General News

Korean crypto exchange Bithumb says it lost over $30M following a hack

TechCrunch - 4 hours 48 min ago

Just weeks after Korean crypto exchange Coinrail lost $40 million through an alleged hack, another in the crypto-mad country — Bithumb — has claimed hackers made off with over $30 million in cryptocurrency.

Coinrail may be one of Korea’s smaller exchanges, but Bithumb is far larger. The exchange is one of the world’s top ten ranked based on trading of Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash, and top for newly-launched EOS, according to data from

In a now-deleted tweet, Bithumb said today that 35 billion won of tokens — around $31 million — were snatched. It didn’t provide details of the attack, but it did say it will cover any losses for its users. The company has temporarily frozen deposits and trading while it is in the process of “changing our wallet system” following the incident.

Days prior to the hack, Bithumb said on Twitter that it was “transferring all of asset to the cold wallet to build up the security system and upgrade” its database. It isn’t clear whether that move was triggered by the attack — in which case it happened days ago — or whether it might have been a factor that enabled it.

[Notice for the restart of service]
We are transferring all of asset to the cold wallet to build up the security system and upgrade DB. Starting from 15:00 pm(KST), we will restart our services and notice again as soon as possible. Appreciate for your support.

— Bithumb (@BithumbOfficial) June 16, 2018

A tweet sent days before Bithumb said it had been hacked

There’s often uncertainty around alleged hacks, with some in the crypto community claiming an inside job for most incidents. In this case, reports from earlier this month that Bithumb was hit by a 30 billion won tax bill from the Korean government will certainly raise suspicions. Without an independent audit or third-party report into the incident, however, it is hard to know exactly what happened.

That said, one strong takeaway, once again, is that people who buy crypto should store their tokens in their own private wallet (ideally with a hardware key for access) not on an exchange where it could be pinched by an attacker. In this case, Bithumb is big enough to cover the losses, but it isn’t always that way and securely holding tokens avoids potential for trouble.

Categories: General News

Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 21:27

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Instagram plans to launch Snapchat Discover-style video hub

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Categories: General News

Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 backpack is a burly, stylish beast

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 19:09

If you needed to pick a bag to have your back in a street fight, you should probably choose Chrome’s Bravo 2.0.

I tested a version of this pack from the company’s higher-end BLCKCHRM line. The BLCKCHRM version of the Bravo 2.0 replaces the normal pack’s 1050 denier nylon exterior with a slightly rubbery, Navy-grade material called Hypalon, a full-grain leather back panel and a sleek all-black look. The result is as visually impressive as it is brawny.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

To test the Bravo 2.0, I took it on a trip to Los Angeles that required me to fill every available cubic inch of my luggage with necessary gear. For the Bravo 2.0, that meant clothing that didn’t fit in my checked bag, a 13″ MacBook, a Sony RX-100, some medium-size notebooks, two lenses for my Sony A7S II and all of the other weird odds and ends that usually end up in a carry-on.

Over the course of packing, I figured out a few things. For one, since the Bravo 2.0’s main compartment lacks organization and is a bit hard to see into when opened, it works best if you stuff things into it that you won’t need to access on the go. Another thing I noticed is that beyond its black hole-like interior, the Bravo 2.0’s pockets don’t have a lot of depth, so they’re better suited for flat and rectangular stuff (mobile battery pack, thin books, magazines, a Kindle or iPad) and can’t expand to hold objects of less standard shapes. The material doesn’t have any give at all, but then again, it’s basically indestructible — so no, you can’t have it all.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

The Bravo 2.0 also includes one external side pocket that seems intended for a water bottle, though mine wasn’t nearly slender enough to fit, rendering the pocket pretty much useless. For laptop storage, Chrome made an interesting choice with this pack. The design requires you to nestle your computer into a slender, flap-protected slot on the outside of the pack rather than in the innermost tarpaulin-lined compartment next to your back. I have TSA Pre so I didn’t have to do the stressful pulling-laptop-out-while-in-line airport thing, but the other times I needed my laptop that external pocket meant that it wasn’t a hassle. Still, it wasn’t quite as convenient as a side-zip dedicated laptop pocket, which remains my preferred way to stash a laptop.

Though at more than three pounds the bag itself is way heavier than what I’m used to carrying (the BLCKCHRM version adds some extra weight, though I’m not sure how much), my carry-on electronics and other valuables felt more snug and secure than they have in almost any other pack I’ve traveled with. Impressively, the Bravo’s weight must have been well-distributed through its fairly wide and flat design because, in spite of my dense packing job, my back never hurt. A screwed-up back is an instant pack disqualifier, but the Bravo 2.0 carried a heavy load admirably.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

In my travel, I never used the outside cross-buckles for anything, but they did look cool, so there’s that. If you were biking, you could probably get a helmet or whatever else you needed (a jacket or other compressable item) strapped in there if you were willing to fiddle with the little metal hooks, but I wasn’t.

I’m not a fan of velcro securing the main portion of a pack, but the Bravo’s velcro roll top didn’t drive me crazy, though that feat did require thoughtful packing. The pack’s velcro closure would be fine unless you really topped out the amount of stuff in the main compartment, in which case you wouldn’t quite be able to seal the velcro unless you want to rock the open rolltop bike messenger look. In the end, you can just repack your situation more carefully and move on with your life.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

I’ll admit that at 5′ 4″, Chrome’s BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 was just too much bag for me, though a taller person would probably feel less dwarfed by its width and overall profile. Still, the pack distributed a full load’s weight well, kept it secure and ultimately made me look kind of badass, like a tactical ninja turtle or an urban prepper or something.

It’s hard to overstate how good-looking this bag is. Like quality leather, the Hypalon breaks in with wear, picking up surface marks that fade into a kind of weathered patina over time. Between that material, the all-black mini Chrome buckle chest strap and central black leather panel, it’s a very sleek, sexy looking bag. Still, for anyone who digs the Bravo 2.0’s vibe but is wary of its heavy construction, the regular edition Bravo 2.0 might be a better choice. But if you like your packs fancy, serious and black on black on black, well, you know what to do.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

The normal version of the Bravo 2.0 retails for $160 and comes in black, red, navy and green. The all-black BLCKCHRM Bravo 2.0 is usually a steep $200, but it’s on sale right now for $160.

What it is: A stylish, heavy-duty weatherproof rolltop pack with an easy-access laptop sleeve.

What it isn’t: Lightweight or casual.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018 here.

Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief makes your work vibe less uncool

Categories: General News

Startup Grind founders raise $6.4M for community event platform Bevy

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 18:08

The founders of entrepreneurial community Startup Grind have a startup of their own — Bevy, which announced today that it has raised $6.4 million in Series A funding.

The funding comes from Upfront Ventures, author Steve Blank, Qualtrics founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith, and Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard.

CEO Derek Andersen (who founded and runs both Bevy and Startup Grind with CTO Joel Fernandes) said that the product was created to deal with Startup Grind’s challenges as the team tried to organize events using a mix of Eventbrite, Meetup and MailChimp,

“It worked fine at first, but a few years later, we looked up and we had hundreds of cities, and we had maybe 500 people that were working on it, and it was too much,” Andersen said. “For the first time in many years, we started to get smaller instead of bigger. We were spending all of this time just running triage and maintenance on the platform.”

So in early 2016, the team built its own event management software, with what Andersen said was “no intention of anyone else using it.” But eventually, he realized that other companies were facing similar problems, so he launched Bevy as a separate startup to further develop and commercialize the product.

“We really focus on the smaller, community events,” Andersen added. “If you just do a conference, Eventbrite is great — I’ve hosted thousands of events on Eventbrite. But if you want to host five or 10 events a month or jack that number up anywhere above that, and you don’t want to hire 10 people, then that’s really what we’re perfect to do.”

Usually, these are events where community members play a big role, or are even doing most of the organizing themselves. So beyond supporting tasks like creating event listings, sending out promotional emails and managing sponsorships, Andersen said one of Bevy’s big differentiators is the ability to precisely control which users are authorized to perform different roles at different events.

In addition, Andersen said that with Bevy, companies can create fully branded experiences and get full access to the customer data around their events. Customers include Atlassian, Duolingo, Docker, Evernote and Asana.

Andersen also suggested that the company is taking advantage of a broader shift in marketing, where companies are relying more on their own customers and communities.

“All the best companies do it today,” he said. He predicted that in the future, “Every company will have a customer-to-customer marketing strategy. Now we’ve made it affordable and turnkey.”

Categories: General News

PayPal is shelling out $400 million in cash for this 18-year-old company that helps gig workers get paid

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 17:46

PayPal announced today that it’s paying $400 million in cash for Hyperwallet, an 18-year-old, Bay Area-based company that helps people and small businesses receive payments for products and services that they sell, including through the vacation rental platform HomeAway and Rodan & Fields, the multi-level marketing company that specializes in skin care products and employs an army of consultants to sell toners and the like.

Hyperwallet interlinks cash networks, card schemes and mobile money services with domestic ACH networks around the world to enable what it characterizes as “disruptively priced” and, as crucially, compliant mass payments.

It isn’t clear as of this writing how much money Hyperwallet had raised over the years, though the WSJ notes that Primus Capital, the private equity firm, is a major shareholder.

According to Crunchbase, the company has also received funding from the financial services company Raymond James.

Hyperwallet was founded by Lisa Shields, an MIT-trained engineer who originally launched the company in Vancouver, where she last year founded a second company called FI.SPAN, which is an API management platform that aims to allow banks to quickly deploy new business banking products. Shields seemingly keeps a low profile compared with many founders. When she was presented with an Entrepreneur of the Year award by EY in 2015, she said, “I am honored and humbled, not to mention surprised.” (Hyperwallet has been led since 2015 by CEO Brent Warrington, who previously served as CEO of a company called SecureNet Payment Systems that was acquired.)

As for why PayPal acquired it, it says it enhances its ability to provide payment solutions to e-commerce platforms and marketplaces around the world, noting in a release about the deal that marketplace sales accounted for more than 50 percent of global online retail sales last year.

The acquisition is just the latest in a long string of companies PayPal has acquired over the years. Just last month, it shelled out a whopping $2.2 billion to acquire the European payments company iZettle in an all-cash deal that’s believed to be PayPal’s biggest.

Categories: General News

VW Group and Ford Motor in early talks to develop commercial vehicles together

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 17:25

German automaker Volkswagen AG and Big Three U.S. automaker Ford Motor are considering teaming up on a range of projects, including jointly developing commercial vehicles, that would help them better compete in a global market that’s demanding better tech and more efficient, lower-emission vehicles.

The two companies announced Tuesday they had signed an agreement to explore a strategic alliance. Any alliance between VW and Ford will not involve the companies taking ownership stakes, Ford said in an announcement Tuesday. News of this possible alliance followed Ford’s announcement to build an electric and autonomous vehicle campus in one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods.

The two automakers contend this potential strategic alliance will make them more competitive and better serve customers globally. Executives from VW and Ford are focused on an alliance to develop commercial vehicles, not necessarily cars and trucks built for consumers.

Thomas Sedran, who heads up VW Group’s strategy division, noted that the companies have “strong and complementary positions in different commercial vehicle segments already.”

“To adapt to the challenging environment, it is of utmost importance to gain flexibility through alliances,” Sedran said in a statement. “This is a core element of our Volkswagen Group Strategy 2025. The potential industrial cooperation with Ford is seen as an opportunity to improve competitiveness of both companies globally.”

By commercial, this means vehicles in fleets, delivery vehicles and those used for commercial applications. The details end there. It’s unclear, for example, if this commercial vehicle alliance — if they come to agreement — would involve autonomous shuttles.

This deal will most likely center on finding ways to efficiently build and sell commercial vans that must meet increasingly strict environmental rules. A number of cities such as London and Paris are tightening regulations for delivery vans and other commercial vehicles. Some European cities are banning diesel, a commercial vehicle staple.

These restrictions have forced automakers to pivot toward electric and hybrid vehicles.

This is the first step in what promises to be a long process. For example, Ford announced in September it was “exploring” a strategic partnership with Mahindra around car tech in India. Six months later, the companies agreed to jointly develop new SUVs and a small electric vehicle.

Categories: General News

Football matches land on your table thanks to augmented reality

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 17:25

It’s World Cup season, so that means that even articles about machine learning have to have a football angle. Today’s concession to the beautiful game is a system that takes 2D videos of matches and recreates them in 3D so you can watch them on your coffee table (assuming you have some kind of augmented reality setup, which you almost certainly don’t). It’s not as good as being there, but it might be better than watching it on TV.

The “Soccer On Your Tabletop” system takes as its input a video of a match and watches it carefully, tracking each player and their movements individually. The images of the players are then mapped onto 3D models “extracted from soccer video games,” and placed on a 3D representation of the field. Basically they cross FIFA 18 with real life and produce a sort of miniature hybrid.

Considering the source data — two-dimensional, low-resolution and in motion — it’s a pretty serious accomplishment to reliably reconstruct a realistic and reasonably accurate 3D pose for each player.

Now, it’s far from perfect. One might even say it’s a bit useless. The characters’ positions are estimated, so they jump around a bit, and the ball doesn’t really appear much, so everyone appears to just be dancing around on a field. (That’s on the to-do list.)

But the idea is great, and this is a working if highly limited first shot at it. Assuming the system could ingest a whole game based on multiple angles (it could source the footage directly from the networks), you could have a 3D replay available just minutes after the actual match concluded.

Not only that, but wouldn’t it be cool to be able to gather round a central location and watch the game from multiple angles? I’ve always thought one of the worst things about watching sports on TVs is everyone is sitting there staring in one direction, seeing the exact same thing. Letting people spread out, pick sides, see things from different angles to analyze strategies — that would be fantastic.

All we need is for someone to invent a perfect, affordable holographic display that works from all angles and we’re set.

The research is being presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Salt Lake City, and it’s a collaboration between Facebook, Google and the University of Washington.

Categories: General News

Tech leaders condemn policy leading to family separations at the border

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 17:04

By now you’ve seen the photos and videos and probably heard the audio tape. The media coming out of the U.S./Mexico border over the past week has been truly heart-wrenching and horrifying, including, most shockingly, images of young children being housed in what amounts to human cages.

Many prominent politicians across the world (and in the G.O.P.) have called out the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. A number of prominent executives from top tech companies have also begun to use their soapbox to address — and largely admonish — the policies that have led to this humanitarian crisis.

Here’s what those individuals are saying.


Microsoft was among the first tech giants to issue a statement about the situation. The official company line was both an admonishment of current administration policy and somewhat defensive after speculation arose that the company’s cloud computing platform Azure may have somehow been involved.

Here’s the full statement issued on Monday:

In response to questions we want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Customs and Border Protection on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border, and contrary to some speculation, we are not aware of Azure or Azure services being used for this purpose. As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. Family unification has been a fundamental tenet of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.


Rather than issuing a public statement, Tim Cook called the situation “inhumane” during a talk in Dublin this week. Apple’s CEO expounded upon that thought during an interview with The Irish Times, telling the paper, “It’s heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop.”

As far as his own strained relationship with Trump, Cook added diplomatically, “I have spoken with him several times on several issues, and I have found him to listen. I haven’t found that he will agree on all things.”


The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation. #keepfamiliestogether

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) June 19, 2018

CEO Sundar Pichai took to Twitter to urge a more “humane” approach, writing, “The stories and images of families being separated at the border are gut-wrenching. Urging our government to work together to find a better, more humane way that is reflective of our values as a nation.”


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Organizations like Texas Civil Rights Project and RAICES are doing great work helping families at the US border get…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg, naturally, issued a call to action via Facebook. The post is largely a call to action asking followers to donate to nonprofit orgs Texas Civil Rights Project and RAICES, adding, “we need to stop this policy right now.”

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Listening to the cries of children separated from their parents is unbearable. The practice of family separation on our…

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

COO Sheryl Sandberg also encouraged users to donate to the two aforementioned charities, though her language was decidedly more pointed than Zuckerberg’s. “Listening to the cries of children separated from their parents is unbearable,” she wrote. “The practice of family separation on our border needs to end now. We can’t look away. How we treat those most vulnerable says a lot about who we are.”


Regardless of your politics, it's heartbreaking to see what's happening to families at the border. Here are some ways you can help:

— Susan Wojcicki (@SusanWojcicki) June 19, 2018

In a simple tweet, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote, “Regardless of your politics, it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to families at the border,” while linking to a list of charities.


I hope the kids are ok

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 19, 2018

Elon Musk’s own tweet was a bit less…verbose than the rest, simply writing, “I hope the kids are ok” and linking to a YouTube video of “Shelter” by xx.


Ripping children from their parents’ arms is cruel. This policy must end.

— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) June 18, 2018

Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk issued a joint statement on Twitter in both English and Spanish:

Ripping children from the arms of their parents is heartless, cruel, immoral and counter to American values of belonging. The U.S. government needs to stop this injustice and reunite these families. We are a better country than this.


As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong. #KeepFamiliesTogether

— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) June 19, 2018

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi cited his own experience as an immigrant to admonish the policy, writing, “As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong.”


We are taking action to help the families and children that are being unjustly separated at the border by offering @Lyft Relief Rides to 12 organizations (including @RAICESTEXAS, @TXCivilRights, @supportKIND) #KeepFamiliesTogether

— johnzimmer (@johnzimmer) June 19, 2018

The co-founders of the country’s other major ridesharing service also issued a joint statement condemning the actions. They went a step further, as well, offering free rides to a dozen organizations providing help at the border.

Categories: General News

Keepsafe launches a privacy-focused mobile browser

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 16:44

Keepsafe, the company behind the private photo app of the same name, is expanding its product lineup today with the release of a mobile web browser.

Co-founder and CEO Zouhair Belkoura argued that all of Keepsafe’s products (which also include a VPN app and a private phone number generator) are united not just by a focus on privacy, but by a determination to make those features simple and easy-to-understand — in contrast to what Belkoura described as “how security is designed in techland,” with lots of jargon and complicated settings.

Plus, when it comes to your online activity, Belkoura said there are different levels of privacy. There’s the question of the government and large tech companies accessing our personal data, which he argued people care about intellectually, but “they don’t really care about it emotionally.”

Then there’s “the nosy neighbor problem,” which Belkoura suggested is something people feel more strongly about: “A billion people are using Gmail and it’s scanning all their email [for advertising], but if I were to walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, can I read your email?’ you’d be like, ‘No, that’s kind of weird, go away.’ ”

It looks like Keepsafe is trying to tackle both kinds of privacy with its browser. For one thing, you can lock the browser with a PIN (it also supports Touch ID, Face ID and Android Fingerprint).

Then once you’re actually browsing, you can either do it in normal tabs, where social, advertising and analytics trackers are blocked (you can toggle which kinds of trackers are affected), but cookies and caching are still allowed — so you stay logged in to websites, and other session data is retained. But if you want an additional layer of privacy, you can open a private tab, where everything gets forgotten as soon as you close it.

While you can get some of these protections just by turning on private/incognito mode in a regular browser, Belkoura said there’s a clarity for consumers when an app is designed specifically for privacy, and the app is part of a broader suite of privacy-focused products. In addition, he said he’s hoping to build meaningful integrations between the different Keepsafe products.

Keepsafe Browser is available for free on iOS and Android.

When asked about monetization, Belkoura said, “I don’t think that the private browser per se is a good place to directly monetize … I’m more interested in saying this is part of the Keepsafe suite and there are other parts of the Keepsafe Suite that we’ll charge you money for.”

Categories: General News

Why startups can’t afford to ignore customer retention

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 16:00

Venture-backed companies must walk the line between fast growth and efficient growth. Even as VCs value high-quality revenue, companies are still held to a minimum growth rate. We think of this threshold as the “Mendoza Line,” a baseball term we’ve adapted to track the minimum growth needed to get access to venture funding. Above this line, startups are generally attractive to investors and even have a good chance for a strong exit.

To achieve sustainable growth, maximizing customer lifetime value is an important component and one that is often underestimated, particularly for SaaS and other subscription-based businesses that generate recurring revenue. It is estimated to cost somewhere between five to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one you already have. Additionally, Bain research has shown that a five percent increase in retention rates can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent. Even by conservative estimates, retention is a powerful mechanism for growth.

As companies face greater pressure to grow both quickly and responsibly, we are placing more value on customer retention as a barometer for long-term success. And we are seeing smart startups invest in measuring customer happiness in more sophisticated and consistent ways.

In looking at SaaS deals over the past 10 years, we’ve found that a few key metrics and best practices are predictive of healthy business fundamentals. Here’s the advice I give startups looking to achieve smart growth through customer retention.

Create a system for measuring customer happiness

First, measurement must be an executive priority. Ensure you have a system in place to measure retention on a quarterly basis (at least) and meet as an executive team to diagnose potential problems. While benchmarking against similar businesses can be helpful, trending your own metrics is the best way to see how your performance is improving or deteriorating.

You’ll need to identify the specific metrics that work best for your business. I recommend looking at how efficiently you’re putting resources toward customer retention, which gives you insight into customer happiness and predicts the profitability of your growth.

The percent of ARR spent on retention tells you how much you’re spending to keep your customers happy; let’s call it your Retention Efficiency. You can measure this with a simple calculation:

(Quarterly cost of customer retention) x 4
Ending annual recurring revenue (ARR) base

The ability to keep this number low means you’re retaining your customers without burning money. This means you can invest sales resources toward acquiring net new customers rather than replacing revenue from those that have left.

I’d also recommend looking at the Customer Retention Cost (CRC), which measures how much on average you’re spending to retain each customer:

(Quarterly cost of customer retention) x 4
Total # of customers in your base

Note, this number may increase over time if you’re moving upmarket — enterprise customers generally require more resources to retain than small to mid-sized companies. If your retention costs are going up, this per-customer number can help you explain why in the context of your go-to-market strategy.

Don’t just measure churn rate

Most startups measure retention in terms of churn rate: dollars that left in a given quarter divided by total ARR. In my experience, churn is a vanity metric and not particularly accurate because it combines customers that are eligible to leave and those that are not (e.g. contracts that were signed in the past month).

Renewal rate is harder to benchmark, but tells you more about your customer happiness and health of the business overall. Gross Renewal Rate shows you the dollars that renewed as a percentage of all dollars that were eligible to be renewed. Calculate this metric (Gross Renewal Rate) by summing all renewed contracts and dividing that total by the dollars that were up for renewal:

Dollars renewed
Dollars eligible to renew

Net Renewal Rate is a measurement of the growth of your existing customer base, net of any churn, as a percentage of all dollars that were eligible to renew. Include any expansion dollars with your renewed dollars in your calculation to get Net Renewal Rate:

(Dollars renewed + dollars expanded)
Dollars eligible to renew

Calculating renewal rate by segment is even more helpful in diagnosing issues of customer dissatisfaction. For instance, if your renewal rates are trending down in the SMB segment but not at the enterprise level, you might identify a problem with product-segment fit. Perhaps the product is too complex for SMB customers, while enterprise customers need those features.

Don’t look to customer success as the fix-all solution

If you’re looking to improve retention, the answer isn’t necessarily to pour resources into your customer success organization. Retention is one area that can be impacted by several functions. Look into the factors that play into customer lifetime value, including:

  • Product: Increases in churn or retention costs could signal that you’re drifting from product-market fit or that your product faces increased competitive pressure.
  • Marketing and sales: Ask yourself the following: Does your marketing accurately message your value proposition? How much is your sales team promising above and beyond what the product can do?
  • Customer success: Make sure you’re engaging with customers beyond the first three months of their deployment; the next six to nine months are critical for success. Measure customer success throughout the life cycle to ensure users are getting the most out of the product and understand how to use it.
Define a product engagement metric

Understanding how much your customers actually use and depend on your product is the best indicator of happiness. Engaged customers are more likely to renew their contract — which helps to keep your retention numbers steady. They’re also more likely to tell others about their experience with your product, which improves top-line growth.

Experiment with an engagement metric that works for your business: for DocuSign, it’s the number of envelopes sent; for JFrog, it’s the volume of binaries distributed; for Textio, it’s the number of job requisitions written in the platform.

Your ability to keep customers happy without spending a ton of resources speaks to the value you’re delivering. And if you retain customers efficiently, you can spend more on acquiring new customers. In evaluating a portfolio company, I’d much rather see a business with good growth and high-quality customer retention than one with explosive growth but low retention. VCs will hold you to these metrics — make sure you’re accountable for them.

Categories: General News

PitchBook now offers users suggested companies when they search

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 15:30

This one’s for all the due diligence fiends and competitive landscape mapping mavens out there.

PitchBook, the data and analytics service for private equity and public markets, is rolling out an automated suggestions feature for premium users when they’re doing searches on companies for market intelligence.

The new service is based on machine learning technology that scours PitchBook’s financially focused information and data set. Each word in a description is represented in 300 dimensional space using the global vectors for word representation software lifted from researchers at Google and Stanford, and those vectors are then applied to companies to determine their various relationships.

“The differentiator for why the output of this is going to be high quality. When we look up a company is because we have this proprietary set of financial related news and information,” says Tyler Martinez, the director of software engineering and data science at PitchBook.

During an advanced search, the Suggestions algorithm stores the entire search as a vector ad compares it against a larger word embedding model to find similarities among companies.

Behind the new features is a years-long effort to get more financial data at more scale, according to the company. PitchBook invested in web mining tools and an automated news collection technology that can process 30 billion words.

And the amount of material that PitchBook and its competitors have to track has expanded exponentially since the company was initially launched years ago. There was $28 billion invested into 1,700 deals across the globe in the first quarter of 2018, and the geographic expansion of the private equity business and the explosion of interest in private markets has created a new demand among investors who don’t know what they don’t know, according to PitchBook.

“We built suggestions because it’s really hard to keep tabs on what is a big challenge in the market,” says Jenna Bono, a product manager for the company.

Categories: General News

Using tech and $100M, Dr Consulta transforms healthcare for the poorest

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 15:26

Healthcare delivery is an incredibly complex topic, but one that has a simple truth: health security is key to living a good life, and, ultimately, for developing a strong economy. Unfortunately, billions worldwide suffer from lack of access to even the most basic of medical diagnostics and treatments, since doctors often aren’t available and the costs when they are can be exorbitant.

That’s the world that Thomaz Srougi grew up with in his native Brazil. Brazil has made health security a major priority, offering comprehensive and free medical coverage to every citizen, a right enshrined in its constitution. That simple right though is riven with challenges, from a lack of public funding, to long queues for services, to geographic disparities between urban cores and rural areas.

Those with the means use private medical services, but those costs are far outside the reach of the majority of Brazil’s inhabitants. The country may have made a commitment in words, but it has in many ways failed to fulfill that commitment with actions.

Srougi wanted to bridge that gap. He had medicine in his DNA: his father was a urologist, and so saw first hand the challenges of the public health system. He spent years as an investment banker and financier, and also netted two masters degrees from the University of Chicago in business and public policy. But he yearned to return to Brazil and work on ameliorating the massive health disparities that he saw in his youth.

His solution would eventually become Dr Consulta. The concept was simple: offer the sort of universal access of the public health system, but with the quality and timeliness of the private health market. Srougi and his team opened their first clinic in 2011 in a São Paulo favela, the irregular slums that spread like an archipelago through Brazil’s cities.

Since that humble beginning, Dr Consulta has spread rapidly throughout the country, becoming the largest private medical service provider in Brazil, according to the company. It now boasts more than 2,000 doctors, and has served more than a million patients in a country of 208 million. In São Paulo alone, the company has 44 medical centers. That growth has certainly caught the attention of venture capitalists, who have plowed $100 million into the company since its inception.

The company started off with just the brick-and-mortar of clinics. They were bare bones, but functional. A doctor is always on call, and they are located in the hearts of neighborhoods to guarantee accessibility. Patient records are stored digitally, and perhaps most importantly, prices are — relatively — reasonable, with basic procedures costing only around $20. Those savings come from vertical integration — the clinics are one-stop shops for medical treatments, allowing doctors to save time and money on tests and other procedures.

Dr Consulta’s app allows patients to get results and feedback faster

Over time, the company has increasingly focused on its digital practice. With its large number of patients, the company is building out its data science practice. With its patient records, Dr Consulta hopes to move beyond just basic app workflow tools to predictively analyzing patient trends and finding new and robust treatments. The hope is that the careful application of machine learning algorithms will allow the company to simultaneously improve its patient outcomes while continuing to drive down costs.

That data could also be valuable for medical researchers. The company is exploring partnerships with universities and others who might be able to use patient data in a confidential way in order to investigate new therapeutics. That data could be particularly valuable since Dr Consulta’s data could add significant diversity to existing datasets from Western countries.

With the clinics in place, the company is now branching out into new product lines to continue expanding its footprint. One initiative is to offer a sort of rewards card that can be used with retail partners. The idea is to build upon the brand that Dr Consulta has built and create a community of retailers that might offer complementary goods and services. The company is also building out a subscription program that would allow customers to pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited medical care.

In short, Dr Consulta wants to be the hub for health and wellness for each of its patients. The company offers a unique example of how concentrating on underserved markets with services priced effectively can be a massive startup opportunity, while also helping people find the health security they need to build better lives.

Categories: General News

Patriot Boot Camp wants to turn soldiers into entrepreneurs

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 15:17

From the earliest moments of boot camp, budding soldiers learn about entrepreneurship. They learn how to operate in unknown terrain, how to listen to signals and, perhaps most importantly, how to make things happen with extremely limited time and resources.

Yet, when soldiers return home following a deployment, the transition to civilian life can be jarring. Even with those valuable soft skills, there aren’t many obvious jobs in the private sector for a combat engineer or a fire support specialist. Perhaps even more challenging, according to Josh Carter, is their lack of connections. “The biggest thing that veterans are facing is network — they don’t have a big network,” he said.

Carter is working to change that situation through Patriot Boot Camp, a series of programs under the Techstars banner that gives veterans the tools and connections they need in order to launch a startup. The nonprofit, which was founded by Taylor McLemore, Congressman Jared Polis and Techstars founder David Cohen, hosts multi-day “boot camps” in cities across the country that are designed to quickly immerse participants into the life and thinking of startups. Since its founding in 2012, the program has held nine boot camps in cities like San Antonio, DC and Austin, with its next program in Denver later this year.

Carter’s own experience making the transition from the navy to the private sector is telling. He joined the service when he was 17 in the mid-90s, and over the following three years, traveled to 30 countries. The experience matured him, he explained, and on his return, he joined the telecom industry, starting his career climbing poles and eventually joining Twilio as an escalation manager and early employee. Twilio changed Carter’s life, encouraging him to pursue startups as his own career. “During that time I really got the bug to create something,” he said.

He tried to build his own startup called Brightwork, which was a developer microservices API founded in 2015. The company went through Techstars Chicago, and Carter was hoping to build the kind of company he had seen at Twilio. But growth challenges early on proved insurmountable. “We were really struggling to figure out our target market and struggling to find investors, so it just sort of died,” he told me.

During this period, Carter had been participating in Patriot Boot Camp’s programs, and liked what he saw. Following the dissolution of Brightwork, he eventually joined the program as an executive, first as chief operating officer last November, and then as interim CEO earlier this year when his predecessor, Charlotte Creech, stepped down to join USAA.

Carter has big ambitions for the program. While today the boot camp has been focused on one-two multi-day events per year, he wants to build the program into a full-fledged growth accelerator that would target startups in addition to budding entrepreneurs. He also hopes to increase the number of boot camps per year to three. He’s also investigating raising a fund, now that there is a cohort of more than 750 entrepreneurs who have gone through the program. Ultimately, his goal is to “build better founders” and give them the resources they need for victory.

One aspect of the program that I found interesting is that it isn’t just limited to veterans, but includes military spouses as well. Networks are incredibly important for founders, and Carter points out that spouses have “this special tenacity about them” and need to know “how to build a network quickly in a town where she knows nobody.” They often face just as much challenge in returning to life outside the base as the veteran themselves, and startups could prove to be an important avenue to make that transition.

As its numbers and successes swell, Patriot Boot Camp hopes that it can serve as a beacon for soldiers returning home, telling them that startups aren’t the sort of crazy risk that they first appear. Indeed, after what many of these men and women have just been through, it may not be all that daunting of a next mission after all.

Categories: General News

Bag Week 2018: Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief makes your work vibe less uncool

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 15:09

You’re either a Chrome bag person or you’re not. And if you’re not a Chrome bag person, it might be time to give the newly Portland-based bag maker another look.

I’ve been a fan of Chrome Industries bags for a long time, but over the years I’ve only owned two: the discontinued Mini Buran, a 15L, extra-small messenger by Chrome standards, and the Niko camera pack. I still use the latter periodically but I traded the messenger away early on because, in spite of being Chrome’s smallest pack and the only one that didn’t look cartoonishly big on my 5′ 4″ frame, I could never get the weight quite right. There are two reasons for that: 1) Chrome bags are huge and designed for huge hulking men and 2) I’m just not a messenger bag person.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

Chrome’s lineup of industrial-strength messenger bags has typically appealed to hardcore bike types and dudes big enough to hoist its famously burly packs, but the company is branching out with a few new offerings that should excite anyone like me who covets their designs and build quality but just can’t make most of their stuff work.

The Chrome Vega Transit Brief, part of Chrome’s new work-centric Treadwell collection, is one of those new bags. The Vega is made to appeal to professional types who maybe need to keep their look away from the “I’m a bike messenger who lives in a punk house” kind of vibe, but it’s still made of the pretty much indestructible ballistic nylon that gives Chrome bags their iconic look and feel.

At first glance, the Vega looks like any generic laptop messenger, but unlike those (boring) you can carry the Vega three different ways. The first mode lets you carry the Vega briefcase-style, with a leather hand strap. The second mode converts the bag into a messenger with a detachable strap. The third mode (my favorite) happens when you pop out two hideaway straps from the back of the bag, turn it 90 degrees and carry the Vega like a backpack. For my purposes, I switched between hand-carrying the bag and putting it on my back to carry a 13″ MacBook and other odds and ends.

Photo via Chrome Industries

At just 15L, Vega is meant to carry small, rectangular stuff — you won’t be throwing groceries on the way home from work in this thing. It’s got two main zippered compartments, one soft padded laptop sleeve that can fit a 15″ MacBook and one all-purpose-stuff pocket lined with its own sleeve and two internal zip pockets that are actually big enough to be super useful for a phone or a wallet and keys. There’s a teeny external pocket that can also hold a phone or something small, but that one is tougher to get into so I mostly didn’t use it.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

I mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating that the Vega is very, very rectangular. Its primary compartment would be best suited to hold stuff like an iPad, a book or paper documents, but if you have anything with much depth it’s not going to be well-suited to this pack. Another thing worth noting is that the Vega looks like a big ol’ rectangle when it’s carried like a backpack. You’ll either like that look and think it’s kinda distinct and cool like I did or you’ll hate it. One criticism: The leather strap that lets you carry the Vega by its handle doesn’t stow, so it just sort of hangs there when you wear it like a backpack. It’s not super noticeable, but it bugged me a little because the snaps were tricky to open and close — a little flaw I imagine they might modify if they ever update this design.

The Vega isn’t Chrome’s most inspired design ever, but it isn’t supposed to be. If you want to show up to a meeting looking pro but still cool, like yeah you looked over the slides from the call but you drink shitty beer after work because you’re legit not because you can’t afford some triple-hopped bullshit, the Vega is probably for you. For anyone looking for a well-made bag that’s not too loud to carry to and from work meetings that happens to turn into a damn backpack, Chrome’s Vega Transit Brief is a great fit.

Taylor Hatmaker/TechCrunch

What it is: A bag that looks discreet and professional while keeping work basics close (laptop, papers and the like). Great as a no-frills carry-on bag for travel or a to-the-office-and-back kind of bag.

What it isn’t: A workhorse. With its 15L volume, you’re not going to be hauling big loads around or taking produce home from the co-op with this thing.

Read more reviews from TechCrunch Bag Week 2018 here.

Categories: General News

Personal finance startup SmartAsset raises $28M

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:34

I first wrote about SmartAsset nearly six years ago, when it launched its first product, a tool allowing prospective homebuyers to analyze the rent vs. buy decision and to see what kind of home they could actually afford.

According to co-founder and CEO Michael Carvin, “On the consumer side, our strategy has never really changed. Our mission is to help people make the best personal finance decisions and to build the web’s best resource for personal finance decision-making.”

Of course, some aspects of the company have evolved. For one thing, SmartAsset now offers tools, calculators and content in a number of categories, including taxes, retirement and banking.

For another, it’s announcing today that it has raised $28 million in Series C funding, bringing its total raised to more than $51 million. The new round comes from Focus Financial Partners (a firm backed by Stone Point Capital and KKR), Javelin Venture Partners, TTV Capital, IA Capital, Contour Venture Partners, Citi Ventures, Fabrice Grinda and others.

Carvin said SmartAsset reached more than 45 million uniques last month, nearly doubling its traffic year-over-year. And 25 percent of that traffic comes from repeat visitors.

As for how SmartAsset makes money from those visitors, it does so partly by promoting financial products like mortgages. But Carvin said the biggest piece is the SmartAdvisor platform, which connects financial advisors with potential investors.

Carvin described it as “the web’s first digital lead generation platform for financial advisors,” and compared the SmartAsset business model to Zillow’s, saying both companies have built big audiences that they can then match up with real estate or finance professionals.

In SmartAsset’s case, users fill out a questionaire and then work with a SmartAsset concierge to help them find an advisor who’s a good fit. Carvin added that the advisors on the platform have been screened by the company, for example to ensure that they haven’t had any criminal violations and that SEC hasn’t upheld any complaints against them for the past decade.

Asked whether this focus on financial advisors has led SmartAsset to change the way it designs its consumer products Carvin said, “We believe the better the user experience, the better our business will work. And so when we’re building a retirement tool, a home affordability tool, a tax tool, we’re building that only with the consumer interest in mind.”

Looking ahead, Carvin said he plans to continue following this strategy.

“We’re going to build out the web’s premiere personal finance resources and then leverage that on advisor side,” he said.

Categories: General News

Anchor brings podcast creation and editing to the iPad

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:29

Following its relaunch earlier this year as a podcast creation platform, Anchor today is bringing its suite of mobile podcasting tools to the iPad. Like its iPhone counterpart, the iPad version of Anchor lets you record, edit, then distribute your podcast anywhere, including iTunes and Google Play Music. The new app is also customized for touch-based editing, and it takes advantage of iPad features like drag-and-drop and multitasking.

The company had originally been focused on short-form audio, but more recently realized it could better serve the growing audience of podcasters with a set of easy-to-use tools available right on their mobile device.

The iPhone version of Anchor lets you press a button to record your audio, record with friends, insert voice messages (like call-ins) into your podcast, and easily add music and transitions. The iPad app now offers a similar set of tools, with a few upgrades and tweaks.

For starters, you can opt use a real microphone by plugging one into your iPad’s lightning port, or by using a lightning-to-USB adapter.

You can also upload or even drag and drop audio files from other apps into Anchor for use in its episode builder. For example, you could pull in music from GarageBand, add a voice memo, or import other audio files saved in a cloud storage site like Dropbox.

The app support multitasking, too, so you can keep your notes open as your record.

And you can directly edit the audio files on the iPad itself using touch-based controls that are easy enough for anyone – even novice or amateur podcasters – to use.

The controls allow you to trim the beginning and end of your podcast, so you can cut out issues like false starts or other chatter. And you can split audio clips in order to insert transitions, voice messages, music, and other audio.

The clips can then be moved around or deleted as you put your podcast together.

Given the popularity of podcasting today, it’s actually fairly remarkable that no one else had yet introduced audio editing tools built with the needs of podcasters in mind.

The Anchor app is also another example of how the iPad can be used for content creation, not just consumption – and specifically, how it can be used as an editing tool for creative projects.

The company doesn’t share its user numbers, but Sensor Tower reports over 850,000 installs worldwide across both app stores. Anchor’s sequential month-over-month growth since February when it pivoted to podcast creation has been impressive, averaging 40 percent, the firm also says.

Anchor for iPad, like the iPhone app, is free to use as the company is currently living off its funding. But the longer-term plan is to offer monetization tools to Anchor’s podcasters, where Anchor itself would likely take a cut of revenues.

Categories: General News

CityMapper, the urban transportation app, is integrating with bike-sharing company Mobike

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:15

Hot on the heels of getting acquired for $2.7 billion by on-demand services startup Meituan-Dianping en route to its own $60 billion IPO, Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike is ramping up its international push as companies like Uber, Lyft and other standalone bike-on-demand startups take their own expansion strategies up a gear.

The company will this week start integrating with Citymapper, the mapping and navigation app focused on urban areas and public transportation, in all cities where both companies operate (Citymapper is now live in 39 cities; while Mobike calls itself the world’s largest bike-sharing startup, in 200 cities in some 15 countries).

This will mean that users of Citymapper will be able to select bike routes on the app, and also see where they can find a Mobike to complete those journeys, giving the bike-hire-on-demand company one more way to snag customers in what is shaping up to be a very competitive market for transportation options geared to single users.

TechCrunch first learned of the integration by way of an anonymous tip, which was then confirmed to us by a spokesperson from Mobike itself. (We sent multiple emails to Citymapper, but didn’t receive any replies.)

“Bikesharing is a true new emerging global transport platform, so a partnership with Citymapper, one of the most popular transport apps in the world, is a logical step,” said the spokesperson. “Partnering with Citymapper means that more and more people will realise how easy using a Mobike is, encouraging cycling everywhere for short urban trips.”

London-based Citymapper taps APIs from city transportation networks to provide bike routes alongside walking, bus, train, ferry and car routes. In cities where there are city bike schemes — for example in London and New York — it shows locations for bike docking stations and, if available, information on how many bikes are available.

But while there are in London — as one example — some 750 docking stations in the city covering 11,000 bikes, there are large swathes of the city, particularly outside the center, where the city bike scheme doesn’t reach. That presents an opportunity for these bike startups, which are often not banked at docks but parked on sidewalks, to cater to people who may not own a bike but would like to ride one from points A to B, when one or both of those are not near a docking station.

For the moment, you still have to register through the Mobike app to be able to reserve a Mobike you find on Citymapper. And it’s not a given that you will ever be able to book these directly: if you look at Citymapper’s Uber integration it gives you an estimate but links to the Uber app to actually seal the deal (this is now also what Google Maps does, too).

The spokesperson confirmed that there is no revenue share in this deal, and it’s not exclusive. “Mobike is in conversation with a variety of other companies which focus on helping people improve their journeys,” said the spokesperson. “They will announce partnerships as they come.” Mobike is also planning to expand into India this year.

While taxi and ride-on-demand companies duke it out for customers in cities and towns against alternative motorised options like people’s own private cars, buses and trains, in dense urban environments, there has been a secondary track of competition developing around vehicles that are geared (sorry) to more individual modes of transport, such as bikes and electric scooters.

The runaway success of other transportation-on-demand services has driven a lot of investors to look for the next big transport opportunity, which in turn has turned into a glut of money going into these smaller, semi-manual vehicle companies, and a subsequent glut of bikes and scooters filling city streets in that wake.

Electric scooters in particular have raised a lot controversy, because of how scooter services are run, potential safety concerns, and legal requirements for the drivers, to name just three of the issues. That leaves, potentially, more open road for manual bikes, which fall outside of some of these regulations so can grow a little more easily (if with more human pedal power).

All the same, there are a number of bike companies competing for potential customers, so by integrating with Citymapper, Mobike gets more visibility above that competition, specifically at a time when its new owner is itself looking for more differentiated revenue streams as it reportedly gears up for a public listing valued at $60 billion.

Citymapper itself has raised $50 million from investors that include Balderton, Benchmark, Index and Yuri Milner and it has to date not spelled out many details on how it plans to monetise, although in February it launched a hybrid taxi and small bus service serving under-served routes in the city, pointing to how it might evolve those business plans in the future with its own transportation options alongside routing suggestions.

Categories: General News

Feds crack down on Tesla Autopilot safety cheat device

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:13

The federal government is stepping in to end the use of an aftermarket product designed to let Tesla owners skirt a safety feature from the electric automaker’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a cease and desist letter Tuesday to a California company known as Dolder, Falco and Reese Partners LLC that is selling the Autopilot Buddy product.

The Autopilot Buddy product, which is marketed with the catchy slogan “Tesla Autopilot Nag Reduction Device,” is a magnetic piece of plastic that disables the feature in Tesla vehicles that monitors the driver’s hands on the steering wheel and warns the driver when hands are not detected. Aftermarket devices, such as Autopilot Buddy, are motor vehicle equipment regulated by NHTSA.

Autopilot Buddy works on the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3.

“A product intended to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King said in a statement. “By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk.”

Tesla’s Autopilot is not a fully autonomous driving system. Instead, the advanced assistance system includes a number of features such as traffic-aware cruise control (TACC) and its branded Autosteer, which uses information from cameras, radar and the ultrasonic sensors to detect lane markings as well as the presence of vehicles and objects. When Autopilot and the Autosteer feature are activated, the system maintains the speed of the Tesla while keeping a distance from the vehicle in front of it, keeps it in its lane and changes lanes.

However, it also requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, apparently a rule so annoying that owners have found all sorts of interesting ways to trick the system. When drivers don’t keep their hands on the wheel, the system is supposed to give visual and audible warnings. If the driver continues to ignore it, Autopilot shuts off.

The letter directs the company to respond by June 29, 2018, and to certify to NHTSA that all U.S. marketing, sales and distribution of the Autopilot Buddy has ended.

The company appears to have already adjusted to the feds. The company posted on its website that it is currently only taking international orders. “We are not taking orders inside the U.S.A. at this time,” the website reads. “We are hopeful to resolve this by as quickly as possible.”

Categories: General News

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:11

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and portfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today:

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today (this link should be active soon once the app populates across Google Play). The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more U.S. creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Why Facebook wants sponsored content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Categories: General News

UK’s first Space Camp Accelerator unveils its first 6 startups

TechCrunch - Tue, 06/19/2018 - 13:07

Back in March we covered the launch of Seraphim Capital’s new “Space Camp Accelerator”. This is the UK’s first dedicated accelerator programme for startups in the spacetech industry.

Ther’s now selected the six companies in this first cohort. They come from from the US, Denmark and the UK. The programme is underway and is 9 weeks in total, ending 9/10 July. The key partners are the new UK Space Agency, Dentons, Rolls-Royce, Cyient, European Space Agency, SA Catapult and Capital Enterprise as well as Airbus, SSTL and Telespazio.

Here’s a run-down of which companies are in the programme, in their own words:

QuadSAT is a Danish company that has developed brand new tools and techniques for testing and calibrating satellite antennas being deployed in high-value Maritime and Aeronautical markets. Combining the latest drone technology with a simulated satellite payload and mathematical algorithms, QuadSAT simplifies the requirements for satellite antenna testing, qualification and calibration.

Tesseract builds satellite propulsion systems that use non toxic propellants, have dramatically better performance, and lower cost than existing options.
Current satellite propulsion technologies rely on toxic fuel that is dangerous to handle. This results in fuelling costs of up to $500k per satellite and are cost prohibitive for inexpensive smallsats. Tesseract has redesigned thrusters for low toxicity fuels and modern manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing. This eliminates the $500k fuelling cost and provides twice the propulsion for half the price. Tesseract is an alumnus of Y Combinator – the world’s pre-eminent start-up accelerator and already has Letters of Intent for over $150m in annual revenues.

Earth Rover
By 2050 there will be 10 billion people on Earth, meaning that 70% more food will need to be produced from the same land we currently farm. The drive for yield-improving, high precision autonomous farming is therefore a pressing issue now. Earth Rover is looking to address this by developing farming robots based on the same technology originally developed for the ExoMars Rover. Selling precision farming-as-a-service, Earth Rover’s initial target market is the £1.7bn labour-intensive organic vegetable production market in Europe where it hopes to save farmers £1,500 per hectare p.a. Initial field trials are planned for the current growing season with one of the UK’s largest organic farms.

Global Surface Intelligence
According to the UN, there are over 4,000 satellites currently orbiting the planet, which collect and communicate a vast array of raw data which can be transformed into valuable decision-making information. This information can assist institutions and companies to better manage their land- based assets such as forestry, agriculture, water, minerals and man-made infrastructures.
Global Surface Intelligence (GSI) is one of a handful of companies around the world with access to a satellite database that effectively maps the changing behaviour of the world’s resources. GSI transforms the raw images from satellite, drone-based LiDAR and other data sets into advanced asset analytics and builds contextual views of natural assets to quantify their performance, health, yield and value, making these natural assets more investable and better managed.
The huge growth of Space data is outstripping improvements in conventional processing platforms such as CPUs and GPUs. A relatively new form of integrated circuit known as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) – designed to be configured after manufacturing by a customer using software – are capable of the hardware acceleration needed to address these issues. This capability is relevant for areas such as high-speed data analytics, network processing, security functions and low power processing for IoT and has developed a core platform allowing the acceleration of key compute demands with such FPGA technology by for the first time making it readily accessible to engineers. It is therefore a key enabler for the mass adoption of FPGAs in the Space sector.

KisanHub is a Crop Intelligence Platform and was borne out of a desire to give farmers everywhere a sophisticated, meaningful yet, simple decision-support. Founded in 2013, KisanHub uses big data analytics, cloud computing, and machine learning to compile data from satellite imagery, weather stations, soil sensors, and other sources. The platform offers yield predictions, pesticide application monitoring and other features for potato growing, which helps sellers manage contracts and supports farmers’ decision-making. KisanHub’s target customers are agriculture enterprises, such as suppliers, processors, and retailers. Roughly 2,300 growers in the UK and 1,000 in India use KisanHub’s software, all paid for by the enterprise customers. KisanHub sources data via hardware and imagery partnerships, including one with satellite imagery provider Planet Labs. They have raised over £2.5m VC investment.

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