s partnership won’t be limited to the new TikTok channel app, however. That’s just the first step. We understand the deal will soon expand to other shopping features, too. TikTok says it plans to start testing new in-app features that will make it easier for users to discover Shopify merchants and their products by expanding their reach through video and on their account profiles. These features will also “let users browse merchant’s products and shop directly through the TikTok app,” a spokesperson said. They didn’t offer specific details about the features or how the payments portion would work, saying that more information would be available when the new tools launched. However, the features will launch to a limited beta group of testers soon, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed. Image Credits: TikTok Shopify isn’t the first to recognize TikTok’s potential as a new type of social shopping platform. Its ability to drive merchant traffic and sales was a key reason for Walmart’s participation in the TikTok-Oracle deal — a deal whose current status is still unknown, of course, given the ongoing TikTok lawsuit and the upcoming Presidential election whose outcome could impact the Trump Administration’s TikTok ban. TikTok itself has been steadily ramping up its tools for merchants and other social shopping features. To date, it has  experimented with allowing users to add e-commerce links to their bios; launched “Shop Now” buttons for brands’ video ads; and introduced shoppable components to hashtags with the e-commerce feature (soon to be used for #ShopBlack), known as the Hashtag Challenge Plus. Shopify, meanwhile, has been working to deliver more tools that give smaller businesses the ability to compete against Walmart and Amazon, while at the same time partnering with Walmart to give its merchants broader reach. The TikTok-Shopify partnership could help the video platform better compete against other sources of social commerce, including the growing number of live stream shopping apps as well as efforts from Facebook and its family of apps. The social giant has recently rolled out a bevy of shopping-focused updates across Facebook, Instagram, and — just last week — WhatsApp, with the goal of directing users to shop in its apps, then check out seamlessly with Facebook Pay. TikTok’s advantage is that it’s a video-based social network, more like YouTube, rather than a platform whose roots were in editorial-quality imagery, like Instagram. On Instagram, video features have been added in over time. Now, a number of Instagram products include video — like  Feed posts, Stories, Instagram Live, IGTV, and, finally, Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels. But overall, the impact is that Instagram has started to feel overcrowded. TikTok says the new TikTok channel for Shopify merchants is available today in the U.S. It will roll out to other markets next year, including elsewhere in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Israeli startup SimilarWeb has made a name for itself with an AI-based platform that lets sites and apps track and understand traffic not just on their own sites, but those of its competitors. Now, it’s taking the next step in its growth. The startup has raised $120 million, funding it will use to continue expanding its platform both through acquisitions and investing in its own R&D, with a focus on providing more analytics services to larger enterprises alongside its current base of individuals and companies of all sizes that do business on the web. Co-led by ION Crossover Partners and Viola Growth, the round doubles the total amount that the startup has raised to date to $240 million. Or Offer, SimilarWeb’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that it was not disclosing its valuation this time around except to say that his company is now “playing in the big pool.” It counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, with Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google, among them. For some context, it hit an $800 million valuation in its last equity round, in 2017. SimilarWeb’s technology competes with other analytics and market intelligence providers ranging from the likes of Nielsen and ComScore through to the Apptopias of the world in that, at its most basic level, it provides a dashboard to users that provides insights into where people are going on desktop and mobile. Where it differs, Offer said, is in how it gets to its information, and what else it’s doing in the process. For starters, it focuses not just how many people are visiting, but also a look into what is triggering the activity — the “why”, as it were — behind the activity. Using a host of AI tech such as machine learning algorithms and deep learning — like a lot of tech out of Israel, it’s being built by people with deep expertise in this area — Offer says that SimilarWeb is crunching data from a number of different sources to extrapolate its insights. He declined to give much detail on those sources but told me that he cheered the arrival of privacy gates and cookie lists for helping ferret out, expose and sometimes eradicate some of the more nefarious “analytics” services out there, and said that SimilarWeb has not been affected at all by that swing to more data protection, since it’s not an analytics service, strictly speaking, and doesn’t sniff data on sights in the same way. It’s also exploring widening its data pool, he added: “We are always thinking about what new signals we could use,” he said. “Maybe they will include CDNs. But it’s like Google with its rankings in search. It’s a never ending story to try to get the highest accuracy in the world.” The global health pandemic has driven a huge amount of activity on the web this year, with people turning to sites and apps not just for leisure — something to do while staying indoors, to offset all the usual activities that have been cancelled — but for business, whether it be consumers using e-commerce services for shopping, or workers taking everything online and to the cloud to continue operating. That has also seen a boost of business for all the various companies that help the wheels turn on that machine, SimilarWeb included. “Consumer behavior is changing dramatically, and all companies need better visibility,” said Offer. “It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, then moved to desks and office chairs, but now it’s not just e-commerce but everything. Think about big banks, whose business was 70% offline and is now 70-80% online. Companies are building and undergoing a digital transformation.” That in turn is driving more people to understand how well their web presence is working, he said, with the basic big question being: “What is my marketshare, and how does that compare to my competition? Everything is about digital visibility, especially in times of change.” Like many other companies, SimilarWeb did see an initial dip in business, Offer said, and to that end the company has taken on some debt as part of Israel’s Paycheck Protection Program, to help safeguard some jobs that needed to be furloughed. But he added that most of its customers prior to the pandemic kicking off are now back, along with customers from new categories that hadn’t been active much before, like automotive portals. That change in customer composition is also opening some doors of opportunity for the company. Offer noted that in recent months, a lot of large enterprises — which might have previously used SimilarWeb’s technology indirectly, via a consultancy, for example — have been coming to the company direct. “We’ve started a new advisory service [where] our own expert works with a big customer that might have more deep and complex questions about the behaviour we are observing. They are questions all big businesses have right now.” The service sounds like a partly-educational effort, teaching companies that are not necessarily digital-first be more proactive, and partly consulting. New customer segments, and new priorities in the world of business, are two of the things that drove this round, say investors. “SimilarWeb was always an incredible tool for any digital professional,” said Gili Iohan of ION Crossover Partners, in a statement. “But over the last few months it has become apparent that traffic intelligence — the unparalleled data and digital insight that SimilarWeb offers — is an absolute essential for any company that wants to win in the digital world.” As for acquisitions, SimilarWeb has historically made these to accelerate its technical march. For example, in 2015 it acquired Quettra to move deeper into mobile analytics and it acquired Swayy to move into content discovery insights (key for e-commerce intelligence). Offer would not go into too much detail about what it has identified as a further target but given that there are quite a lot of companies building tech in this area currently, that there might be a case for some consolidation around bigger platforms to combine some of the features and functionality. Offer said that it was looking at “companies with great data and digital intelligence, with a good product. There are a lot of opportunities right now on the table.” The company will also be doing some hiring, with the plan to be to add 200 more people globally by January (it has around 600 employees today). “Since we joined the company three years ago, SimilarWeb has executed a strategic transformation from a general-purpose measurement platform to vertical-based solutions, which has significantly expanded its market opportunity and generated immense customer value,” said Harel Beit-On, Founder and General Partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “With a stellar management team of accomplished executives, we believe this round positions the company to own the digital intelligence category, and capitalize on the acceleration of the digital era.”

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The entire asset class of venture capital is built atop systemic racism. The numbers don’t lie: only 2% of partner-level VCs are Black, and 81% of venture capital firms don’t have a Black partner on board. The lack of diversity in check-writers doesn’t stay in board rooms: homogeneity trickles down to the founders who get mentored and the startups that get funded, excluding an entire population of potentially revolutionary ideas. Systemic racism is a market inefficiency, according to Kesha Cash, the founder of Impact America Fund. So, Cash, one of the few Black female general partners in venture capital, says she wants to invest in companies that work on solutions for the world’s overlooked and underserved. Today, Impact America Fund (IAF) announced that it has closed a $55 million investment vehicle to serve this exact purpose. The raise will allow IAF to invest 20 to 25 checks, between the size of $250,000 to $3 million, in early-stage startups. The close marks one of the largest funds ever raised by a sole Black female general partner. The fund has 67 limited partners, including a number of foundations, large wealth managers and UBS. Cash says that the raise took two years to complete. In June, when George Floyd was murdered by the police, a number of firms rushed to find ways to support Black entrepreneurs. “Society got to see it with their own eyes how big these problems are,” Cash said. The racial reckoning across the country sped up the tail end of IAF’s fundraise close and brought in a ton of inbound interest. BLCK VC co-founder Sydney Sykes talks specific actions firms can take to be more inclusive Still, Cash says that IAF had to clarify its focus throughout its fundraising process. “We’re not just investing in Black and brown people, which I think is a very important thesis, but not our thesis,” Cash said. Instead, Cash says the door-opening conversation for fundraising hinged on a more macro conversation. “While many of you have been approaching this through your grants and philanthropy, we actually believe there’s a way to continue to invest in software and venture capital businesses to scale and disrupt some of the underlying systemic issues that you and others may not be able to see but are perpetuating,” Cash remembers saying to potential investors. “If you go to that, that opens a lot of doors. That’s the fundraising conversation.” So far, IAF’s newest fund has invested in 10 companies, including Mayvenn, which supports Black hair stylists; Care Academy, which works with home care employees; and SMBX, a small business bond marketplace. “We’re trying to get to the root of the problem and create and disrupt systems,” she said. IAF is also evolving from a structural standpoint. The firm used to be structured as a family office, with flexibility to invest in non-venture-backable businesses across a $10 million fund. The new fund will be a traditional venture capital firm with a 10-year investment return cycle. Cash says that it could feel like an “anti-social justice move” to apply venture capital, an exclusive asset class, to the issue of racial inequity. Kesha Cash, the general partner of Impact America Fund. Image Credits: Impact America Fund The investor became a social justice activist, protesting against California Proposition 209, when she was an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Given her activism, her classmates were surprised when she interned at a Wall Street investment bank. But Cash says that, as a first-generation college student from a low-income household, she wanted to understand the dynamics between finance, money and deal structures. Venture firms rush to find ways to support Black founders and investors “While I took down my faux locs and removed my nose ring to intern and then work full time on Wall Street, I didn’t forget my work as a social justice activist and made it my mission to learn and reimagine how finance could be used to empower the overlooked and under-resourced communities I care deeply about,” she said. Cash thinks that access to capital could be the catalyst needed to give underserved communities the opportunity to experiment and innovate. Cash, who grew up low income and worked on Wall Street, sees an opportunity to bring the two worlds together. “When we think about disruption and venture capital, people get to dream and make up a new world,” she said. “Well hell, I want to make up the new world for low-income Black and brown people in this country.”

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Theta Lake, a provider of compliance and security tools for conferencing software like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Zoom and others, said it has raised $12.7 million in a new round of funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with commitments from Cisco Investments, angel investors from the collaboration and security space, and previous investors, Neotribe Ventures, Firebolt Ventures and WestWave Capital, the company said. The company’s financing comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge of demand for remote work conferencing technologies — and services that can ensure the security of those communications. Citing a Research and Markets report, the company estimates that the market will grow from $8.9 billion in 2019 to $23 billion by the end of this year. Theta Lake said that the funding would be used to increase its sales and marketing capabilities and for research and development on new product features, according to a statement.  The company’s tech already uses machine learning to detect security risks in video, visual, voice, chat and document content shared over video and collaboration tools. As a result of its investment, Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, will join the Theta Lake Board of Directors, the company said.  “The need for security and compliance solutions that fully cover modern collaboration tools should be obvious to everyone,” said Devin Redmond, Theta Lake’s co-founder and chief executive, in a statement. “That need pre-existed the pandemic, but now is more pressing than ever. The shift from physical work sites and employer-owned networks with tightly managed devices and applications, to a distributed workplace that lives inside your collaboration tools means organizations need new security and compliance coverage that lives inside that new workplace.”   

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The chip industry consolidation dance continued this morning as AMD has entered into an agreement to buy Xilinx for $35 billion, giving the company access to customers requiring chips with high performance for workloads like artificial intelligence. AMD sees this deal as combining two companies that complement each other’s strengths without cannibalizing its own markets. CEO Lisa Su believes the acquisition will help make her company the high performance chip leader. “By combining our world-class engineering teams and deep domain expertise, we will create an industry leader with the vision, talent and scale to define the future of high performance computing,” Su said in a statement. In an article earlier this year, TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington described Xilinx new satellite focused chips as offering a couple of industry firsts: It’s the first 20nm process that’s rated for use in space, offering power and efficiency benefits, and it’s the first to offer specific support for high performance machine learning through neural network-based inference acceleration. What’s more, the chips are designed to handle radiation and the rigors of launch, using a thick ceramic packaging. These kinds of applications should open up new markets for AMD as the two companies combine. Xilinx launches a new reconfigurable space-grade chip optimized for local machine learning on orbit In a nod to shareholders of both companies, she said that this deal should benefit both. “This is truly a compelling combination that will create significant value for all stakeholders, including AMD and Xilinx shareholders who will benefit from the future growth and upside potential of the combined company. So far stockholders aren’t impressed with AMD stock down over 4% in pre-trading, while Xilinx stock is up over 11% in pre-trading. It’s worth noting that Xilinx has a market cap of over $28 billion compared with AMD’s 96.5 billion, meaning AMD will be buying a company with significantly more value. This deal comes on the heels of last month’s ARM acquisition by Nvidia for $40 billion. With two deals in less than two months totaling $75 million, the industry is looking at the bigger is better theory. Meanwhile Intel took a hit earlier this month after its earnings report showed weakness in its data center business. Here’s why Intel’s stock just dropped 10% after reporting earnings While the deal has been approved by both company’s boards of directors, it still has to pass muster with shareholders and regulators, and is not expected to close until the end of next year. When that happens Su will be chairman of the combined company, while Xilinx CEO President and CEO, Victor Peng, will join AMD as president, where he will be in charge of the Xilinx business and strategic growth initiatives. Nvidia confirms $40B purchase of Arm, bringing together two chip giants

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Uber is facing another legal challenge in Europe related to algorithmic decision making. The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) filed a case, yesterday, with a court in the Netherlands seeking to challenge the ride hailing company’s practice of ‘robo-firing’ — aka the use of automated systems to identify fraudulent activity and terminate drivers based on that analysis. Under EU law individuals subject to solely automated decisions have a right to request a human review. Article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) gives data subjects the right not to be subject to a solely automated decision where there’s a significant legal or similar effect. The ADCU case contends that Uber drivers in the UK and Portugal have been “wrongly accused of ‘fraudulent activity‘ as detected by Uber systems before being fired without right of appeal”. “In each of the cases the drivers were dismissed after Uber said its systems had detected fraudulent activity on the part of the individuals concerned. The drivers absolutely deny that they were in any way engaged in fraud and Uber has never made any such complaint to the police. Uber has never given the drivers access to any of the purported evidence against them nor allowed them the opportunity to challenge or appeal the decision to terminate,” it writes in a press release about the action. A spokeswoman for Uber said the cases of the drivers in question had been manually reviewed by specialist staff prior to the terminations. However the ADCU’s contention is that Uber is using an overly broad definition of ‘fraud’ to undercut its obligations to workers’ rights by concealing performance-related dismals — noting that the company’s ‘Community Guidelines’ define ‘fraud’ to include declining work offered and strategically logging out to await higher surge pricing. A segment of Uber’s guidelines on fraud states that it is “constantly on the lookout for fraud by riders and drivers who are gaming our systems”. The text goes on to specify that some of the behaviours which may cause an Uber driver to have their account deactivated include: “deliberately increasing the time or distance of a trip; accepting trips without the intention to complete, including provoking riders to cancel; creating dummy rider or driver accounts for fraudulent purposes; claiming fraudulent fees or charges, like false cleaning fees; and intentionally accepting or completing fraudulent or falsified trips”. The union says driver 1, who was based in London, was summarily dismissed after Uber said their systems had detected “irregular trips associated with fraudulent activities” — and was never given an explanation nor a right of appeal. Driver 2, also based in London, was summarily dismissed after Uber claimed its systems detected ‘the installation of and use of software which has the intention and effect of manipulating the Driver App’. Again it says the driver was given no further explanation of the allegations and was denied the right of appeal. Driver 3, based in Birmingham, was similarly terminated without right of appeal after Uber said their systems had detected “a continued pattern of improper use of the Uber application…..& this created a poor experience for all parties.” A fourth driver, based in Lisbon, Portugal, had their account deactivated after Uber claimed its systems detected “the recurrent practice of irregular activities during use of the Uber App.“ Uber declined to go into specific detail on the cases of the individual drivers involved in the ADCU challenge but said it does not see any new allegations based on the press release — adding that it’s awaiting any new information from the courts. “Uber provides requested personal data and information that individuals are entitled to. We will give explanations when we cannot provide certain data, such as when it doesn’t exist or disclosing it would infringe on the rights of another person under GDPR. As part of our regular processes, the drivers in this case were only deactivated after manual reviews by our specialist team,” the company said in a statement. We also asked the company if it manually reviews all the cases of drivers whom its algorithm has identified as engaged in fraudulent activity — but at the time of writing it had not responded to the question. The ADCU is inviting other former Uber drivers from the UK and throughout the European Economic Area who have been similarly dismissed over alleged ‘fraudulent activity’ to register on its website to join the collective action which they’re hoping to part-fund via a crowdjustice campaign. In July the union backed another challenge to Uber’s algorithms — in that case focused on the use of profiling and data-fueled algorithms to manage drivers, looping in the GDPR’s data access rights. Last month the union also lodged a similar challenge to India-based ride-hailing platform Ola. UK Uber drivers are taking the algorithm to court

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Deci, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is building a new platform that uses AI to optimized AI models and get them ready for production, today announced that it has raised a $9.1 million seed round led by Emerge and Square Peg. The general idea here is to make it easier and faster for businesses to take AI workloads into production — and to optimize those production models for improved accuracy and performance. To enable this, the company built an end-to-end solution that allows engineers to bring in their pre-trained models and then have Deci manage, benchmark and optimize them before they package them up for deployment. Using its runtime container or Edge SDK, Deci users can also then serve those models on virtually any modern platform and cloud. Deci’s insights screen combines all indicators of a deep learning model’s expected behavior in production, resulting in the Deci Score – a single metric summarizing the overall performance of the model. The company was co-founded by co-founded by deep learning scientist Yonatan Geifman, technology entrepreneur Jonathan Elial, and professor Ran El-Yaniv, a computer scientist and machine learning expert at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. “Deci is leading a paradigm shift in AI to empower data scientists and deep learning engineers with the tools needed to create and deploy effective and powerful solutions,” says Yonatan Geifman, CEO and co-founder of Deci. “The rapidly increasing complexity and diversity of neural network models make it hard for companies to achieve top performance. We realized that the optimal strategy is to harness the AI itself to tackle this challenge. Using AI, Deci’s goal is to help every AI practitioner to solve the world’s most complex problems.” Deci’s lab screen enables users to manage their deep learning models’ lifecycles, optimize inference performance, and prepare models for deployment. Image Credits: Deci The company promises is that, on the same hardware and with comparable accuracy, Deci-optimized models will run between five and ten times faster than before. It can make use of CPUs and GPUs for running its inference workloads and the company says that it is already working with customers in autonomous driving, manufacturing, communication and healthcare, among others. “Deci‘s ability to automatically craft top-performing deep learning solutions is a paradigm shift in artificial intelligence and unlocks new opportunities for many businesses across different industries,” said Liad Rubin, Partner at Emerge. “We are proud to have partnered with such incredible founders and be part of Deci’s journey from day one.”  

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Only a few weeks after the successful public offering of Array Technologies proved that there’s a market for technologies aimed at improving efficiencies across the solar manufacturing and installation chain, Leading Edge Equipment has raised capital for its novel silicon wafer manufacturing equipment.  The $7.6 million financing came from Prime Impact Fund, Clean Energy Ventures and DSM Venturing and the company said it would use the technology to ramp up its sales and marketing efforts.  For the last few years researchers have been talking up the potential of so-called kerfless, single-crystal silicon wafers. For industry watchers, the single-crystal versus poly-crystalline wafers may sound familiar, but as with many things with the resurgence of climate technology investment maybe this time will be different. Silicon wafer production today is a seven-step process in which large silicon ingots created in heavily energy-intensive furnaces are sawed into wafers by wires. The process wastes large amounts of silicon, requires an incredible amount of energy and produces low-quality wafers that reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Using ribbons to produce its wafers, Leading Edge’s manufacturing equipment uses the floating silicon method to reduce production to a single step, consuming less energy and producing almost no waste, according to the company. Founded by longtime experts in the silicon foundry industry — Alison Greenlee, a quadruple-degreed graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked on floating silicon method that reduces waste in the manufacturing of silicon for solar cells; and Peter Kellerman, the progenitor of floating silicon method technologies. The two founded Leading Edge Equipment to rejuvenate a project that had been mothballed by Applied Materials after years of research. The two won $5 million in federal grants and raised an initial $6 million from venture capital firms in 2018 to kick off the technology. Leading Edge expects that its equipment could become the standard for silicon substrate manufacturing. Kellerman, now the emeritus chief technology officer, was replaced by Nathan Stoddard, a seasoned silicon manufacturing technology expert who has worked on teams that have brought three different solar wafer technologies from concept to pilot production. Stoddard, a former colleague of Greenlee’s at 1366 — one of the early companies devoted to new silicon production technologies — was won over by Greenlee and Kellerman’s belief in the old Applied Materials technology.  The company claims that its technology can reduce wafer costs by 50 percent, increases commercial solar panel power by up to seven percent, and reduces manufacturing emissions by over 50 percent. To commercialize the project, earlier this year the team brought in Rick Schwerdtfeger, a longtime innovator in solar technology who began working with CIGS crystals back in 1995. In the 2000s Schwerdtfeger spent his time in building out ARC Energy to scale next-generation furnace technologies.  “After critical technology demonstrations and the development of a new commercial tool, we are now ready to launch this technology into market in 2021,” said Schwerdtfeger in a statement. “Having recently secured a 31,000 square foot facility and doubled the size of our team, we will use this new funding to prepare for our 2021 commercial pilots.”  

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With a new $4 million round, the Bogota-based supply chain logistics technology developer Tül is prepping to expand across the Latin American region. Founded by Enrique Villamarin Lafaurie and Juan Carlos Narváez, Tül’s technology connects construction manufacturers to the small businesses across Latin America that are responsible for handling half of the inventory for construction jobs in the region, Lafaurie said. Lafaurie previously spent ten years working in the construction industry for Cementos Argos, the Colombian company responsible for a huge chunk of cement sales in North and South America. “We’re connecting big construction companies in the back to hardware companies at the front end. It’s a way where producers can connect to those stores and can talk to those stores and do promotions straight to those stores,” said Lafaurie.  By digitizing what had been a primarily analog industry, the company has managed to hit a $10 million run revenue run rate and sign up 3,000 stores since its launch 8 months ago. And that’s just in Colombia alone, said Lafaurie. The company will soon open up operations in Ecuador, which Lafaurie said was the second largest hardware market (per capita) in Latin America. The company now counts nine employees on staff and expects to ramp up hiring significantly with the new capital. “Colombia, was the most locked down country in the whole world. People were not allowed to leave their houses, but construction was deemed an essential business,” said Eric Reiner, an investor with Vine Capital Management, which led the company’s seed round. “Tül allowed hardware stores to ship products directly to the construction workers. With their logistics network they started a separate brand delivering sanitation equipment so that schools and laundromats could become sanitation stations.” As Lafaurie describes it, Tül’s online service became a lifeline for the industry. “The whole industry just shut down and we managed to keep those business open by not only helping them deliver straight to the jobsite, but by becoming the sanitation stations in the neighborhood. The outcome of that is very loyal customers to us that we helped,” he said. “We have huge retention of customers just from that.”

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NeoLight, a startup company that’s working to bring hospital-grade neonatal care technologies to the home, has raised $7 million more in financing. Dignity Health and Honor Health Systems came in to support the company along with previous investors like the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his wife Ashley and other, undisclosed investors.  Initially intended for hospital use, the company pivoted to pitch its hardware to new parents since they’re now being encouraged to take newborns home as soon as possible so that they can be quarantined. The company’s light therapies are designed to treat conditions like jaundice, which occurs in roughly 60% of newborns and can lead to brain damage if left untreated, according to a statement from the company. “The challenge is that the doctor may not know if treatment is necessary until the  newborn is three or four days old, often after the baby has gone home from the  hospital,” company founder Vivek Kopparthi said in a statement.    

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FreshToHome, an Indian e-commerce startup that sells fresh vegetables, fish, chicken and other kinds of meat, has raised $121 million in a new financing round as the Bangalore-headquartered firm reports accelerated growth spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The startup, which offers its service in several major Indian cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, is processing about 1.5 million orders a month, up from 420,000 monthly orders last year, said Shan Kadavil, co-founder and chief executive of FreshToHome, in an interview with TechCrunch. The growing popularity of FreshToHome, which aims to “Uber-ize farmers and fishermen” for commodity exchange, comes as people become cautious about stepping outside of the homes and standing in queues in front of vegetable shops to reduce their exposure to the virus. FreshToHome provides contactless delivery of “100% fresh and 0% chemicals” vegetables and meats directly to consumers’ homes. On the platform, farmers and fishermen bid for their latest yields (as mandated by local laws) electronically. This allow them to cut the middlemen which helps them and FreshToHome assume better control over the quality of the items and reduce the prices. (Much of the vegetable and meat sales in India is still unorganized.) The startup has also established its own supply chain network and transports items through trains and planes. The new financing round for the startup — a Series C — was led by Investment Corporation of Dubai, the principal investment arm of the Government of Dubai, Investcorp, Ascent Capital, U.S. Government’s development finance institution (DFC), and the Allana Group. As far as Series C financing round for consumer-focused startups goes, FreshToHome’s $121 million round is the largest to date for an Indian startup. This is also the first time DFC has bought an equity stake in an Indian startup. It has previously lent capital to Odisha-headquartered MilkMantra. Iron Pillar, which led FreshToHome’s Series B round, invested $19 million in the new financing round. FreshToHome has raised $154 million to date. Kadavil, who previously headed India operations of gaming firm Zynga and is an advisor to several startups, said raising a new round at the height of a pandemic was not necessarily difficult for FreshToHome as there is a pent up demand from investors for this category and the startup has demonstrated impressive growth in recent quarters. “FreshToHome is a leader in leveraging AI-based technology and business innovation to bring a superior value proposition to customers and suppliers in a large and important market,” said Khalifa Al Daboos, Deputy CEO of Investment Corporation of Dubai, in a statement. The startup, which currently clocks an annual recurring revenue of $85 million, aims to hit $200 million next year. Kadavil said FreshToHome has become EBIDTA profitable (it is generating a profit if you exclude interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization costs) in several mature cities and will now expand to more geographies. It already operates in the UAE, and plans to expand to Saudi Arabia. It also plans to expand within India and become operational in Kolkata. FreshToHome competes with a handful of startups, including Licious, which has raised more than $94.5 million to date, and to an extent with BigBasket.

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Tinder, currently the world’s biggest biggest dating app for people to find matches and connect with them, is expanding another feature today to extend the time people spend in the app, and the communications they can have within it. Face to Face, an opt-in-only feature that Tinder launched earlier this year that lets users video chat with each other without exchanging personal information and only when they’re facing the cam, is now expanding globally, perhaps a timely move in a moment when many people are not meeting in person. [gallery ids="2065981,2065982,2065983,2065984,2065985,2065986,2065987"] Tinder is well aware of the creepy aspects of dating services, and so tellingly it has touted how it’s not the company’s video team but its Trust and Safety team that built this one. “We’re excited to share that our Face to Face feature is rolling out to our global community after receiving positive feedback from our members who have had early access to it,” said Rory Kozoll, Head of Trust and Safety Product at Tinder. “This adds to our growing list of features built focused on member safety throughout their dating journey, like Photo Verification, Safety Center and our offensive message detection technology. ” Dating apps might seem like a strange category to thrive in a period where many are focusing — either because of government rules, or on recommendations from health experts, or both — on social distancing and congregating in small, known, regular bubbles. But in fact there seems to be an opportunity here: they become a way for people to connect and get to meet each other, at a time when many bars and other traditional meeting spots are closed down, or at least finding their normal operations very limited, and people simply will see each other less in person for all the reasons you might imagine. As a case in point, Tinder, according to stats from AppAnnie, has continued to linger in the top rankings of downloads of lifestyle apps this year (it’s currently at number three on iOS in the US). And the video chat feature only accentuates the idea of using the app not just to see who is out there and who you might match with, but to communicate with those people. Another plus here is that is not a complete free-for-all spamfest of unwanted people approaching you, as they might in a bar. Tinder noes that both parties need to be opted into the feature, and you have to have matched already in the regular part of the app before a chat can be initiated. And even then you can choose to ignore video chats when they come in, as you might a regular phone call. And, if you are getting creepy people saying inappropriate things to you and calling you too much, and you don’t want to turn the feature of altogether, you can report people by scrolling to their profile and following the “report” instructions. Tinder has been playing with video features for years to extend the ways that people interact on the app, video being one of the most popular and engaging mediums in apps currently. It’s been a mixed bag of outcomes. Tinder Loops, another way of showing yourself off, has been around since 2018 and is still going strong. Other efforts like its Swipe Night apocalyptic interactive video in-app show were shelved in March due to Covid-19, although more recently it looks like the show is getting revived in other markets.

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More robots are coming to White Castle. Expanding a partnership with Miso Robotics, around 10 new White Castle locations will be rolling out the Pasadena, Calif.-based company’s robotic fry cook. The move accelerates the adoption of Miso Robotics’ newly designed Flippy robot into kitchens to speed up production and allow more staff to work in the front of the house to service customers, the companies said in a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. White Castle first announced its pilot with Flippy in July as COVID-19 was beginning to spread around the country and presenting risks for kitchen staff and customers alike. White Castle becomes the first fast food chain to test out the robot fry cook, Flippy, from Miso Robotics The need to limit staff while keeping up cooking speeds presented a challenge for the restaurant chain and it turned to Miso Robotics’ fry cook in a box to find a solution. “Artificial intelligence and automation have been an area White Castle has wanted to experiment with to optimize our operations and provide a better work environment for our team members,” said Lisa Ingram, the chief executive officer of White Castle in a statement. “This pilot is putting us on that path – and we couldn’t be more pleased to continue our work with Miso Robotics and pave the way for greater adoption of cutting-edge technology in the fast-food industry.” The robots have been particularly useful during late night shifts, when employees don’t want to work but many of White Castle’s target customers are eager to grab some eats, according to a statement from the company. Flippy’s robots can now prepare up to 360 baskets of fried foods a day. In total, the company’s robot handled approximately 14,580 lbs. of food and over 9,720 baskets since the pilot was instituted in late September 2020, according to a statement.

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InVideo, a Mumbai-based startup that has built a video creation and editing platform, has raised $15 million as it looks to court more users and customers worldwide. The startup offers a freemium web-based editing tool that allows users to create videos that are fit to be published on popular social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). It has amassed over 800,000 users in a year since its launch who have created videos in over 75 languages. It has also courted several high-profile customers including Reuters, AT&T, Dropbox, and P&G, Sanket Shah, co-founder and chief executive of InVideo, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this week. Some of these customers are white-labeling InVideo platform to their own clients. InVideo’s $15 million Series A financing round was led by Sequoia Capital India. Tiger Global, Hummingbird, RTP Global, and Base also participated in the round. Prateek Sharma, VP at Sequoia Capital India, said that InVideo is part of a growing number of startups in India that are building a SaaS platform for the world. “With their stellar product, design and tech capabilities, InVideo is well-placed to become the platform of choice for video creation in a potentially $10 billion market,” he said. Unlike most SaaS startups that are emerging from India, InVideo is currently not fully monetizing its platform. InVideo app offers a range of functionalities at no charge, and charges only $10 a month for premium clients such as a marketing agency. Shah acknowledged that the startup could charge these business customers much more, but he said the startup first wishes to reach more users before it looks into monetization opportunities. Furthermore, he is of the opinion that InVideo platform should not cost much in the first place. (During the conversation, it became clear that services such as Notion that offer a range of features to users at no charge have influenced how Shah is thinking about building InVideo.) To that effect, InVideo plans to remove one of the biggest limitations for free users: the persistent watermark on videos. InVideo currently does not have any mobile or desktop app. Users go to a web browser, where the startup’s own tech stack allows them to upload the video, make the editing and then process it, Shah said. (Once the video has processed, users see a one-click option to publish it on their social media platforms.) But InVideo plans to release mobile apps by early next year, he said. Other than this, there are a number of more features including ability for users to collaborate that InVideo is working on, and the new financing around will help accelerate that, he said. The startup, which also has teams in the U.S. and several other countries, also plans to hire more people.

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In the first real test of the potentially transformative power of its food-preserving technology, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences is bringing its innovative food treatment and supply chain management services to distribution centers in select markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The goal is to alleviate food insecurity among farmers, who comprise one of the most susceptible populations to issues of malnutrition, according to Apeel’s chief executive James Rogers. “The majority of fruits and vegetables grown on this planet are grown by small farmers and two thirds of the people who are food insecure are also farmers,” said Rogers.  The reason why farmers are more at-risk than other populations stems from their inability to get the most value out of their crops, because of the threat of spoilage, Rogers said By introducing its preservative technologies that deter spoilage and providing willing buyers among existing Apeel customers in markets like the U.S., Denmark, Germany and Switzerland Rogers said the company can have an outsized impact to improve the amount of money going into a farmer’s pocket. “The program with the IFC is to build supply chains out,” he said. “The value is not just in the longer-lasting produce, it’s in the market access for that longer lasting produce.” The initial markets will be in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam where Appeal’s tech will treat avocados, pineapples, asparagus, and citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges. In some ways it’s the culmination of the work that Appeal has been doing for the past several years, getting grocers around the world to buy into its approach to reducing waste. The company has always put smallholder farmers at the center of its company mission — ever since Appeal was founded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development. The intention was always to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables produced by farmers without access to the modern refrigerated supply chain. It’s just that for the past several years, the company had to refine its technology and build out a retail network. To further that aim, Apeel has raised over $360 million, including a $250 million round of funding which closed earlier this year. Preventing food waste nets Apeel $250 million from Singapore’s government, Oprah and Katy Perry The fruition of Rogers’ plans will be as the company brings demand from international markets to these local growers through regional exporters. Without access to a refrigerated supply chain, much of what small farmers produce can only reach local markets where supply exceeds demand. The perishability of crops creates market conditions where these fruits and vegetables can’t make it to export, creating market dynamics that exacerbate poverty and increase food loss and food waste among the people who make their living farming, Appeal said. “With extra time we can link those small producers into the global food system and help them collect the economic value that’s intrinsic to that natural resource,” said Rogers.  The introduction of new demand from international markets, which can be fulfilled if crops are treated with Appeal’s technology can create a virtuous cycle that will ideally increase prices for crops and bring bigger payouts to farmers. At least that’s the vision that Rogers has for the latest implementations of Appeal’s technology at regional distribution hubs. There’s the potential that the middle men who’re distributing the produce to foreign buyers may collect most of the value from the introduction of Appeal’s technology, but Rogers dismisses that scenario. “The work is to incorporate those small producers more directly into the supply chain of the exporter. Now that there’s familiarity with the technology you can utilize the tech to create cooperative value and use those cooperatives to unlock value for the very small producers,” he said. “By growing the demand for produce in those markets that supply has to come from somewhere. The exporters earn their cut on a volume basis. The way they increase their value is to grow their volume. They want to grow the volume that’s suitable for export and the demand. Then the challenge flips and it becomes not a demand challenge but a supply challenge. And they have to incentivize people to feed into that supply.”  To finance this international rollout, Appeal has raised another $30 million in funding from investors including the International Finance Corp., Temasek and Astanor Ventures . “Innovative technologies can change the course of development in emerging markets and save livelihoods, economies, and in this case, food,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, interim Managing Director and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer, of IFC, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Apeel to invest in a game-changing technology that can limit food waste by half, enhance sustainability, and mitigate climate change.”

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Last month, former Facebook and Pinterest executive Tim Kendall told Congress during a House hearing on the dangers of social media that Facebook made its products so addictive because its ad-driven business model relies on people paying attention to its product longer every day. He said much the same in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” in which Kendall — along with numerous other prominent early employees of big tech companies — warns of the threat that Facebook and others pose to modern society. Kendall — who today runs Moment, an app that helps users monitor device habits and reinforces positive screen-time behavior — isn’t done campaigning against his former employer yet. On Friday morning, we talked with him about the FTC inching closer to filing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook for its market power in social networking; what he thinks of the DOJ’s separate antitrust lawsuit against Google, filed last Tuesday; and how venture capital contributed to the “unnatural” ways the companies have commanded our attention — and advertisers’ dollars along with it. Our conversation has been excerpted for length. You can hear the full conversation here. TC: Like everyone else, you wrestle with addition to the apps on your phone. At what point did you decide that you wanted to take a more public role in helping to identify the problem and potentially help solve it. TK:  I’ve always been interested in willpower, and the various things that weaken it. I have addiction in various parts of my family and extended family, and I’ve seen up close substance abuse, drug abuse. And as I started to look at this problem, it felt really similar. It’s the same shape and size as being addicted to drugs or having a behavioral addiction to food or shopping. But it didn’t seem like anyone was treating this with the same gravity. TC: What has been the reaction of your colleagues to you turning the tables on this industry? TK: It has evolved in the sense that at the beginning of this, I was kinder to Facebook. When I started talking publicly about my work with Moment, I said, ‘Look, I think that those folks are focused on the right issues. And I think they’re going to solve the problem.’ And I was out there throughout 2018, saying that. Now I’ve gotten a lot more vocal [about the fact that] I don’t think they’re doing enough. And I don’t think it’s happening quickly enough. I think they’re absolutely negligent. And I think the negligence is really about not fully and accurately understanding what their platforms are doing to individuals and what their platforms are doing to society. I just do not think they have their arms around it in a complete way. Is that deliberate? Is that because they’re delusional? I don’t know. But I know that the impact is very serious. And they are not aligned with the rest of us in terms of how severe and significant that impact is. I think everyone within Facebook has confirmation bias, probably in the same way that I have confirmation bias. I am picking out the family at the restaurant that’s not looking at each other and staring at their phones and thinking, ‘Look at Facebook, it’s ruining families.’ That’s my confirmation bias. I think their confirmation bias is ‘There’s so much good that Facebook has done and is doing for the world.’ I can’t dispute that, and I suspect that the leaders there are looking to those cases more often and dismissing the severity of the cases that we talk about, [including] arguably tipping the election in 2016, propagating conspiracy theories, propagating misinformation. TC: Do you think that Facebook has to be regulated the FTC? TK: I think that something has to change. What I would really like to see is the leaders of government all over the world, the consumers that really care about this issue, and then the leaders of the company get together and maybe at the start it’s just a discussion about where we are. But if we could just agree on the common set of facts of the situation that we’re in, and the impact that these platforms are having on our world, if we could just get some alignment in a non-adversarial dynamic, I believe that there is a path whereby [all three can] come together and say, ‘Look, this doesn’t work. The business model is incongruent with the long-term well-being of society, and therefore —  not unlike how fossil fuels are incongruent with the long-term prospects for Earth, we need to have a reckoning and then create and a path out of it. Strict regulation that’s adversarial, I’m not sure is going to solve the problem. And it’s just going to be a drawn-out battle whereby more individuals are going to get sick [from addiction to their phones], and they’re going to continue to wreak havoc on society. TC: If this antitrust action is not necessarily the answer, what potentially could be on the regulatory front, assuming these three are not going to come together on their own? TK: Congress and the Senate are looking really closely at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that allows — and has allowed since it got put in place in 1996 — platforms like Google and Facebook to operate in a very different way than your traditional media company does, in that they’re not liable for the content that shows up on their network. That seemed like a great idea in 1996. And it did foster a lot of innovation because these bulletin board and portal-ike services were able to grow unabated as they didn’t have to deal with the liability issues on every piece of content that got posted on their platform. But you fast forward to today, it sure seems like one of the ways that we could solve misinformation and conspiracy theories and this tribalism that seems to take root by virtue of the social networks. If you rewind five or 10 years ago, the issue that really plagued Facebook and to a lesser extent, Google, was privacy. And the government threatened Facebook again and again and again, and it never did anything about it. And finally, in 2019, it assessed a $5 billion fine and then ongoing penalties beyond that  for issues around privacy. And it’s interesting. It’s been a year since those were put in place, and we haven’t had any issues around privacy with Facebook. TC: You were tasked with developing Facebook’s ad-driven business and coming up with a way for Pinterest to monetize its users. As someone who understands advertising as well as you do, what do you think about this case that the DOJ has brought against Google. What’s your hot take? TK: If you’re trying to start an online business, and you want to monetize that business through advertising, it’s not impossible, but it is an incredibly steep uphill battle. Pinterest ultimately broke through when I was president of Pinterest and working on their revenue business. But the dominance of both Google and Facebook within advertising makes it really difficult for new entrants. The advertisers don’t want to buy from you because they basically can get to anyone they want in a very effective way through Google and Facebook. And so what do they need Pinterest for? What do they need Snap for? Why do they need XYZZ startup tomorrow? That’s on the advertising side. On the search side, Google has been stifling competition for years, and I mean that less in terms of allowing new entrants into search — although the government may be asserting that. I actually mean it in terms of content providers and publishers. They’ve been stifling Yelp for years. They’ve been basically trying to create these universal search boxes that provide the same local information that Yelp does. [Yelp] shows up organically  when I search for sandwich shops in downtown San Mateo, but then [Google puts] their own stuff above it and push it down to create a wedge to hurt Yelp’s business so that [Google] can support and build up their own local business. That’s anti-competitive. TC: Along with running Moment, you’ve been talking with startups that are addressing some of the issues we’re seeing right now, including startups that tell you if a news outlet is left- and right-leaning so you’re aware of any biases ahead of time. Would you ever raise a fund? We’re starting to see these solo GPs raise pretty enormous first-time funds and people seemingly just as happily entrust their money to you. TK. I think traditional venture capital, with traditional limited partners, and the typical timeframe of seven years from when the money goes in and the money needs to come out, created some of the problems that we have today. I think that companies are put in a position, once they take traditional venture capital, to do unnatural things and grow in unnatural ways. Absolutely the social networks that took venture capital felt the pressure at the board level from traditional venture capitalists to grow the user base faster and monetize it more quickly. And all those things led to this extractive business model that we’re looking at today with a critical eye and saying, ‘Oh, whoops, maybe this business model is creating an outcome that we don’t really like.’ If I ever took outside money to do more serious professional-grade investing, I would only take it from wealthy individuals and there would be an explicit term that basically said, ‘There’s no time horizon. You don’t get your money back in seven to 10 years necessarily.’ I think that’s the criteria you need to have if you’re really going to do investing in a way that doesn’t contribute to the problems and misaligned incentives that we’re dealing with today.

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Not just the future of civilization is up for grabs this November. In this age of mobile social computing, we’re figuring out how to vote, entertain, teach, learn, and commit to meaningful change. Thanks to the pandemic emergency, our plans for transforming our country and planet are subject to immediate recall. Much of the current political dynamic is expressed through the lense of “how much change can we afford to make?” The swing states in the race for the electoral college are those most profoundly affected by the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The choice: how many jobs will we lose by shifting away from oil and gas to wind and solar. Workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan are fearful of losing their livelihood to a future of retraining and disruption. Regardless of where we sit along the left/right spectrum, we share the increasing understanding that government doesn’t work. Running for office is a gauntlet of fundraising and promises you can’t keep; legislating is a lobbyist playground where special interests are neither special nor in our interests. The courts are overwhelmed by political power plays timed to inflame and suppress voting turnout. It’s no wonder that the common reaction to this week’s final presidential debate was relief that the campaign is almost over. The most important fix to the body politic is the mute button. For a brief moment in the debate, we got to experience a few seconds of not talking. Time seemed to stand still, as if we were being handed down a digital tablet of things to not do: don’t interrupt, don’t disrespect, don’t mock, don’t waste our time. Above all, don’t forget the people we’ve lost to the virus. Remember the days when our biggest problems were what show to watch, what music to play, what jokes to tell. It’s amazing what you can hear when the agenda is turned back to ourselves. In that moment, you can hear things that smooth the soul. In that moment, you can hear the words leaders will have to speak to get our vote next time. I feel much better about the next election no matter how this one turns out. The explosive numbers of early voting tell us a lot about how this will go. The genie is out of the bottle and people are beginning to connect the dots. If the vote is suppressed, it only makes us try harder. Mobility is about a return to value, to roots, to resilience. Working from home is a big step toward living from everywhere. AR stands for accelerated reality, VR for valued reality. If we want to know what social is good for, switch on the mute button and listen to what you’ve lost. If you can mute the sound, you can unmute it and find your voice. At first, the mute button was a defensive move. It counteracted the business model of the cable news networks, the repetitive time-filling of partisan perspective mixed with not listening to the grievances of the other side. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is be open to the truth emanating from the least likely location. We are taught to attack our opponent’s weaknesses; a better strategy might be to respect their strengths and adopt them as your own. Don’t worry, though. You probably won’t find too much there to reflect. Once you experience the mute button envelope, you can hear it even if it’s not there. The rules of the revised debate were that the first two minutes of each candidate’s response used the mute button, then the old rules returned. Even then, the experience of using the mute button informed the rest of the debate. Particularly noticeable was Joe Biden’s response to a series of back and forths when the moderator asked if he had any further response. “… … … No.” There have been other mute buttons in history. The 18 and a half minute gap spoke loudly when Rose Mary Woods erased a crucial Watergate tape. Before that, we assumed there might be a smoking gun. After that, we knew there might be others, too. Throughout the campaign, we could learn more about what was really going on by listening for the moments when key questions were left unanswered, ducked, or bounced back to the opponent like some Pee Wee Herman playground retort. Soon we’ll know the answer to the important question: how do we confront the virus? I vote for listening to the science, wearing a mask, socially distancing both off and online, rapid testing, and contact tracing. And the candidates who agree. __________________ The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 23, 2020. Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor @fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram. The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

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