posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Chinese investor activity in Africa. Before that, I noted Airbnb’s issues. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you’re new, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here. Europe’s appeal This week I want to talk about Europe and not just because I’m in Europe prepping for TechCrunch’s annual conference, TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. But because of a new trend we’re seeing in which U.S. venture capital funds strike deals overseas—more than ever. Forbes wrote a piece on this trend this week alongside the release of their annual European Midas List, which ranks the top VCs on the continent. More and more, top funds, including the likes of Sequoia and Benchmark, are writing checks to companies in London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and more.  Sequoia, for example, funded a teenager in Dublin, Ireland this year. Evervault is building a data protection solution aimed at developers, by way of an API, which aims to bake data protection into the app from the start. We hear a number of other top firms are sending partners over seas, too, or considering making such moves. Why? To search for companies to add to their global portfolios (in a region where they may also see a nice discount). As we prep for a new year, this is one of several trends in VC I’ll be keeping an eye on. Workplace toxicity If you didn’t log on to Twitter this week, you may have missed The Verge’s investigation into workplace toxicity at Away, a ‘unicorn’ travel company known for its lightweight, compact suitcases (full disclosure: I have an Away bag). Read that story first, then check out Winnie co-founder and chief executive officer Sara Mauskopf’s piece from this week, “The inevitable takedown of the female CEO,” in which she questions why we celebrate female-founded companies, until they rise too far. Here’s a passage: Aggressive. Blunt. Furious. These are words that have been used to criticize the behavior of female CEOs of prominent companies like Thinx, Cleo, Rent the Runway and ThirdLove, to name a few. Away is the latest female-led company to come under fire, in an article in The Verge on Thursday. First, let me be clear: A toxic work culture is never acceptable. Regardless of who started a company or what kind of stress the company is under, it’s never okay to mistreat employees. Some of the things that came to light in these pieces are particularly abhorrent: sexual harassment, lying about one’s credentials, creating an unsafe space for underrepresented groups, overworking employees. These are dynamics that need to be called out and eliminated at all companies, whether female or male-led. The Away example is no exception. The top VC deals of the week: Vroom nabs $254M to take its growth up a gear Flipkart leads $60M investment in logistics company Shadowfax Autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility gets $50M Fashion rental company Style Theory nabs $15M GitGuardian nabs $12M to help developers write more secure code Uniform Teeth gets $10M for its teeth-straightening operations Brazilian fintech startup Cora raises $10M Meatable, the startup developing tech for manufacturing cultured meat, raises $10M Reelgood raises $6.75M for its universal streaming guide Apostrophe secures $6M to let you see a dermatologist from your phone Plus, read my profile of VSCO, the photo-sharing and editing app you may have never heard of. That is, until the “VSCO girl” meme craze of 2019. Disrupt Berlin It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but Disrupt Berlin is this week! I’m in Berlin this week to meet with Europe’s top VCs and some of the most promising founders in the region. If you’re here too, make sure to say hi. Here are a few things you can expect to hear about at the event: Learn how to win customers and influence consumers Three of the best tackle the thorny issue of Brexit for startups Learn how to raise your first Euros #Equity If you like this newsletter, you will definitely enjoy Equity, which brings the content of this newsletter to life — in podcast form! Join myself and Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm every Friday for a quick breakdown of the week’s biggest news in venture capital and startups. This week, we discussed Harlem Capital’s debut fund, a $40 million effort that will back minority entrepreneurs. On top of that, we shared thoughts on Figure’s latest funding, European venture capital activity and more. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

Read More...
posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Reddit has linked account activity involving the leak and amplification of sensitive UK-US trade talks on its platform during the ongoing UK election campaign to a suspected Russian political influence operation. Or, to put it more plainly, the social network suspects that Russian operatives are behind the leak of sensitive trade data — likely with the intention of impacting the UK’s General Election campaign. The country goes to the polls next week, on December 12. The UK has been politically deadlocked since mid 2016 over how to implement the result of the referendum to leave the European Union . The minority Conservative government has struggled to negotiate a brexit deal that parliament backs. Another hung parliament or minority government would likely result in continued uncertainty. In a post discussing the “Suspected campaign from Russia on Reddit”, the company writes: We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK. We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it, and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia. Earlier this year Facebook discovered a Russian campaign on its platform, which was further analyzed by the Atlantic Council and dubbed “Secondary Infektion.” Suspect accounts on Reddit were recently reported to us, along with indicators from law enforcement, and we were able to confirm that they did indeed show a pattern of coordination. We were then able to use these accounts to identify additional suspect accounts that were part of the campaign on Reddit. This group provides us with important attribution for the recent posting of the leaked UK documents, as well as insights into how adversaries are adapting their tactics. Reddit says that an account, called gregoratior, originally posted the leaked trade talks document. Later a second account, ostermaxnn, reposted it. The platform also found a “pocket of accounts” that worked together to manipulate votes on the original post in an attempt to amplify it. Though fairly fruitlessly, as it turned out; the leak gained little attention on Reddit, per the company. As a result of the investigation Reddit says it has banned 1 subreddit and 61 accounts — under policies against vote manipulation and misuse of its platform. The story doesn’t end there, though, because whoever was behind the trade talk leak appears to have resorted to additional tactics to draw attention to it — including emailing campaign groups and political activists directly. This activity did bear fruit this month when the opposition Labour party got hold of the leak and made it into a major campaign issue, claiming the 451-page document shows the Conservative party, led by Boris Johnson, is plotting to sell off the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use National Health Service (NHS) to US private health insurance firms and drug companies. Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, showed a heavily redacted version of the document during a TV leaders debate earlier this month, later calling a press conference to reveal a fully un-redacted version of the data — arguing the document proves the NHS is in grave danger if the Conservatives are re-elected. Johnson has denied Labour’s accusation that the NHS will be carved up as the price of a Trump trade deal. But the leaked document itself is genuine. It details preliminary meetings between UK and US trade negotiators, which took place between July 2017 and July 2019, in which discussion of the NHS takes place, in addition to other issues such as food standards. Although the document does not confirm what position the UK might seek to adopt in any future trade talks with the US. The source of the heavily redacted version of the document appears to be a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by campaigning organisation, Global Justice Now — which told Vice it made an FOI request to the UK’s Department for International Trade around 18 months ago. The group said it was subsequently emailed a fully unredacted version of the document by an unknown source which also appears to have sent the data directly to the Labour party. So while the influence operation looks to have originated on Reddit, the agents behind it seem to have resorted to more direct means of data dissemination in order for the leak to gain the required attention to become an election-influencing issue. Experts in online influence operations had already suggested similarities between the trade talks leak and an earlier Russian operation, dubbed Secondary Infektion, which involved the leak of fake documents on multiple online platforms. Facebook identified and took down that operation in May. In a report analysing the most recent leak, social network mapping and analysis firm Graphika says the key question is how the trade document came to be disseminated online a few weeks before the election. “The mysterious [Reddit] user seemingly originated the leak of a diplomatic document by posting it around online, just six weeks before the UK elections. This raises the question of how the user got hold of the document in the first place,” it writes. “This is the single most pressing question that arises from this report.” Graphika’s analysis concludes that the manner of leaking and amplifying the trade talks data “closely resembles” the known Russian information operation, Secondary Infektion. “The similarities to Secondary Infektion are not enough to provide conclusive attribution but are too close to be simply a coincidence. They could indicate a return of the actors behind Secondary Infektion or a sophisticated attempt by unknown actors to mimic it,” it adds. Internet-enabled Russian influence operations that feature hacking and strategically timed data dumps of confidential/sensitive information, as well as the seeding and amplification of political disinformation which is intended to polarize, confuse and/or disengage voters, have become a regular feature of Western elections in recent years. The most high profile example of Russian election interference remains the 2016 hack of documents and emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic National Committee — which went on to be confirmed by US investigators as an operation by the country’s GRU intelligence agency. In 2017 emails were also leaked from French president Emmanuel Macron’s campaign shortly before the election — although with apparently minimal impact in that case. (Attribution is also less clear-cut.) Russian activity targeting UK elections and referendums remains a matter of intense interest and investigation — and had been raised publicly as a concern by former prime minister, Theresa May, in 2017. Although her government failed to act on recommendations to strengthen UK election and data laws to respond to the risks posed by Internet-enabled interference. She also did nothing to investigate questions over the extent of foreign interference in the 2016 brexit referendum. May was finally unseated by the ongoing political turmoil around brexit this summer, when Johnson took over as prime minister. But he has also turned a wilfully blind eye to the risks around foreign election interference — while fully availing himself of data-fuelled digital campaign methods whose ethics have been questioned by multiple UK oversight bodies. A report into Russian interference in UK politics which was compiled by the UK’s intelligence and security parliamentary committee — and had been due to be published ahead of the general election — was also personally blocked from publication by the prime minister. Voters won’t now get to see that information until after the election. Or, well, barring another strategic leak…

Read More...
posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Facebook is selling Oculus Medium — a 3D virtual reality sculpting tool for creatives — to Adobe. The team was an expensive effort for Oculus and its sale signifies a broader rethinking within Facebook in what virtual reality projects they tackle in-house. It’s clear that Oculus pumped an awful lot of money into Medium over the years and the sale probably isn’t great for the Oculus Medium team, if only because there is now a proper price tag attached to the effort that will be looming for the fairly niche software. Terms of the deal weren’t shared so who knows what kind of deal Adobe got. What is nice is that Facebook went to the trouble of properly spinning out Medium. When Facebook shut down Oculus Story Studio, the company quietly laid off its employees. Medium is well-liked by a small community and it makes plenty of sense at Adobe where first-party integration with other products will undoubtedly make it better software. It’s nice to see it live on. The sale of Medium after the purchase of Beat Saber-maker Beat Games really encapsulates the VR content strategy of Oculus at the moment. Non-gaming creative tools aren’t getting new investment, cinematic VR content isn’t being prioritized, and Facebook is preparing to buy more game studios with the goal of scaling their titles. For a division that has been talking only about the distant future for years, it’s a pragmatic strategy that probably signifies broader contentment with how things are looking on the hardware front.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Atomico is among the most widely respected venture firms in Europe, ranking right up there with friendly rivals like Accel London and Index Ventures. It’s also just 13 years old at this point, compared with its more established peers. It’s easy to overlook this, considering the impact the firm has made on the European startup scene since Swedish billionaire Niklas Zennström — who’d previously cofounded Skype and Kazaa — first swung open its doors. Consider that four funds and $1.5 billion dollars in asset under management later, Atomico is now among Europe’s largest early-stage funds. It also has one of the most enviable portfolios, with companies that include Klarna (valued at $5.5 billion), Graphcore (valued at $1 billion), Stripe (valued at $35 billion) and Compass (valued at $6.4 billion), as well as a growing long list of past winners, including Climate Corp., which sold to Monsanto for $1.1 billion back in 2013. In fact,  it was through this last investment  that Atomico first met Siraj Khaliq, who is today among the most senior members of the Atomico team and who will be joining us on stage at TechCrunch Berlin next week for a wide-ranging discussion about where Atomico is shopping — and how the different geographies it covers are evolving. Khaliq previously cofounded and served as CTO of The Climate Corp. and today leads Atomico’s “frontier” investment team. He’ll be talking with us along the firm’s other most senior members, including Niall Wass, who co-leads the firm’s consumer investment team; Sophia Bendz, who lead Atomico’s Nordic investment sourcing, as well as its angel program; and Hiro Tamura, who co-leads the firm’s consumer investment team with Wass and also leads its later-stage investing team. (Tamura is also the longest serving partner at Atomico after Zennström.) What excites them, what concerns them, and how are they trying to prepare for 2020? We’re thrilled to be sitting down with them to talk about these questions and much more. If you care about what’s happening on the ground in Europe, this is one conversation you won’t want to miss. Tickets to the show are still available. You can find the entire Disrupt Berlin agenda here. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-c98bc66ab504d3407da982a3cb4a6527') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-c98bc66ab504d3407da982a3cb4a6527' }, "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 ); } } )();  

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
After a three-day trial, Elon Musk was found not liable for defamation in a federal court today in Los Angeles, where Musk reportedly owns a cluster of six homes as well as oversees the operations of both SpaceX and Tesla. British diver Vernon Unsworth had brought the suit against Musk in the fall of 2018 after Musk tweeted that Unsworth was a “pedo guy,” meaning a pedophile. After Musk and his employees developed what they called a a mini-submarine or escape pod to save a children’s soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July of 2018, and Unsworth — a stranger to Musk and an experienced diver with knowledge of the cave — called the production a “PR stunt” when asked about the effort in an interview with CNN. Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts,” Unsworth told the reporter. Soon after, Musk hit the “tweet” button, publishing the now-infamous insult. Unsworth brought the suit after Musk doubled down on his accusation, describing Unsworth as a “child rapist” in August 2018 emails to Buzzfeed. He claimed in court this week that since “being branded a pedophile” by Musk, he has felt “vulnerable and sometimes, when I’m in the U.K., I feel isolated.” Unsworth — who in addition to being a diver is a financial consultant who divides his time between England and Thailand — was seeking damages from Musk to the tune of $190 million, including actual, assumed, and punitive damages. Indeed, this week, his team tried to make the point that what he was seeking is a pittance for Musk, who was told to estimate his own net worth during the trial and guessed it to be roughly $20 billion, based on his Tesla and SpaceX holdings. During the trial, Musk apologized repeatedly for the “pedo guy” tweet, saying that what he’d really meant was “creepy old man.” Musk’s attorney also defended Musk’s temper, telling Unworth at one point: “Do you believe Mr Musk is so cold-hearted that he was sending over this sub with no regard for the children’s lives? . . . Are you willing to apologize to Mr Musk for saying that it was just a PR stunt?” Unsworth declined, saying his insult was “to the tube and not Mr. Musk personally.” In the end, the court decided Musk’s outburst wasn’t meant as a statement of fact. CNBC notes, the verdict could “set a precedent where free speech online, libel and slander are concerned” as the case was among the first court cases brought by a private individual over a tweet. Whether it emboldens Musk is another question. Musk is an avid user of Twitter and this isn’t the first time tweets have landed him in hot water. A tweet-related battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year ultimately cost Musk $20 million and his role as chairman of Tesla for at least three years. As part of the settlement, Musk also agreed to a condition stipulating that he get pre-approval before sending social media posts containing information that is “material” to Tesla investors. In April of this year, the two sides struck an updated deal that narrowed the scope of what Musk can’t tweet about without first receiving outside approval.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Brian Ascher Contributor Share on Twitter Brian Ascher is a partner at Venrock, where he invests broadly across enterprise and fintech and serves on the boards of several companies, including Personal Capital, 6Sense, Socrates AI, Dynamic Signal, Retail Solutions, SmartBiz Loans, and Inrix. More posts by this contributor Running through walls: 6Sense’s Amanda Kahlow on values that stick Running Through Walls: Dynamic Signal’s Russ Fradin on how good businesses constantly pivot Once you’ve found product/market fit, scaling a SaaS business is all about honing go-to-market efficiency. Many extremely helpful metrics and analytics have been developed to provide instrumentation for this journey: LTV (lifetime value of a customer), CAC (customer acquisition cost), Magic Number and SaaS Quick Ratio are all very valuable tools. But the challenge in using derived metrics such as these is that there are often many assumptions, simplifications and sampling choices that need to go into these calculations, thus leaving the door open to skewed results. For example, when your company has only been selling for a year or two, it is extremely hard to know your true lifetime customer value. For starters, how do you know the right length of a “lifetime?” Taking one divided by your annual dollar churn rate is quite imperfect, especially if all or most of your customers have not yet reached their first renewal decision. How much account expansion is reasonable to assume if you only have limited evidence? LTV is most helpful if based on gross margin, not revenue, but gross margins are often skewed initially. When there are only a few customers to service, cost of goods sold (COGS) can appear artificially low because the true costs to serve have not yet been tracked as distinct cost centers as most of your team members wear multiple hats and pitch in ad hoc. Likewise, metrics derived from sales and marketing costs, such as CAC and Magic Number, can also require many subjective assumptions. When it’s just founders selling, how much of their time and overhead do you put into sales costs? Did you include all sales-related travel, event marketing and PR costs? I can’t tell you the number of times entrepreneurs have touted having a near-zero CAC when they are just starting out and have only handfuls of customers — which were mostly sold by the founder or are “friendly” relationships. Even if you think you have nearly zero CAC today, you should expect dramatically rising sales costs once professional sellers, marketers, managers, and programs are put in place as you scale. One alternative to using derived metrics is to examine raw data, which is less prone to assumptions and subjectivity. The problem is how to do this efficiently and without losing the forest for the trees. The best tool I have encountered for measuring sales efficiency is called the 4×2 (that’s “four by two”) which I credit to Steve Walske, one of the master strategists of software sales, and the former CEO of PTC, a company renowned for its sales effectiveness and sales culture. [Here’s a podcast I did with Steve on How to Build a Sales Team.] The 4×2 is a color-coded chart where each row is an individual seller on your team and the columns are their quarterly performance shown as dollars sold. [See a 4×2 chart example below]. Sales are usually measured as net new ARR, which includes new accounts and existing account expansions net of contraction, but you can also use new TCV (total contract value), depending on which number your team most focuses. In addition to sales dollars, the percentage of quarterly quota attainment is shown. The name 4×2 comes from the time frame shown: trailing four quarters, the current quarter, and the next quarter. Color-coding the cells turns this tool from a dense table of numbers into a powerful data visualization. Thresholds for the heatmap can be determined according to your own needs and culture. For example, green can be 80% of quota attainment or above, yellow can be 60% to 79% of quota, and red can be anything below 60%. Examining individual seller performance in every board meeting or deck is a terrific way to quickly answer many important questions, especially early on as you try to figure out your true position on the Sales Learning Curve. Publishing such leaderboards for your Board to see also tends to motivate your sales people, who are usually highly competitive and appreciate public recognition for a job well done, and likewise loathe to fall short of their targets in a public setting. A sample 4×2 chart. Some questions the 4×2 can answer: Overall performance and quota targets How are you doing against your sales plan? Lots of red is obviously bad, while lots of green is good. But all green may mean that quotas are being set too low. Raising quotas even by a small increment for each seller quickly compounds to yield big difference as you scale, so having evidence to help you adjust your targets can be powerful. A reasonable assumption would be annual quota for a given rep set at 4 to 5 times their on-target earnings potential.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Boeing and launch partner United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed a key step today in pursuit of launching U.S. astronauts aboard their commercial spacecraft. The Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule was atop the ULA Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complext 41 in Florida, with the rocket fully fuelled while the combined crew all took part in a dress rehearsal called the “integrated Day of Launch Test – aka IDOLT because space people all love acronyms so much. The rehearsal paves the way for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that NASA, ULA and Boeing are targeting for December 20 (which just changed today from December 19), which will be exactly what the first crewed mission aboard the Starliner will be, but without the crew on board. Today’s test involved everything leading up to the actual launch, including real feeling, a launch countdown, preparing and checking the access hatch to the crew capsule and more. This kind of practice was standard during the days of Shuttle launches, and helps ensure that everyone knows what to do and when, and that more than just knowing, they can demonstrate that it works exactly as it’s supposed in a real-world setting. The full integrated dress rehearsal is especially important, since while you can always drill teams independently, you never know exactly how things are going to work until you run them all together. As mentioned,d next up is the crucial OFT that will set the stage for a crewed launch early next year. The current target is December 20, so Boeing and its partners should get this in just before year’s end, if all goes to plan.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Bird has laid off less than two dozen employees, The San Francisco Chronicle first reported. The layoffs affect employees Bird brought on board following its ~$25 million acquisition of Scoot earlier this year. Those affected were salaried employees and/or people with technical backgrounds, according to Bird. “The integration of Bird and Scoot does not impact or change our previous or future commitments to San Francisco or to providing its residents and visitors access to the highest quality and most reliable shared micromobility vehicles and services,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are planning to relocate a number of Scoot team members to our Santa Monica headquarters while also maintaining an office in San Francisco for our operations and maintenance teams as well as a number of regionally specific roles.” Scoot currently operates electric kick scooters and mopeds in San Francisco, where it’s one of four companies permitted to do so, as well as other types of vehicles in Santiago and Barcelona. This round marks Bird’s second set of layoffs this year. In March, Bird laid off between four to five percent of its workforce. Those layoffs were part of Bird’s annual performance review process and only affected U.S.-based employees. In October, Bird closed a $275 million Series D round led by CDPQ and Sequoia Capital at a $2.5 billion pre-money valuation. That same month, at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told me he wants the Scoot brand to live on. “We think it is a strong brand particularly with cities and so we want it to live on,” he said. “It’ll certainly live on in San Francisco. And then we’re still trying to figure out in other cities what makes the most sense for the brand.”

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Sara Mauskopf Contributor Share on Twitter Sara Mauskopf is the CEO and co-founder of Winnie, a marketplace for daycare and preschool helping over 4 million parents across the U.S. Prior to founding Winnie, Sara held product leadership roles at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google. Four years ago when I founded Winnie, I set out to build a different kind of startup. Above and beyond any success our business achieved, it was most important to me that we create a culture where people would want to work. As a new mom at the time, I intentionally decided to build a company where employees would not work on nights or weekends, where there was flexibility for employees to manage their lives outside of the office, where motherhood would no longer be a penalty but a bonus and where underrepresented groups would be valued and promoted. If we failed because we did those things, so be it. Four years later, I’m proud of the culture my co-founder Anne Halsall and I have built. As it turns out, treating employees well, valuing their families and personal time and diversifying our team are not only the right things to do, but also competitive advantages. Even so, I worry that being a woman and taking on the role of co-founder and CEO places a target on my back. Aggressive. Blunt. Furious. These are words that have been used to criticize the behavior of female CEOs of prominent companies like Thinx, Cleo, Rent the Runway and ThirdLove, to name a few. Away is the latest female-led company to come under fire, in an article in The Verge on Thursday. First, let me be clear: A toxic work culture is never acceptable. Regardless of who started a company or what kind of stress the company is under, it’s never okay to mistreat employees. Some of the things that came to light in these pieces are particularly abhorrent: sexual harassment, lying about one’s credentials, creating an unsafe space for underrepresented groups, overworking employees. These are dynamics that need to be called out and eliminated at all companies, whether female or male-led. The Away example is no exception. But as a female founder and CEO of a growing company, I have to ask: Why does it seem like so many of the toxic companies in the news are founded and led by women? The number of major public corporations led by female CEOs is less than 5%, and of the 134 U.S.-based unicorns, only 14 even have a woman with a co-founder title. For such a small fraction of female-led companies, the amount of negative press female CEOs receive is glaringly disproportionate. I have a couple of ideas why. First, while much of what is revealed in these reports is disgusting, what also comes through is the stereotype of women leaders as “bitches.” Articles often highlight when female CEOs curse, yell and show anger or bawdiness, because the shock value is higher than when male CEOs demonstrate these behaviors. We ask women leaders not only to be successful, but also to be ladylike and likable. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been criticized for not being warm and friendly enough, or saying things that were too blunt. Second, studies show that when it comes to ethical failures, women are “judged more harshly than men.” The ThirdLove article calls out that “at a by women, for women company” ThirdLove’s practice of discouraging salary negotiation was particularly disappointing. Cleo’s last-minute setup of a mother’s room using hanging curtains and a TaskRabbit was described by employees as one of the “more outrageous” behaviors of the founder. As a breastfeeding mom myself, I hate when mother’s rooms are inadequate, but male-led companies have poor lactation accommodations all the time. The way we are targeting female founders and CEOs is doing nothing to encourage gender equality. It is only ensuring that the number of female CEOs is dwindling under the pressure of having to live up to stricter standards than men. So what can each of us do to create a more fair and accurate picture? Reporters should continue to hold companies accountable, but just seek stories of male CEOs in equal proportion to the number of male-led companies out there. Those stories are there and only a few of the very worst examples have been exposed. Let’s have it take much less time to expose the next Travis Kalanick or Adam Neumann. As readers, it is also worth being aware of our own biases. We can ask ourselves if we’re more outraged at a behavior because it comes from a woman, and if there are men we’re allowing to go unscrutinized. We can ask ourselves if maybe we enjoy seeing successful women taken down a notch (I certainly hope the answer is no). I will continue to implement a healthy work environment at Winnie, grow a company where my employees can thrive and hold myself to the highest standards of conduct. But as we continue to take down the already few female CEOs one by one, I can only hope that what I do will be enough.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Todd Dipaola Contributor Share on Twitter Todd Dipaola founded inMarket to bring the performance and accountability of digital advertising to offline brands. With less than two months left in the decade, advertising is again entering a new phase of rapid expansion with customer experience front and center. The explosion of data and identity management, combined with technical advancements in real-time signal detection and machine learning, present new opportunities to respond to consumers, but mastering this ability enables marketers to create “magic moments” — instances of hyper-relevant content, delivered at the perfect time and place.  We’ll see evolutions on the back end in terms of delivery and measurement — as well as on the consumer-facing end — through new creative deployments that enhance the brick-and-mortar shopping trip. 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.  Achieving this balance won’t be an easy task, but the most progressive marketers will succeed in driving this industry toward a more customer-centric future because they took steps to evolve before it was too late. With that in mind, here are five ways we expect advertising to become more holistic in the 2020s:  Smart data will take priority over big data Most marketers have heard the adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” For too long, the industry relied on sheer quantity of data with no quality metrics for making key audience assumptions. This mentality has had a detrimental effect on our industry, creating an ecosystem where people simply hate ads and brands focus on viewability over ROI. To truly understand our audiences, we must first turn data from multi-channel interactions into smart, actionable insights. This involves not only understanding who the customer is, but what motivates them.  Progressive marketers will continue to invest heavily in identity graphs to tie critical data and behaviors to individual profiles across channels. Using data science and machine learning, marketers will then be able to advance their knowledge about consumers to new levels, employing new messaging tactics based not only on value, but also on what inspires action. Key nuances, like distinguishing a deal-seeker from a value-seeker, will lead to more engaging personalized experiences and ultimately better ROI for advertisers. We’ll see a flurry of investment in real-time engagement We live in a world where our technology predicts where we are going, what we are seeking and how long it will take to get there by recognizing our patterns and everyday behaviors. The benefits in terms of convenience and knowledge are addictive. Look no further than email, social and Alexa to see how real-time awareness and time savings from these interactions impact our everyday lives.   For marketers, capturing this lightning in a bottle has always been elusive — until now. The rise of real-time advertising, customer data platforms (CDPs), data science and machine learning have created the ability to detect purchases as well as online and real world location signals in real-time. This enables marketers to not only predict the next shopping trip, but what a consumer is likely to buy, when it matters most. These sense-and-respond capabilities will enable progressive marketers to create experiences of enormous value at the moments that matter, such as triggering an offer of relevance upon entering a store or delivering a tailored experience at a specific time and location. The new decade will bring about massive investments into these technologies given their immediate ability to influence consumers during the actual purchase process. We’ll see budgets being specifically carved out to support real-time advertising and technologies as marketers optimize and convert users with greater effectiveness.   For consumers, it means that the in-store experience will continue to become more interactive, with mobile devices as the connecting point between e-commerce and brick and mortar. Brands that thrive in this environment will win by delivering meaningful creative that connects both online and offline worlds in a helpful and relevant way. Cutting-edge tech will create new ad experiences

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Nathan Beckord Contributor Share on Twitter Nathan Beckord is CEO of Foundersuite.com, a software platform for raising capital and managing investors that has helped entrepreneurs raise over $2 billion since 2016. He is also the host of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast. More posts by this contributor 2017 is the year your startup gets funded Tips From The Startup Fundraising Playbook As the world grows increasingly digital, the craving for face-to-face connections is surging. Squad, an invite-only community and app, is trying to fill the need for offline connections by curating tight-knit events for Gen Z and Millennials. “It mimics building relationships in real life,” says founder and CEO Isa Watson. It’s an idea that investors are already backing: Squad closed a $3.5 million seed round and plans to raise its Series A in early 2020, but the road to securing that round was anything but easy. During a conversation on the How I Raised It podcast, Watson shared the ups and downs of her unique path to fundraising. Establish credibility for a few years before fundraising She started by putting some of the earliest capital into the business herself with support from her family. She then worked her way through more than 200 meetings in Silicon Valley to build up her credibility as a founder — a step that she can’t stress enough — before Squad even started its official seed round. “Despite the fact that I went to MIT, despite the fact that I managed a billion-dollar product at JPMorgan Chase and even built a huge digital product, I was still a Silicon Valley outsider,” Watson says. People sometimes have the perception that being an alumni at a top U.S. university will mean they can go to Silicon Valley and just be “in,” Watson explains, but that’s not quite how it works. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of credibility building,” she says. “That’s what I was doing for a few years before we actually did our official seed round. By the time I did it, it was like my reputation preceded me and there was enough familiarity with me.” Isa Watson, Squad founder and CEO Don’t do the cold outreach thing — warm introductions only Despite taking more than 200 meetings in her efforts to crack Silicon Valley, Watson never took a cold meeting. “Cold outreach is a tactic that I see a lot of founders using,” she says, “whereas I would argue that the more effective introduction comes from someone who knows someone.” Leveraging the connections she built was critical in connecting Watson to her eventual funders. “They’re all referring you to the next three people to talk to,” Watson says. “It becomes like tree branches and then a network that’s growing in a multiplicative fashion.” One of Squad’s earliest investors was Steven Aldrich, who at the time was working as chief product officer at GoDaddy . Both Aldrich and Watson grew up in North Carolina, and Steven’s father shared hometown roots with her, which helped her make the initial connection. “It was about consistently making connections like that,” she says. “Steven introduced me to three people, and then those three other people introduced me to two people. And that’s essentially how I got the ball rolling.” Not all meetings need to be about meeting for coffees or lunches, either — Watson took plenty of calls while expanding her network, as well. But the important step was making those connections, which was “a really hard hustle and grind, head down,” for the first two years. Be really specific when asking for advice When meeting people in Silicon Valley or expanding her network of prospective funders, Watson didn’t tease future funding rounds or send off vague meeting requests. In trying to build out her network, she first researched a couple of key things: who did she need to know in order to build a really strong product, and who did she need to know in order to have solid distribution or growth marketing? Once she identified those folks, she would reach out to them individually and ask them for specific advice in their area of expertise. “People always say, ‘When you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money,’” Watson says. “Being super-explicit in the ask and explaining how you’ll spend their time and their brain space is super important.” No one has time for a generic request like, “Hey, can I pick your brain?” When you’ve connected with someone, you should always ask them for recommendations for experts in specific areas — like growth marketing, product, etc. If they volunteer a few names, ask if you can send an email that they could forward on to introduce you to those individuals. Following the introductions, it’s important to remember that it’s not just a “one and done,” as she says. Once you’ve met with someone through an introduction, follow up: let them know how the meetings went and thank them again. “It’s like really, really intense relationship management, and it’s something that people with the highest EQ do best,” says Watson. “I would identify my needs, make specific asks … and then I would make sure to explicitly ask if they did not offer for three other intros for people that could be helpful, that would be excited about what we’re doing.” Secret weapon: your fundraising quarterback When she realized it was time to start raising money for Squad, her first move was to identify her “quarterback for fundraising” — in this case, Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures. It’s helpful, according to Watson, to not have “too many cooks in the kitchen,” or else you’ll end up with far too many opinions that don’t align. Hudson had already invested a small amount of money in Squad at the time, but he quickly became the person Watson went to for feedback on her pitches. He counseled her on other aspects of running a process. “One thing Charles tells me is that, with fundraising, you’re likely only going to be successful if that’s your core focus at that time,” Watson says. “It’s not something you can do passively.” So Hudson and Watson sat down and came up with a list of 35 target venture capitalists. He introduced her to five who she didn’t expect to be a good fit. They first went with the ones they didn’t expect would be a perfect match so she could gather feedback and see if Squad was actually ready to raise capital. Of those first five meetings, one or two “were complete dings” and turned Squad down outright — but Watson made it to partner meetings in the three other meetings, a sign that VCs were seriously considering Squad. Based on that feedback, Hudson introduced Watson to 10 more VCs — and shortly after, she met Michael Dearing at Harrison Metal, who led Squad’s seed round. Choose your seed funders carefully After Dearing offered up a term sheet of $3 million, Watson quickly had offers from other VCs. “It’s funny because it took me deliberately being in the market for fundraising for like two and a half months to get that ‘yes’ from Michael. Before that, I had no cash really committed,” she says. “And then after just a few days of letting people know I had a term sheet for $3 million, I had like $6 million on a table. VCs are such followers.” With that many offers on the table following Dearing’s lead, Watson was in the enviable position of needing to pick who she’d let into the seed round. So how did she choose? “The first thing is value add,” Watson says. She asked herself: “did I feel like I had the right assortment of value? I maybe want someone in there who’s really short on product; I may want someone who’s really strong at growth, strong at marketing.” Her second criteria for making the decision was a less resume-focused. Simply put, she went with her gut. “One thing that founders really, really underestimate is — is this person a good human being? I went with the people that I had felt most comfortable with, the people who I felt I could trust based on my interactions with them, and who were just supportive along the way.”

Read More...
posted 9 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. Uber reveals thousands of sexual assault reports last year Uber just released its first-ever safety report, stating that it received 2,936 reports pertaining to sexual assault in 2017, which went up to 3,045 in 2018 (these are U.S.-specific numbers). At the same time, Uber says there was a 16% decrease in the average incident rate. While traditional taxis also have their safety risks, those numbers are still quite troubling. It’s worth noting, though, that the company has implemented some safety measures designed to help prevent sexual assault. 2. Niantic is working with Qualcomm on augmented reality glasses To be clear, you’re not going to be booting up Pokémon GO on a pair of Qualcomm/Niantic AR glasses this Christmas. Moving forward, though, Niantic will be working with Qualcomm to flesh out the reference hardware for augmented reality glasses. 3. Netflix earmarks $420M to fight Disney in India “This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” said CEO Reed Hastings at a conference in New Delhi. 4. Airbnb officially bans all open-invite parties and events The new policy seeks to prevent certain guests from hosting events not approved by hosts — such as a recent Halloween party hosted at a California Airbnb rental in which five people were killed. 5. Inside VSCO, a Gen Z-approved photo-sharing app, with CEO Joel Flory Known to many only because of this year’s “VSCO girl” meme explosion, the company has long been coaxing the creative community to its freemium platform. Turns out, if you can provide the disillusioned teens of Gen Z respite from the horrors of social media — they’ll pay money for it. 6. This Lego Cybertruck is one even Elon can love While Lego’s take on the Tesla Cybertruck design seemed to be purely for the LOLs, a remarkably faithful representation has been submitted to the official Lego Ideas crowdsourcing website. 7. Scammers peddling Islamophobic clickbait is business as usual at Facebook A network of scammers used a ring of established right-wing Facebook pages to stoke Islamophobia and make a quick buck in the process, according to a new report from The Guardian. But Devin Coldewey argues that this is less a vast international conspiracy and simply more evidence that Facebook is unable to police its platform to prevent even the most elementary scams. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here. There have been holiday gift guides for VR for the past five years or so, and, for most of that time, buying a VR headset was generally a bad call. There were still fun experiences to be had, but the gear was expensive and the troubleshooting was not for the faint of heart. I’ve played around with most of the gear that’s out there; honestly, most of it isn’t ready for consumers, but if there’s someone in your life dying to get into VR, here are some earnest recommendations. This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission. The best headset for 99.5% of people This year, Facebook released the Oculus Quest for $399 and, honestly, it’s the only headset made by Oculus or anyone else that I’ve been able to give a full-throated recommendation. Setup and upkeep are both simple and benefited by its standalone mobile form factor — this one just works by itself, no PC required. There’s a worthy amount of content for something in its price range and it’s overall not a purchase you’ll feel dumb later for making. Is $399 a little steep for a Christmas present? Obviously that’s understandable, but I would honestly just not go for a VR gift if that’s the case. Most VR gear below this price point is relatively clunky (with the caveat that for PlayStation owners, the PlayStation VR is still a great deal… though I think I’d still recommend the Quest if you’re willing to drop the extra money. It’s just such an easy system to love.) Price: $399 from Oculus To help you see better: prescription inserts All of Oculus’s new headsets have a good amount of space in the headset to accommodate users that wear glasses, but if you’re the main person using the headset, it’s a lot more comfortable to just get prescription inserts made. It’s a little extreme, sure, but comfort is a big deal in VR, so you won’t regret it if you’re already logging some decent mileage on your headset. Price: $80 from FramesDirect To help you be less gross: VR Cover If you’re using your VR device as a device to get you moving and you’re regularly sweating while playing some of the more intense titles, I guarantee that headset is getting pretty nasty. VR Cover has been making masks that cover up the section your face touching the headset, and they’re pretty decent quality and available for most popular headsets. These are great if you’re a bit sweaty or are regularly showing friends your new headset. Price: $19 on Amazon To help you get mobile: carrying case The Quest is a portable console, but that doesn’t mean you just want to toss it into your bag without any cares. It still is rather sensitive, and if you scratch the lenses or tracking cameras, you are probably in for a bad time. The first-party Oculus Quest case is a pretty solid purchase, with room for your headset and controllers, but not much else. Price: $40 on Amazon To help you get immersed: some solid wired headphones If you’re the owner of a new Quest, Go or Rift S, you also will probably want to be the owner of some decent wired headphones. The stereo speakers embedded in the headsets are good in a pinch, but your experience is going to be a lot better with some decent headphones, and the Quest doesn’t allow for Bluetooth headsets, so, sorry, no AirPods. There are two schools of thought for which headphones are best for VR, ones that cut you off completely or ones that let you hear what’s going on a bit so that you’re at least somewhat aware of your surroundings. But be reasonable, you shouldn’t be basing your headphones purchase on what works for VR, so get some noise-cancelling headphones you’d also want while you’re traveling or some on-ear headphones you’d also use for at-home listening. I’m a big fan of Grado headphones even though they aren’t all that comfortable for long sessions, but you can’t go wrong with an $80 pair of Grado SR60e headphones. I never miss a chance to recommend them. I’ve always been a Bose user when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, but I also haven’t owned many pairs, and I know most audiophiles will point you in Sony’s direction, so maybe a classic pair like their WH-1000XM3 will do (though remember, you’ll have to use the included wire with most VR headsets.) Price: Grado SR60e (Wired), $80 on Amazon | Sony WH-1000XM3 (Wireless), $278 on Amazon The best headset for die-hards     If the best headset for 99.5% of people is the Oculus Quest, for the rest it’s the Valve Index. The PC headset is about as high-end as you would reasonably want as a consumer, though you are still definitely investing in a more complicated solution than the Quest. No other products on the market have the well-thought-out feature set that the Index does. It’s less approachable, but its feature set screams high-end even if most VR games can’t make the most of what it offers. For PC gamers, there aren’t many good choices out there these days, but if you’re going to take a step beyond the Quest, you should get the Index (though it’s worth noting this is on pretty hefty back-order and won’t ship pre-Christmas.) Price: $999 from Valve  

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Magic Leap just announced that they’re in the midst of closing a series E round of funding, but it sounds like they’re going to have to clinch that investment with some pretty troubling sales numbers for their only device on the market. The Information‘s Alex Heath is reporting that Magic Leap managed to sell just 6,000 units of its $2,300 Magic Leap One headset in its first six months on sale, a figure made worse by CEO Rony Abovitz’s internal claims that he wanted the startup to sell at least one million units of the device in the first year, a goal the report states he was later convinced to rethink, then internally projecting the company would sell 100,000 units in the first year. We reached out to the company for comment. Given the company’s long much-hyped road to the release of the Magic Leap One, such low early reported sales are anything but encouraging for their ultimate goals of building a pair of augmented reality glasses that can rival the efforts of Apple and Microsoft. There aren’t many sales figures out there being shared for existing AR headsets on the market, but Magic Leap has also raised and spent more than any other startup to release their first device. The company has now raised around $2.6 billion in venture funding from firms like Google, Alibaba and a slew of other investors. The story also reports that Google — and now Alphabet — CEO Sundar Pichai stepped down from the board and was replaced by another Google executive.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Meatable, the Dutch startup developing cruelty-free technologies for manufacturing cultured meat, is pivoting to pork production as a swine flu epidemic ravages one quarter of the world’s pork supply — and has raised $10 million in financing to support its new direction. When the company unveiled its technology last year, it was one of several companies working on the production of meat derived from animal cells — a method of meat production that theoretically has a far smaller carbon emissions footprint and is better for the environment than traditional animal farming. At the time, it was one of several companies including Memphis Meats, Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, HigherSteaks, and many, many pursuing technologies to bring cultured beef to market. Now, as pork prices rise globally, Meatable becomes one of the first companies to publicly shift gears and turn its attention to the other white meat. That’s not the only way that the company is setting itself apart from its peers in the market. Meatable is also  an early claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth. Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, and then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave. “We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood.  To pursue its new path the company has raised $7 million from a slew of angel and institutional investors and a $3 million grant from the European Commission . Angel investors include Taavet Hinrikus, the chief executive and co-founder of TransferWise and Albert Wenger, a managing partner at the New York-based venture firm, Union Square Ventures. Meatable’s De Nood says that the new cash will be used to accelerate the development of its prototype. The small scale bioreactor which the company had initially targeted for development in 2021 will now be ready by 2020 and the company is hoping to have an industry scale plant online manufacturing thousands of kilograms of meat by 2025, according to De Nood. Industrial farming is responsible for between 14% and 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change and Meatable argues that cultured (lab-grown) meat has the potential to use 96% less water and 99% less land than industrial farming. Powering facilities using renewable energy could further . reduce . emissions associated with meat production, according to Meatable.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
While file sharing, time tracking, email integration, Gantt Charts, and budget management are usually some of the most requested features in the average project management platform, we still have a proliferation of tools taking a multiplicity of approaches to the problem of just managing something. Most people in tech are by now familiar with Slack, Asana, Notion, Trello, Azure DevOps, GitLab and GitHub. But the sector is still booming. Last month Microsoft Teams had over 20 million active users up from 13 million in July. Slack reported more than 10 million daily active users in the second quarter. Adobe just launched a collaboration tool, Notion is super hot, Frame.io raised $50 million, Microsoft has Fluid. Even WordPress is getting in on the act. (When is someone going to make something for journalists? Oh, we’re poor. I forgot). And yet. And yet… project management for developers remains a rising area for startups. Now a new product has been launched to address this space. And how ironic is it that’s called Space? Space is billed as an integrated team environment that provides toolset combining messaging, team and project management, internal blogs, meeting scheduling, and software development processes into a single platform. It’s now available for early users who will get an Organization plan free of charge. This includes 25 GB storage per user, a monthly limit of 10,000 CI credits, and 125 GB data transfer per user. With Space, all the data a team needs to work is stored in one place, while software development tools (source code management, code review and browsing, continuous integration, delivery, and deployment, package repositories, issue tracking, planning tools, and project documentation) are integrated with communication and identity support. The idea is that any workflow can be automated, from onboarding new employees to configuring rules for merging requests to CI/CD pipelines. You can also schedule meetings, projects, tasks, commits, code reviews etc. Space is a bootstrapped spin-out from JetBrains, the company behind Kotlin, a semi-official language of Android. While Java is the official language of Android development, it has a steep learning curve. When JetBrains created Kotlin, it was so successful that it became a secondary “official” Java language. So, in theory, they ought to know their stuff. JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov says “Most digital collaboration environments are in fact a mixed bag of solutions tackling different problems, from development tools to task management ones. This leaves people switching tools and tabs, manually copying information, and generally losing time and creative flow. JetBrains Space is changing this—and thus changing the foundation of creative work, software development included.” JetBrains Space is available through a subscription model with a freemium starting tier, while the paid plans start at $8 per active user per month. The ultimate goal for Space is to provide a unified company-wide platform expanded to a wider range of creative teams, including designers, marketers, sales, accounting, and more. Time will tell if Space takes off (LOL) and can start to put the heat on products like Slack. As a Slack hater, I do hope so.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Dave Williams Contributor A serial entrepreneur in the digital marketing, advertising, and ad tech industries, Dave Williams founded and sold 360i, IgnitionOne, BLiNQ Media, and other ventures and is now the CEO and Co-founder of NOMADX, with his base in Lisbon, Portugal. The world isn’t ready for the digital nomad movement. If projections are to be believed, the growing trend in how people choose to live and work is fast outpacing the service and policy enhancements needed to keep up with a borderless workforce bound only by its need for a reliable Wi-Fi connection. But that’s not slowing down the nomads. The Economist theorizes that there could be as many as one billion remote workers by 2035. Such a movement has implications for entities ranging from banks and insurance companies to national governments — but few organizations are in the habit of looking 15 years down the road and altering course appropriately. But even short-term, the numbers deserve our attention: about 59 million people are considering joining the digital nomad movement in the next two to three years. Put another way: in the next 24 to 36 months, roughly the population of Italy plans to sever traditional workplace ties so they can go mobile. How are our global services and infrastructures going to accommodate these individuals? Having spent more than six years as a digital nomad myself, I can tell you that there’s a steep learning curve to this lifestyle. While it’s one that I’ve found well worth the effort, tapping into the networks and services needed to sustain my professional and personal networks hasn’t always been easy. Looking back to when I first gave into my wanderlust, after starting my career in the late ‘90s dot-com era as a serial entrepreneur in the U.S. digital marketing and ad tech industries, I can’t help but muse that I wish I knew then what I know now. So for all of those aspiring or early stage nomads out there, in hopes that your own transitions to the nomadic lifestyle might be easier than my own, I’m here to tell you what I know now. While we can expect to see a great deal of change over the next couple decades, as the world economy races to catch up to the digital nomad movement, these are the essential considerations — and your best options — when it comes to the core elements needed to sustain yourself in your nomadic ramblings today. Accommodations Let’s start with the basics: where to live. It’s almost impossible for digital nomads to find suitable accommodations at fair prices within major U.S. metropolitan areas that foster the standard of living they’re seeking. That’s one of the main reasons why so many nomads are ending up in Asian countries and other economical international destinations. In addition to being lower-cost, these destinations offer desirable alternatives to city environments where the standard 9-5 is required to afford everything the city has to offer. When it comes to finding a place to live, whether for a few days or many months, there are a lot of options. The one that makes the most sense has a lot to do with your individual situation and preferences. Most important is having a place to stay with strong Wi-Fi. Consider: Airbnb: Given its popularity for vacation rentals, a lot of new nomads initially turn here. While it allows for a more “at home” feel in a rental (because it is someone’s home), it can quickly become cost-prohibitive. Airbnb is great for short-term rentals, but comparatively expensive for anything more than a couple weeks. Booking and Agoda: Similar to Airbnb, but these sites are more professional in that they’re mostly used by professionally-run apartments, hotels and resorts. All are great for those who are looking for more services with their accommodations. But they don’t always have the home-like feel that many nomads crave, and like Airbnb, they can get expensive fast. Facebook Groups: A number of Facebook Groups for digital nomads have emerged recently. These groups can be handy because they let guests and hosts connect directly and come to mutually agreeable arrangements. However, these groups aren’t a rental platform. Guests don’t have access to reviews or an easy way to issue payments confidently. So while accommodations can be a bit more affordable when organized through groups, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get. Hostels: As any rambling college student can attest, hostels are an affordable, social way to see the world. But living at a hostel offers little privacy and near-constant disruption, often of the drunken partying variety. It’s not a terribly viable route for nomadic couples or anyone looking for living space that can also double as an office.  Hotels: On the flip side, hotels are great for couples. But for nomads spending weeks or even months abroad, they’re expensive and can be isolating for people looking to truly immerse themselves in new local cultures. Hotels are best reserved for short-term expeditions. VIP hostels (e.g., Selina): This new breed of the hostel experience offers a great combination of co-working and social connections that help nomads connect with like-minded people. They provide some level of privacy, but these accommodations — like others — become expensive in the long term if you want your own bedroom. Co-living spaces: As with co-working spaces, there’s a growing movement in which digital nomads come together to share the cost of living accommodations, which range from multi-bedroom apartments to large-scale co-living buildings complete with kitchens, shared and private bathrooms, working and community spaces. These environments are great for making connections while having access to privacy when needed, but branded co-living spaces will still cost more than a local midterm apartment. Midterm rental platforms: For nomads looking to stay in one place for a month or more and truly soak in the culture, midterm rental platforms represent a more-affordable alternative to platforms like Airbnb. These platforms (full disclosure: I now operate one of them, by the name of NomadX) offer affordable month-to-month options with fast Wi-Fi in everyday neighborhoods, which enables you to connect more deeply with the local community without an overly long commitment. That said, this category is still quite new, so midterm rental inventory might be limited or nonexistent in the market you’re considering. Couchsurfing: Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Couchsurfing, a social network for travelers and nomads that makes it possible to connect directly with locals and even crash on their sofas for free. That said, Couchsurfing is only designed for short-term stays, it’s not very professional and it’s quickly evolving into more of a dating/hook-up platform than anything else. Also, a quick note on Wi-Fi: No matter where you stay, you’ll need to ensure you can always be connected in order to stay on top of work. While you can check with your current mobile provider on international roaming plans, the coverage might be limited and ultimately become expensive. You might instead want to consider buying a local SIM card in every country and using it with your smartphone. That way, you can use your phone as a hotspot and get internet on your laptop. In a pinch, though, it’s good to have a backup mobile hotspot option. (For example, I travel with a Skyroam Solis.) Insurance We digital nomads are risk takers by nature, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want or appreciate a safety net. After all, having an accident isn’t a choice. Unfortunately, if nomads can’t get coverage for a fair price, many opt to forego insurance altogether and end up resorting to crowdfunding if they end up in a bad situation. I’ve had several friends get into accidents in foreign countries, and they couldn’t get proper medical treatment until they’d crowdfunded the needed resources. This is a worst-case scenario, and it’s one that I hope becomes a thing of the past as more borderless options for insurance emerge.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Canva, the design company with nearly $250 million in funding, has today announced a variety of new features, including a video editing tool. The company has also announced Canva Apps, which allows developers and customers alike to build on top of Canva. Thus far, Dropbox, Google Drive, PhotoMosh and Instagram are already in the Canva Apps suite, with a total of 30 apps available at launch. The video editing tool allows for easy editing with no previous experience required, and also offers video templates, access to a stock content library with videos, music, etc., and easy-to-use animation tools. Meanwhile, Canva is taking the approach of winning customers when they’re young, with the launch of Canva for Education. It’s a totally free product that has launched in beta with Australian schools, integrating with GSuite and Google Classroom to allow students to build out projects, and teachers to mark them up and review them. Canva has also announced the launch of Canva for Desktop. As design becomes more important to the way every organization functions and operates, one of the only barriers to the growth of the category is the pace at which new designers can emerge and enter the workforce. Canva has positioned itself as the non-designer’s design tool, making it easy to create something beautiful with little to no design experience. The launch of the video editing tool and Canva for Education strengthen that stance, not only creating more users for the platform itself but fostering an environment for the maturation of new designers to join the ecosystem as a whole. Alongside the announcement, Canva CEO Melanie Perkins has announced that Canva will join the 1% pledge, dedicating 1 percent of equity, profit, time and resources to making the world a better place. Here’s what she had to say about it, in a prepared statement: Companies have a huge role to play in helping to shape the world we live in and we feel like the 1% Pledge is an incredible program which will help us to use our company’s time, resources, product and equity to do just that. We believe the old adage ‘do no evil’ is no longer enough today and hope to live up to our value to ‘Be a Force for Good’. Interestingly, Canva’s position at the top of the design funnel hasn’t slowed growth. Indeed, Canva recently launched Canva for Enterprise to let all the folks in the organization outside of the design department step up to bat and create their own decks, presentations, materials, etc., all within the parameter’s of the design system and brand aesthetic. A billion designs have been created on Canva in 2019, with 2 billion designs created since the launch of the platform.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week was a bit different than usual. First, we managed to come close to our old time target (20 minutes) instead of our regular length (30 minutes). And, second, Alex is coming back to TechCrunch starting next week! Expect more Equity and, from Alex, writing for Extra Crunch. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. If you aren’t an Extra Crunch subscriber yet you can use the code “EQUITY” and save a bundle. (Woo!) That done, let’s dig into the news that Kate and Alex discussed, starting with Harlem Capital’s $40.3 million new fund. The New York-based outfit has a focus on investing in minority entrepreneurs, who receive significantly less than their white male counterparts. This is one of the largest funds with a diversity mandate to date, and that’s something to be stoked about. Next we turned to Mike Cagney’s canny fundraising ability. The former SoFi CEO, ousted for bad behavior, is putting together another huge funding round for his startup, Figure Technologies. The expected $103 million round comes after the company raised $120 million before. With over $50 million raised of the more than $100 million it expects, covering Figure is partially a financial story. However, due to Cagney’s part in the project, it’s also a story of how fast money forgives. Pivoting to Europe, Kate and Alex chewed into the latest report on European venture capital, pulling from Atomico and Forbes. The headlines are pretty simple: There are more EU-based unicorns than ever, more money invested in the region, and the money is mostly finding male hands.  Disappointing diversity metrics aside, it’s an encouraging set of metrics for a region that has long found itself left to the side when major startup markets are discussed.  And finally, Alex wanted to talk about two impending US-listed technology IPOs. Coming in the wake of the WeWork fiasco and sporting similar share prices but divergent growth profiles, the debuts of Bill.com and Sprout Social are events. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Streaming aggregator Reelgood capitalized on the overabundance of streaming services available today by offering consumers a universal dashboard where you can track what you’re watching and discover your next binge. It then translated the activity from its over 10 million users into data it licenses to major companies, including Roku, Microsoft, smart TV makers, NYPost, and even hedge funds. Now the company has closed on $6.75 million in Series A funding to continue to grow its data business. The round was led by Runa Capital and includes participation from Reelgood’s seed round investor, August Capital. To date, Reelgood has raised $11 million. The company’s app to some extent competes with those designed to help you keep track of the episodes you’ve watched across streaming services and TV, like TV Time, iTV, JustWatch, and others. But Reelgood’s service stands out for its breadth of catalog — it tracks both movies and TV across some 336 streaming services, the website says. This includes free services like Tubi, Crackle and those from TV networks, plus authenticated “TV Everywhere” services for pay-TV subscribers, and subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, and others. It can also help you compare prices on rental options. And its robust search and filtering features can help you find titles that are new, coming or leaving services, or by any other filter — like genre, year, Rotten Tomatoes rating, IMDB score and more. The more you use and personalize the service, the better its suggestions for what to watch next then become. Once you find something to watch, you just press play to launch the streaming service’s app or website. The work involved in making a simple concept — a universal dashboard for streaming — is fairly complex, Reelgood says. “Putting together these streaming service libraries involves ingesting massive and unstructured amounts of data from hundreds of different sources for real-time matching and combination using machine learning and human curators,” noted Reelgood’s Head of Data, Pablo Lucio Paredes. Reelgood also touts the quality of its data (averaging 98% across all 300+ services), which it then licenses to publishers, search engines, media players, TVs, voice assistants, and other smart devices. Currently, the company has around 50 business customers who pay either for the raw data, the insights or both. Roku, for example, uses Reelgood’s data for its own universal search feature. NYPost displays streaming availability data on their articles via a widget. Hedge funds look at the data to better understand consumer behavior in streaming services and the movement of content between catalogs.   This year, Reelgood hired Nielsen’s former SVP of global measurement, Mark Green, to lead its B2B data licensing business, called Reelgood Insights. “I sought out and joined Reelgood because they are poised to capture the billions in revenue spent on viewership data as viewing continues to shift towards OTT,” said Green. The additional funding will be used to expand the number of platforms where Reelgood is offered, including on a range of smart TVs through partnerships. The company has signed five smart TV deals with major brands that will begin to roll out in 2020, but LG is the only name Reelgood can currently disclose. Reelgood is headquartered in San Francisco. It has 18 employees, both local and remote, and is hiring across a number of roles.        

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Lego already debuted its own take on the divisive Tesla Cybertruck design, but theirs was purely for the lols. This Lego Cybertruck, however, submitted to the official Lego Ideas crowdsourcing website, is actually a remarkably faithful representation, and comes completely with fully articulating tailgate and ‘frunk’ (front truck, for the uninitiated). The design, by Lego Ideas user ‘BrickinNick,’ recreates the throwback polygonal cyberpunk aesthetic of the actual Cybertruck remarkably well, and BrickinNick says that it could be adapted to have even more moving parts, including opening passenger doors, a slide-out ramp and maybe even a companion Tesla ATV kit so you can replicate the stage demo in even more detail. This would of course mean we absolutely must get a minifig Elon, too – and maybe swappable shattered windows. Lego Ideas allows anyone to create an account and submit their down design, then the community votes on those submissions. Get enough votes, and Lego will consider actually producing said design as a kit. Obviously, when there’s IP from other companies involved its not a sure thing, but this campaign already has around 2,000 supporters as of this writing, so it’s doing well in the realm of user support. Love it or hate it, the Cybertruck does make a pretty great Lego design, so here’s hoping this actually one day becomes a shipping kit.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Rocket Lab launched its 10th Electron spacecraft on Friday morning, successfully delivering payloads for clients Spaceflight and Alba Orbital. The launch company also had an important secondary mission for this launch: Testing out the guidance, control and navigation systems of their first stage rocket recovery system. Rocket Lab announced earlier this year that it would be aiming to convert its Electron launch system into a partially reusable one, after initially designing and operating it as a one-time use launcher and spacecraft. To that end, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck revealed how the company will look to effect a controlled re-entry for the Electron first-stage rocket booster, after which it’ll be caught mid-air by a helicopter as it descends at a speed slowed by an onboard parachute. This morning’s launch provided a test for a key element of that system – the re-entry control and navigation equipment and software that helps the first-stage effect the crucial first part of recovery, by returning to Earth’s atmosphere after separating from the rest of the launch vehicle. The first stage re-entry seems to have gone according to plan, as Rocket Lab on Twitter termed it a “successful guided re-entry of stage 1.” In fact, Beck said that the Stage 1 recovery actually went “better than expected,” which indicates it outperformed whatever parameters the company had set to define success in this case – probably pretty broad because the whole purpose of the re-entry in this instance was to test and gather data. Rocket Lab’s approach differs from SpaceX’s first stage recovery process, which the company demonstrated yet again during a launch earlier this week. Rocket Lab won’t be using propulsion to achieve either re-entry or landing, like SpaceX does, which will be more efficient and practical for a smaller launch vehicle. Instead, it’s turning the booster around in space using a controlled burn to orient it optimally for a re-entry that helps it shed enough of its speed to allow it to deploy its parachute and descend at a rate where it can be caught by the helicopter – a maneuver that’s actually relatively simple compared to a propulsive landing, despite its seeming complexity. Depending on what happens with recovery of this booster, which Rocket Lab didn’t attempt to catch mid-air but which it is hoping to recover from the ocean, we should get an idea of next steps – including possibly when we’ll see an attempt to not just recover a rocket, but also refurbish and reuse it.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Style Theory, a platform for renting designer apparel in Indonesia and Singapore, announced today it has raised $15 million in Series B funding. The startup says this is the first closing of the round. It was led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the early-stage venture arm of SoftBank Group, with participation from other investors including Alpha JWC Ventures and the Paradise Group. Both SoftBank Ventures Asia and Alpha JWC Ventures are returning investors and previously participated in Style Theory’s Series A. Founded in 2016 by Raena Lim and Chris Halim to counteract the waste created by fast fashion, Style Theory currently has more than 50,000 pieces of clothing and 2,000 designer bags in its inventory. In addition to its app, the company opened a flagship store on Orchard Road in Singapore last month. On average, Style Theory’s subscribers rent up to 20 pieces of clothing and two designer bags a month and it has delivered more than one million items since launching, its founders say. Style Theory co-founders Raena Lim and Chris Halim Part of the funding will be used to further develop Style Theory’s tech platform. In an email interview, Lim and Halim told TechCrunch that Style Theory uses machine-learning algorithms to personalize clothing and fit recommendations for users based on their browsing and rental history and decide what designers and styles to carry to add. The startup also built a customized warehouse management system and distribution network that uses its own fleet of couriers to lower costs. In order to manage its inventory as the company scales up and expands into new markets, it plans to start using RFID tagging and will attach passive RFID tags on each of its rental items. Lim and Halim say they plan to launch new apparel categories in Singapore and Indonesia before possibly expanding into more countries in 2020. While Rent the Runway and Le Tote are the best-known fashion rental apps in the United States, Style Theory’s operating model has several key differences to serve the Southeast Asia market, Lim and Halim say. Longer hours means many customers are often not at home to receive deliveries. They also rely on public transportation more than most Americans. In order to make the service more convenient, Style Theory opened its brick-and-mortar store and partners with automated locker providers, coworking spaces and department stores. Its app includes different payment solutions, since the regions they serve have relatively lower credit card penetration rates. Style Theory’s inventory is also picked with a diverse array of customers in mind. “With the melting pot of cultures, we have to approach our merchandise mix with consideration to the different societal standards of formality and modesty in the workplace and social environment,” said Lim and Halim. “Not only does our assortment have to serve the all-year tropical climate, with a seasonal selection for travel, we have to also meet the demands for the different cultural groups and customer preferences. We have introduced a line up of modest wear in Indonesia and more festive wear during the celebratory seasons in the year.” In a press release, SoftBank Ventures Asia senior partner Sean Lee said “Fashion has emerged as one of the last frontiers of the sharing economy, and with an attractive business model, Style Theory has proven that the company can change the way people consume fashion in Southeast Asia. I am excited to support Style Theory’s expansion across the region as well as continuous disruption.”

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
There have been a lot of bumps in the road for startups building used-car marketplaces, but now one of the longer-standing of them has closed a major round of funding: a clear sign of the mileage left in this category. Vroom today is announcing that it has raised $254 million, a Series H that it plans to use to keep scaling the business, and specifically also to expand a product and engineering hub based out of Detroit. Vroom is based out of New York but operates across the US, and its platform has to date been used by more than 250,000 buyers and sellers, according to the company. It has some 3,000 vehicles listed at any time, covering some 400 makes and models. The Detroit hub opened in August 2019 and is a symbolic as well as practical location: it’s the center of the US automotive industry, making it a prime place for Vroom to recruit talent and build inroads in with carmakers and others. This latest round of funding is being led by Durable Capital Partners LP, with participation also from funds advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, L Catterton and others that are not being named. Vroom declined to comment on its valuation. For some context, it last raised money almost exactly one year ago, $146 million, which came in at a post-money valuation of $796 million, according to PitchBook. It’s not clear how much it has grown in the last year (we’re asking). Vroom has now raised a total of $721 million since it launched in 2013. Previous investors have also included General Catalyst, Altimeter Capital and Allen & Co. Vroom is led by former Priceline.com CEO Paul Hennessy, and the plan is to use the injection of capital to hire more employees, particularly for product and engineering jobs. Vroom said it expects in 2020 to “significantly increase” staff at its Detroit office. “This new round of funding provides the necessary resources to further grow and scale our business,”  Hennessy said in a statement. “We are thrilled to receive continued support from investors and partners, reinforcing the Vroom model as a tremendous opportunity to bring about a fundamental and enduring change in the used vehicle industry.” Indeed, more funding is critical in what is a capitally intensive business, and for Vroom itself, it’s a sign of how its restructuring appears to be paying off. Back in 2018, Vroom laid off about 30% of its staff after a failed attempt at building brick-and-mortar car dealerships, amid a time when we were seeing several other problems hit its competitors. Vroom has focused its efforts since the layoffs on building out its leadership team. Vroom has added several executives in recent months, including Dave Jones, who spent over a decade at Penske Automotive Group and recently joined as its chief financial officer. The lead investor here is notable. Durable Capital Partners is the new fund led by former star T. Rowe Price portfolio manager Henry Ellenbogen, and the firm has now started investing in earnest. This is the second investment its made in the wider transportation category, after taking part in a $400 million round for Convoy. It’s also invested in a fintech startup, Rapyd, which is moving into logistics now. All three of these investments have been announced in the space of a month. Ellerbogen first became familiar with the company because T. Rowe Price made an investment in 2015. “I’ve worked with the Vroom team for years and I’m pleased to announce that it is one of the first companies that my new firm is investing in,” he said in a statement. “We’re very excited to be a part of the future of automotive retail and support Vroom in its efforts to move the car buying and selling process online for consumers across the country.” Vroom was part of a wave of online used marketplace startups that launched about seven years ago. Several of these companies have shuttered, while others such as Shift and Carvana have survived and even scaled. Carvana became a public company in 2017 and its market cap is currently around $13 billion. In the meantime, others have waded into the field with alternative business models, such as Fair.com and its approach of “flexible” car ownership that looks similar to leasing (and these new players have faced their own challenges). The center of Vroom’s business is an e-commerce platform that handles the entire transaction for buyers and sellers of used vehicles. Vroom’s platform gives customers who want to sell or trade in their vehicles real-time appraisals, loan payoffs and at-home vehicle pickup. The company reconditions the vehicles it takes possession of and then includes them on its online catalog. Buyers can get financing through a number of lending partners that Vroom has partnered with, including CapitalOne, Ally and more recently Chase. Once the sale is complete, Vroom delivers the vehicle directly to customers’ doorsteps in the U.S.

Read More...
posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Netflix may still not have a million subscribers in India, but it continues to invest big bucks in the nation, where Disney’s Hotstar currently dominates the video streaming market. Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said on Friday that the company is on track to spend 30,000 million Indian rupees, or $420.5 million, on producing and licensing content in India this year and the next. “This year and next year, we plan to spend about Rs 3,000 crores developing and licensing content and you will start to see a lot of stuff hit the screens,” he said at a conference in New Delhi. The rare revelation today has quickly become the talk of the town. “This is significantly higher than what we have invested in content over the past years,” an executive at one of the top five rival services told TechCrunch. Another industry source said that no streaming service in India is spending anything close to that figure on just content. While it remains unclear exactly how much capital other streaming services are spending on content, a recent KPMG report suggested that Hotstar was spending about $17 million on producing seven original shows this year, while Eros Now had pumped about $50 million to create 100 new original shows. (The report does not talk about licensing content expenses.) Netflix, which entered India as part of its global expansion to more than 200 nations and territories in early 2016, has so far produced more than two dozen original shows and movies in India. Hastings said several of the shows that the company has produced in India, including A-listed cast-starrer “Sacred Games” and “Mightly Little Bheem” have “travelled around the world.” More than 27 million households outside of India, said Hastings, have started to watch “Mighty Little Bheem,” an animated series aimed at children. India has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for technology and entertainment firms. About half of the nation’s 1.3 billion population is now online and a growing number of people are beginning to transact online. To broaden its reach in the nation, Netflix earlier this year introduced a new monthly price tier — $2.8 — that allows users in India to watch the streaming service in standard quality on a mobile device. (The company has since expanded this offering to Malaysia.) Netflix competes with more than three dozen on-demand video streaming services in India. Chief among its competitors in the nation is Disney’s Hotstar. Hotstar’s content bouquet includes live TV channels, streaming of sports events, and thousands of movies and shows, many syndicated from global networks and studios such as HBO and Showtime. The ad–supported service offers more than 80% of its catalog at no charge to users and charges 999 Indian rupees ($14) a year for its premium tier. Among the licensed content that Hotstar — or its operator Star India — own in the country include rights to stream a number of cricket tournaments. Cricket is incredibly popular in India and has helped Hotstar set global streaming records. In May this year, Hotstar reported that more than 25 million people simultaneously watched a cricket match on the platform  — a global record. The service, at the time, had more than 300 million monthly active users. More to follow…

Read More...