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Kano, the venture-backed U.K startup known for its build-your-own computer kits and software for teaching coding and associated STEM skills, has accused Warner Bros. of copying one of its products and infringing on its intellectual property (IP). The product in question is the Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand that Warner Bros. announced back in October, and which began shipping to consumers in the U.S. and U.K. for $150 just before Christmas. London-based Kano issued a “cease and desist” to Warner Bros. this week, which TechCrunch has seen, requesting that the media and entertainment giant halt its go-to-market and promotional activities. While Kano is probably better known for its Raspberry Pi and Windows-based modular PCs, the company launched a device similar to Warner Bros.’ new wand way back in 2018. Kano’s Harry Potter Coding kit came replete with a physical gesture-controlled Bluetooth wand designed to engage children through coding spells, making on-screen cauldrons change color, or feathers fly, via elaborate swishing motions with the wand. Powering the wand are various sensors, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, which help the wand convey its direction and motion to the tablet or PC it’s connected to. In the intervening years, Kano says it has sold some 180,000 units of its Harry Potter coding wand, a figure that rises to 460,000 when you factor in similar gesture-controlled products Kano subsequently launched in partnership with Disney spanning the Star Wars and Frozen franchises. While Kano is no longer actively marketing its Harry Potter wand, some of its retail partners — which have previously included Apple and Target — do still sell it. Patented Last April, Kano cofounder and CEO Alex Klein was granted a patent for the wand’s gesture recognition system, covering the basic mechanics of how it works: the user holds down a button to begin the gesture recognition, the screen displays a cursor trail as the user moves the wand to show how a spell is being cast in real-time. It’s worth noting that Kano launched its wand as part of a brand-licensing partnership with Harry Potter rightsholder Warner Bros., which is why Klein says he was perturbed to learn of its new competing wand hitting the market a few months back. In a conversation with TechCrunch, Klein explained that off the back of the initial success it saw with the Harry Potter wand in 2018, Warner Bros.’ corporate arm reached out to Kano to get it to explain a bit more about how the product works, including its componentry and how it’s able to recognize spells, and other potential use-cases for the underlying technology. And this is where things get interesting regarding its spat with Warner Bros. Unlike Kano’s original Harry Potter wand, which was focused squarely on teaching kids how to code, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter Magic Caster Wand is all about the smart home. It’s designed to connect to devices such as TVs, lights and speakers, so users can control their contraptions using “spells” and choreographed wand gestures. According to Klein, Kano had already envisaged such use-cases with its own wand, and had made some early developments in the smart home realm. “In the process of making it easy for a person to hold down the button on the wand and cast a spell, we realized that this is a new language for human computer interaction,” Klein said. “You could be casting spells not only to make Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans explode on a screen, but you could [also] be doing gestures to control your lights, unlock your door, and control the volume of music. We realized that this gestural form of interaction could be quite powerful and extended into other domains in the smart home. So we came in, they [Warner Bros.] got really excited about this idea of controlling the smart home.” Klein showed TechCrunch a video of an early prototype of Kano’s wand controlling various connected devices, which he says was recorded in November 2018 as part of a demonstration in Warner Bros.’ offices. Fast-forward to 2022, and with Warner Bros. bringing a similar Harry Potter wand to market, Klein says that he reached out to various people at the company to get an explanation, adding that he was told that an internal investigation would follow. But he said the line of communication went cold, leading to the cease and desist letter that Kano issued to Warner Bros. this week. “A side-by-side comparison of the operation of both the Coding Wand [Kano’s] and the Spellcaster Wand [Warner Bros.’] makes clear — and has now made clear to multiple third-party observers, including patent and intellectual property experts — that an issue has arisen,” the letter states. “The new product uses intellectual property — multiple patent-protected assets, trade secrets, inventions, etc. — of Kano’s, some of which were shared in strict confidence with WB during the many detailed engagements between the companies.” The story so far Founded in 2013, Kano has raised some $45 million in funding from notable backers including European VC Index Ventures, Barclays, Salesforce cofounder Marc Benioff, and Microsoft, which worked with Kano to develop a Windows-based PC back in 2019. Mark Zuckerberg is also apparently a fan of Kano’s products, according to this post from 2021. Mark Zuckerberg apparently digs Kano Image Credits: Mark Zuckerberg However, Kano had been relatively quiet these past few years, announcing a round of layoffs in late 2019 and then not really releasing much in the way of new products. However, in 2021 the company did partner with Kanye West to launch Stem Player, a device that lets users isolate and remix individual song elements. It ultimately pulled back from the partnership due to antisemitic comments made by West. Today, Kano continues to sell the Stem Player without West’s involvement, and a few weeks back the company unveiled the Stem video Projector, while hinting at all manner of new products that may include food and clothes. The company also signaled its transition away from its legacy DIY PC business when it revealed it was spinning out its creative software suite Kano World as a standalone business. However, the company does plan to stay at least a little bit true to its roots, as it’s developing a modular two-in-one device that can run Windows or ChromeOS, which Klein said it expects to push to market some time this year. Kano’s upcoming DIY modular PC Image Credits: Kano Financially, things hadn’t been looking so great for Kano. At its most recently reported financial year ending of March 2021, Kano disclosed a pre-tax loss of £10.1 million ($12 million), though this was an improvement on the £16.8 million ($20.8 million) loss it reported the previous year. The company told TechCrunch a few weeks back that its provisional accounts for fiscal year 2022 show a pre-tax profit of around £1.2 million ($1.5 million). What’s next While Klein is naturally keen to paint an outwardly rosy picture of how things are going at Kano, the fact that it’s actively releasing and developing new products is an encouraging sign. However, a litigious IP scuffle with a billion-dollar, mass media conglomerate is probably the last thing it needs right now. In a modern-day David vs Goliath scenario, defending IP rights in court as a relatively small startup is not a cheap pursuit — something that Klein is acutely aware of as he considers his next moves. “It can cost up to $3 million to defend and protect a patent / technology IP,” Klein said. “This stacks the deck in favor of the big corporates. They can afford to throw aggressive lawyers at smaller companies and tie them up in process.” There is nothing to say, at the moment at least, that this is definitely how things will unfold. But if it does, Klein indicated that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to defend Kano’s work, noting that he has been told by lawyers who have worked on the case so far, on a pro bono basis, that it’s a “pretty open and shut” case. “If necessary, I’ll work late nights and weekends and represent us myself, pro se,” he said. “We will make sure our team’s hard work and creativity is not abused and ripped off. I may not have gone to law school, but all the proceedings are public, and can be understood with a little elbow grease.” A Warner Bros. spokesperson finally provided TechCrunch with a comment, saying: “The claims made by Kano are without merit.”* *This story was updated shortly after publishing to include a response from a Warner Bros. spokesperson. Warner Bros. swiped our Harry Potter wand IP, says Kano by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

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Finance people live and breathe spreadsheets, Mayfield’s Rajeev Batra was telling me. We were talking about our upcoming TechCrunch Live event featuring him and Cube’s Christina Ross, and Rajeev was explaining how he sees Cube’s position in the marketplace. Christina Ross co-founded the company in 2018 in a bid to provide a solution to CFOs who rely on spreadsheets but could benefit from modern data analysis, reporting, and collaboration. Now, some five years later, Cube is finding success and has raised over $45 million from venture capital. I hope you can join us on this TechCrunch Live event on February 8 at 11:30 a.m. PST/2:30 p.m. EST. Christina Ross learned early on in Cube’s history that the solution must meet the customer where they’re at. Cube’s solution is unique in the FP&A world, in that it’s not trying to replace spreadsheets but rather work alongside spreadsheets. This gives her a unique take on finding product market fit — Cube isn’t trying to force customers to abandon their current solution. We’re going to talk about Cube’s approach to customer acquisitions and finding product market fit, and why Christina’s favorite childhood toy was a cash register. Register Here Questions I want to ask How did Cube so quickly acquire customers even though the company had yet to build a product? Cube has countless competitors, so how does the company stay ahead of the curve? What are some best practices for selling into an underserved market? What personal qualities did Mayfield see in Christina Ross that led them to invest, and what’s a good founder fit for Mayfield? And I want you to ask questions too! Join the live event on Hopin, and ask questions in the chat. I’ll do my best to ask them when possible. Can’t make the live event but can listen to the replay/podcast? Tweet at me, and I’ll be sure to ask your questions. Want to get feedback on your pitch during the show? Pitch Practice is back! Apply to present your company using this form. We’ll select three companies to pitch during the show, including one wildcard company that will be selected from our Hopin audience during the episode. Apply for TCL Pitch Practice Hear the right way to acquire customers with Cube and Mayfield on TechCrunch Live by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, a podcast about the business of startups, where we unpack the numbers and nuance behind the headlines. This week, Natasha Mascarenhas, Mary Ann Azevedo and Rebecca Szkutak took the mic to talk through breaking news, retrospective features and all the blogosphere content that fits in between. Shout-out to Theresa and Andrew for putting together a diverse script that includes… checks notes… nothing. about. layoffs! Don’t worry, there are still tensions to pay attention to in today’s market, but this episode was refreshingly about innovation, and a shifting to this new normal we keep hearing about. Here’s what we got into: For our deals of the week, we talked about why tracking app Strava’s purchase of Fatboy, a high-resolution 3D global map platform for the great outdoors, seems like a smart move, how Wasted wants to make port-a-potties less gross and more useful and All Raise CEO’s decision to step down after less than one year in the role. Then we got into how the feds are scrutinizing Google’s alleged ad tech monopoly and the implications for startups, before moving into different ways the downturn is impacting the way companies are hiring. And lastly, we discussed femtech’s very good 2022 (even though we all agreed we don’t love the term “femtech”). Equity drops at 10:00 a.m. PT every Monday and at 7:00 a.m. PT on Wednesdays and Fridays, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts. TechCrunch also has a great show on crypto, a show that interviews founders, one that details how our stories come together and more! You could be Wasted and not even know it by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

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Americans spent nearly $20 billion on pizza deliveries in 2021. Most of us could probably bake one at home, but speed and convenience are powerful incentives at dinnertime. The potential of AI tools like ChatGPT creates a similar dilemma — should companies license large language models without modifications, or customize them and pay much higher usage rates? “While building looks extremely attractive in the long run, it requires leadership with a strong appetite for risk over an extended time period,” writes ML engineer Tanmay Chopra. Full TechCrunch+ articles are only available to members. Use discount code TCPLUSROUNDUP to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription. In a comprehensive article that weighs development costs and technical debt against time to market, Chopra encourages readers to consider factors like product defensibility and risk before deciding whether to build or buy. Since most startups are not AI businesses, his post also evaluates “middle ground approaches” like prompt engineering, closed source approximation and building on top of open source solutions. “If you want to be an AI business, work toward that over time: store data cleanly, start building an ML team and identify monetizable use cases,” he advises. Thanks very much for reading TC+ this week! Walter Thompson Editorial Manager, TechCrunch+ @yourprotagonist When it comes to large language models, should you build or buy? 4 practical steps for using no-code to evolve your prototype to an MVP Image Credits: Luis Cagiao Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images Forget about dogs: No-code development tools can be a non-technical founder’s best friend. Building a minimum viable product once required engineering and design ability. Now, bootstrapping founders can iterate without developers to keep costs down and extend their runway. “Instead of getting caught up trying to design the perfect and complete MVP release all at once, try to deliver value as quickly as possible and continuously improve your prototype,” advises Katherine Kostereva, CEO and managing partner of Creatio. She shares four tactics for transforming prototypes into usable products via no-code: Embrace an everyday delivery approach. Proper scoping and decomposition. Carefully manage and decouple dependencies. Invest in continuous deployment automation. 4 practical steps for using no-code to evolve your prototype to an MVP Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing Image Credits: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY (opens in a new window) / Getty Images Despite the myth, sharks don’t need to keep swimming to keep breathing. Early-stage startups, on the other hand, are not so fortunate. If driving growth is a priority, companies must run an ongoing series of A/B tests that can help refine marketing messages and make their product pipelines more relevant to customers’ needs. In part three of a five-article series on growth marketing fundamentals, Jonathan Martinez explains how to properly manage A/B tests, identify statistical significance when reviewing data and prioritize experiments that maximize reach and impact. Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing Startups should expect more scrutiny from VCs on their hiring plans Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images Now that investors are exercising greater due diligence, early-stage hiring plans are under more scrutiny, reports Rebecca Szkutak. “It is not to say, ‘do not hire’ — it is just that we need to see the double-click now on why,” says Angela Lee, an angel investor and venture partner who’s also a professor at Columbia Business School. “You need X number of million of dollars for what? Why do you need a chief data scientist and architect?” Startups should expect more scrutiny from VCs on their hiring plans Dear Sophie: How do I change my L-1B to an H-1B through the lottery? Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch Dear Sophie, I am currently working in Seattle having relocated from Chile on an L-1B visa. Can I change my L-1B visa to an H-1B with a different company? My understanding is that L visas are restricted to working only with the issuing company. — Charming Chilean Dear Sophie: How do I change my L-1B to an H-1B through the lottery? Pitch Deck Teardown: Orange’s $2.5M seed deck Image Credits: Orange Charger (opens in a new window) EV charging company Orange raised a $2.5 million seed round to scale up plans to build a charger network for multiunit properties, and its founders shared their winning pitch deck with TechCrunch+: Cover slide Mission slide Problem slide Macroeconomic market slide (“Why now?”) Market size slide Solution slide Value proposition slide Product tech spec slide Product slide Competitive landscape slide Competitive advantage slide Business model slide Cash flow slide Go-to-market slide Team slide Advisers slide “The ask” slide Contact slide Appendices cover slide Appendix I: Product install photos Appendix II: 3-year financial projections Appendix III: Headcount slide Appendix IV: Sources and references Pitch Deck Teardown: Orange’s $2.5M seed deck TechCrunch+ roundup: No-code MVP strategy, hiring under scrutiny, A/B growth testing by Walter Thompson originally published on TechCrunch

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HBO announced today that the hit series “The Last of Us” is getting a second season, likely satisfying over 22 million domestic viewers that watched the Season 1 premiere episode so far. On the night of the premiere, the series premiere was viewed by 4.7 million fans in the U.S. The announcement comes less than a week after “The Last of Us” debuted its second-ever episode, which had 5.7 million viewers across HBO Max and linear, according to Nielsen and first-party data. The third episode will premiere this Sunday, January 29, on HBO and HBO Max. HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ gets a warm welcome with 4.7M US viewers Neil Druckmann, the creator of “The Last of Us” video game and executive producer of the HBO show, said in a statement, “I’m humbled, honored, and frankly overwhelmed that so many people have tuned in and connected with our retelling of Joel and Ellie’s journey…Now we have the absolute pleasure of being able to do it again with season two! On behalf of everyone at Naughty Dog & PlayStation, thank you!” Unlike other failed video game adaptations, like Netflix’s “Resident Evil,” which got canceled after one season, HBO’s newest series holds true to the original franchise and is a relief to many gamers and “The Last of Us” fans. Overall, the series has a 9.3 rating on IMDB, a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average audience score of 96%. For comparison, Netflix’s popular video game adaptation “Arcane” has a 9 rating on IMDB. “I’m so grateful to Neil Druckmann and HBO for our partnership, and I’m even more grateful to the millions of people who have joined us on this journey,” added executive producer Craig Mazin. “The audience has given us the chance to continue, and as a fan of the characters and world Neil and Naughty Dog created, I couldn’t be more ready to dive back in.” “The Last of Us” is a much-needed show for the streamer, especially since parent company Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) missed Wall Street expectations in the third quarter and reported a gross debt load of around $50.4 billion. HBO Max recently hiked up its subscription price to increase revenue. “The Last of Us” will likely draw in new subscribers who want to see what the hype is all about. The show had the second-largest debut since HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” premiered over ten years ago. “House of the Dragon” continues to be the largest premiere in HBO history with nearly 10 million viewers. However, WBD needs to have more than just a few hit series to reduce churn. As WBD prepares to launch its merged streaming service, the company needs to have a strong content slate if it wants to grow its subscriber base. HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ is a video game adaptation that’s actually good HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ gets a second season following successful debut by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

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An impressive new AI system from Google can generate music in any genre given a text description. But the company, fearing the risks, has no immediate plans to release it. Called MusicLM, Google’s certainly isn’t the first generative AI system for song. There’s been other attempts, including Riffusion, an AI that composes music by visualizing it, as well as Dance Diffusion, Google’s own AudioML and OpenAI’s Jukebox. But owing to technical limitations and limited training data, none have been able to produce songs particularly complex in composition or high-fidelity. MusicLM is perhaps the first that can. whoa, this is bigger than ChatGPT to me. google almost solved music generation, i'd say. https://t.co/s9PQaJ5R6A — Keunwoo Choi (@keunwoochoi) January 27, 2023 Detailed in an academic paper, MusicLM was trained on a data set of 280,000 hours of music to learn to generate coherent songs for descriptions of — as the creators put it — “significant complexity” (e.g. “enchanting jazz song with a memorable saxophone solo and a solo singer” or “Berlin ’90s techno with a low bass and strong kick.” Its songs, remarkably, sound something like a human artist might compose, albeit not necessarily as inventive or musically cohesive. It’s hard to overstate just how good the samples sound given that there aren’t musicians or instrumentalists in the loop. Even when fed somewhat long and meandering descriptions, MusicLM manages to capture nuances like instrumental riffs, melodies and moods. The caption for the sample below, for example, included the bit “induces the experience of being lost in space,” and it certainly delivers on that front (at least to my ears): https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/audio-1.wav Here’s another sample, generated from a description starting with the sentence “The main soundtrack of an arcade game.” Plausible, right? https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/audio.wav MusicLM’s capabilities extend beyond generating short clips of songs. The Google researchers show that the system can build on existing melodies, whether hummed, sung, whistled or played on an instrument. Moreover, MusicLM can take several descriptions written in sequence (e.g. “time to meditate,” “time to wake up,” “time to run,” “time to give 100%”) and create a sort of melodic “story” or narrative ranging up to several minutes in length — perfectly fit for a movie soundtrack. See below, which came from the sequence “electronic song played in a videogame,” “meditation song played next to a river,” “fire,” “fireworks.” https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/example_2.wav That’s not to suggest MusicLM’s flawless — far from it, truthfully. Some of the samples have a distorted quality to them, an unavoidable side effect of the training process. And while MusicLM can technically generate vocals, including choral harmonies, they leave a lot to be desired. Most of the “lyrics” range from barely English to pure gibberish, sung by synthesized voices that sound like amalgamations of several artists. Still, the Google researchers note the many ethical challenges posed by a system like MusicLM, including a tendency to incorporate copyrighted material from training data into the generated songs. During an experiment, they found that about 1% of the music the system generated was directly replicated from the songs on which it trained — a threshold apparently high enough to discourage them from releasing MusicLM in its current state. “We acknowledge the risk of potential misappropriation of creative content associated to the use case,” the coauthors of the paper wrote. “We strongly emphasize the need for more future work in tackling these risks associated to music generation.” Assuming MusicLM or a system like it is one day made available, it seems inevitable that major legal issues will come to the fore. They already have, albeit around simpler AI systems. In 2020, Jay-Z ‘s record label filed copyright strikes against a YouTube channel, Vocal Synthesis, for using AI to create Jay-Z covers of songs like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” After initially removing the videos, YouTube reinstated them, finding the takedown requests were “incomplete.” But deepfaked music still stands on murky legal ground. A whitepaper authored by Eric Sunray, now a legal intern at the Music Publishers Association, argues that AI music generators like MusicLM violate music copyright by creating “tapestries of coherent audio from the works they ingest in training, thereby infringing the United States Copyright Act’s reproduction right.” Following the release of Jukebox, critics have also questioned whether training AI models on copyrighted musical material constitutes fair use. Similar concerns have been raised around the training data used in image-, code- and text-generating AI systems, which is often scraped from the web without creators’ knowledge. From a user perspective, Waxy’s Andy Baio speculates that music generated by an AI system would be considered a derivative work, in which case only the original elements would be protected by copyright. Of course, it’s unclear what might be considered “original” in such music; using this music commercially is to enter uncharted waters. It’s a simpler matter if generated music is used for purposes protected under fair use, like parody and commentary, but Baio expects that courts would have to make case-by-base judgments. It might not be long before there’s some clarity on the matter. Several lawsuits making their way through the courts will likely have a bearing on music-generating AI, including one pertaining to the rights of artists whose work is used to train AI systems without their knowledge or consent. But time will tell. Google created an AI that can generate music from text descriptions, but won’t release it by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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I find something very intriguing about members of a royal family working to further the startup scene for a particular country. In a magnificently frank conversation, I spoke with HRH Prince Constantijn, fourth in line to the throne of the Netherlands, at CES earlier this month. We discussed the Dutch ecosystem, the role of government in stimulating innovation and the challenges the country is facing in helping companies to go from startup to scale-up. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. TechCrunch: Why are you here at CES?  HRH Prince Constantijn: I think I can help. I want to continue to build a relationship with the CTA [the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES] and help some of these companies by introducing them to corporates. “[The Netherlands] is a country that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for innovation. About a third of the country is underwater, and it innovated itself into existence.” HRH Prince Constantijn And some of the companies meet with me just for the selfies. That makes me think, “Maybe cut the crap; I know what you want, so let’s just take the photo and get over it.” On the whole, I’m here to support companies. In the Netherlands, we have support programs for scaleups or companies that are a bit further along, so a lot of what we do is to build connections, introducing them to founders or investors in the Bay Area, supporting them in as many ways as I can. And [CES] is just one of those outlets. Why is CES important to the Netherlands in general?  The Netherlands is a small market, and Europe is quite fragmented. The U.S. is an important market. Most companies — depending on the sector — have to go to the U.S. at some point in time. The U.S. is the biggest health market, for example, so for most of those companies, it’s important to get there early and build some relationships. The U.S. is probably the biggest automotive market, too. CES is relevant to us because it is so big and brings together a lot of different industries. Most of the big players are here. CES is not a bullseye for some of the companies we have, especially the software companies, but there’s such a density of tech companies here that you find relevant contacts are really high. So that’s most important. You seem to have taken an interest in the Dutch startup ecosystem. Why is that a focus for you? What’s going on in the Dutch startup scene? by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

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As generative AI enters the mainstream, each new day brings a new lawsuit. Microsoft, GitHub and OpenAI are currently being sued in a class action motion that accuses them of violating copyright law by allowing Copilot, a code-generating AI system trained on billions of lines of public code, to regurgitate licensed code snippets without providing credit. Two companies behind popular AI art tools, Midjourney and Stability AI, are in the crosshairs of a legal case that alleges they infringed on the rights of millions of artists by training their tools on web-scraped images. And just last week, stock image supplier Getty Images took Stability AI to court for reportedly using millions of images from its site without permission to train Stable Diffusion, an art-generating AI. At issue, mainly, is generative AI’s tendency to replicate images, text and more — including copyrighted content — from the data that was used to train it. In a recent example, an AI tool used by CNET to write explanatory articles was found to have plagiarized articles written by humans — articles presumably swept up in its training dataset. Meanwhile, an academic study published in December found that image-generating AI models like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion can and do replicate aspects of images from their training data. The generative AI space remains healthy — it raised $1.3 billion in venture funding through November 2022, according to PitchBook, up 15% from the year prior. But the legal questions are beginning to affect business. Some image-hosting platforms have banned AI-generated content for fear of legal blowback. And several legal experts have cautioned generative AI tools could put companies at risk if they were to unwittingly incorporate copyrighted content generated by the tools into any of products they sell. “Unfortunately, I expect a flood of litigation for almost all generative AI products,” Heather Meeker, a legal expert on open source software licensing and a general partner at OSS Capital, told TechCrunch via email. “The copyright law needs to be clarified.” Content creators such as Polish artist Greg Rutkowski, known for creating fantasy landscapes, have become the face of campaigns protesting the treatment of artists by generative AI startups. Rutkowski has complained about the fact that typing text like “Wizard with sword and a glowing orb of magic fire fights a fierce dragon Greg Rutkowski” will create an image that looks very similar to his original work — threatening his income. Given generative AI isn’t going anywhere, what comes next? Which legal cases have merit and what court battles lie on the horizon? Eliana Torres, an intellectual property attorney with Nixon Peabody, says that the allegations of the class action suit against Stability AI, Midjourney, and DeviantArt will be challenging to prove in court. In particular, she thinks it’ll be difficult to ascertain which images were used to train the AI systems because the art the systems generate won’t necessarily look exactly like any of the training images. State-of-the-art image-generating systems like Stable Diffusion are what’s known as “diffusion” models. Diffusion models learn to create images from text prompts (e.g. “a sketch of a bird perched on a windowsill”) as they work their way through massive training datasets. The models are trained to “re-create” images as opposed to drawing them from scratch, starting with pure noise and refining the image over time to make it incrementally closer to the text prompt. Image-generating AI can copy and paste from training data, raising IP concerns Perfect recreations don’t occur often, to Torres’ point. As for images in the style of a particular artist, style has proven nearly impossible to shield with copyright. “It will … be challenging to get a general acceptance of the definition of ‘in style of’ as ‘a work that others would accept as a work created by that artist whose style was called upon,’ which is mentioned in the complaint [i.e. against Stability AI et al.],” Torres told TechCrunch in an email interview.  Torres also believes the suit should be directed not at the creators of these AI systems, but at the party responsible for compiling the images used to train them: Large-scale Artificial Intelligence Open Network (LAION), a nonprofit organization. Midjourney, DeviantArt and Stability AI use training data from LAION’s datasets, which span billions of images from around the web. “If LAION created the dataset, then the alleged infringement occurred at that point, not once the dataset was used to train the models,” Torres said. “It’s the same way a human can walk into a gallery and look at paintings but is not allowed to take photos.” Companies like Stability AI and OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, have long claimed that “fair use” protects them in the event that their systems were trained on licensed content. This doctrine enshrined in U.S. law permits limited use of copyrighted material without first having to obtain permission from the rightsholder. Supporters point to cases like Authors Guild v. Google, in which the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Google manually scanning millions of copyrighted books without a license to create its book search project was fair use. What constitutes fair use is constantly being challenged and revised, but in the generative AI realm, it’s an especially untested theory. A recent article in Bloomberg Law asserts that the success of a fair use defense will depend on whether the works generated by the AI are considered transformative— in other words, whether they use the copyrighted works it in a way that significantly varies from the originals. Previous case law, particularly the Supreme Court’s 2021 Google v. Oracle decision, suggests that using collected data to create new works can be transformative. In that case, Google’s use of portions of Java SE code to create its Android operating system was found to be fair use. Interestingly, other countries have signaled a move toward more permissive use of publicly available content — copyrighted or not. For example, the U.K. is planning to tweak an existing law to allow text and data mining “for any purpose,” moving the balance of power away from rightsholders and heavily toward businesses and other commercial entities. There’s been no appetite to embrace such a shift in the U.S., however, and Torres doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon — if ever. TKTK transition (more nuanced than…) The Getty case is slightly more nuanced. Getty — which Torres notes hasn’t yet filed a formal complaint — must show damages and connect any infringement it alleges to specific images. But Getty’s statement mentions that it has no interest in financial damages and is merely looking for a “new legal status quo.”  Andrew Burt, one of the founders of AI-focused law firm BNH.ai, disagrees with Torres to the extent that he believes generative AI lawsuits focused on intellectual property issues will be “relatively straightforward.” In his view, if copyrighted data was used to train AI systems — whether because of intellectual property or privacy restrictions — those systems should and will be subject to fines or other penalties. Burt noted that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is already pursuing this path with what it calls “algorithmic disgorgement,” where it forces tech firms to kill problematic algorithms along with any ill-gotten data that they used to train them. In a recent example, the FTC used the remedy of algorithmic disgorgement to force Everalbum, the maker of a now-defunct mobile app called Ever, to delete facial recognition algorithms the company developed using content uploaded by people who used its app. (Everalbum didn’t make it clear that the users’ data was being used for this purpose.) “I would expect generative AI systems to be no different from traditional AI systems in this way,” Burt said. What are companies to do, then, in the absence of precedent and guidance? Torres and Burt concur that there’s no obvious answer. For her part, Torres recommends looking closely at the terms of use for each commercial generative AI system. She notes that MidJourney has different rights for paid versus unpaid users, while OpenAI’s DALL-E assigns rights around generated art to users while also warning them of “similar content” and encouraging due diligence to avoid infringement. “Businesses should be aware of the terms of use and do their due diligence, such as using reverse image searches of the generated work intended to be used commercially,” she added. Burt recommends that companies adopt risk management frameworks such as the AI Risk Management Framework released by National Institute of Standards and Technology, which gives guidance on how to address and mitigate risks in the design and use of AI systems. He also suggests that companies continuously test and monitor their systems for potential legal liabilities. “While generative AI systems make AI risk management harder — it is, to be fair, much more straightforward to monitor an AI system that makes binary predictions for risks — there are concrete actions that can be taken,” Burt said. Some firms, under pressure from activists and content creators, have taken steps in the right direction. Stability AI plans to allow artists to opt out of the data set used to train the next-generation Stable Diffusion model. Through the website HaveIBeenTrained.com, rightsholders will be able to request opt-outs before training begins in a few weeks’ time. Rival OpenAI offers no such opt-out mechanism, but the firm has partnered with organizations like Shutterstock to license portions of their image galleries. For Copilot, GitHub introduced a filter that checks code suggestions with their surrounding code of about 150 characters against public GitHub code and hides suggestions if there’s a match or “near match.” It’s an imperfect measure — enabling the filter can cause Copilot to omit key pieces of attribution and license text — but GitHub has said that it plans to introduce additional features in 2023 aimed at helping developers make informed decisions about whether to use Copilot’s suggestions. Taking the ten-thousand-foot view, Burt believes that generative AI is being deployed more and more without an understanding of how to address its dangers. He praises efforts to combat the obvious problems, like copyrighted works being used to train content generators. But he cautions that the opacity of the systems will put pressure on businesses to prevent the systems from wreaking havoc — and having a plan to address the systems’ risks before they’re put into the wild. “Generative AI models are among the most exciting and novel uses of AI — with the clear potential to transform the ‘knowledge economy,’ ” he said. “Just as with AI in many other areas, the technology is largely there and ready for use. What isn’t yet mature are the ways to manage all of its risks. Without thoughtful, mature evaluation and management of these systems’ harms, we risk deploying a technology before we understand how to stop it from causing damage.” Meeker is more pessimistic, arguing that not all businesses — regardless of the mitigations they undertake — will be able to shoulder the legal costs associated with generative AI. This points to the urgent need for clarification or changes in copyright law, she says. “If AI developers don’t know what data they can use to train models, the technology could be set back by years,” Meeker said. “In a sense, there is nothing they can do, because if businesses are unable to lawfully train models on freely available materials, they won’t have enough data to train the models. There are only various long-term solutions like opt-in or opt-out models, or systems that aggregate royalties for payment to all authors … The suits against AI businesses for ingesting copyrightable material to train models are potentially crippling to the industry, [and] could cause consolidation that would limit innovation.” The current legal cases against generative AI are just the beginning by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Uber Eats is introducing a new feature that shows users how much of their personal information is shared with their delivery person when they place an order on the app. The feature, which is called “View as Delivery Person,” is designed to add a level of transparency when ordering food via the app. The feature will show how much of your information is shared with your courier at every stage of the delivery. For instance, when you request a delivery, the courier will see your approximate delivery location. When the courier accepts the delivery, they will see your first name and last initial, along with your exact delivery location and any customer notes you may have added regarding your order. Once the delivery is complete, the courier will see your delivery location, but not your house number or unit number. Did you know we limit what your delivery person sees about you when they accept your Uber Eats order? We’ve launched a new product so you can see what is shared with a courier when you place an order on the app. US and Canada only. Link in bio for more. pic.twitter.com/RgQ5BXATfQ — Uber Eats (@UberEats) January 26, 2023 The feature also shows you what information the app deletes after specific orders. If you order alcohol, the delivery person is required to verify your age by scanning your ID, but Uber notes that your ID information is not viewable by the courier after delivery and that the scan of your ID is deleted after 72 hours. In addition, when you choose the “Leave at Door” option, the courier takes a picture of the order at your door to confirm the delivery. Uber notes that the delivery person can’t access the photo after delivery, and that this photo is never stored, and is deleted when the delivery person closes their app. The new feature also tells you what information of yours Uber never shows your delivery person. For example, your delivery person never gets access to your payment method, phone number, the rating you give them, your profile photo or your last name (unless it’s required for alcohol purchases). Uber launched a similar feature for its rideshare app in 2020 called “View as Driver.” The new View as Delivery Person feature is now available in Canada and the United States. Uber tests push notification ads, a feature literally no one wants Uber Eats now shows you how much of your information is shared with delivery people by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

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When payments giant Stripe raised $600 million at a $95 billion valuation in 2021, it made headlines for raising capital at the highest-ever valuation for a privately-held startup. Defending that valuation appears to be proving challenging. The fintech company has reportedly approached investors about raising more capital — at least $2 billion — at a valuation of $55 billion to $60 billion. According to the Wall Street Journal, Stripe would not use the money toward operating expenses but rather to cover a large annual tax bill associated with employee stock units. It is not clear if any discussions are ongoing. That information came to light on the same day that Stripe was said to have told employees that it had set a 12-month deadline for itself to either go public or pursue a transaction on the private market. TechCrunch has reached out to Stripe for comment but had not heard back as of press time. The news comes after several months of apparent struggles at Stripe. In November, it laid off 14% of its staff, or around 1,120 people, saying it had ‘overhired for the world we’re in.’ And the company has slashed its internal valuation more than once over the past year. Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that Stripe had cut its internal valuation to $63 billion. That 11% cut came after an internal valuation cut that occurred six months prior, which valued the company at $74 billion. Raising more capital at a $55 billion to $60 billion valuation would certainly be characterized as a down round — but Stripe would hardly be the first large fintech to do so. Fellow European and BNPL behemoth Klarna last year raised $800 million at a $6.7 billion valuation, an 85% drop compared to the $45.6 billion it was valued at in June of 2021. In 2021, Stripe reportedly notched gross revenues of $12 billion and was EBITDA profitable, according to Forbes. The company’s products, in its own words, power payments for online and in-person retailers, subscriptions businesses, software platforms and marketplaces, “and everything in between.” It has not publicly revealed revenue figures since 2021. Stripe is one of many highly-valued fintech startups that have hit road bumps as of late. In December, decacorn Plaid laid off 260 employees, or about 20% of its workforce, saying it had ‘hired and invested ahead of revenue growth.’  Notably, the two companies had a bit of a public spat last year – despite being partners – when Stripe unveiled in May a new product, Financial Connections. That new product was designed to give Stripe’s customers a way to connect directly to their customers’ bank accounts, to access financial data to speed up or run certain kinds of transactions — exactly what Plaid has done historically. Plaid came out swinging months later, unveiling its own payments push.  Founded in Ireland by brothers John and his brother Patrick Collison (the CEO), Stripe has raised over $2.2 billion in funding since inception from investors such as Allianz – via its Allianz X fund, Axa, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Sequoia Capital, General Catalyst, Base Partners, GV and an investor from the founders’ home country, Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA). Stripe eyes an exit over next 12 months   Report: Stripe tried to raise more funding at a $55B-$60B valuation by Mary Ann Azevedo originally published on TechCrunch

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If you enjoy some good toilet technology, then I think “urine” for a treat. Starling Medical is poised to launch its at-home urine diagnostic patient-monitoring platform, dubbed “StarStream,” that doesn’t rely on the traditional catching containers or dipsticks. Now, if you’re thinking this technology sounds familiar, you would be correct: My colleague Haje Jan Kamps wrote about Withings’ U-Scan, a urinalysis device, earlier this month when the health-focused consumer tech company debuted it at CES. U-Scan also sits in the toilet for at-home monitoring. However, Alex Arevalos, Starling’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that this is an underserved market — the global urinalysis market is forecasted to be valued at $4.9 billion by 2026, meaning there is plenty of room for Withings and a scrappy startup. The Houston-based company wants to prevent hospitalizations from chronic conditions, including urinary tract infections, diabetes and kidney disease, and will eventually move into dozens of other health conditions that urine testing can detect, including preeclampsia during pregnancy. Our favorite startups from YC’s Winter 2022 Demo Day, part 1 Working in concert with urologist partners and insurance providers, the patient gets a reusable device that is attached to the toilet and is connected to artificial intelligence–powered digital health analysis. If a problem is detected after a patient uses the restroom, Starling connects them with their physician to learn more. Starling’s StarStream is actually the company’s second iteration. Back in January 2020, Arevalos and co-founders Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks were working on a catheter device that allowed patients with neurological bladder dysfunction to pee at the press of a button. Using some AI and spectroscopy sensors, the catheter would track the urine still in a patient’s bladder to detect urinary tract infections, which can lead to hospitalizations and sepsis. While going through Y Combinator’s Winter 2022 batch, they got two ideas: to take the sensors and pair them with an easy-to-use at-home device that physicians and patients have been asking for, and put that device in the toilet. And, rather than focusing on just neurological bladder dysfunctions, this would open them up to work with a larger market, including those with diabetes and preeclampsia kidney disease, which ends up being about a third of all patients in the United States, Arevalos said. Over the past year, the company developed the device and the technology and has already validated its predictive models through a clinical study in partnership with Stanford University. It also closed on $3.4 million in seed funding, led by Rebel Fund. The Starling Medical team Image Credits: Starling Medical Also participating in the round was Y Combinator, Innospark Ventures, AI Basis, Capital Factory, Coho Deeptech, Magic Fund, Rogers Family Office, Hendricks Family Office, ReMy Ventures, Centauri Fund, Praxis SCI Institute, Gaingels and a group of angel investors. The funding will be deployed into building an engineering team, developing the device and software, and hiring nurses and support staff. Nurses review the urinalysis data and file for the remote patient monitoring reimbursements. The company now has 10 employees. In the first quarter of 2023, StarStream’s device and monitoring service will be deployed with Starling’s first enterprise customer, a large private practice in Texas with about 200,000 urology patients and the potential for $144 million in annual recurring revenue, according to Arevalos. After getting the first customer up and running, he envisions adding additional physician groups throughout Texas, even saying that there is enough patient potential to “grow Starling into a unicorn without having to leave Texas.” Arevalos touted StarStream as “the world’s first FDA-registered service,” explaining that Starling Medical can claim that title because, for one, Withings’ U-Scan is launching in Europe first and because he believes Starling is the first to apply this type of model — analysis and connection to care on the back end. “Just data out there by itself can’t really help if there’s no follow-up,” he added. “Historically, one of the challenges is just convincing people to try something new and put something in the toilet. By doing that, it allows for health improvements for the patient, new revenue for our physician partners and the cost savings for patients not having to go through hospitalization.” We flush valuable nutrients down the toilet. Wasted wants to save them Starling Medical’s new urine-testing device turns your toilet into a health tracker by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

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Here comes the hockey stick. After years of bumbling along, investment in the energy transition appears to be taking off. Businesses, financial institutions, governments and end users around the world sunk $1.11 trillion into low-carbon technologies, according to a new report from BloombergNEF. It was just over 30% more than 2021 and the second year in a row in which the growth rate exceeded that figure. Perhaps more notable is the fact that for the first time ever, money put into the energy transition matched funds spent on fossil fuel investments. If you count the $274 billion spent on improving the electrical grid, then energy transition investments shot well past the fossil fuel fossils, hitting $1.38 trillion. Over the last two decades, most low-carbon investments were targeted at renewables, including wind, solar and biofuels. They hit another record last year with $495 billion invested, up 17% from 2021. But in recent years, money has also been flowing into more diversified sectors, including energy storage, space heating, sustainable materials and electrified transport. Last year was no exception. Investments into electrified transport — think EVs and charging networks — grew a whopping 54% in 2022 to $466 billion. Hydrogen, which is often uttered in the same breath as battery-electric vehicles, contributed $1.1 billion toward the trillion-dollar total. While that figure may seem small, it’s triple the amount the sector received in 2021. Overall, investment was balanced between supply (energy production and storage) and demand (energy users like transportation, heat and sustainable materials). Most of the money has come from China. The country accounted for about half the total, $546 billion. The U.S. was second with $141 billion, and Germany was third with $55 billion. If the entire EU is lumped together, the bloc would have taken second place with $180 billion. In particular, China dominates in areas like manufacturing capacity and supply chain development. Last year it spent heavily on electrified transportation and renewables like solar and wind. Given that combination, it’s possible that we’ll see Chinese solar panels flood the market once more, though this time they’ll be accompanied by cheap batteries. Inexpensive solar paired with cheap batteries is what’ll be needed to kick significant amounts of fossil energy from the grid. If there was a dim spot, it was global equity and private investment in climate tech. Those numbers were down 29% to $119 billion. That should come as no surprise; 2021 was a crazy year for venture capital and private equity. Energy transition investments hit $1.1 trillion — with a T — last year by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

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Earlier this month, we reported that investors’ sentiments surrounding venture capital activity going into this were more reserved than upbeat. Investors believe the market correction, which caught up with the continent in the second half of 2022, will spiral into this year. But before that, there was shared optimism that African startups would raise more VC funding last year than in 2021 when the continent, for the first time, passed the $4-5 billion threshold.  There was reason to believe so. For one thing, by the first half of 2022, Africa seemed to defy the global venture funding decline after its startups raised $3 billion, double the amount secured over a similar period the previous year; therefore, a twofold increase by December seemed plausible. It didn’t turn out as expected, as equity deals on the continent by the end of the year hovered around $4.8-$5.4 billion, per insights from data trackers Briter Bridges, Partech and The Big Deal, with slight percentage differences from their 2021 numbers. “Despite the challenges that emerged in the second half of the year, 2022 was another year of growth for Africa in terms of total funding raised, number of deals and number of investors involved. This is particularly noteworthy, as every other region experienced a double-digit drop in funding activity during the same period,” said Max Cuvellier, co-founder of The Big Deal on Africa’s investment activity in 2022.  Africa predicted to experience sustained funding slowdown in 2023 Most tech observers share Cuvelier’s thoughts on VC activity in Africa. However, it’s noteworthy to point out that deals reported in Africa lag their global counterparts by several weeks or months, so the continent most likely went flat year-on-year. As we’ve done in previous years, let’s peep into 2022 numbers from the three data trackers and compare them with 2021.  Total funding and number of deals Briter Bridges: According to the market intelligence firm, African startups raised $5.4 billion in total estimated funding, including undisclosed rounds, across more than 975 deals in 2022. Briter Bridges recorded $5.2 billion in total funding across over 790 deals the previous year.  Partech: The venture capital outfit pegged funding for African tech at $6.5 billion (combination of equity and debt deals) across 764 rounds. Equity deals accounted for $4.9 billion across 693 deals. However, unlike Briter Bridges’ and The Big Deal’s findings, Partech’s data reveals that total equity funding on the continent fell 6% from $5.2 billion in 681 rounds.  The Big Deal: The report puts the total funding that African startups raised at $4.8 billion across 1,000 deals. It’s a considerable increase from $4.33 billion across 820 rounds in 2021. Why Africa had no unicorns last year despite record fundraising haul Reports say African startups raised record-smashing $4.3B to $5B in 2021 Sectors: Fintech is still clear Briter Bridges: Despite fintechs taking a big hit by the global VC downturn, the sector remains the most backed among others in Africa. In 2021, fintechs represented 62% of the total VC funding raised by startups on the continent; the number fell to 38% last year, according to Briter Bridges. Rounding up the top five: cleantech (15%), logistics (12%), mobility (8%) and e-commerce (5%). Partech: Fintech remains the most funded sector in Africa across all sources of capital, with 39% of the total equity volume (down from 63% in 2021) and 45% of the total debt volume. Other sectors have experienced substantial growth and gained a meaningful share of the equity funding activity this year: Cleantech (18%), e/m/s commerce (13%), enterprise (11%) and mobility (4%) complete the top-five list.  The Big Deal: Fintech accounted for 37% of the total funding raised in African tech compared to 53% in 2021, according to the data tracker. Energy comes in at a far second with 18%; logistics follows behind with 13%, while retail, telecom, media and entertainment comprise the next best-funded sectors.  Top countries: Big Four are still hotspots for African VC investment Briter Bridges: Companies in the “Big Four” (Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa) captured 75% of all investment value and the number of deals. According to Briter Bridges, the top countries by the value of investments include Nigeria (25.4%), Kenya (24.2%), Egypt (18.4%), and South Africa (10.9%). Ecosystems outside the top four include countries like Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Morocco and Tunisia. Partech: Nigeria represented 23% of African tech’s total equity funding. South Africa takes the second spot with 17%, Egypt at third at 16%, and Kenya at 15%. Outside the top four countries, startups from Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal raised the most equity funding. The Big Deal: Nigeria topped the African VC investment destination with $1.2 billion. Kenya is a close second with $1.1 billion, followed by Egypt with $820 million and South Africa with $555 million.  Kenya’s growth was strongest in Africa’s VC market; clean tech, e-commerce pulled in most of the funding Little has changed for female-led startups Briter Bridges: According to the tracker, all-female-founded teams were responsible for 4.9% of the total funding raised by African startups last year. When these companies have at least one male co-founder, the number increases to 9.7%.  Partech says female-founded startups, including the ones with at least one male co-founder, accounted for 13% of the total equity funding, down 3% from 2021. However, they raised 22% of all deals in 2022, up 2% from 2021. The investment firm didn’t provide data on only all-female-founded startups.  The Big Deal: Female-founded startups, or gender-diverse teams, received 13% of Africa’s total equity investments. It was 18% last year. However, on a more comforting front, the share of all-female-founded teams increased from 1% to 2.4%, which is still abysmal.  Other learnings from Africa’s venture capital performance in 2022 Dario Giuliani, founder and director of Briter Bridges, said when looking at a 10-year time frame, Africa’s tech ecosystem has constantly grown at a decent pace, and in this sense, focusing on the variation of the past few years is detrimental because of the several outside phenomena such as COVID, post-COVID cash abundance and the global market crunch.  He also argues that while all metrics grew, from the number of deals to exits and new international investors to new local early-stage investors, the weight of mega deals over total funding and the fact that they mostly come from American, non-Africa-focused investors has created some dependency on overseas capital. “Though at the same time, it can open up opportunities for local funds to earn ground and enter better deals,” he added.  For Tidjane Deme, general partner at Partech Africa, more emphasis must be placed on how startups are starting to embrace debt financing. With 71 debt deals (65% year-over-year) accounting for $1.55 billion (106% year-over-year) in total funding, Partech noted in its report that 2022 confirms the growing impact of debt as a driving asset class for the African tech ecosystem. MFS Africa raises additional equity and debt capital to take its Series C to $200M Startups in cleantech and fintech have built deep and advanced operations, attracting a new generation of debt capital providers with creative structures. Some examples include MFS Africa and Solarise Africa. But while the number of active debt investors on the continent has grown 2.5x from last year — with a good mix of local debt institutions, international lenders with emerging market vehicles and Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) — Deme believes the market needs more debt fund managers in addition to the likes of Symbiotics and Lendable that will provide adequate capital for startups who are beginning to value its importance.  “We [Partech] don’t do debt, but we sit at boards of companies we’ve encouraged to raise debt because it’s the obvious next step into getting non-dilutive capital that can fuel growth. At some point, it was too early to create venture debt funds because the pool of startups that required it was not deep enough because you need a large pool of startups to absorb that debt before you can see local dedicated vehicles,” said Deme. “But I would expect that starting from now, we’ll see more and more of those pop up, or you will see existing equity players create debt vehicles and decide to complement what they offer.” Future Africa teams up with TLG Capital to set up $25M venture debt fund for portfolio companies How African startups raised venture capital in 2022 by Tage Kene-Okafor originally published on TechCrunch

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Katherine Kostereva Contributor Share on Twitter Katherine Kostereva is CEO and managing partner of Creatio, which provides a low-code platform for automating workfolws and CRM. More posts by this contributor 3 steps to ease the transition to a no-code company The age-old adage of “doing more with less” is particularly critical advice for both startups and enterprises right now. Venture funding has hit its lowest point in two years, which means startups must now focus on making hard decisions about how to utilize their limited budgets. Enterprises are likewise tightening their belts as customers feel the impact of inflation and prepare for an uncertain economy. What’s more, we are facing a global talent shortage that further puts pressure on an already constrained software developer pool. No-code development tools could not have come at a better time. By democratizing the ability to develop software through visual, drag-and-drop tools, no-code enables a range of non-developers to start building software. For a startup, this might mean the founder now can build their first minimum viable product (MVP) release themselves while bootstrapping the team. For enterprises, teams can build their own apps without having to depend upon the IT department. How does one go about evolving a prototype into an MVP using no-code? Here are four practical steps you can take: Embrace an everyday delivery approach Traditional Agile methodologies for custom development have popularized breaking down larger releases into smaller releases that add features. Instead of getting caught up trying to design the perfect and complete MVP release all at once, try to deliver value as quickly as possible and continuously improve your prototype. Depending on the flavor of Agile employed, how long each release will take to be ready will vary. The Scrum version of Agile typically defines shorter “sprints” of two to three weeks. However, not all builds developed in these sprints may be ready for release to end users, who will have to wait until the next full release is complete. No-code is different: It enables delivery of features with small, quick, continual updates — what we will refer to as “everyday delivery.” This builds on concepts from Agile but does not force you into a strictly defined release duration. Instead, with no-code you can rapidly and continuously add features to the prototype and evolve it toward your MVP and release features when they are ready via smaller, incremental updates (perhaps daily). One way to do this is through the Kanban Method, which is optimally suited for no-code development. Kanban embraces a continuous “push” delivery model, where teams release features as soon as they are ready, compared to Scrum, which organizes work in sprints and defined release trains. When used together, Kanban and no-code let you update the prototype and release updates faster and more often, gather feedback from your stakeholders and end users, and respond quicker. Kanban can also be easier for non-developers to adopt — they can use it on top of existing workflows, systems and processes without disrupting what is already in place. Finally, Kanban also minimizes the need for development experience and specialist roles (e.g., Scrum master or product owner), which makes it easier and faster to adopt for non-developers. Proper scoping and decomposition The next step is to properly scope and decompose work items in your MVP release.4 practical steps for using no-code to evolve your prototype to an MVP by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

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Chroma, a startup working to build a new type of audiovisual entertainment specifically for mobile devices, is now adding a Twitter co-founder to its board. The company announced today that Twitter and Medium co-founder Biz Stone, previously an angel investor in Chroma alongside Pinterest’s founders, will join the company’s board of directors to contribute his expertise in areas like design, product development, filmmaking, and scaling brands. An early Google employee, Stone worked on the Blogger team after its acquisition, ahead of helping co-found Twitter in 2006. He remained with Twitter for a number of years as the company grew to become adopted by millions of users worldwide. In 2011, as Twitter hit the 100 million active users mark, the entrepreneur left to pursue new projects with Obvious Corporation, a startup incubator and investment vehicle that had included fellow Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and former Twitter exec Jason Goldman. The venture most notably incubated the blogging platform Medium. However, in 2013, Stone and the others shifted their focus to individual startups. For Stone, that led to the creation of Jelly, a Q&A app and search engine that was later sold to Pinterest. In 2017, Stone publicly announced he was returning to Twitter to lead strategic vision, brand, and culture, where he remained until 2021. Over the years, Stone has also backed a number of companies, including Square, Pinterest, Slack, Nest, Intercom, and Beyond Meat, where he now chairs the Nominating and Governance Committee. Stone said what initially appealed to him about the Swedish audiovisual company Chroma was its CEO and founder, Andreas Pihlström, who he met by way of an introduction from Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp. Pihlström had previously worked as a creative director, design advisor, designer, and prototyper at Pinterest, Beats Music, and VSCO. The two hit it off and began to have monthly calls after Stone’s angel investment. “It’s really about finding people I enjoy working with and spending time with — and bouncing ideas back and forth,” said Stone. The Chroma team had a range of ideas but ultimately landed on audiovisual technologies and their intersection with music and sound. As Stone explains, the idea was about changing the nature of music and sound and making it a more interactive and immersive experience. In practice, this involves touchable, dynamic visuals that create a sound-driven digital space that users can explore and interact with for a variety of purposes. The debut product to test this concept came out last year, through a partnership with music artist Arca to create an iOS app called Lux Aeterna. The app offers an audiovisual experience for exploring music from the Venezuelan producer, DJ, singer, and songwriter in a “meditative digital space,” the company said. Users fly through a virtual world, interacting with her music and sounds as part of the journey. But this doesn’t show the full potential of the technology, which could have a range of use cases — some of which Chroma is now exploring — that demonstrate other ways users could interact with audio and sound, whether for play, meditation, relaxation, music composition, and more. While the company plans to first launch a product on mobile devices, Stone believes the technology could become even more interesting when and if Apple releases its own VR/AR headset. “I think it’ll lend itself really well to the metaverse equipment when that’s more ubiquitous. But I can also see it on my Apple TV. I would love to have it on there. Anywhere there’s great sound and visuals,” he added. “Mobile [first] is just because that’s what everybody has.” Founded in 2021, Stockholm-based Chroma last year raised $5.4 million in seed funding (5.1 million euros) from VC firms Singular and Adjacent, Berlin’s angel syndicate SpotiAngels, as well as other individual investors, including Stone and Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann. Chroma had previously raised 1.6 million euros in pre-seed funding. As a board member, Stone expects to be meeting with the startup several times per month, in addition to the actual board meetings. He says that with his angel investments, he typically considers himself an advisor — meaning he’s open to founder phone calls but won’t call the company unless they want him to. Chroma did. “These guys are brimming with different ideas [at Chroma]. So, the challenge has been to narrow it down because it’s a small team and to get something done they need to not do a whole bunch of stuff,” Stone said. For now, the focus is on adding a sensory experience to sound. “The bigger picture is like this idea of ‘sound play’ . . . it’s interactive. It’s changing the nature music so that it’s richer in a 3D way, but it’s also visual and . . . you can do things to it,” hinted Stone. The board position isn’t the only thing Stone has in the works, as the entrepreneur says he’s been “noodling” on something else for himself with a small group of people. So far, the project is self-funded and hasn’t officially been launched, so he’s keeping the details quiet. However, Stone says he’s interested particularly in the emerging AI space and using AI as a tool, in particular. He says he hasn’t been particularly interested in some of the other newer tech trends, like web3 or some aspects of the metaverse. “The [web3] culture doesn’t appeal to me. There’s something off about it to me,” Stone explained. As for the metaverse: “I don’t want a dystopian future where kids are up in the room with a scuba mask on all day. I don’t want that to happen. That doesn’t seem good to me,” he adds. “Biz brings a wealth of experience in technology and design to our table. Together, we’ll pave a path to the future of sound: combining excellence in the digital space with forward thinking to shift the paradigm of music,” said Pihlström in a statement. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone joins board of audiovisual startup Chroma by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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Chrome is rolling out an update for Android users that lets them lock their incognito sessions with a password code or biometric info when they exit the app. The feature has been available for iOS users for some time, but now it’s being made available to folks using Chrome on Android. Users can activate this feature by going to Chrome Settings > Privacy & Security and turning on the “Lock incognito tabs when you close Chrome” toggle. So next time when a user exits Chrome, their incognito session will automatically be locked. To unlock the incognito tabs, you can use the biometric unlock on the phone such as a fingerprint unlock or lock code. Image Credits: Chrome This feature works well when searching for a topic that you don’t want to appear in your recommendations or history. Because Google has just started rolling out the feature, it is possible that the update might not be available for you even if you are using the latest version. In that case, you can type in “chrome://flags/#incognito-reauthentication-for-android” and enable the flag to unlock the feature instantly. As part of a broader update, Google said it’s also updating its Safety Check feature to send users more personalized recommendations about permissions they have shared with specific sites. For instance, if a site is sending too many notifications, Safety Check will prompt you to change settings for notification access. Image Credits: Google Chrome for Android now lets you lock your incognito session by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

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Baillie Gifford, the Edinburgh-based asset management firm long known to have a penchant for pre-IPO tech companies, has reduced its shares in African e-commerce giant Jumia, per the latest 13G/A filing released by the asset manager. According to the filing, Baillie Gifford disclosed ownership of 18.75 million shares in Jumia, representing 13.69% of the company. In Jumia’s previous filing from a year ago, the asset management firm had 19.85 million shares, owning 10.06% of the company at the time. That’s a 5.50% decrease in shares and a 0.67% drop in ownership. The Scotland asset management firm, well into its centenarian years, has been an early backer of reputable private and public tech companies such as Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Tesla, Airbnb, Spotify, Lyft, Palantir and SpaceX. It has also invested in deals across other geographies, including China’s Alibaba and NIO, and African-based internet businesses Naspers and Jumia. Baillie Gifford bought Jumia shares in 2019, three years after the e-commerce giant went public. The Scottish mortgage trust firm, which is Jumia’s largest institutional investor, has sold and bought back a portion of its shares every January since then, with this recent move being its most significant share drop yet. Baillie Gifford remains the e-commerce platform’s largest shareholder. Last November, following several years of reporting losses, Jumia made changes to its management after installing Francis Dufay as acting CEO to replace co-founders Sacha Poignonnec and Jeremy Hodara, who resigned from their co-CEO roles. The move came with instant cuts across various product lines and redundancies, including letting go of a few executives from its Dubai office. All this is to chase profits that have eluded the company. Jumia to cut products and overhead as new management chases profits In Q3 2022, the African e-tailer made considerable progress in trimming its losses by 13% from $52.5 million to $45.5 million, its lowest in six quarters. Despite this progress, public confidence in the e-commerce outfit seems to have waned. Jumia has seen its share price reduced by 51% within the past year and saw its stock drop to $3.88 per share after Wednesday’s news; it trades slightly above $4 with a market cap of $404 million. The e-tailer closed the third quarter with a liquidity position of $284.7 million, among which $104.3 million is in cash and cash equivalents. Baillie Gifford’s decision to sell some of its shares may have to do with Jumia’s performance on the bourse. On the other hand, it could be the investment firm’s way of cutting back on the mounting losses it began to incur last year, particularly around growth stocks, which have taken massive hits in the face of rising interest rates and recession fears (last week, the investment group admitted 2022 was a “humbling year” after it lost more than $14 billion on stakes in Tesla and Shopify, according to Financial Times). Yet that doesn’t explain why the fund group, with over $230 billion AUM, increased its position in other loss-making companies, such as Chinese EV maker NIO and Wix.com, this past week. Jumia’s next earnings call next month should shed more light on the matter. It’s not all gloom for Jumia, though, as other large shareholders, including D. E. Shaw, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, took a different route and increased their shares in the company, owning 2.21%, 1.27% and 1.40%, respectively, per Nasdaq. Jumia’s investors rethink their stakes — for better and worse by Tage Kene-Okafor originally published on TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here. Did you know you can buy 3D printed key caps to replace, say, your escape key with a cat? Today, that’s our delightful little morsel of whimsy, courtesy of Frederic’s review of a new keyboard (scroll all the way to the bottom for a photo of the adorable little kitteh). — Christine and Haje The TechCrunch Top 3 Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Mike writes that Kittl is carving out a piece of the graphics world dominated by giants like Canva and Adobe, raising $11.6 million in Series A capital for its design platform that it says “easily turns ideas into graphic products” without the tough learning curve of other platforms. This startup is turning up the heat: European smart thermostat startup Tado was planning to go public, but instead went after another round of funding, gathering up $46.9 million as it pursues profitability. Paul has more. “It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder”: That’s how Iddris Sandu, Spatial Labs’ founder, described going after funding for his web3 company. The infrastructure and hardware company picked up $10 million in seed funding to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality, Dominic-Madori writes. Startups and VC Fintech startup Stripe has set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing or by pursuing a transaction on the private market, such as a fundraising event and a tender offer, according to sources familiar with the matter. The news comes as a surprise considering the rather dry public market activity in the tech world, Mary Ann and Natasha M report. There was a brief, beautiful moment for a few months in 2021 when it felt like robotic investments might be immune to broader market forces. We all fundamentally and implicitly understood this to not be the case, but it was a nice moment nevertheless, Brian muses. Now, however, it’s becoming clearer that the thing we thought was happening with robotic investments is definitely happening. Another handful of tech-newsy goodness: Nebia finds a new home: Harri writes that Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook. The dragon watching its hoard: NEA now manages over $25 billion in assets — oh, and it’s looking beyond venture, Natasha M reports. Them’s some meaty shroomies: Mushroom protein company Meati Foods opens ‘mega’ facility as it closes $22 million in new funding, Christine reports. Kenya in the lead: Annie reports that among the African VC market, Kenya’s growth was strongest. Clean tech and e-commerce pulled in most of the funding. This meeting may be recorded for transcription purposes: Supernormal raises $10 million to automatically transcribe and summarize meetings, Kyle reports. Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing Image Credits: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY (opens in a new window) / Getty Images Despite the myth, sharks don’t need to keep swimming to keep breathing. Early-stage startups, on the other hand, are not so fortunate. If driving growth is a priority, companies must run an ongoing series of A/B tests that can help refine marketing messages and make their product pipelines more relevant to customers’ needs. In part three of a five-article series on growth marketing fundamentals, Jonathan Martinez explains how to properly manage A/B tests, identify statistical significance when reviewing data, and prioritize experiments that maximize reach and impact. Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing Three more from the TC+ team: Crypto cull comeback: Laid off from your crypto job? Here’s what founders are looking for in new talent, Jacquelyn writes. Elucidating European edtech: Smaller rounds and fewer deals, but more angel activity, writes Rhys. Predicting proptech: Investors predict slower growth in 2023, writes Karan. TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription! Big Tech Inc. In a census of its own making, GitHub says it has 100 million active users, Paul reports. This is a substantial jump from the 3 million it had 10 years ago and even a healthy increase from just three months ago when Microsoft, which acquired the company five years ago, announced GitHub had over 90 million users. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe got together to seize Hive’s ransomware infrastructure, including leak sites and decryption keys, Carly reports. She writes that Hive is “one of the most prolific ransomware operations,” focusing mainly on healthcare and public health entities, claiming responsibility for breaches at Illinois-based Memorial Health System in August 2021 and most recently targeting Tata Power, a top power-generation company in India, in October. And we have four more for you: Pretty bird: Peacock reports over 20 million subscribers as of the fourth quarter, but its losses also widened, Lauren writes. Substack-ing new features: New features over at Substack include ‘private Substacks’ that readers can request to subscribe to, Aisha writes. Wally World infusion: Manish reports Walmart is going all in with another $2.5 billion investment in India’s e-commerce and payments markets. Have you shopped here?: Zack lists a number of overseas knock-off apparel stores that exposed 330,000 customer credit cards and other personal information. Daily Crunch: Berlin-based design platform Kittl raises $11.6M Series A to take on Adobe and Canva by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

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Walmart recently introduced a new way to shop: via text. Last month, the retail giant launched its “Text to Shop” experience which allows mobile consumers across both iOS and Android devices to text Walmart the items they want to purchase from either their local stores or Walmart.com, or easily reorder items for pickup, delivery, or shipping. However, the chat experience as it stands today does not come across as fully baked, our tests found. The chatbot said confusing things and the user interface at times was difficult to navigate, despite aiming to be a simpler, text-based shopping experience. Conversational commerce, or shopping via text, is an area that’s been seeing increased investment over the past couple of years with numerous startups entering the market. Walmart, too, has connections with this space, as its former head of U.S. e-commerce Marc Lore backed a conversational commerce startup, Wizard. And Walmart itself acquired assets from a design tool called Botmock which had built technology that allowed companies to design, prototype, test and deploy conversational commerce applications. The new “Text to Shop” feature, meanwhile, was built in-house using internal IP in partnership with Walmart’s Global Tech team and was tested with customers ahead of its launch. The beta version was available for around a year’s time before December’s public debut, but had only been accessible on an invite-only basis. At launch, the “Text to Shop” feature ow customers to shop Walmart’s entire assortment via chat, whether that’s your weekly grocery order from a nearby store or an e-commerce order you want shipped to your home. Image Credits: Walmart Customers more recently began receiving emails to alert them to the fact that “Text to Shop” was newly available, which prompted our tests. The feature was also highlighted in Apple’s announcement of its new Apple Business Connect dashboard, which allows businesses to manage and update their information on Apple Maps. Here, Walmart partnered with Apple so customers who visit the Walmart business listing card on Apple Maps could tap on a “message us” button to get started with a “Text to Shop” session. In theory, chat-based shopping is supposed to simplify online shopping by bringing it into a more familiar texting interface. But in practice, Walmart’s chatbot made some missteps when we tried it, making for a more cumbersome experience compared with a traditional order placed through the Walmart website or app. The initial steps in getting started with “Text to Shop” was easy, however, as you just sign into your Walmart account and agree to its terms. The bot then sends you a helpful introduction and some tips on how the system works. It tells you that you can just type in the names of items you want, like “Great Value Oatmeal” and explains how to set your local store, among other things. Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop But already, it was clear the system would have a few quirks, as it informed you that items you typed in single quotes would serve as commands. For example, typing ‘Reorder’ with quotes would allow you to buy things again. This seemed like an odd requirement, given that the word “reorder” wouldn’t likely match a product a customer wanted to buy through text-based shopping — or at least, it should be assumed that a text with that word is a command. Plus, it puts an unnecessary burden on the end-user at a time when they’ve just started trying to learn a new system. In my tests, I ordered a few basic items, like milk, eggs, bread, and water. The system didn’t immediately warn me that I had lingering items in my cart from an online order I had abandoned weeks ago. The system also doesn’t prompt you upon your first text to choose whether you want to start an order for delivery, pickup or shipping. Instead, it returns a selection of options that match your request. But the way it did so was confusing. In my test, I typed “2% milk,” and it responded twice with possible options. “OK! 2 % milk, 3 choices coming down” the bot said, followed by a link that takes you to a list. But then it replied again, “These are the closest options I found for 2 % milk,” and offered another list. After picking an item, you’re instructed to “select one of these options next” which offered choices like “search for pickup,” “search for shipping,” or “search for delivery.” It would seem that asking the customer how they were shopping should have been the first step, especially if product availability varies by order type. In this test, I chose delivery. That’s when the bot texted me that I now had 6 things in my cart — a surprise, since I hadn’t remembered my earlier abandoned choices. That one was on me, though, I admitted. I tapped “View cart” to delete the weeks-old selections. The bot didn’t immediately display the cart. Instead, it responds with your item count and total. You then have to tap a link that follows to view the cart, which pops up in another screen. I expected this to operate like a web version of a Walmart checkout page, the screen was missing obvious tools to delete items or change the quantities, which you would normally find on an e-commerce shopping cart page. In fact, the interface instructs you to “tap to view, select or remove,” but presents radio buttons to tap and then a “Send” button at the bottom to…well, I don’t know. How would it know if I was instructing it to show me the item or remove it?, I wondered. And why would I even need to view the item elsewhere, when its full name, photo, quantity, and price are shown here? Still, I tapped “Send” to remove the old items (which were not the newly-added milk), only to be returned to the main chat screen where I was informed, inaccurately, “Ok, all milk taken out!” Now my cart had 5 things, it said. It had only removed one of my selections. I tried again, tapping the other 5 items to be removed, and again, the bot responded, “Ok, all milk taken out!” In reality, the milk was the only item that remained. The bot was wrong. Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop Now, with only the milk remaining (despite the texts to the contrary) the bot asked me what I wanted to do next — maybe view cart or checkout? This is a very dumb bot, I thought. Does anyone get just milk delivered and nothing else? I wasn’t ready for that so I tried another query. “Eggs,” I typed. The bot only returned three choices: all Walmart brand large white eggs but in different sizes. Odd, since I know Walmart, like most retailers, has a much larger egg selection. Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop “Organic eggs,” I texted, hoping for better egg options. This worked, and I added Pete and Gerry’s eggs to the cart without hassle. The bot now updated me on my total. My cart had two items, milk and eggs, and my subtotal was $10.40. (I’m not sure it’s a good idea to tell the customer the running price if they don’t ask! Yikes!) Then I tried something to intentionally confuse the system. Knowing that end-users often don’t play by the script, I scrolled back up to tap “Pickup” instead of “Delivery.” This is the kind of thing a customer might do if they think choosing pickup would offer them a different selection of eggs. But the bot didn’t make that logical leap, asking “sure, what product would you like to search for pickup?” “Never mind,” I texted. “No problem. Talk to you later,” the bot replied. I then went to add the next item on my list. “La Croix,” I texted. “These are the closest options I found for la croix organic eggs for pickup,” the bot answered. Uh? What?   I had clearly confused this bot quite a lot, it seems. It texts me a list to view and asks me to select the delivery method, and then texted the list again. It only returned three La Croix options to choose from. A search in the Walmart app returned 10, however. This system isn’t useful at all, apparently, unless you enter a very specific choice. That realization made me dread my next item: bread. I didn’t have a brand in mind, as I usually browse and look for sales on favorite types and brands. I ask for “multigrain bread” and I only have three options shown to me alongside another message telling me I can “search for pickup” or “shipping.” I understand now these delivery choices are apparently texted every time you request an item, rather than the system building you a cart for a particular delivery method. (I didn’t tap these options because I was going to have the items delivered.) “Checkout,” I then texted — without the single quotes, just like an everyday user would likely do, having forgotten the earlier command syntax that involved using quotes. And, it worked. You could then select to view the cart or checkout, and through a separate screen, you could book a delivery time. So you didn’t need the quotes? There were other odd user interface choices here, as well though. For instance, this screen presented you with an option to change the “quantity” of the selected items, when earlier that wasn’t possible. I tapped the “Change quantity” button (as I’m now rethinking those expensive eggs!). This sent an automated command, to which the system replied “Can you please rephrase that?” Image Credits: Screenshot of Walmart Text to Shop I wonder if some of the issues with the bot are because it didn’t know my local store, somehow, even though this is already configured under my Walmart account — which I had authenticated with to start. “Set store,” I typed, even using the single quote format. The bot told me to choose my location and texted me two options. Both were my home street address, without the house number. Both were identical options. At this point, it felt like the process of ordering a few basic things has become an ordeal and has taken a lot longer than the traditional method of searching in Walmart’s app and adding things to the cart. If conversational commerce like this is the future, I’d say this is very much still a work in progress. I abandoned the cart and didn’t complete the order. When I asked Walmart about some of the issues I encountered, wondering if this was all still a beta test, a spokesperson said the company would “continue to refine and optimize Text to Shop to ensure we’re providing the best experience possible for our customers.” Let’s hope! Hands on with Walmart’s new (but buggy) ‘Text to Shop’ feature by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

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Match Group, the parent company of several popular dating apps, including Tinder and Hinge, has announced a revamped executive leadership team. Most notably, the company is bringing on former Vice President of Product at Snap Will Wu as its new chief technology officer in a newly created role. Wu will oversee product innovation across Match’s portfolio of apps, the company says. During his time at Snap, Wu led the team charged with the creation and commercialization of Snap’s developer platforms. Wu led the creation of many of Snap’s popular features, including the “Discover” content platform, the “Chat” messaging feature and Snap’s social gaming initiative. Match says Wu will now work directly with its executives to launch new features, emerging technologies and innovative products. “Will is truly a product savant,” said Match Group CEO Bernard Kim in a statement. “For nine years, he has forged new technologies at scale that have redefined user experiences and expectations of social products, particularly amongst Gen Z. I’ve known him for a long time, and have seen the massive impact he’s had on the way people connect at Snap, and I can’t wait to see what he will bring to the dating experience. This leadership team has a deep bench of knowledge, proven track records, and we are all ready to collaborate and capitalize on the opportunities ahead.” The company also announced that Gary Swindler, who was previously the chief operating officer and vhief financial officer of Match, will become the president and chief financial officer of Group. In addition, Malgosia Green, who was previously CEO of Plenty of Fish, will become chief executive officer of Match Group Asia. Another leadership change will see Hesam Hosseini, the CEO of Match and Affinity brands, taking on a newly created role as Match Group CEO of Evergreen & Emerging Brands. In this position, Hosseini will oversee Match, Meetic, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, in addition to emerging brands such as The League, BLK and Chispa. Last, Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, will now report directly to Kim. Match says the new changes are designed to maximize profitability, enhance growth, streamline operations and prioritize new business opportunities. The move comes as Match is looking to grow its business beyond traditional, swipe-based matchmaking and into the so-called “metaverse.” Match has spoken previously about its plans for a dating metaverse, complete with a virtual goods-based economy, real-time audio and the ability for online daters to meet up in a virtual space to have conversations. Match names Zynga President Bernard Kim as CEO, replacing Shar Dubey Match restructures executive leadership, hires former Snap VP of Product as new CTO by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

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By any measure, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been a successful executive. He helped build Salesforce from the ground up, starting in an apartment in San Francisco in 1999 and eventually erecting Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in the city. He took the idea of running software in the cloud and grew it into the de facto way to deliver software at a time when most companies offered software in boxes or on-prem seat licenses. That he helped transform the way software is bought and sold is undeniable. But he’s now under intense scrutiny: Not one but two activist investors have recently taken large positions in Salesforce, meaning his decisions could be challenged on everything from acquisitions to how budgets are allocated. For starters, Starboard Value announced in October that it was taking a sizable (but undisclosed) stake in Salesforce. Then this week, Elliott Management announced it was taking a multibillion-dollar position in the CRM leader. Both firms usually have strong opinions about what they believe needs fixing at a company — and they typically get what they want. In this case, they likely want a more profitable, less costly Salesforce. That could involve cutting executive salaries, reducing overhead costs, laying off additional people and selling unprofitable pieces of the organization, among other things. The activist investors will probably also seek board seats. Salesforce has already started making cuts, announcing it was laying off 10% of the workforce earlier this month. It plans to slash real estate costs, too, while reducing overall operating costs and increasing efficiency, but it might not be enough in the eyes of the new investors. When you look at the moves Salesforce has made over the last five years, there is certainly room for criticism around the massive sums spent on acquisitions and how successfully acquired assets have been integrated and allocated. It’s possible that Elliott and Starboard were watching from afar, waiting for the company to weaken enough to question some of those decisions. With Salesforce’s stock price down 29% over the last year and growth slowing, perhaps these firms saw the moment and made their moves. What will it mean for Salesforce and Benioff going forward? Let’s explore further. We can work it out When activist investors come calling, they typically make a list of desired changes and push for board seats to ensure those changes are put in place. But this does not necessarily have to take an immediate hostile tone. A CEO who has been through an activist fight told me the goal at the beginning is to find common ground rather than assume a combative position with the activists. “It’s not exactly about defense. That’s what the industry calls it, but it’s much more about understanding what your shareholders are pushing for and why are they pushing for these things. And are they right? And do you align on the time frame in which they want a certain set of things versus maybe the vision the company has over the long run?” said the executive, who requested anonymity to speak candidly to TechCrunch on background. It’s very much a political exercise, and Benioff will have to read the pulse of other large investors and see how this all aligns. “I think that the really important blocking and tackling of this type of process is you have to be extremely close to your top 20 to 30 to 50 shareholders, and you have to understand what’s top of mind for them,” the CEO said. All of this information will factor into Benioff’s strategy. If there are a lot of shareholders in agreement with the activists, then he’ll have to lean into their agenda more, but if the activists’ viewpoints differ from other shareholders, then he’ll have room to push back. “So this is a very interesting kind of dance because it’s really a kind of shareholder democracy to some extent,” the executive said. All that said, Salesforce is likely going to have to make some concessions. As activist investors target Salesforce, what’s next for the CRM giant? by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important crypto stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday at 12 p.m. PT, subscribe here. Welcome back to Chain Reaction. This month was filled with announcements from major crypto firms that were laying off employees. Of course, this “trend” is not limited to this industry — there’s a broader resizing of tech workforces: Salesforce, Amazon, Meta, Alphabet and Microsoft have all conducted layoffs in recent weeks. So, this week I wrote two deep-dive articles in an attempt to help those who were laid off (perhaps you, dear reader) stand out and find a new job in this unforgiving market. We spoke to a number of recruiters, talent heads and founders — who told us the qualities they’re looking for in candidates and what the interview-to-hire process is like. The first piece of advice? “Be obsessed with web3,” Nate Holiday, co-founder, president and CEO at Space and Time, shared with TechCrunch. “If you don’t eat, sleep and breathe web3, this is probably not the industry for you.” Candidates can also stand out by building a personal portfolio with open source projects, contributing to DAOs, taking on community ambassador roles or piping up in Discord conversations, Aleksi Loytynoja, co-founder and CEO of “proof-of-talent” hiring platform Kleoverse, said to TechCrunch. Publishing work publicly and building a social media presence helps candidates find new opportunities, he added. More details below. This week in web3 Laid off from your crypto job? Here’s what founders are looking for in new talent (TC+) As mentioned above, layoffs continue to spread across the crypto job market amid macroeconomic volatility and bearish market sentiments, but there are still plenty of startups looking to hire fresh talent. “Now is the perfect time to hone your skills and build products to be ready for it,” Loytynoja said. “For laid-off individuals in particular, the beauty of web3 is that there are a lot of working and contribution opportunities available that help you build expertise and get exposure within the organizations you want to join.” Crypto recruiters see opportunity to snatch up talent amid Big Tech layoffs (TC+) As big players drop talent back into the pool, this is a good opportunity for startups to snatch them up, according to recruiters. Startups are looking for candidates who demonstrate high ownership, initiative, autonomy and accountability, Zack Skelly, head of talent at crypto-focused investment firm Dragonfly, said to TechCrunch. “A ‘no task too big or too small’ mentality.” But for people looking to pivot into crypto, it’s not an easy time, Dan Eskow, founder of web3 talent agency Up Top, said to TechCrunch. “I won’t sugarcoat it…those who really want to pursue it, though, should build out their personal brands,” Eskow added. Web3 gaming needs to focus on sustainable economies, Immutable co-founder says (TC+) Although the crypto gaming industry remains below its 2021 peaks, it still pulled in substantial venture funding last year. But looking to the future, the subsector may look outside of tokenomics to grow and sustain itself for the long haul. “We are less interested in exploitative primary sales or cash grabs but we’re more interested in how people build long-term economies and games where a percentage of players are trading in the economy every day,” Robbie Ferguson, co-founder and president at Immutable, said to TechCrunch. Injective launches $150M ecosystem fund to accelerate interoperable infra and DeFi adoption Injective, a layer-1 blockchain focused on building financial applications, has launched a $150 million fund ecosystem initiative, the platform’s CEO and co-founder, Eric Chen, told TechCrunch. Its new ecosystem fund is backed by previous investors like Pantera and Jump as well as other web3 players, including Kraken Ventures, KuCoin Ventures, Delphi Labs, Flow Traders, Gate Labs and IDG Capital. The $150 million was pooled capital from the consortium and will be deployed over “a few years,” Chen said. DCG’s crypto-lending subsidiary Genesis files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Genesis Global Trading, a subsidiary of the crypto conglomerate Digital Currency Group (DCG), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) court. Genesis Global Holdco and two of its lending business subsidiaries, Genesis Global Capital and Genesis Asia Pacific, filed voluntary petitions under the bankruptcy code for SDNY, its press release stated. “Genesis’s other subsidiaries involved in the derivatives and spot trading and custody businesses and Genesis Global Trading are not included in the filing and continue client trading operations,” it added. The latest pod For this week’s episode, Jacquelyn talked with Mo Shaikh, co-founder and CEO of the layer-1 blockchain Aptos. Shaikh is a three-time founder with over a decade of experience in financial services as well as blockchain technology and crypto. He also worked on blockchain strategic partnerships for Novi (Facebook’s wallet) and was the strategy director at ConsenSys. Last year was huge for Aptos — as the blockchain launched publicly and raised about $400 million in funding, amid a bear market. The new layer-1 got backing from major investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Circle Ventures and the now-defunct FTX Ventures, to name a few. And even though the market is down, its token, APT, has skyrocketed over 400% year-to-date, according to CoinMarketCap data. Looking forward, Aptos plans to focus on making 2023 its year of “intention,” Shaikh said. We also discussed: What it’s like to launch in a bear market Builders on the blockchain Business development plans for 2023 Onboarding people not in the space Future of interoperability and the multichain world Subscribe to Chain Reaction on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite pod platform to keep up with the latest episodes, and please leave us a review if you like what you hear! Follow the money QuickNode raises $60 million at $800 million valuation to become the “AWS or Azure of blockchain” Ex-FTX US president’s crypto-trading infra startup Architect raises $5 million from Coinbase and others Spatial Labs raises $10 million to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality Blockchain sharding startup Calimero Network closes $8.5 million round Asset Reality raises $4.91 million to build a crypto asset recovery solution This list was compiled with information from Messari as well as TechCrunch’s own reporting. Crypto job hunters should build personal brands and be ‘obsessed with web3’ by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

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Conor Burke spent much of his career in the back office of a big bank in Ireland. His team was tasked with digitizing the onboarding process — particularly document-heavy manual review workflows — that were costing the bank millions of dollars every year and not catching fraud. According to him, the biggest challenge was figuring how to remove the human element without compromising risk and fraud controls. Inspired by this, Burke and his twin brother, Ronan Burke, launched Inscribe, an AI-powered document fraud detection service. Built for fraud, risk and operations teams in the fintech and finance industries, Inscribe taps AI trained on hundreds of millions of data points to return results, Ronan says. “Tedious document reviews add friction to account opening and underwriting processes, but automation alone isn’t the answer,” Ronan told TechCrunch in an email interview. “We believe automation without fraud detection is reckless, which is why Inscribe is the total package that helps companies detect fraud, automate processes, and understand creditworthiness so they can approve more customers, faster.” Inscribe parses, classifies and data-matches financial onboarding documents, highlighting any differences between the documents provided and documents recovered using its AI-powered fraud detection. Document details including names, addresses and bank statement transactions are digitized automatically to generate individual customer risk profiles that include snapshots of bank statements and transactions. Last September, Inscribe rolled out a credit analysis and bank statement automation component that provides most of the data points needed to make lending decisions, including cash flow details from bank statements, transaction parsing and pay stub parsing. Ronan claims that Inscribe can extract and then return key details including names, addresses, dates, transactions and salaries in seconds. Image Credits: Inscribe In the features that it offers, Inscribe is similar to many of the other anti-fraud tools out there, like Resistant AI (which raised $16.6 million n October 2021) and Smile Identity (which raised $7 million in July of that same year). Ronan argues that it’s differentiated by its AI-first approach, however, which hinges on original data collected through previous partnerships with customers. “We’d seen fraud detection and document automation companies in our space try to build a perfect solution right out of the gate without talking to customers — but they had since shut down. They weren’t able to get over the cold start problem; they weren’t able to build a product from the ground up because they didn’t have access to the data their customers were using,” Ronan said. “This comes back to the first rule of machine learning: Start with data, not machine learning. If you don’t have a good data set, you’re wasting your time. You’ll end up either choosing the wrong model or training a model on data that won’t perform the way that you expect.” AI is by no stretch of the imagination perfect — history’s shown that much to be true. For example, during the pandemic, fraud detection systems that home in on anomalous behavior were confused by new shopping and spending habits. Elsewhere, automated algorithms designed to detect welfare fraud have been shown to be error-prone and designed in ways that essentially punish the poor for being poor. But setting aside the veracity of Ronan’s claims, there’s evidently something about Inscribe’s platform that’s attracting high-profile customers. TripActions, Ramp, Bluevine and Shift are among the startup’s clients. Investors, in turn, have been won over. Just this week, Inscribe closed a $25 million Series B funding round led Threshold Ventures with participation from Crosslink Capital, Foundry, Uncork Capital, Box co-founder Dillon Smith and Intercom co-founder Des Traynor. The infusion brings the startup’s total raised to date to $38 million, inclusive of a $10.5 million Series A round closed in April 2021. Perhaps it’s the comparative ease with which Inscribe’s solution can be deployed. As Ronan rightly notes, Inscribe solves the problem of having to build an in-house fraud detection solution or hire a large data science team. “AI and machine learning models benefit from as much data as possible, but each individual company is limited to only their own data set. So a homegrown solution simply can’t be as effective as one that pulls from numerous data sources,” Ronan said. “That’s why companies partner with document fraud detection solutions instead: Criminals commit fraud in different ways, and those solutions are pulling data from across their customer base to identify coordinated attacks and emerging trends faster.” Fearmongering is likely helping, too. One recent survey suggests that the average U.S. fintech loses $51 million to fraud every year, a stat Ronan quoted to me during our interview. “In an increasingly digital, geographically dispersed, and faster world makes it more difficult than ever to know who you’re doing business with — leaving companies uncertain about which potential customers are trustworthy,” Ronan said. “Fintechs have been able to build for an online world, but traditional financial institutions are faced with the challenge of moving away from legacy systems and embracing true digital transformation. And they have to do it all while reducing fraud and friction in order to have competitive customer experiences.” Asked about expansion plans, Ronan says that Inscribe will likely double the size of its 50-person workforce over the next 12 to 18 months. Inscribe bags $25M to fight financial fraud with AI by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Before they were robots, they were “androids” or “automatons.” The word “robot” is commonly accepted as having arrived in English through — of all places — a Czech play. “R.U.R.” made its public debut in Prague 102 years ago, yesterday. It would arrive in the States a year and a half later, with Spencer Tracy making his nonspeaking Broadway debut as one of Rossum’s titular Universal Robots. The playwright Karel Čapek humbly noted the following decade that he couldn’t take full credit for the word’s origin. That honor belonged to his brother Josef, an accomplished painter and noted writer and poet in his own right: “Listen, Josef,” the author began, “I think I have an idea for a play.” “What kind,” the painter mumbled (he really did mumble, because at the moment he was holding a brush in his mouth). The author told him as briefly as he could. “Then write it,” the painter remarked, without taking the brush from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference was quite insulting. “But,” the author said, “I don’t know what to call these artificial workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit bookish.” “Then call them Robots,” the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and went on painting. And that’s how it was. Thus was the word Robot born; let this acknowledge its true creator. Maybe it’s better we wound up with a derivative of “robota,” rather than “labori,” as the latter too clearly betrays its underlying definition to English speakers. The former operates in the same ballpark, certainly, meaning “servitude or forced labor,” but that requires some knowledge of Czech not possessed by most native English speakers. Image Credits: Bryce Durbin Obviously, the definition is a problematic one. It humanizes these systems in way I suspect would make most uncomfortable. Though, for the record, Rossum’s robots didn’t need humanizing. They’re far removed from the commonly agreed-upon modern definition. They’re closer to organic beings, mixed with a little bit of poetic magic — more Pinocchio than Howdy Doody. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that questions of robotic agency date back even before the arrival of the word in English. At the risk of spoiling a 102-year-old play, so, too, does the concept of robot uprising. You can get as annoyed as you want at people who immediately jump to the idea of “robopocalypse” every time an advanced new system enters their Twitter feed, but the concept has been around a hell of a lot longer than any of us. The flip side of this conversation is, of course, dehumanizing humans. It’s something I sometimes worry we risk with technology. It’s a conversation I’ve had with folks in many blue-collar positions. I still believe that technology can — and often does — make jobs better, whether it’s a robotic exoskeleton lightening the load or an autonomous cart moving goods around a warehouse. Technology can also open new avenues for pushing workers to their limit. Monitoring a worker’s whereabouts and output on a minute scale, for instance, does not allow time for humans to be human. More relevant to the current economic situation, however, is something I’m trying to get better at myself. In some respects, evolution has fine-tuned our brains to understand abstraction. Take metaphor and symbolism in the art we make, for example. We’re good at creating these sorts of shortcuts to help understand the big ideas we’re not necessarily capable of putting into words. We do, however, have our limits. Big numbers, for instance, can be extremely difficult to conceptualize on an individual scale. I understand that there’s a literal big difference between having $100 million and having $1 billion. But if I want to actually get anything done today, I’ll simply accept them both as a lot more money than I, a journalist, will ever have and simply go about on my way. Image Credits: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg / Getty Images To most of us, the notion of, say, 18,000 people losing their jobs in one single decision from upper management is impossibly large. We — and I certainly include myself in this — can do a better job being mindful of the kinds of impacts these decisions have on an individual level. I know how painful being laid off is. I’ve been through it twice — I do work in publishing, after all. I know you can read a million LinkedIn posts and still not internalize that losing your job was not your fault. Some of us are just programmed to blame ourselves. The first time I was laid off, it knocked me off track for a couple of years, frankly. Though I do firmly believe that you have to have gone through this experience to be able to exhibit compassion. I know this is obvious on the face of it, but losing a job in a bad economy means you’re looking for a job in a bad economy (in some cases, alongside hundreds of thousands of people with broadly the same skill set). It’s important to remember that when discussing layoffs at companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. It’s also important to be honest about the degree to which success is a product of luck. That’s something that easily gets lost in the culture of rise-and-grind LinkedIn hustle-porn post platitudes. I’m sure reading the social media equivalent of an inspirational poster about how smart and successful some CEO thinks they are must have inspired someone at some point. But I don’t generally find it super useful. I happen to believe there are some deep-seated issues that have let us get to a point where disrupting 10 or 20,000 lives is just the way it goes sometimes. But I’m also under no illusion that we’ll be able to address the root cause anytime soon. So, let’s start discussing the ways we can help one another, knowing that many of us have been through the process and, more than likely, will go through it again. For me, it’s meant doing what I can to promote people who suddenly find themselves out of work. I’ll happily amplify them to my meager follower count. Sharing job openings is never a bad idea either. There’s a lot of talk about how the robotics community is, well, a community. Being part of a community means lending a hand when people are down. I would love to start a dialogue about the best ways to help in this current moment. Starting next week, I’m going to feature a couple of companies that have open positions to fill in the robotics space. And drop me a line with the name of your company and how many roles you’re looking to fill. Hopefully we can get jobs for some of those impacted by all of this. Image Credits: Crunchbase A logical question in all of this is: How bad is bad? It’s a difficult thing to quantify, of course. Thankfully, some new figures just dropped from Crunchbase, collating some of the trends around robotics investments. Here’s your headline: Investments in robotics startups was down 44% in 2022. That’s a lot. A lot, a lot — particularly for an industry that had so much forward momentum coming out of the pandemic. See the top line graph above for an easy visualization. Image Credits: Crunchbase Another thing you’ll immediately notice in this next graph: The 2022 bar is also lower than 2018 and 2019. In fact, it’s the second lowest in half a decade. Only 2020 was lower, and we all know what happened then. That was obviously an anomaly. The question, ultimately, is whether 2021’s record spend was an anomaly as well. Common thought — and I tend to agree — is no, on a long enough timeline. The economy will improve (though it’s an open question of how long that will take) and we’ll see a return to the trending upward growth. I do believe the growth experienced in 2021 was a direct result of the fallout from the anomalous conditions that led to the 2020 dip, but I think it’s reasonable to expect a return to continued year-over-year growth. The recession we’re currently facing will also have knock-on effects for the industry. One effect I’ve discussed previously is a potential increase in M&As. This makes local sense. Say you had a raise on the roadmap and suddenly your runway crumples beneath you. What’s the better outcome: closing the company or selling it to a potentially like-minded firm? Image Credits: Roin/Built I can’t speak to the specifics of Built’s acquisition of Roin, but I can say it’s another data point for what I anticipate will be a growing trend. As I noted in the piece, this one makes sense on the face of it. The two companies weren’t competitors, so much as complementary, as this deal effectively extends Built’s offerings to include concrete automation and the extremely fun term “shotcrete” (shooting concrete, basically). “Since their founding, Roin’s team has pushed the boundaries of construction autonomy, which has created a unique expertise in our industry,” Built Robotics founder and CEO Noah Ready-Campbell said in a release. “With Roin joining Built, the combined teams will continue developing new autonomous construction applications and customers can expect to see robotic applications expanding beyond earthmoving.” Image Credits: Kewazo Construction is, of course, a prime target for automation. It’s massive, it’s extremely profitable and it checks off the three Ds (dull, dirty, dangerous) quite easily. This week, Munich-based Kewazo, which we had as a young early-stage startup at our TC Sessions: Robotics pitch-off pre-pandemic, just raised $10 million. The company’s Liftbot product is effectively an automated elevator for scaffolding. “Despite already existing labor shortages, it became impossible for foreign workers to commute back to their home countries and come back,” Kewazo co-founder and CEO Artem Kuchukov told TechCrunch. “Many sites in Europe, the Middle East, and Singapore massively suffered from that, as a large percentage of their workforce simply wasn’t there anymore. That was a huge catalyst for construction automation, as companies began to look for ways to sustain their businesses without relying on an uncertain labor supply.” Image Credits: Scythe Robotics In spite of all the aforementioned slowdowns, I have seen fundraising starting to slowly ramp up after the holidays. Landscaping firm Scythe just announced a sizable $42 million Series B, bringing its total funding north of $60 million. “The market has definitely taken a bearish turn,” co-founder and CEO Jack Morrison told TechCrunch of the round, “that committed climate VCs are well funded and actively looking for investment opportunities that urgently address the intensifying climate crisis we face.” Image Credits: Cornell University And finally, since this has been a heavy one, let’s close by looking at this soft robot from Cornell. It’s a fun exploration of how movement can be influenced through compliant actuators. “We detailed the full complement of methods by which you can design these actuators for future applications,” says researcher Kirstin Petersen. “For example, when the actuators are used as legs, we show that just by crossing over one set of tubes, you can go from an ostrich-like gait, that has a really wide stance, to an elephant-like trot.” Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch Like your Actuators nice and compliant? Subscribe today. Then call them ‘robots’ by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

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Earlier this week, I wrote a story about EV charging company Orange and how it is taking a different approach to putting chargers everywhere. Instead of a few high-speed chargers, it makes it easy for multifamily dwellings (think apartment buildings) to put charger sockets everywhere there might be EVs, taking care of billing and such to turn electric sockets into a revenue stream for building owners while making it easy for EV owners to charge their cars. It’s a clever model, replicating the benefits of charging at home using simple charger infrastructure. I asked the founders if they might be interested in sharing their pitch deck. To my delight, they said yes! We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to tear down, so if you want to submit your own, here’s how you can do that.  Slides in this deck Cover slide Mission slide Problem slide Macroeconomic market slide (“Why now?”) Market size slide Solution slide Value proposition slide Product tech spec slide Product slide  Competitive landscape slide  Competitive advantage slide  Business model slide  Cash flow slide  Go-to-market slide  Team slide  Advisers slide  “The ask” slide  Contact slide  Appendices cover slide  Appendix I: Product install photos  Appendix II: 3-year financial projections  Appendix III: Headcount slide  Appendix IV: Sources and references Three things to love Orange Charging’s pitch deck is one of the best decks I’ve seen in a very long time — it looks good, it tells a coherent story and it touches on all the parts that investors want to see in a deck. It even includes great examples of slides that many startup founders get wrong. In fact, when I first scrolled through the deck, I found myself wondering if I would be using this as a teardown at all — what’s the use in criticizing something that’s almost perfect? Let’s start by taking a peek at some of the highlights. Amazing summary slide [Slide 2] Setting the tone. Image Credits: Orange When I first scrolled through the deck, I found myself wondering if I would be using this as a teardown at all — what’s the use in criticizing something that’s almost perfect? You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Orange’s second slide does a hell of a job of that in several dimensions. Visually, this is a stunning slide; the bright orange stripe that runs along the walls of the garage (it looks like it may be a Photoshop job rather than a paint or vinyl job, but that doesn’t matter for the purpose of a slide deck); the three cars and the bright orange charger boxes are all great visuals. Then, the text. It encapsulates the problem the company is solving in a really simple and easy-to-understand way. For a perfect score here, I would have made this slide about the company. Make the text orange and change it to something like “We simplify installing, scaling and managing electric vehicle charging in multiunit properties.” That way, it isn’t about the problem — it’s about the company and the solution. A small box showing the company’s progress and the purpose of this fundraise (“500 chargers installed in 75 locations, raising $2.5 million to 10x our install base”) would be even better. Great overview of value propositions [Slide 9] A great overview of Orange Charger’s win-win setup. Image Credits: OrangeIn a world where people are very used to Tesla’s Supercharger network on one hand and the general idea of gas stations (where you fill whenever you get close to empty) on the other, Orange’s take is different from both. Instead of rapid-charging from time to time or filling up only when you are empty, the company offers a solution that people who charge at home are used to: Whenever you get home, plug your car in, and you’re good to go whenever you get back to your car. Turning this charging paradigm into a company is essentially the core of what Orange is doing. This slide helps explain why having a 110V or 240V socket installed, charging at 16 amps, is actually plenty for the vast majority of EV drivers. It also argues that lower installation costs (and the absence of a charging cable that can break) and ease of operation make its solution a great alternative to competitors. Which is a fantastic setup for the two competition slides that follow. Spectacular market slide [Slide 5] Of course electric charging is going to be huge. Image Credits: OrangeIt’s a rare opportunity to be in a world where you are 100% certain that a huge shift in an important market is coming. That is true for electric vehicles and all the infrastructure that comes with them. No investor worth their salt is going to argue with a company that says EV charging is a huge, worth-solving problem. Seeing it presented with this level of clarity on a slide, though, is reassuring and exciting to anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the rapid proliferation of EVs. On another slide, Orange makes the argument that EVs will cost the same as gasoline-powered cars by 2025 — I’m a little skeptical, but the date is less important than the fact that this is going to happen at some point. Add in government incentives (either punitively in the form of higher gasoline taxes or a more carrot-like approach with new incentives for electric vehicles), and you’ve got a really interesting market indeed. In the rest of this teardown, we’ll take a look at three things Orange could have improved or done differently, along with its full pitch deck! Pitch Deck Teardown: Orange’s $2.5M seed deck by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

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