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The big new round of funding for Passport’s ticketing and parking management tech proves that software can even disrupt something as mundane and seemingly low-tech as the parking lot. The startup, which just raised $65 million in new financing from investors is a permitting, parking and ticketing management service for cities, office parks and campuses. The capital commitment more than doubles the North Carolina-based startup’s funding to $125 million and is actually the second big investment round of the year for a parking tech company. SpotHero, the Chicago-based marketplace for parking raised $50 million earlier in the year and other services related to auto care and servicing in parking lots or on-demand have raised tens of millions of dollars as well. “In the future, almost everyone in the world will live in a city, so there’s no more important challenge to work on than how people move throughout communities and transact with cities,” said Bob Youakim, Passport co-founder and chief executive in a statement. “We envision a world where mobility is seamless. To bring this vision to life, we are creating an open ecosystem where any entity — a connected or autonomous vehicle, a mapping app, or a parking app — can leverage our transactional infrastructure to facilitate digital parking payments.” Passport’s application interfaces allow any government to set up electronic payments for parking tickets and with mobile readers can scan licenses to check for permits and approvals that car owners have through the companies management service. With the close of the new round, Habib Kairouz from Rho Capital Partners and Scott Hilleboe from H.I.G. will . both take seats on the company’s board of directors. The company processes more than 100 million transactions per-year and will see $1.5 billion pass through its system this year.  

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Some of the nation’s top healthcare-focused venture capital firms are banding together to form an advisory council with the technology security certification provider, Hitrust, to create best practices for data security for startups developing digital health technologies. The conversations, spearheaded by the Nashville-based, healthcare-focused investment fund, Frist-Cressey, were designed to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies throughout the healthcare industry by creating best-practices around data security that large healthcare organizations demand before adopting a new service. “Our service or our software want to be taken nationwide and everybody gets excited and thats’ when you get in front of the Chief security officer’s office and they ask if you’re HiTrust certified,” says Frist-Cressey partner Chris Booker.  “It makes [startups] more marketable or more viable,” says Daniel Nutkis, the chief executive of Hitrust. “Organizations tend to be reluctant to work with startups… [Our certification] gave venture capital firms a level of comfort and we saw it as an opportunity.. Chris approached us to better develop a program more targeted at early stage companies… so that this becomes an easier program and can make it more wide-scale.” So far investors including Ascension Ventures, Bain Capital . Ventures, Echo Health Ventures, Frist Cressey Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Blue Cross Blue Shield Ventures, Heritage Group, New Enterprise Associates and 7wire Ventures have all signed on to the venture capital advisory council. For the firms, it’s simply a matter of protecting what is an increasing percentage of capital commitments. Investors have poured $50 billion into healthcare startups, according to data pulled from CB Insights, and nearly $16 billion of those investments were in digital health companies. Meanwhile, early stage startups are increasingly vulnerable to data breaches and lax security practices — failures of oversight that can mean the difference between life and death for early stage startups. “Data breaches and privacy violations… these things can destroy a company,” says Booker.

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According to CEO Afif Khoury, we’re in the middle of “the third wave of social” — a shift back to local interactions. And Khoury’s startup Soci (pronounced soh-shee) has raised $12 million in Series C funding to help companies navigate that shift. Soci works with customers like Ace Hardware and Sport Clips to help them manage the online presence of hundreds or thousands of stores. It allows marketers to post content and share assets across all those pages, respond to reviews and comments, manage ad campaigns, and provide guidance around how to stay on-brand. It sounds like most of these interactions are happening on Facebook. Khoury told me that Soci integrates with “40 different APIs where businesses are having conversations with their customers,” but he added, “Facebook was and continues to be the most prominent conversation center.” Khoury and CTO Alo Sarv founded Soci back in 2012. Khoury said they spent the first two years building the product, and have subsequently raised around $30 million in total funding. “What we weren’t building was a point solution,” he said. “What we were building was a massive platform … It took us 18 months to two years to really build it in the way we thought was going to be meaningful for the marketplace.” Soci has also incorporated artificial intelligence to power chatbots that Khoury said “take that engagement happening on social and move it downstream to a call or a sale or something relevant to the local business.” The new round was led by Vertical Venture Partners, with participation from Grayhawk Capital and Ankona Capital. Khoury said the money will allow Soci to continue developing its AI technology and to build out its sales and marketing team. “Ours is a very consultative sale,” he said. “It’s a complicated world that you’re living in, and we really want to partner and have a local presence with our customers.” Gorgias raises $14M to help e-commerce companies deliver faster (and more lucrative) customer service

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India has proposed groundbreaking new rules that would require companies to garner consent from citizens in the country before collecting and processing their personal data. But at the same time, the new rules also state that companies would have to hand over “non-personal” data of their users to the government, and New Delhi would also hold the power to collect any data of its citizens without consent, thereby bypassing the laws applicable to everyone else, to serve sovereignty and larger public interest. The new rules, proposed in “Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” a copy of which leaked on Tuesday, would permit New Delhi to “exempt any agency of government from application of Act in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order.” If the bill passes — and it is expected to be discussed in the parliament in the coming weeks — select controversial laws drafted more than a decade ago would remain unchanged. Another proposed rule would grant New Delhi the power to ask any “data fiduciary or data processor” to hand over “anonymized” “non-personal data” for the purpose of better governance, among others. New Delhi’s new bill — which was passed by the Union Cabinet last week, but has yet to be formally shared with the public — could create new challenges for Google, Facebook, Twitter, ByteDance’s TikTok and other companies that are already facing some regulatory heat in the nation. India conceptualized this bill two years ago and in the years since, it has undergone significant changes. A draft of the bill, which was formally made public last year, had stated that the Indian government must not have the ability to collect or process personal data of its citizens, unless a lawful procedure was followed. Ambiguity over who the Indian government considers an “intermediary” or a “social media” platform, or a “social media intermediary” are yet to be fully resolved, however. In the latest version, the bill appears to not include payment services, internet service providers, search engines, online encyclopedias, email services and online storage services as “social media intermediaries.” The bill also does not include any direction on whether foreign companies should store payments information of Indian citizens within the country. One of the proposed rules, that is directly aimed at Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media company that enables “interaction between two or more users” requires them to give their users an option to verify their identity and then publicly have such status displayed on their profile — similar to the blue tick that Facebook and Twitter reserve for celebrities and other accounts of public interest. Last week news outlet Reuters reported portions of the bill, citing unnamed sources. The report claimed that India was proposing the voluntary identity-verification requirement to curb the spread of false information. As social media companies grapple with the spread of false information, that have resulted in at least 30 deaths in India, the Narendra Modi-led government, which itself is a big consumer of social media platforms, has sought to take measures to address several issues. Over the last two years, the Indian government has asked WhatsApp, which has amassed more than 400 million users in India, to “bring traceability” to its platform in a move that would allow the authority to identify the people who are spreading the information. WhatsApp has insisted that any such move would require breaking encryption, which would compromise the privacy and security of more than a billion people globally. The bill has not specifically cited government’s desires to contain false information for this proposal, however. Instead the bill insists that this would bring more “transparency and accountability.” Some critics have expressed concerns over the proposed rules. Udbhav Tiwari, a public policy advisor at Mozilla, said New Delhi’s bill would “represent new, significant threats to Indians’ privacy. If Indians are to be truly protected, it is urgent that parliament reviews and addresses these dangerous provisions before they become law.” Indian news site MediaNama has outlined several more changes in this Twitter thread.

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The countdown status to Disrupt Berlin 2019 stands at T-minus 24 hours. Yep, the doors to prolific opportunity open tomorrow at Arena Berlin. It’s not too late to join thousands of your startup colleagues, but today’s the last day you can save money on the price of admission. Our late registration for Disrupt Berlin closes tonight at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Don’t miss your last chance to save up to €200 over the onsite ticket price. Beat the clock and buy your pass right here, right now. Let’s highlight just some of the events and happenings that await you at Disrupt Berlin. Come ready to network and head straight to Startup Alley. The expo hall features hundreds of innovative early-stage companies eager to demo and discuss their products, platforms and services that span the tech spectrum. It’s also where you’ll find a special cadre of companies — the TC Top Picks. TechCrunch editors hand-picked up to five startups in each of the following categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, and CRM/Enterprise. See why they made the grade. Want to make the most of your limited time at the show? Use CrunchMatch, our free business-matching platform that makes networking much more efficient. It’s curated and automated, and it connects you to people who align with your business goals. Bear witness to the Startup Battlefield as founders of early-stage  startups launch on a world stage and vie for the Disrupt Cup, intense media and investor love and a $50,000 cash prize. Who knows? You might see the birth of a future unicorn. Between all the networking and the Battlefield, be sure to take in the world-class speakers, panel discussions, Q&A Sessions and workshops. As usual, top players, technologists, researchers and investors will share insights on the current and future states of startups. Check out the full Disrupt Berlin agenda here and plan accordingly. We’re only one day away from Disrupt Berlin, and we can’t wait to meet all of you creative founders, investors, makers and entrepreneurs. Prolific opportunity awaits you. Buy your pass to Disrupt Berlin and save up to €200 before late registration ends tonight at 10 December at 11:59 p.m. (CEST). Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Earlier this year, Omers Ventures, the venture capital arm of Canadian pension fund Omers, outed a new €300 million fund aimed at European technology startups, having recruited local VCs Harry Briggs, Tara Reeves and Henry Gladwyn. And now the firm is adding a fourth member in Europe: Jambu Palaniappan (pictured centre), the former head of Uber’s food delivery business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, has joined Omers Ventures as a Managing Partner. Palaniappan joined Uber in 2012 when it was a 75-person startup focused primarily on the U.S. market. He led the ride sharing behemoth’s expansion throughout the EMEA region and India, before becoming Regional General Manager for Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Africa. He then went on launch Uber Eats in EMEA. In other words, Palaniappan brings even more operational experience to Omers’ European VC team, although he isn’t new to the world of venture capital, either. His most recent gig was at London-based venture capital firm Atomico, where he spent 12 months as Executive-in-Residence (news that TechCrunch broke back in July 2018). Unsurprisingly, Palaniappan has also been an angel investor, and is said to have backed a number of startups in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Meanwhile, the recruitment of Palaniappan marks a decent debut half year for Omers Ventures Europe, seeing the Canadian investor put together a team of faces well-known to the London and broader European tech and startup scene. Briggs’ resume includes stints at BGF Ventures and Balderton, as well as founding and exiting Tonics, a health drinks company. Reeves was at seed firm LocalGlobe and also co-founded Turo, the car-sharing marketplace. And Gladwyn previously managed seed investments for the founders of DeepMind. The Omers Ventures Europe team have already invested more than €76 million into the European ecosystem. Investments to date include FirstVet, Resi and Quorso.

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Heiliger Strohsack — or holy smokes as we say here in the States! We’re just hours away from kicking off Disrupt Berlin 2019 (11-12 December). We have a stellar event planned with an all-star lineup that only TechCrunch can assemble, and we’re expecting our largest number of attendees yet. Seriously, have you read the star-packed agenda? Of course, with any event of this size we have a few vital logistical items to share so that your Disrupt experience is seamless and productive. Ready? Here’s what you need to know. Pre-Event Badge Pick Up Skip the morning rush by picking up your badge early on Tuesday 10 December from 4pm – 7pm at betahaus Kreuzberg. The first 500 people to pick up their badge will receive a pair of TC socks! Have your Universe ticket confirmation email and a government-issued photo ID on you. Event Registration & Badge Pick Up Registration opens at 8:30 am Wednesday (8:00am for Startup Alley exhibitors) and 8:00am on Thursday (7:30am for Startup Alley exhibitors). Universe is the official ticketing platform of Disrupt. If you’re signed up for Disrupt, you used Universe. We love them and we think you will, too. If you haven’t purchased your pass, please go do that here. Please bring your government-issued photo ID each day of the conference. Lost Badge Fee Don’t forget your badge every day – there is a €75 reprint fee for lost or misplaced badges. TechCrunch Events App The TechCrunch Events app is now available for you to download in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores.You will also be able to access CrunchMatch through the app. With the TechCrunch Events app you can: View agenda sessions and create your calendar Sort by category, view and favorite Startup Alley exhibitors and sponsors Get recommendations on sessions, exhibitors and sponsors you should meet Message and connect with other opted-in attendees Easily find your way around the event with interactive venue maps Get access to the CrunchMatch platform to discover and set up meetings with the attendees you most want to meet How to access the app: Download the TechCrunch Event app from the Apple iTunes Store or Google Play Store. Once downloaded, select the Disrupt Berlin 2019 event and you’ll be prompted to enter the email address associated with your registration. Your password is the last 6 digits of the number above the QR code on your Universe ticket (case-sensitive). If you do not have access to your Universe ticket, you can select “forgot password” so you can reset your password. Having problems logging in? Email [email protected] for assistance. Women of Disrupt Lunch All women who are registered for Disrupt Berlin are invited to the Women of Disrupt lunch on Thursday from 12-2pm. Your badge is all you need for entry into the breakfast. Investor Lunch Catch-up with colleagues and other Disrupt Berlin investors over a delicious lunch. Exclusively for registered Disrupt Berlin 2019 Investor Pass holders only. Must have investor badge to enter. 11 December, 2019 | 12:00pm – 2:00pm The Reception Room at Disrupt Berlin Book a Semi-Private Room at Disrupt TechCrunch is offering semi-private meeting rooms at €40/55 minutes at Disrupt Berlin. These rooms are great for taking meetings of up to 4 people or catching up on some work. Meeting spaces can only be used by registered Disrupt Berlin ticket holders. Each meeting room comes with a table, 4 chairs, and power. Book your time here. CrunchMatch All pass holders attending Disrupt Berlin will receive login instructions to access CrunchMatch via email and you can access it via the TechCrunch Events App – so make sure you download it! CrunchMatch is TechCrunch’s matching service connecting people at the event based on mutual interests. There are already several hundred meetings scheduled and we anticipate holding at least 2500 meetings during Disrupt Berlin. On-site Nursing Suite TechCrunch is providing a private nursing room on-site at Disrupt Berlin on the second floor of the conference. Ask for more information at the Help Desk table in the registration area. Competitions Disrupt is world-famous for its startup competition, Startup Battlefield. This year there are a few additional opportunities for startups to grab some limelight, with TechCrunch’s Custom Disruptor Award program, where Disrupt partners can select exhibiting startups to highlight and award a prize. Samsung Innovation Center, Extreme Tech Challenge [XTC] At the regional competition, 10 startups will be selected to present to leading VCs including Samsung Catalyst Fund, Speedinvest, and Deutsch Telecom on December 11. The top three startups will be recognized on the main stage of the event on December 12 with the Custom Disruptor Award — and receive invitations to the XTC Global Finals at VIVATechnology – Paris in June 2020. Disrupt would not be able to exist without the help of our sponsors. You can see these breakout sessions at Disrupt Berlin. 11 December | Breakout Room Opening Remarks by WeChat Developer Challenge 10:00 – 12:50 | See description in agenda Sponsored by WDC Build Different With The Other Location Platform 14:00 – 14:50 | See description in agenda Sponsored by TomTom Coming Soon! 15:00 – 15:50 Bain & Company WDC Berlin Top Teams Presentations and Awards 16:00 – 18:00 | See description in agenda Sponsored by WDC 12 December | Breakout Room European Innovation Council (EIC) workshop – Funding Breakthrough Innovation from idea to market 11:00 – 12:00 | See description in agenda Sponsored by European Innovation Council There you have it — all the info you need to ensure your time at Disrupt Berlin 2019 remains productive and fun. Looking forward to seeing you all on Wednesday!

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of FinTech startups like N26 and Monzo to challenge the incumbents with new products like challenger banks. But what if the big banks wanted to compete in that game themselves? This is the aim of FintechOS a Romanian startup that actually aims to help incumbents compete in this brave new, competitive, world. FintechOS allows banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than the new upstarts on the scene with plug and play products.  It’s announcing today that it has secured $14 million (£10.7 million) in a Series A investment led by the Digital East Fund of Earlybird Venture Capital and OTB Ventures, with participation from existing investors Gapminder Ventures and Launchub. The additional capital will be used to continue the growth and expansion across Europe, and to expand into South East Asia and the US. FintechOS’s technology platform lets traditional banks and insurance companies adapt to rapidly changing customer expectations, and match the speed and flexibility of Fintech startups with personalized products and services, in weeks rather than months or years. The banks and insurance companies can then launch multi-cloud SaaS deployments, transitioning to the cloud and on-premises deployments, working alongside the existing technology infrastructure. It now has existing partnerships with Microsoft, EY, Deloitte, Publicis Sapient and CapGemini allow deployment in multiple markets. Started in 2017 by serial entrepreneurs Teodor Blidarus and Sergiu Negut, the company now has customers in more than 20 countries across three continents. Teo Blidarus, CEO and Co-Founder of FintechOS, commented: “Our disruptive approach is customer, not technology-driven. We created FintechOS to transform the financial industry, empowering banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than fintech startups, to create a smarter, slicker customer experience.” Dan Lupu, Partner at Earlybird, said: “FintechOS is a pioneer in a booming market, with a vision to transform the way financial institutions react to market and regulatory changes. We are proud to become part of a journey that will shape the future of financial services.”

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Pan-African digital classifieds company Jiji has raised $21 million in Series C and C-1 financing from six investors, led by Knuru Capital. The Nigeria based venture, co-founded by Ukrainian entrepreneur Vladimir Mnogoletniy, has an East to West presence that includes Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Buyers and sellers in those markets use Jiji to transact purchases from real estate to car sales. “We are the largest marketplace in Africa where people can sell pretty much anything…We are like a combination of eBay and Craigslist for Africa,” Mnogoletniy told TechCrunch on a call. The classifieds site has two million listings on its Africa platforms and hit eight million unique monthly users in 2018, per company stats. Jiji sees an addressable market of 400 million people across its operating countries, according to Mnogoletniy. The venture bought up one of its competitors in April this year, when it acquired the assets of Naspers owned online marketplace OLX in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Jiji’s top three categories for revenues and listings (in order) are vehicle sales, real estate, and electronics sales (namely mobile phones). With the recent funding, the company’s total capital raised from 2014 to 2019 comes to $50 million. Knuru Capital CEO Alain Dib confirmed the Abu Dhabi based fund’s lead on Jiji’s most recent round. Jiji plans to use the latest investment toward initiatives to increase the overall number of buyers, sellers and transactions on its site. The company will also upgrade the platform to create more listings and faster matching in the area of real-estate, according to Mnogoletniy. For the moment, Jiji doesn’t have plans for country expansion or company purchases. “Maybe at some point we will consider more acquisitions, but for the time being we’d like to focus on those five markets,” Mnogoletniy said — referring to Jiji’s existing African country presence. To ensure the quality of listings, particularly in real-estate, Jiji employs an automated and manual verification process. “We were able to eliminate a high-percentage of fraud listings and estimate fraud listings at less than 1%,” said Mnogoletniy. He recognized the challenge of online scams originating in Nigeria. “We take data protection very seriously. We have a data-control officer just to do the data-protection verification.” With the large consumer base and volume of transactional activity on its platform, Jiji could layer on services, such as finance and payments. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about adding segments other than our main business. We decided that for the next three to five years, we should be laser focused on our core business — to be the largest marketplace in Africa for buying and selling to over 400 million people,” Mnogoletniy said. The company faces an improving commercial environment for its goals, with Africa registering some of the fastest growth in the world for smartphone adoption and internet penetration. Jiji also faces competitors in Africa’s growing online classifieds space. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia, which listed in April in an NYSE IPO, operates its Jumia Deals digtial marketplace site in multiple African countries. Swiss owned Ringier Africa has classified services and business content sites in eight French and English speaking countries. On car sales, Nigerian startup Cars45 has created an online marketplace for pricing, rating, and selling used-autos.  Adding to the trend of foreign backed ventures entering Africa’s internet business space, Chinese owned Opera launched an online buy/sell site, OList, last month connected its African payment app, OPay. eBay operates a partnership with MallforAfrica for limited goods sales from Africa to the U.S., but hasn’t gone live yet on the continent. On outpacing rival in its markets, Jiji’s co-founder Vladimir Mnogoletniy touts the company’s total focus on the classifieds business, market experience, and capital as advantages. “We’ve spent five years and raised $50 million to build Jiji to where it is today. It would take $50 to $100 million for these others to have a chance at building a similar business,” he said. Opera’s Africa fintech startup OPay gains $120M from Chinese investors

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Every so often a story comes along which is unremarkable on its face but erupts into wider attention because it seems to represent some larger social fracture zone. …And then there’s the recent story of mismanagement and malfeasance at Away, which has caught the tech world’s attention because it seems a shibboleth for all the industry’s fault lines. This story is whatever you want it to be. It’s a tale of exploitation of the poor and struggling by executives born rich and privileged; of the unfair, disproportionately harsh and negative scrutiny that women CEOs get; of the inherent cultural toxicity of constant surveillance (Away banned emails and DMs, insisting that all communication took place in public Slack channels); of the need for tech workers fo unionize; of the need for young workers to toughen up and live in the real world, which sometimes has asshole bosses. Fine, I’ll take a paragraph break, but I’m not done: a tale of how not to apologize (clue: don’t try to exercise draconian control over your employees’ personal social media accounts on the same day you’re publicly apologizing for your previous draconian mistreatment of them); of the sacrifices required to build a startup; of how the real problem boils down to mismanagement and misaligned incentives, and the rest is noise; of how what previous generations considered shitty but acceptable boss behavior is now judged as completely unacceptable toxic abuse. It is, in short, the perfect Rorschach test for today. Like most Rorschach tests, the panoply of reactions to it is much more interesting than the story itself. This is especially true because of the widespread suspicion that there was a disparity between public responses and private thoughts — that people who didn’t agree that Away’s executives should be lambasted were reluctant to say so. That’s right, it’s also a story about social media, public shaming, cancel culture, and the intolerant left! Seriously, this little morality play has everything. So, to their eternal credit, the semi-satirical VC Starter Kit account performed a Twitter experiment: “If you’re a VC, founder or journalist, DM me your thoughts on the Away piece and I’ll anonymously post your response here,” and then posted a summary of the responses to (of course!) their Substack. Interestingly, the results do indeed seem to suggest a far more massive cultural divide than the public responses do. I encourage you to go read them. To my mind, and I concede this is probably pretty idiosyncratic, they ultimately condense down to one of two views: 1. startups are hard, and there are always going to be points where you have to choose between startup success and treating people well, and success comes first; 2. startups are hard, but if you get to the point where you have to choose between startup success and treating people well, you have already royally fucked up, and if you then choose the former, you should be both privately and publicly ashamed of it. To an extent I think this is generational. It seems that behavior that Gen Xers like myself might stereotypically respond to with “what an asshole, but that’s the way bosses are sometimes, so it goes,” is to Gen Zers “this is completely unacceptable toxic abuse that no one should ever experience.” This is probably almost entirely a good thing. Spreading the notion that it is important to treat other people better than we once did leads a lot more directly to the fabled “better world” than most any of the companies which claim to be doing so. Granted, on the other hand, if we get to a point where we let the 1% of the most sensitive members of our society, prone to the most negative interpretations of any and all complexity and nuance, dictate what is acceptable, that would be a kind of bizarre form of unacceptable tyranny in and of itself. To be clear I don’t think we’re collectively anywhere remotely near any risk of that; rather, we’re finally beginning to appreciate that “you should be tougher than that” is about as useful to most victims of bullying, misogyny, bigotry, etc. as it is to victims of a stabbing. But it’s important to recognize that the perception of such an endgame, however skewed it is, makes a lot of people uneasy. Either way, though, I find myself subscribing to theory number two: startups are hard, but if you get to the point where you have to choose between startup success and treating people well, you have already royally fucked up. Just because Steve Jobs was an asshole doesn’t mean that being an asshole is a necessary requirement of CEOdom, much less a sufficient one. If you’ve screwed up to the point that you face that choice, and then go all in on the startup, well, you won’t be the first, or even the millionth … but you may want to take a long hard look at what that word success really means.

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Away CEO Steph Korey is stepping down following The Verge’s report of toxic culture at the luggage startup. Taking her spot is Stuart Haselden, the now-former COO at Lululemon, The Wall Street Journal reports. Korey will remain on board as executive chairman. Following The Verge’s story, which described a workplace where Korey was known for berating employees via Slack, Korey tweeted last week that she was “making things right” at the company. “I’m not proud of my behavior in those moments, and I’m sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it,” she tweeted. “It was wrong, plain and simple.” She added that she had also been working with an executive coach since those incidents the report highlighted. According to The Wall Street Journal, Away had been looking for Korey’s replacement since the spring. Away declined to comment but confirmed the news. Trendy luggage brand Away packs on $100M, rolls past $1.4B valuation  

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When Chris Williams founded entertainment platform Pocketwatch in 2017, he was certain that no one had yet found the right way to work with the generation of children’s talent finding its audience on platforms like YouTube. Convinced that packaging creators under one umbrella and leveraging the expanding reach of even more media platforms could reshape the way children’s content was produced, the former Maker Studios and Disney executive launched his company to offer emerging social media talent more avenues to create entertainment that resonates with young audiences. On the back of the breakout success of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel which counted 33.6 billion views and more than 22 million subscribers as of early November, it appears that Williams was on the right track. As he looks out at the children’s media landscape today, Williams says he sees the same forces at work that compelled him to create the business in the first place. If anything, he says, the trends are only accelerating. The first is the exodus of children from traditional linear viewing platforms to on-demand entertainment. The rise of subscription streaming services, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple Plus — combined with the continued demand for new children’s programming on Netflix — is creating a bigger market for children’s programming. “If you’re a subscription-based service, what kids’ content does for you is it prevents churn,” says Williams. That’s drawing attention from new, ad-supported streaming providers like the Roku Channel, PlutoTV and SamsungTV Plus, which are also thirsty for children’s storytelling. Williams says he sees fertile ground for new programming among the ad-based, video-on-demand services. “Kids and family content tends to be the most highly engaging that creates consumption in homes. That creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers.” The Roku Channel and Viacom’s PlutoTV service show that there’s still demand for ad-supported, on-demand alternatives that are more curated than just YouTube. It’s a potential opportunity for more startups, as well as an opportunity for studios looking to pitch their talent and programming. “When we’ve launched a new 24-7 video channel and AVOD library and omni services… [we] know that content is surrounded by other premium content,” says Williams. For all of the opportunities these new platforms bring, Williams says YouTube isn’t going anywhere as one of the dominant new forces in children’s entertainment,  despite its many, many woes. In fact, one of Williams’ new initiatives at Pocketwatch is predicated on changes that YouTube is seemingly making in terms of the programming that it promotes with its algorithms.

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YouTube is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for further clarification and better guidance to help video creators understand how to comply with the FTC’s guidelines set forth as part of YouTube’s settlement with the regulator over its violations of children’s privacy laws. The FTC in September imposed a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violations of COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). It additionally required YouTube creators to now properly identify any child-directed content on the platform. To comply with the ruling, YouTube created a system where creators could either label their entire channel as child-directed, or they could identify only certain videos as being directed at children, as needed. Videos that are considered child-directed content would then be prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers. This limited creators’ ability to leverage Google’s highly profitable behavioral advertising technology on videos kids were likely to watch. As a result, YouTube creators have been in an uproar since the ruling, arguing that it’s too difficult to tell the difference between what’s child-directed content and what’s not. Several popular categories of YouTube videos — like gaming, toy reviews and family vlogging, for instance — fall under gray areas, where they’re watched by children and adults alike. But because the FTC’s ruling left creators held liable for any future violations, YouTube could only advise creators to consult a lawyer to help them work through the ruling’s impact on their own channels. Today, YouTube says it’s asking the FTC to provide more clarity. “Currently, the FTC’s guidance requires platforms must treat anyone watching primarily child-directed content as children under 13. This does not match what we see on YouTube, where adults watch favorite cartoons from their childhood or teachers look for content to share with their students,” noted YouTube in an announcement. “Creators of such videos have also conveyed the value of product features that wouldn’t be supported on their content. For example, creators have expressed the value of using comments to get helpful feedback from older viewers. This is why we support allowing platforms to treat adults as adults if there are measures in place to help confirm that the user is an adult viewing kids’ content,” the company said. Specifically, YouTube wants the FTC to clarify what’s to be done when adults are watching kids’ content. It also wants to know what’s to be done about content that doesn’t intentionally target kids — like videos in the gaming, DIY and art space, for example — if those videos end up attracting a young audience. Are these also to be labeled “made for kids,” even though that’s not their intention?, YouTube asks. The FTC had shared some guidance in November, which YouTube passed along to creators. But YouTube says it’s not enough as it doesn’t help creators to understand what’s to be done about this “mixed audience” content. YouTube says it supports platforms treating adults who view primarily child-directed video content as adults, as long as there are measures in place to help confirm the user is an adult. It didn’t suggest what those measures would be, though possibly this could involve users logged in to an adult-owned Google account or perhaps an age-gate measure of some sort. YouTube submitted its statements as a part of the FTC’s comment period on the agency’s review of the COPPA Rule, which has been extended until December 11, 2019. The FTC is giving commenters additional time to submit comments and an alternative mechanism to file them as the federal government’s Regulations.gov portal is temporarily inaccessible. Instead, commenters can submit their thoughts via email to the address [email protected], with the subject line “COPPA comment.” These must be submitted before 11:59 PM ET on December 11, the FTC says. YouTube’s announcement, however, pointed commenters to the FTC’s website, which isn’t working right now. “We strongly support COPPA’s goal of providing robust protections for kids and their privacy. We also believe COPPA would benefit from updates and clarifications that better reflect how kids and families use technology today, while still allowing access to a wide range of content that helps them learn, grow and explore. We continue to engage on this issue with the FTC and other lawmakers (we previously participated in the FTC’s public workshop) and are committed to continue [sic] doing so,” said YouTube. Protecting kids & their privacy is important. Today, we submitted our Comment on COPPA to the FTC. We strongly support COPPA & believe it would benefit from updates & clarifications that better reflect how kids & families interact w/ tech today. More here: https://t.co/UakE5EYPJV — YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) December 9, 2019 2. We support allowing platforms to treat adults viewing primarily child-directed content as adults with measures to help confirm the user is an adult. — YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) December 9, 2019 If you’re also interested in submitting your own comment to the FTC, the deadline to do so is Dec 11: https://t.co/o6GXjU6rRa or via email with the subject line “COPPA comment” to [email protected] — YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) December 9, 2019

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
AWS held its annual re:Invent customer conference last week in Las Vegas. Being Vegas, there was pageantry aplenty, of course, but this year’s model felt a bit different than in years past, lacking the onslaught of major announcements we are used to getting at this event. Perhaps the pace of innovation could finally be slowing, but the company still had a few messages for attendees. For starters, AWS CEO Andy Jassy made it clear he’s tired of the slow pace of change inside the enterprise. In Jassy’s view, the time for incremental change is over, and it’s time to start moving to the cloud faster. AWS also placed a couple of big bets this year in Vegas to help make that happen. The first involves AI and machine learning. The second, moving computing to the edge, closer to the business than the traditional cloud allows. The question is what is driving these strategies? AWS had a clear head start in the cloud, and owns a third of the market, more than double its closest rival, Microsoft. The good news is that the market is still growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The bad news for AWS is that it can probably see Google and Microsoft beginning to resonate with more customers, and it’s looking for new ways to get a piece of the untapped part of the market to choose AWS. AWS remains in firm control of the cloud infrastructure market Move faster, dammit The worldwide infrastructure business surpassed $100 billion this year, yet we have only just scratched the surface of this market. Surely, digital-first companies, those born in the cloud, understand all of the advantages of working there, but large enterprises are still moving surprisingly slowly. Jassy indicated more than once last week that he’s had enough of that. He wants to see companies transform more quickly, and in his view it’s not a technical problem, it’s a lack of leadership. If you want to get to the cloud faster, you need executive buy-in pushing it. Jassy outlined four steps in his keynote to help companies move faster and get more workloads in the cloud. He believes in doing so, it will not only continue to enrich his own company, it will also help customers avoid disruptive forces in their markets. For starters, he says that it’s imperative to get the senior team aligned behind a change. “Inertia is a powerful thing,” Jassy told the audience at his keynote on Tuesday. He’s right of course. There are forces inside every company designed with good reason to protect the organization from massive systemic changes, but these forces — whether legal, compliance, security or HR — can hold back a company when meaningful change is needed. Digital Transformation Requires Total Organizational Commitment He said that a fuller shift to the cloud requires ambitious planning. “It’s easy to go a long time dipping your toe in the water if you don’t have an aggressive goal,” he emphasized. To move faster, you also need staff that can help you get there — and that requires training. Finally, you need a thoughtful, methodical migration plan. Most companies start with the stuff that’s easy to move to the cloud, then begin to migrate workloads that require some adjustments. They continue along this path all the way to things you might not choose to move at all. Jassy knows that the faster companies get on board and move to the cloud, the better off his company is going to be, assuming it can capture the lion’s share of those workloads. The trouble is that after you move that first easy batch, getting to the cloud becomes increasingly challenging, and that’s one of the big reasons why companies have moved slower than Jassy would like. The power of machine learning to drive adoption One way to motivate folks to move faster is help them understand the power of machine learning. AWS made a slew of announcements around machine learning designed to give customers a more comprehensive Amazon solution. This included SageMaker Studio, a machine learning development environment along with notebook, debugging and monitoring tools. Finally, the company announced AutoPilot, a tool that gives more insight into automatically-generated machine learning models, another way to go faster. The company also announced a new connected keyboard called DeepComposer, designed to teach developers about machine learning in a fun way. It joins DeepLens and DeepRacer, two tools released at previous re:Invents. All of this is designed for developers to help them get comfortable with machine learning. AWS announces DeepComposer, a machine-learning keyboard for developers It wasn’t a coincidence the company also announced a significant partnership with the NFL to use machine learning to help make players safer. It’s an excellent use case. The NFL has tons of data on its players, and it has decades of film. If it can use that data as fuel for machine learning-driven solutions to help prevent injuries, it could end up being a catalyst for meaningful change driven by machine learning in the cloud. Machine learning provides another reason to move to the cloud. This shows that the cloud isn’t just about agility and speed, it’s also about innovation and transformation. If you can take advantage of machine learning to transform your business, it’s another reason to move to the cloud. Moving to the edge Finally, AWS recognizes that computing in cloud can only get you so far. In spite of the leaps it has made architecturally, there is still a latency issue that will be unacceptable for some workloads. That’s why it was a big deal that the company announced a couple of edge computing solutions including the general availability of Outposts, its private cloud in a box along with a new concept called Local Zones last week. The company announced Outposts last year as a way to bring the cloud on prem. It is supposed to behave exactly the same way as traditional cloud resources, but AWS installs, manages and maintains a physical box in your data center. It’s the ultimate in edge computing, bringing the compute power right into your building. AWS Outposts begins to take shape to bring the cloud into the data center For those who don’t want to go that far, AWS also introduced Local Zones, starting with one in LA, where the cloud infrastructure resources are close by instead of in your building. The idea is the same — to reduce the physical distance between you and your compute resources and reduce latency. All of this is designed to put the cloud in reach of more customers, to help them move to the cloud faster. Sure, it’s self-serving, but 11 years after I first heard the term cloud computing, maybe it really is time to give companies a harder push. AWS wants to rule the world

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Berlin-headquartered streaming guide JustWatch has grown to over 10 million users across 38 countries in under 5 years. Now, it’s expanding its U.S. presence with the acquisition of New York-based rival, GoWatchIt, from Plexus Entertainment. Deal terms were not revealed but were a mixture of cash and stock for the smaller operation, which had just 8 people on board. JustWatch says its interest was mostly in the commercial team based in New York. As a result of the acquisition, GoWatchIt founder and CEO David Larkin will remain in New York and will become JustWatch’s SVP Marketing and Strategy. GoWatchIt is one of now several services that offer a comprehensive guide to movies and TV aimed at helping people find things to watch across an increasingly fragmented streaming landscape, which now includes new services like Apple TV+ and Disney+, and soon, NBCU’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max. As a result of all the new entries, it has become more difficult for consumers to know what’s available, where it streams, and how much it costs. Plus, consumers also want help in finding new shows and movies across services that are personalized to their own interests. This is where services like GoWatchIt and JustWatch came in. GoWatchIt was founded in 2011 at a guide to streaming content, as well as digital content and even movies playing in theaters. The service additionally offered an API to partner sites who wanted to inform their visitors and readers where content was available. These partners included The New York Times, National Cine Media, and Common Sense Media, among others. According to JustWatch, the acquisition of GoWatchIt made sense as the U.S. had already grown to become JustWatch’s largest market, in terms of user numbers. However, the acquisition wasn’t about gaining market share, the company tells TechCrunch. It was more about the B2B partners and clients and the commercial team, particularly founder David Larkin whose new job will have him marketing JustWatch B2B products like the partner API, competitive VOD market intelligence, and JustWatch’s entertainment advertising products in the U.S. “We are very happy with the acquisition of GoWatchIt and to welcome David Larkin at JustWatch,” noted JustWatch founder and CEO David Croyé, in a statement. “We have already known each other for several years and I’m excited to work with David to increase our footprint in the US. His network in the streaming industry will help us find many more partners for our B2B data and API offerings,” he said. GoWatchIt was backed by Scout Ventures and other private funding. Its total team was just 8 people, but only two are joining JustWatch as the technical staff wasn’t needed. JustWatch today has a team of over 50 in Berlin who will continue to run its product development and technology. In addition, the GoWatchIt website will be closed in the near future, with traffic redirected to JustWatch.com instead. Partner sites using the GoWatchIt API will be transitioned to the JustWatch API, as well. “I’m excited to join JustWatch from New York and help to accelerate the growth with my industry experience and network,” said Larkin. “Over the last years, JustWatch has grown very fast to become the biggest streaming guide worldwide. The streaming wars are heating up and the biggest growth will come from outside the US. JustWatch is the only truly international player to help users find out what to watch and where to watch it.” JustWatch competes with a range of services in this market, including also Reelgood which just raised $6.75 million for its own streaming guide, TV Time which has raised $65 million (according to Crunchbase), and many other apps and services all aiming to be consumers’ go-to platform. JustWatch is nearing the launch of new TV apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV, which will be available in the days ahead.  

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here. 1. China moves to ban foreign software and hardware from state offices China has ordered the replacement of all foreign PC hardware and operating systems in state offices over the next three years, according to a report in the Financial Times. The government has previously ordered purges of western software, but they were more limited or related to certain security issues. This time, the goal includes hardware as well, with tens of millions of devices targeted for replacement. 2. Snapchat Cameos edit your face into videos Snapchat is preparing to launch a new feature that swaps out faces in videos with your own selfies. Some French users received a test version of the feature today. 3. The new Mac Pro goes up for order December 10 When Apple announced the new Mac Pro in June, it left out one key detail — when, precisely the latest version of the high-end desktop would arrive. Now Apple says orders will begin on December 10, although the shipping date remains unknown. 4. In wake of Shutterstock’s Chinese censorship, American companies need to relearn American values By now, it’s well-known that China’s search engines like Baidu censor political photography. What we’ve been learning more recently, however, is that it isn’t just Chinese companies that are aiding and abetting this censorship. 5. Will the 2020s be online advertising’s holistic decade? InMarket founder Todd Dipaola predicts that marketers will be held to a higher standard — both by clients demanding world-class performance and proof, as well as consumers who want relevancy, helpfulness and privacy from their brand relationships. (Extra Crunch membership required.) 6. See Atomico’s most senior VCs onstage at Disrupt Berlin Atomico is among the most widely respected venture firms in Europe. And you’ll be able to hear from its leaders at TechCrunch’s big event in just a couple of days. 7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts Equity takes a look at Harlem Capital, one of the largest funds that’s focused on backing minority entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Original Content reviews the latest season of Netflix’s hit series “The Crown.”

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Early-stage startups have a massive problem: there are way, way too many things to do, and never enough people to do them. Whether it’s growth marketing, or product design, or software engineering or a myriad list of other tasks, something somewhere isn’t going to get done by the founding team and early employees. And so it is only natural to seek outside help to assist with those tasks, part-timers (and sometimes full-timers) who can add their talent and experience to a company’s early success. There’s just one problem: consultants are horrifyingly misaligned with startups, as a recent discussion about how to be a great consultant attests. And so if you are going to work with consultants as a founder, there are massive traps you must avoid in order to make effective use of these people. I’m a big fan of The Browser, an email newsletter by Robert Cottrell which curates a list of five articles a day across the web that Cottrell thinks are the best of the day. One of his selections in a recent issue was part two of a four part series on being a great consultant written by Tom Critchlow, who is adapting lessons from the theater world into the work of being a consultant.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
An online company that allows users to obtain a copy of their birth and death certificates from U.S. state governments has exposed a massive cache of applications — including their personal information. More than 752,000 applications for copies of birth certificates were found on an Amazon Web Services (AWS) storage bucket. (The bucket also had 90,400 death certificate applications but these could not be accessed or downloaded.) The bucket wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew the easy-to-guess web address access to the data. Each application process differed by state, but performed the same task: allowing customers to apply to their state’s record-keeping authority — usually a state’s department of health — to obtain a copy of their historical records. The applications we reviewed contained the applicant’s name, date-of-birth, current home address, email address, phone number, and historical personal information, including past addresses, names of family members, and the reason for the application — such as applying for a passport or researching family history. The applications for copies of birth certificates from many U.S. states — including California, New York, and Texas — were left online. (Image: TechCrunch) The applications dated back to late-2017 and the bucket was updating daily. In one week, the company added about 9,000 applications to the bucket. U.K.-based penetration testing company Fidus Information Security found the exposed data. TechCrunch verified the data by matching names and addresses against public records. Fidus and TechCrunch sent several emails prior to publication to warn of the exposed data, but we received only automated emails and no action was taken. We are not naming the company. When reached, Amazon would not intervene but said it would inform the customer. We also reached out to the local data protection authority to warn of the security lapse, but it did not immediately comment Read more: Sprint contractor left thousands of US cell phone bills exposed Tuft & Needle exposed thousands of customer shipping labels StockX was hacked, exposing millions of customers’ data Stop saying, ‘We take your privacy and security seriously’ Capital One breach also hit other major companies, say researchers Macy’s said hackers stole customer credit cards — again

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Microsoft has for years promised it would eventually shut do to-do list app Wunderlist, which it acquired in 2015, in favor of its own app, To Do — after it felt the latter was able to offer a competitive experience that included Wunderlist’s best features. Today, Microsoft is finally announcing a shut-down date for Wunderlist of May 6, 2020. After this date, Wunderlist to-do’s will no longer sync but users will still be able to import their content into Microsoft’s own To Do app. Some Wunderlist users may be disappointed but, to be fair, Microsoft allowed Wunderlist to operate far longer than expected, compared with how most acquisitions of this nature tend to go. And the company prepared Wunderlist users for the app’s inevitable closure as far back as April 2017. In the meantime, Microsoft has been working to ensure that users’ favorite features — like list groups (folders), steps (subtasks), file attachments, sharing, and task assignments — made their way over to Microsoft To Do. In September, Microsoft unveiled another upgrade for To Do which hinted the Wunderlist shut down could be nearing, with the addition of new backgrounds, smart lists and a personalized daily planner offering smart suggestions of tasks to be accomplished. It also integrated To Do with other Microsoft apps like Outlook, Microsoft Planner, Cortana, and Microsoft Launcher on Android. At the same time, Wunderlist’s creator Christian Reber took to Twitter to express remorse over Wunderlist’s coming closure, and even suggested he would buy the app back if allowed. Reber wasn’t expressing sour grapes, necessarily, but rather a desire to fulfill his original vision for the app which included building out features like shared folders and cross-team collaboration, for example. (Reber is currently involved with a new content collaboration startup, Pitch, which he co-founded. So returning to Wunderlist never really seemed feasible.) Microsoft says it decided to now move to close down Wunderlist because it has stopped releasing new features for the app and, as the app ages, it will become more difficult to maintain. In addition, it wants to at last focus its full energies on making its To Do app the best alternative to Wunderlist. While Wunderlist to-do’s will no longer sync after May 6, 2020, the app will be supported until that time. As time goes on, Microsoft will make no guarantees that everything will continue to work properly after the end date. Microsoft also says that, as of today, it’s no longer accepting new sign-ups for Wunderlist in preparation for the app’s closure. To make the switch, To Do users can access the iOS, Android, Mac, PC, or web app to use the Wunderlist importer. (A link to the importer is in the Settings.) You can also choose to export lists from Wunderlist to To Do from the Wunderlist app, if you prefer. Once your content is properly imported, users can switch over to To Do, which now features a similar design following the fall update, but introduces new features as well, like the personalized My Day home screen. In addition, Microsoft Outlook emails and Planner tasks can now be sent to To Do. Meanwhile, a Planned Smart List will how everything with a due date, and this can be configured to only show today’s tasks, if you prefer. “Some of you have been on this journey with us since the very beginning,” said Microsoft, in an announcement. “You, our users, mean everything to us, and we hope that you continue to share our vision and join us on this next step of our journey. You helped us make Wunderlist what it is, and we’d love for you to help us do the same with To Do. Tell us what you love and what you’d like to see added or updated. With our latest additions – printing, smart due dates, and dark mode – you can be sure that we always take your feedback into consideration when building new features,” the company said.

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The next big thing in robotics and automation just might be construction. Technology has already revolutionized manufacturing and logistics, and now a number of well-funded startups are looking to do the same to the construction industry. This March at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI, we’ll be bringing together a trio of companies that have the industry and investors buzzing. Noah Campbell-Ready is the founder and CEO of Built Robotics, a startup that has developed a heavy-duty autonomous bulldozer. The system has already been piloted for 7,500 hours, with a perfect safety record. The company raised a $33 million Series B in September, bringing its total up to $48 million. Tessa Lau is the CEO and founder of Dusty Robotics, a Bay Area-based startup that has developed a robot designed to help automate building layouts at construction sites. The robot is capable of bringing plans to life with extreme accuracy. Dusty raised a $5 million seed round last month. Toggle CEO Daniel Blank will be rounding out the pan. A new kid on the block, the Brooklyn-based company raised a $3 million seed round in October for robots the fabricate and assemble rebar. The companies will be joining us on stage at UC Berkeley on March 3 for TC Sessions: Robotics+AI to discuss how robotics and automation will help transform construction sites of the future. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-a4fad19c68e846fecc75f11477e3b068') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-a4fad19c68e846fecc75f11477e3b068' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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After months of statements, the biggest challenge yet to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed merger kicks off today in a Manhattan court. The trial is the result of pushback from a coalition of attorneys general of 13 states and the District of Columbia, who have raised flags over the proposed $26 billion merging of the country’s third- and fourth-largest carriers. Texas joins growing list of AGs looking to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger “Today we stand on the side of meaningful competition and affordable options for consumers,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Our airwaves belong to the public, who are entitled to more, not less. This merger would hurt the most vulnerable people among us– leaving consumers with fewer choices and higher prices. We’re fighting in court with a 14-state strong coalition for then, and for all Americans, and we’re confident the law is on our side.” The AGs contend that such a merger will decrease competition in the U.S. telecom market, by knocking the number of major carriers down to three. T-Mobile and Sprint, on the other hand, have argued that it will do the opposite, suggesting that the companies’ pooled powers would better equip them to take on Verizon and AT&T in the rush to 5G. FCC approves T-Mobile/Sprint merger despite serious concerns Over the summer, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued an order essentially arguing with the carriers and suggested the deal move forward. “The evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” he said in August. The trial is expected to last three weeks, per The Wall Street Journal, kicking off with today’s opening statements. Sprint Chairman Marcelo Claure and soon-to-be-former T-Mobile CEO John Legere will take the stand to make their case against the AGs.

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As Airbnb absorbs more and more of the demand for housing, it’s exploring how to monetize opportunities beyond vacation rentals. A marketplace for longer term corporate housing could be a huge business, but rather than build that itself, Airbnb is making a strategic investment in one of the market leaders called Zeus Living and will list its homes on the Airbnb site. In just four years of redecorating landlords’ homes and renting them for 30+ day stays to relocated workers, Zeus Living has grown to a $100 million revenue run rate. It boosted revenue 300% in 2019, and now has 250 employees and over 2000 homes under management. Zeus make money by charging landlords one free month of usage, and marking up the rent charged to customers. It could rent out a $4,000 per month home for $5,000 plus take the extra month to earn $16,000 in a year. Zeus CEO and co-founder Kulveer Taggar tells me “I fundamentally believe that a lot of human potential is bound by location. At Zeus, we’re deeply committed to making it easier for people to live where opportunity takes them.” It’s already hosted 27,000 residents for a total of 650,000 nights. Strong margins, swift momentum, and that megatrend of more mobile workforces have earned Zeus Living a new $55 million Series B round it’s announcing on TechCrunch today. The funding comes from Airbnb, Comcast, CEAS Investments, and TI Platform Management, plus existing investors Alumni Ventures Group, Initialized Capital, NFX, and Spike Ventures. The funding comes at a $205 million post-money valuation. “The opportunity here is huge, consumer spend is going toward housing and everyone needs to stay somewhere. But it’s Kulveer and Zeus’ go-to-market strategy that is impressive” says Initialized co-founder and managing partner Garry Tan. “Zeus decided to start with corporate rentals, which we believe is the best go-to-market since it is the highest margin, and capital efficiency wins in a space with many competitors. Corporate needs are longer term, consistent and predictable, and partnering with Airbnb strengthens this approach as they expand to build a platform for every city.” Zeus co-founder and CEO Kulveer Taggar Zeus had previously raised a $2.5 million seed and then an $11.5 million Series A led by Initialized, as well as $10 million in debt to cover taking on properties in the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and D.C. Now that it’s scaling up, Zeus could add a sizable debt facility to cover the risk of filling apartments with employees from clients like Brex, Disney, ServiceTitan, and Samsara. Push-Button Housing Instead of moving into a bland corporate housing block, struggling to find a place themselves, or ending up in expensive long-term Airbnbs, workers moving to new cities can go to Zeus. It takes over apartments, handles maintenance, and fills them with branded comforts like Parachute bedding and Helix mattresses that Zeus gets at bulk rates. The startup is betting that as workers move between jobs and cities more frequently, fewer will own furniture and instead look for furnished homes like those Zeus offers. Thanks to the premium stays it provides, Zeus charge can clients a lucrative rate while Taggar claims his service is still about half the price of standard corporate housing. For property owners, Zeus makes it easy to get a consistent rent paycheck with none of the traditional landlord work. Zeus takes care of cleaning and key exchanges so owners don’t need to do any chores like if they were running an Airbnb. Its goal is to get the first renters in within 10 days of taking on a property. The new funding will help Zeus expand to more neighborhoods and cities while retaining a focus on breadth within each market so clients have plenty of homes to pick from. The startup will be revamping its booking and invoicing tools for enterprise partners, and improving how it sources real estate. Meanwhile it will be investing in customer care to maintain its high 70s NPS scores so relocated workers brag to their colleagues about how nice their new place is. “Finding housing is stressful and time-consuming for both individuals and employers. As someone who has moved countries four times, I’ve lived through that tension” says Taggar. Zeus Living has built technology to remove complexity from housing, turning it into a service that enables a more mobile world.” Taggar had gotten into the real estate business early, remortgaging his mom’s house to buy a condo in Mumbai to rent out. After moving to the US, he built and sold Y Combinator-backed auction tool Auctomatic with co-founder and future Stripe starter Patrick Collison. It was while working on NFC-triggered task launcher Tagstand that Taggar recognized the hassle of both finding new corporate housing and reliably renting out one’s home. With Uber, Stripe, and more startups growing huge by simplifying processes that move a lot of money around, he was inspired to do the same with Zeus Living. The PropertyTech Wars “Modern professionals travel more frequently, stay longer, and seek accommodations that feel like home. As more companies look to Airbnb for Work for extended-stay and relocation solutions, this segment remains a key focus for Airbnb,” says David Holyoke, Global Head of Airbnb For Work. “We have great alignment with the Airbnb team in terms of serving the changing needs of business travelers that want the comforts of home when traveling for extended 30-day stays for work or a project” Taggar follows. Zeus Living’s co-founders Zeus’ biggest threat is that it could get overextended, misjudge demand, and end up on the hook to pay rent for two-year leases it can’t fill. And now with more funding, there will be added scrutiny regarding its margins, especially in the wake of the WeWork implosion. Taggar recognizes these threats. “This is a business where we have to be focused on maximizing the gross profit we generate for the investments we make, with the least amount of risk. At Zeus Living, we’re continuously improving the ways we predict and secure demand.” He’s also building out teams on the ground in different markets to ensure regulatory compliance and push for more conducive laws around 30+ day rental stays. Property tech has become a heated space, though, so Zeus will have heavy competition. There are traditional corporate housing providers, pure marketplaces that don’t deal with logistics, and direct competitors like $66 million-funded Domio, and juggernaut Sonder which has raised a whopping $360 million. Zeus might also see its model copied abroad before it can get there. Over time, landlords and real estate investment trusts like Blackstone could force Zeus, Sonder, and others to compete to pay them the most for leases, eating into all the startups’ margins. At least with Airbnb as an investor, Zeus won’t have to fear a bitter battle with the tech giant over corporate housing. Instead, Airbnb could keep investing to coin off this adjacent market while listing Zeus properties, or potentially acquired the startup one day. For now though, Taggar just wants to prove startups can be accountable in the real world, acknowledging that taking over people’s homes is “a lot of responsibility! Our homes represent hundreds of millions of dollars of assets we manage and we take that very seriously.”

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Roku is unlocking premium content from HBO for the first time without a subscription, with its second-annual holiday streaming fest, Stream-a-thon. The promotion will see Roku offering the full first season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for free to anyone with a Roku device. Also included during the event are full seasons and select episodes from other premium channels like Cinemax, Showtime, Starz and others. The Stream-a-thon is a promotional effort aimed at capturing viewership at a time when many people are off work and relaxing at home, often watching TV. This year, the Steam-a-thon runs from December 26, 2019 through January 1, 2020. This is the second year Roku has hosted the event whose larger goal is to encourage Roku users to sign up for one of the premium channel subscriptions offered through Roku’s platform. The sampling of seasons and shows is meant to get viewers hooked on the content, as well as draw in users to Roku’s free content hub, The Roku Channel, where it features ad-supported free movies and shows, year-round. In addition to season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” other full first seasons being made available include Cinemax’s “Warrior,” Starz’ “Power,” and Showtime’s “Billions,” “The Affair,” and “Ray Donovan,” among others. Several individual episodes are being unlocked as well, including those from HBO’s “Barry,” “Chernobyl,” “Euphoria,” Sesame Street,” and “Succession;” plus Showtime’s “Kidding,” Epix’s “Get Shorty,” “Pennyworth,” and “Punk.” The full list of participants includes Cinemax, CONtv, Dove Channel, EPIX, FitFusion, The Great Courses Signature, HBO, Hallmark Movies Now, Pantaya, Smithsonian Channel Plus, STARZ, SHOWTIME, Stingray Karaoke, and UP Faith & Family. HBO also has a deal with Amazon to offer select seasons of its older shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “True Blood,” “Deadwood,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Oz,” “Six Feet Under,” and others which are free to Prime members. But those aren’t actually free to stream because they require an annual Amazon Prime membership to watch. Related to the launch of Stream-of-Thon, Roku is also for the first time offering a combination HBO + Cinemax value pack that discounts the subscriptions to $20.99 per month instead of paying for them separately at $14.99 and $9.99, respectively.  

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Venture capital investment in all-female founding teams hit $3.3 billion in 2019, representing 2.8% of capital invested across the entire U.S. startup ecosystem this year, according to the latest data collected by PitchBook. While that number may seem insubstantial, it’s a step up from last year’s total. In 2018, venture capitalists struck 580 deals worth $3 billion — up from just $2.1 billion in 2017 — for all-female teams, or only 2.2% of all U.S. deal activity. So far, female-founded and mixed-gender teams have raised a total of $17.2 billion, with roughly three weeks remaining in 2019. That’s 11.5% of all venture capital investment, an increase from 10.6% last year, when those groups attracted $17 billion across some 2,000 deals. Crunchbase, another organization focused on tracking and analyzing fundraising data, reported in October that $20 billion in global capital was invested in female-founded and female co-founded startups so far this year. Three percent of global venture dollar volume was funneled toward female teams, Crunchbase said, and 10% toward teams of women and men. Despite efforts from female founders, venture capitalists and diversity advocates in Silicon Valley and beyond, female entrepreneurs continue to struggle to raise as much capital as their male counterparts. The lack of equity in VC is in part caused by the lack of women on the other side of the table; venture capital funds still employ very few women. Although dozens of firms have made concerted efforts to diversify their ranks, fewer than 10% of decision-makers at U.S. VC firms are women, according to a 2019 Axios analysis, which determined just 105 investors out of 1,088 were female. While the study noted an increase from the previous year’s 8.93% and 2017’s 7%, it proved venture capital is still very much a male-dominated industry. Carta, a venture-backed company that provides startups tools to manage their equity, released its second annual gender equity gap study last month, noting that male founders and employees still receive significantly more equity wealth than women. Men have 64% of all startup equity, according to Carta’s findings, and represent 80% of cap table millionaires. Carta used data from 320,000 employees, some 10,000 companies and 25,000 founders to determine these results, which paint a disappointing picture for women at startups. Another venture-backed company, Tide, conducted its own study around female founders this year. The study focused on entrepreneurs in the U.K. and U.S., which both struggle with diversity in entrepreneurship. Tide determined that of the 403 degrees obtained from universities in the U.K. by female founders, roughly a quarter were from the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, the country’s top schools. Of the American entrepreneurs included in the study, most went to Stanford University, MIT or Harvard University. The conclusion? Of the female founders who ultimately succeed in raising funding from private investors, most are graduates of elite universities, suggesting a certain socio-economic status. Of course, accessing capital is even more difficult for entrepreneurs who do not attend top universities and who therefore struggle to gain access to investor-friendly networks. New analysis on the backgrounds of female founders with at least $1M in backing. Turns out going to Stanford is helpful! https://t.co/YaP3b8u1QM @TideBanking pic.twitter.com/u2vcMKrfGJ — Kate Clark (@KateClarkTweets) September 10, 2019 The diversity issue in VC expands beyond women. While several funds have cropped up with a mission to back female founders exclusively, including Female Founders Fund, BBG Ventures, Halogen Ventures, Jane VC, Cleo Capital, accelerator program Ready Set Raise or XFactor Ventures, minority entrepreneurs, including men of color, struggle to secure financing. And while companies like PitchBook and Crunchbase track gender, they do not track race, making it difficult to understand the size and scale of the race funding gap. On a mission to close that gap, firms like Harlem Capital invest in minority entrepreneurs and organizations like BLCK VC seek to provide community for black venture investors. The New York-based team behind Harlem Capital announced a $40 million debut fundraise last month, one of the largest-ever pools of capital for a fund with a diversity mandate. Harlem, similar to BLCK VC, hopes to attract more minorities to venture capital, where the vast majority of deal makers are white or Asian men. “You need diversity funds like ourselves to get this market anywhere close to parity,” Harlem Capital managing partner Jarrid Tingle told TechCrunch last month. Other efforts focused on women in VC and technology include All Raise, which hired its first chief executive officer in Pam Kostka earlier this year. 2019 has been a banner year for the nonprofit organization focused on increasing representation across the entire tech ecosystem. Not only did it bring its first official leader and several employees, it announced new chapters in Los Angeles and Boston, launched a program called VC Cohorts and hosted its annual conference, several in-person and virtual fundraising workshops and networking sessions. “Women are hungry for the support and guidance we provide,” All Raise’s Kostka told TechCrunch in October. “I think the movement is just gathering momentum.” Large and growing “unicorn” startups founded by women have also helped move the needle this year, proving companies led by women can gain support from Silicon Valley’s elite. PitchBook notes Glossier and Rent the Runway, two companies founded and led by women, as examples of new entrants to the unicorn club (companies with valuations of $1 billion or larger). Glossier landed a $100 million Series D led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Tiger Global and Spark Capital in March. The round valued Emily Weiss’ business at a whopping $1.2 billion. News of Rent the Runway’s $125 million round led by Franklin Templeton Investments and Bain Capital Ventures came just a couple of days later. The deal valued the clothing rental company at $1 billion. The newest data may indicate progress, but all-male teams still raised more than 85% of all U.S. venture capital dollars in 2019, while decision makers at venture capital firms were still more than 90% male. The venture capital industry, as it stands, is still a boy’s club. Diversity-focused VC fund Harlem Capital debuts with $40M

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Jaspreet Singh Contributor Share on Twitter Jaspreet Singh is the founder and CEO of Druva, the industry’s first data protection and management solution built for the cloud era. More posts by this contributor The Future Of Enterprise Storage Is Probably Not Storage Nearly every startup begins as a lean, scrappy team that works closely in a central hub — it’s an interesting time when each team member is wearing multiple hats, likely working across several different job titles and is hands on with all aspects of the business. But as your company grows, you’ll quickly discover that scaling has a unique set of challenges, from hiring those who are the right fit, to transitioning a multi-functional team into specialty areas, to expanding offices cross-country or overseas. I’ve found the latter is a particular challenge for most.  There are numerous benefits to building a team across varying offices and locations — drawing from a larger talent pool being number one. Tapping into major markets across the world opens your startup up to more potential applicants and in turn, helps gain the talent you need to grow.  But these benefits also come with potential challenges, including overcoming communication and language barriers, time zone differences or lack of alignment, just to name a few. Some employees may feel they’re out of sight and out of mind, which can quickly impact culture across the company, particularly if the newer, smaller offices feel like headquarters is dictating the terms. My co-founders and I have worked through these very same challenges as we’ve scaled our company and have put a lot of thought into how we can best approach office expansion and integration to alleviate these issues and ensure our employees feel seen and connected to the company – whether they’re based ten feet or thousands of miles away. Create opportunities for team members to connect in person  I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in face-to-face time, enabling your employees to get to know the people behind the online and phone personas that they work with.  You can do this in numerous ways, whether that’s bringing everyone together once a year or throughout the year for special projects _ face-to-face time gives your employees an opportunity to build a connection and understand one another’s interests, work style and strengths on a deeper level. While this is achievable to a certain degree via email or phone, meeting face-to-face expedites this process significantly. In fact, research has shown that face-to-face meetings are 34x more successful than email thanks in large part to the boost from non-verbal cues (which are lost in phone and email interactions).  While Druva is headquartered in Silicon Valley, the majority of our employeesa are across the globe — with 300 employees in the U.S., and more than 500 spread across APAC and EMEA. What’s more, each region houses a variety of workstreams, so we’ve found it’s best to tailor our approach to each team: Hosting an annual kick-off: At the start of every fiscal year, we bring our global sales and product teams together for a multi-day meeting near our headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA. This gives us an opportunity to not only ensure that everyone is aligned on the company’s strategy and objectives, it also helps create a sense of camaraderie. These are teams that work across the globe and as a result, often communicate over email. Being able to meet in person or meet other members of the team builds connections that are vital for a healthy organization. Setting aside budget for site visits: It’s not always practical for employees to travel to other offices regularly — whether that’s due to tight travel budgets or personal commitments — but I encourage every company to allocate travel budget for office visits that empower both headquarter and remote employees to travel and get to know team members. Whether it’s flying someone to London to meet with their new team lead or sponsoring an extra night stay so an employee on personal travel can visit another office while they’re in the city, encouraging team members to take the opportunity to meet face-to-face — outside of annual events or product launches — not only creates a greater culture but fosters collaboration, which can lead to greater productivity long-term.

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