General News

How to watch Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain control interface startup presentation live

TechCrunch - 5 hours 27 min ago

One of Elon Musk’s stealthier endeavors is set to become a lot less stealthy tonight, with a presentation set for 8 PM PT (11 PM ET) streaming live from its website in which we’ll learn a lot more about Neuralink, the company Musk founded in 2017 to work on brain control interfaces (BCIs) and essentially part of his larger strategy to help mitigate the risks of AI and enhance its potential benefits.

Here’s what we do know about Neuralink already: It’s initial goal, at least as of two years ago, was to figure out how brain interfaces could be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of chronic medical conditions, including epilepsy. This goal will involve the development of “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers,” which is the only formal description Neuralink provides of its overall mission on its own website.

In a post on Wait Buy Why back when the company first broke cover, we got a lot more in-depth background about what problem Musk wants to solve and why. Summarized, Neuralink’s mission is very much on trend with Musk’s other ventures, in that it hopes to help humans avoid something he perceives as an existential threat in order that we may survive, thrive, and I guess come up with other potential existential threats for him to also then solve.

Ultimately, Neuralink seems to be aiming well beyond its initial exploration of medical technology, which was really just a way to potentially get testing faster with a practical application that’s easier to work with in terms of rules and regulators. Musk’s goal, per the Wait But Why explainer, is actually to eliminate the “compression” that happens when we translate our thoughts into language, and then into input via keyboard, mouse, etc. before actually transmitting it to a computer. Taking away the need to compress and then decompress the signal, in other words, will make communication between people and computers much faster, lossless, and very high bandwidth.

This has an existential angle because this is a key step, Musk believes, in ensuring that humanity can keep up with the increasingly advanced AI it’s developing. So to avoid a doomsday scenario where the robots take over, basically Musk proposes more or less mind-melding with the robots instead.

That was a lot to digest two years ago – it’s wild to think about what Neuralink may have done in the interim to work towards or modify this goal. Luckily, we won’t have to wait with much longer. That stream kicks off at 8 PM PT (11 PM ET) and will be carried live on Neuralink.com. We’ll update this post if there’s a direct stream, too.

Categories: General News

Voyant Photonics raises $4.3M to fit lidar on the head of a pin

TechCrunch - 5 hours 30 min ago

Lidar is a critical method by which robots and autonomous vehicles sense the world around them, but the lasers and sensors generally take up a considerable amount of space. Not so with Voyant Photonics, which has created a lidar system that you really could conceivably balance on the head of a pin.

Before getting into the science, it’s worth noting why this is important. Lidar is most often used as a way for a car to sense things at a medium distance — far away, radar can outperform it, and up close ultrasonics and other methods are more compact. But from a few feet to a couple hundred feed out, lidar is very useful.

Unfortunately even the most compact lidar solutions today are still, roughly, the size of a hand, and the ones ready for use in production vehicles are still larger. A very small lidar unit that could be hidden on every corner of a car, or even inside the cabin. It could provide rich positional data about everything in and around the car with little power and no need to disrupt the existing lines and design. (And that’s not getting into the many, many other industries that could use this.)

Startups at the speed of light: Lidar CEOs put their industry in perspective

Lidar began with the idea of, essentially, a single laser being swept across a scene multiple times per second, its reflection carefully measured to track the distances of objects. But mechanically steered lasers are bulky, slow, and prone to failure, so newer companies are attempting other techniques like illuminating the whole scene at once (flash lidar) or steering the beam with complex electronic surfaces (metamaterials) instead.

One discipline that seems primed to join in the fun is silicon photonics, which is essentially the manipulation of light on a chip for various purposes — for instance, to replace electricity in logic gates to provide ultra-fast, low-heat processing. Voyant, however, has pioneered a technique to apply silicon photonics to lidar.

In the past, attempts in chip-based photonics to send out a coherent laser-like beam from a surface of lightguides (elements used to steer light around or emit it) have been limited by a low field of view and power because the light tends to interfere with itself at close quarters.

Voyant’s version of these “optical phased arrays” sidesteps that problem by carefully altering the phase of the light traveling through the chip. The result is a strong beam of non-visible light that can be played over a wide swathe of the environment at high speed with no moving parts at all — yet it emerges from a chip dwarfed by a fingertip.

“This is an enabling technology because it’s so small,” said Voyant co-founder Steven Miller. “We’re talking cubic centimeter volumes. There’s a lot of electronics that can’t accommodate a lidar the size of a softball — think about drones and things that are weight sensitive, or robotics, where it needs to be on the tip of its arm.”

Lest you think this is just a couple yahoos who think they’ve one-upped years of research, Miller and co-founder Chris Phare came out of the Lipson Nanophotonics Group at Columbia University.

“This lab basically invented silicon photonics,” said Phare. “We’re all deeply ingrained with the physics and devices-level stuff. So we were able to step back and look at lidar, and see what we needed to fix and make better to make this a reality.”

WTF is lidar?

The advances they’ve made frankly lie outside my area of expertise so I won’t attempt to characterize them too closely, except that it solves the interference issues and uses a frequency modulated continuous wave technique, which lets it measure velocity as well as distance (Blackmore does this as well). At any rate their unique approach to moving and emitting light from the chip lets them create a device that is not only compact, but combines transmitter and receiver in one piece, and has good performance — not just good for its size, they claim, but good.

“It’s a misconception that small lidars need to be low-performance,” explained Phare. “The silicon photonic architecture we use lets us build a very sensitive receiver on-chip that would be difficult to assemble in traditional optics. So we’re able to fit a high-performance lidar into that tiny package without any additional or exotic components. We think we can achieve specs comparable to lidars out there, but just make them that much smaller.”

The chip-based lidar in its test bed.

It’s even able to be manufactured in a normal fashion like other photonics chips. That’s a huge plus when you’re trying to move from research to product development.

With this first round of funding, the team plans to expand the team and get this tech out of the lab and into the hands of engineers and developers. The exact specs, dimensions, power requirements and so on are all very different depending on the application and industry, so Voyant can make decisions based on feedback from people in other fields.

In addition to automotive (“It’s such a big application that no one can make lidar and not look at that space,” Miller said), the team is in talks with numerous potential partners.

Although being at this stage while others are raising 9-figure rounds might seem daunting, Voyant has the advantage that it has created something totally different from what’s out there, a product that can safely exist alongside popular big lidars from companies like Innoviz and Luminar.

“We’re definitely talking to big players in a lot of these places, drones and robotics, perhaps augmented reality. We’re trying to suss out exactly where this is most interesting to people,” said Phare. “We see the evolution here being something like bringing room size computers down to chips.”

The $4.3 million raised by Voyant comes from Contour Venture Partners, LDV Capital, and DARPA, which naturally would be interested in something like this.

Categories: General News

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: TrueUp

TechCrunch - 6 hours 13 min ago

It was the perfect storm when CEO and Founder Liam Reynolds finally decided to start TrueUp, a data-driven growth marketing agency/consultancy based in London. After decades of working for large creative advertising agencies, Liam quit his job right around the beginning of Silicon Valley’s growth hacking trend and plunged headfirst into running growth for early-stage startups.

TrueUp has since evolved from a one-man shop into an award-winning agency with a team of dedicated data, paid marketing and conversion specialists. Learn more about how they collaborate with clients and help them develop short- and long-term growth frameworks.

TrueUp’s approach to growth marketing:

“Rather than just saying ‘Look at these amazing results we’ve achieved,’ we would say, ‘Look, these are your growth opportunities, this is the process you need and here’s the framework unlock your true potential,’ We would build business models around this to show the opportunity in numbers, revenue and ROI.

Our approach to growth is anchored in delivering the right message to the right target audience in the right channel at the right time. It sounds simple but we’re amazed at how wrong people get this.

So we’ve created our own bespoke methodologies and frameworks to really explore and identify these hidden killer messages that drive action. We’ve built our own tools that allow us to do a lot of high-tempo, high-intensity testing.

It’s quite common that we have 500 to 600 tests running concurrently on Facebook for any given client. We’re continuously testing, learning, iterating, improving. As a result we’ve achieved some amazing results for our clients.”

Advice to founders:

“We approached True Up to help us establish and scale a UK paid marketing function. The team was highly professional from their initial pitch through the end of the project.” Maninder Saini, SF, International Operations Manager, Quizlet, Inc.
“For earlier stage startups, it’s to focus on achieving product-market fit and having awesome user experiences before worrying about growth. We worked with and mentored a lot of startups that immediately jump to, “Look I need to get X number of customers in X months.” However their products/services are often seriously lacking. This creates very weak foundations for growth. So their efforts would be better spent on creating products that genuinely meet a customer need. Once they’ve achieved product-market fit, it’s to communicate benefits not features. There’s always at least one killer message that cuts through but more often than not it’s hidden and not what the founders think it is. So a structured test program to explore this is also very much needed!”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 

Interview with TrueUp CEO & Founder Liam Reynolds

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about how you got into growth marketing and why you decided to start TrueUp.

Liam Reynolds: I started my career at a data marketing company called Dunnhumby. They were famous for managing the data science and intelligence behind TESCO’s Club Card, a very large loyalty program in the UK.

Categories: General News

Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green will talk customer experience at TC Sessions: Enterprise

TechCrunch - 6 hours 14 min ago

We’re less than two months out from our first TC Sessions: Enterprise event, which is happening in San Francisco on September 5, and did you know our buy 1 get 1 free sale ends today too! Among the many enterprise and startup executives that’ll join us for the event is Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green. If that name sounds familiar to you, that’s most likely because you remember her from her 25 years at Microsoft. After a successful career in Redmond, Larson-Green left Microsoft in 2017 to become the Chief Experience Officer at SAP’s Qualtrics.

In that role, she’s perfect for our panel about — you guessed it — customer experience management.

Larson-Green joined Microsoft as a program manager for Visual C++ back in 1993. After moving up the ladder inside the company, she oversaw the launch of Windows 7 and became the co-lead of Microsoft’s hardare, games, music and entertainment division in 2013. At the time, she was seen as a potential replacement for then-CEO Steve Ballmer.

Later, during a period of reshuffling at the company in the wake of the Nokia acquisition, became the Chief Experience Officer of Microsoft’s My Life and Work group.

Larson-Green joined Qualtrics before it was acquired by SAP for $8 billion in cash. Qualtrics offers a number of products that range from customer experience tools to brand tracking and ad testing services, as well as employee research products for gathering feedback about managers, for example. At the core of its product is an analytics engine that helps businesses make sense of their employee and customer data, which in turn should help them optimize their customer experience scores and reduce employee attrition rates.

Our buy one get one free ticket deal ends today! Book a ticket for just $249 and you can bring a buddy for free. Book here before this deal ends.

We’re still selling startup demo tables, and each package comes with 4 tickets. Learn more here.

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Categories: General News

China startup deals shrink as fundraising for investors plummets

TechCrunch - 6 hours 26 min ago

Chinese startups continue to weather tough times as private investors, caught in a cash crunch, are concentrating money into fewer deals.

China’s deal-making activity for startups in the six months ended June halved from a year ago to 1910, according to data from consulting firm ChinaVenture’s research arm. The amount invested in domestic startups during the first half of 2019 plummeted 54% to $23.2 billion.

The slide in startup investment comes as the money behind the money shrinks amid a cooling economy in China that is exacerbated by a trade war with the U.S. Fundraising for investors was already showing signs of slowdown a year earlier. In the first half of this year, private equity and venture capital firms in China secured 30% less than what they had raised over the same period a year ago, amounting to a total of $54.44 billion. 271 funds managed to raise, down 52%.

That money from limited partners is also flowing to a small rank of investors. 12 institutions accounted for 57% of all the capital landed by VCs and PEs in the period. Investment coffers that have gotten a big boost include the likes of TPG Capital, Warburg Pincus, DCG Capital, Legend Capital, and Source Code Capital.

Healthcare was the most backed sector during the six months, although proptech startups scored the biggest average deal size. Some of the highest funded companies from the period were artificial intelligence chip maker Horizon Robotics, shared housing upstart Danke and China’s Starbucks challenger Luckin.

Categories: General News

Highlights from Facebook’s Libra Senate hearing

TechCrunch - 6 hours 50 min ago

Facebook will only build its own Calibra cryptocurrency wallet into Messenger and Whatsapp, and will refuse to embed competing wallets, the head of Calibra David Marcus told the Senate Banking Committee today. While some like Senator Brown blustered that “Facebook is dangerous!”, others surfaced poignant questions about Libra’s risks.

Calibra will be interoperable so users can send money back and forth with other wallets, and Marcus committed to data portability so users can switch entirely to a competitor. But solely embedding Facebook’s own wallet into its leading messaging apps could give the company a sizable advantage over banks, PayPal, Coinbase, or any other potential wallet developer.

Other highlights from the “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Digital Currency and Data Privacy Considerations” hearing included Marcus saying:

  • The US should “absolutely” lead the world in rule-making for cryptocurrencies
  • The Libra Association chose to be headquartered in Switzerland “not to evade any responsibilities of oversight” but since it’s where international financial groups like the Bank For International Settlements, though Calibra will be regulated by the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
  • “Yes” Libra will comply with all US regulations and not launch until the US lawmakers’ concerns have been answered
  • “You will not have to trust Facebook” because it’s only one of 28 current and potentially 100 or more Libra Association members and it won’t have special privileges
  • “Yes I would” accept his compensation from Facebook in the form of Libra as a show of trust in the currency
  • It is “not the intention at all” for Calibra to sell or directly monetize user data directly, though if it offered additional financial services in partnership with other financial organizations it would ask consent to use their data specifically for those purposes.
  • Facebook’s core revenue model around Libra is that more online commerce will lead businesses to spend more on Facebook ads
  • When repeatedly asked why Facebook is pushing Libra to happen, Marcus noted that blockchain technology is inevitable and if the U.S. doesn’t lead in building and regulating it, the tech will come from places “out of reach of our national security apparatus”, raising the spectre of China.

Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

But Marcus also didn’t clearly answer some critical questions about Libra and Calibra.

Unanswered Questions

Chairman Crapo asked if Facebook would collect data about transactions made with Calibra that are made on Facebook, such as when users buy products from businesses they discover through Facebook. Marcus instead merely noted that Facebook would still let users pay with credit cards and other mediums as well as Calibra. That means that even though Facebook might not know how much money is in someone’s Calibra wallet or their other transactions, it might know how much the paid and for what if that transaction happens over their social networks.

Senator Tillis asked how much Facebook has invested in the formation of Libra. TechCrunch has also asked specifically how much Facebook has invested in the Libra Investment Token that will earn it a share of interest earned from the fiat currencies in the Libra Reserve. Marcus said Facebook and Calibra hadn’t determined exactly how much it would invest in the project. Marcus also didn’t clearly answer Senator Toomey’s question of why they Libra Association is considered a not-for-profit organization if it will pay out interest to members.

Senator Menendez asked if the Libra Association would freeze the assets if terrorist organizations were identified. Marcus said that Calibra and other custodial wallets that actually hold users’ Libra could do that, and that regulated off-ramps could block them from converting Libra into fiat. But this answer underscores that there may be no way for the Libra Association to stop transfers between terrorists’ non-custodial wallets, especially if local governments where those terrorists operate don’t step in.

The real risk of Facebook’s Libra coin is crooked developers

Perhaps the most worrying moment of the hearing was when Senator Sinema brought up TechCrunch’s article citing that “The real risk of Libra is crooked developers”. There I wrote that Facebook’s VP of product Kevin Weil told me that ““There are no plans for the Libra Association to take a role in actively vetting [developers]”, which I believe leaves the door open to a crypto Cambridge Analytica situation where shady developers steal users money, not just their data.

Senator Sinema asked if an Arizonan was scammed out of their Libra by a Pakistani developer via a Thai exchange and a Spanish wallet, would that U.S. citizen be entitled to protection to recuperate their lost funds. Marcus responded that U.S. citizens would likely use American Libra wallets that are subject to protections and that the Libra Association will work to educate users on how to avoid scams. But Sinema stressed that if Libra is designed to assist the poor who are often less educated, they could be especially vulnerable to scammers.

Crypto openness vs a dangerous wild west

Overall, the hearing was surprisingly coherent, Many Senators showed strong base knowledge of how Libra worked and asked the right questions. Marcus was generally forthcoming, beyond the topics of how much Facebook has invested in the Libra project and what data it will gleam from transactions atop its social network.

Some of the top concerns, such as terrorist money-laundering, encompass the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem and can’t be solved even by strong rules around Libra. Little regard was given to how Libra could improve remittance or cut transaction fees that see corporations profit off of families and small businesses.

Still, if Libra actually becomes popular and evolves as an open ecosystem full of unvetted developers, the currency could be used to facilitate scams. Precisely because of the lack of trust in Facebook that many Senators harped on, consumers could go seeking Libra wallet alternatives to the company that might push them into the hands of evildoers. The Libra Association may need to shift the balance further towards safety and away from cryptocurrency’s prevailing philosophies from openness. Otherwise the frontiers of this wild west could prove dangerous, even if its civilized regions are well-regulated.

Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: All you need to know

Categories: General News

Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick are again Prime Day’s best selling devices (so far!)

TechCrunch - 6 hours 58 min ago

Amazon Prime members again snapped up loss leaders like the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote on the first day of Amazon Prime Day 2019, which has now been stretched out to a 48-hour sale. This is the third year in a row that the entry-level Alexa smart speaker, the Echo Dot, has been a Prime Day bestseller. The Fire TV Stick was a top seller last year, too, and sold well in years past — including in 2016, when it emerged at the overall best-selling device globally on Prime Day.

Amazon never provides hard numbers on Prime Day sales, but claims “millions” of these devices — the Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick combined — were sold on Monday to customers worldwide during the first day of Prime Day 2019.

Last year, Amazon claimed customers bought “millions” of Fire TV Stick devices alone, for comparison’s sake.

The retailer also said this morning that U.S. shoppers saved “millions” on Prime Day sales on Monday. This includes other bestsellers like the Instant Pot DUO Plus 60 6 Qt, LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, and Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitening Strips. The Instant Pot and LifeStraw filter were also two of the non-Amazon top sellers last Prime Day, which says something about the consistency of this sales event as it enters its fifth year.

Though Amazon didn’t officially list the Echo Dot in its round-up of July 15 Prime Day sales, the smart speaker had already been discounted to its then lowest price ever of $24.99 (half off list) before Prime Day even started. As the event kicked off, it dropped again to $22.

Today, Amazon is keeping the Echo Dot at $22 but is sold out of Charcoal, leaving only the lighter sandstone color available for purchase.

Other notable Day 2 Prime Day deals include:

A $49.99 Echo Show 5 (the smaller, more compact revamp of the Alexa speaker with a screen); savings of up to $140 on Fire TV Edition smart TVs; the $14.99 Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote; a $59.99 Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet (or 2 for $99.98); and the $139 Ring Video Doorbell 2.

A list of the announced Prime Day, day 2 deals are below:

Amazon Devices:

  • $27.99 off Echo Dot, $22
  • $40 off the all-new Echo Show 5, $49.99
  • $25 off Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, $14.99
  • Save up to $140 on Fire TV Edition Smart TVs
  • $20 off the all-new Fire 7 tablet, just $29.99, or get two for $49.98—a $50 savings
  • $40 off all-new Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet, just $59.99, or get two for $99.98—a $100 savings
  • $60 off Ring Video Doorbell 2, $139
  • Save up to $200 on eero WiFi systems
  • Save up to $50 on Kindle Paperwhite, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited

Amazon Brands and Exclusives:

  • Save up to 50% on kids and baby styles from Simple Joys by Carter’s, LOOK by crewcuts, Spotted Zebra, and Amazon Essentials
  • Save up to 30% on furniture and décor from Rivet, Stone & Beam, and Ravenna Home

Electronics:

  • Save up to 25% on select Canon Mirrorless and DSLR cameras
  • Save up to 30% of select Sony and Samsung TVs

Apparel:

  • Save up to 40% off Ray-Ban sunglasses
  • Up to 50% off Dockers clothing and more
  • Deep discounts on Champion hoodies and Herschel Little America backpacks

Smart Home:

  • Save up to 50% off select Sony LED Smart TVs
  • Save up to 30% on Tile
  • Save up to 30% on iRobot Robotic Vacuums

Home, Kitchen & Furniture:

  • Save up to 30% on Blue Pure Air Purifier
  • Save on select Winix Air Purifiers
  • Save on Hoover ONEPWR vacuums
  • Save on Philips XXL Air Fryer
  • Save 30% on Keurig K-Café Single-Serve Coffee Maker
  • Save 30% on Crock Pot 6qt Slow Cooker
  • Save up to 30% on Brother Sewing Machines
  • Save on Philips Smoke-less Indoor BBQ Grill
  • Save up to 35% on Dash Egg Cookers

Toys & Games:

  • Save 30% on games from What Do You Meme?
  • Save up to 40% on select toys and games including favorites from LEGO and Melissa & Doug

Video Games:

  • Save up to 50% on Astro A40 TR headset

Tools & Home Improvement:

  • Save up to 30% on CRAFTSMAN power tools

Lawn & Garden:

  • Save up to 35% on Greenworks yard equipment

Sports & Outdoors:

  • Save up to 20% on Skywalker 15’ Jump and Dunk trampolines
  • Save 20% on Bushnell Trophy trail camera
  • Save 20% on Marvel Spiderman kids bikes

Automotive:

  • Save up to 30% on Pennzoil Motor Oil
  • Save up to 30% on NOCO Jump Starters and Battery Chargers

 

Categories: General News

Quirk wants to make cognitive behavioral therapy more accessible

TechCrunch - 7 hours 28 sec ago

Quirk, a YC-backed company, is looking to bring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to more people suffering from anxiety or depression.

CBT aims to lessen or stop harmful behavior by changing the way people think, stopping them from falling into established patterns of negatively distorting their reality to justify or account for unhelpful habits.

“CBT has 40 years of research behind it,” says CEO and founder Evan Conrad. “I’ve had severe panic attacks my whole life and saw different therapists who tried what I now know is CBT. I assumed it was a pseudo science. It wasn’t until 10 months ago that I re-discovered CBT on my own and learned about its efficacy. It’s the gold standard.”

The app helps users practice one of the most common exercises in CBT: the triple-column technique.

Here’s how it works:

Users jump into the app whenever they have anxiety or a depressive thought to record it. They then identify any distortions that apply to that thought, such as Catastrophizing, Magnification of the Negative, Fortune Telling, or Over-Generalization, among others. From there, the user can challenge the thought with reasons why that thought might have been illogical to begin with. Finally, the user replaces the thought with something more reasonable.

For example, if I was worried about not getting a response to a text, I might believe (irrationally) that it has something to do with how that person feels about me, rather than the more obvious explanation: they’re just busy.

The hope of CBT is that identifying thought distortions, and manually replacing them with beliefs grounded in reality retrains the brain to experience the world in a realistic way and relieves patients from their depression and/or anxiety.

Conrad says that he went from having two anxiety attacks a week to two every six months.

The problem that Quirk is trying to solve is two-fold. First, people may not know the benefits or the empirical data supporting CBT. Secondly, the process of manually recording this on pen and paper can be more tedious and feel less private out in a public space.

Quirk’s attempt to solve these problems is to make CBT accessible to more people and to make the process of doing CBT slightly more private.

We asked Conrad about the potential negative affects of practicing CBT without the oversight of a mental health professional.

“As for self-administered CBT, we’ve run this by a number of therapists and all of them have said it’s generally a net-benefit,” Conrad said via email. “What would be harmful is if someone with a severe condition decided that they should use Quirk instead of seeing a therapist. But in practice we’ve seen the opposite effect. People who would have otherwise done nothing about their condition use Quirk as ‘first step’ towards therapy or will use Quirk when they would otherwise have no option (either because their isn’t a treatment in their country/area or because they can’t afford it).”

Dr. Daniel A. Fridberg, a practicing CBT psychiatrist from the University of Chicago, says that the triple-column technique is a great CBT exercise, but that it’s just part of the whole package of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He also said that the only way to know if a product like this can do harm is through a study, but that CBT itself is an evidence-based psychotherapy and has been proven effective.

“CBT is an effective, time-limited, reasonably cost-effective psychotherapy for things like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc,” said Dr. Fridberg. “The problem is that finding a good CBT therapist who delivers evidence-based treatment isn’t always easy in smaller communities where there isn’t easy access to a research hub. In some respects, an app that is packaged in an attractive way, gets people’s attention and promotes CBT as effective is a good thing.”

Dr. Fridberg also stated that anyone suffering from an issue that’s disrupting their day-to-day functioning should seek professional help.

Conrad says that he hopes Quirk can be a jumping off point for folks suffering from anxiety and depression, with the app suggesting that those suffering seek professional help in conjunction with using the app. He also shared that Quirk hopes to be able to connect users to professionals in their area as soon as they have the scale to do so.

Quirk costs $4/month for users.

Categories: General News

Aavgo security lapse exposed hotel bookings

TechCrunch - 7 hours 10 min ago

A security lapse at a hotel management startup has exposed hotel bookings and guests’ personal information.

The security lapse was resolved Monday after TechCrunch reached out to Aavgo, a hospitality tech company based in San Francisco, which secured a server it had left online without a password.

The server was open for three weeks — long enough for security researcher Daniel Brown to find the database.

He shared his findings exclusively with TechCrunch, then published them.

Aavgo bills itself as a way for hotels to organize their operations by using several connected apps — one for use by guests using tablets installed in their hotel rooms for entertainment, ordering room service and checking out, and another for staff to communicate with each other, file maintenance tickets and manage housekeeping.

Several large hotel chains, including Holiday Inn Express and Zenique Hotels, use Aavgo’s technology in their properties.

The database contained daily updating logs of the back-end computer system. Although most of the records were logs of computer commands critical to the running of the system, we found within personal booking data — including names, email addresses, phone numbers, room types, prices, the location of the hotel and the room and the dates and times of check-in and check-out.

There was no financial information in the database beyond the credit card issuer.

The database also contained room service orders, guest complaints, invoices and other sensitive information used for accessing the Aavgo system, the researcher said.

Many of the records were related to its corporate hotelier customers.

One of those customers included Guestline, a property management company for hoteliers, which used Aavgo in two hotels. Guestline facilities 6.3 million bookings a year.

When reached, Guestline’s data protection officer James Padkin said data protection is of “paramount importance” and the company has “ceased our very limited trial of the AavGo housekeeping app.”

After the company failed to respond to the researcher’s initial email, Aavgo shut down the database a few hours after TechCrunch made contact with its chief executive, Mrunal Desai.

“We had no data breach; however, we did find a vulnerability,” said Desai. He said data on 300 hotel rooms was exposed. Brown said based on his review of the data, however, that the number is likely higher. Desai added that the company has “already started informing our customers about this vulnerability.”

Midway during our correspondence, Desai copied the company’s outside counsel, a Texas-based law firm, which threatened “immediate legal action” ahead of publishing this report.

Aavgo becomes the latest hospitality company embroiled in a hotel-related security incident in recent years.

In 2017, hotel booking service Sabre confirmed a seven-months long data breach of its SynXis reservation system, affecting more than 36,000 hotels globally and millions of credit cards.

A year later, Marriott-owned Starwood admitted a breach that affected up to 383 million hotel guests around the world. Earlier this month U.K. authorities said they would fine the company $123 million for the breach under the new GDPR regime, which affected about 30 million customers in the European Union.

Updated to clarify that Guestline’s use of Aavgo was limited to two hotels and one of many technologies used.

Read more:

Categories: General News

Apply to TC Top Picks before the deadline & exhibit free at Disrupt SF 2019

TechCrunch - 7 hours 14 min ago

Does your company have what it takes to be part of an elite cadre of early-stage startups and exhibit for free at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? There’s only one way to know for sure, but time is running out. Apply to be a TC Top Pick now — before the application window closes for good at 5:00 p.m. (PT) on July 19.

Why should you apply? For starters, it doesn’t cost anything, and all TC Top Picks receive a free Startup Alley Exhibition Package good for one full day of exhibiting in Startup Alley, the heart of every Disrupt. It’s the intersection of tech present and tech future — where more than 1,200 pre-Series A startups and sponsors exhibit their products, platforms and services. It’s a breeding ground of opportunity, and you never know who you might meet and where that connection might lead.

TechCrunch editors vet all applications and choose up to five startups in each of these (and only these) tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS and Social Impact/Education.

TC Top Picks also receive three Founder passes and plenty of other perks, starting with the VIP treatment. You’ll exhibit in a dedicated space within Startup Alley, and we promote the Top Pick startups in our pre-conference marketing. Everyone wants to see who made the cut, including journalists covering the show and investors looking to add to their portfolios.

In a classic “but wait, there’s more” moment, a TechCrunch editor conducts a live interview with each Top Pick on the Showcase Stage in Startup Alley. We record the interviews for posterity and promote them across our social media platforms. That’s the kind of marketing tool that keeps on giving.

Take a page from DiaMonTech’s playbook. The company, the maker of a non-invasive glucose monitoring device, earned a Top Pick designation for Disrupt Berlin 2018. Markus Teuber, head of strategic partnerships, had this to say about the Top Pick experience.

“Exhibiting as a TC Top Pick helped us build credibility right away, and it still pays off during pitches as an anchor point for further discussion. The interview and media coverage helped us generate awareness for our groundbreaking approach, and it also helped us identify leads and build substantial cooperation agreements.”

Pro Tip: Every startup that exhibits in Startup Alley has a shot to win a Wild Card entry to Startup Battlefield. Yet another great reason to apply to be a TC Top Pick.

Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place October 2-4. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to place your startup in the Disrupt spotlight. Apply to be a TC Top Pick before the deadline clocks out precisely at 5:00 p.m. (PT) on July 19. Show us what you’ve got!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: General News

Mercari’s new Instant Pay feature transfers verified sellers’ balances to their debit cards within minutes

TechCrunch - 7 hours 14 min ago

For online sellers, waiting three to five days for e-commerce platforms to transfer their balance is one of their biggest pain points. Mercari is going after rivals with its new Instant Pay feature, which deposits money in a few minutes. Once sellers are verified, they can instantly transfer up to $500 per month of their Mercari balance to a debit card for a $2 processing fee.

Bradford Williams, Mercari’s head of communications, told TechCrunch in an email that the new feature is a first for peer-to-peer selling apps. “Uber and Lyft made instant payments table stakes for U.S. drivers; we’re extending that to casual sellers. Mercari U.S. is focused on casual sellers (versus power sellers); therefore, we’d like to attract sellers from all marketplaces/platforms,” he said. “Frankly, we see our biggest opportunity in influencing U.S. consumer behavior versus taking share incrementally from established competitors.”

To use Instant Pay, sellers need a debit card and to register for ID Check, Mercari’s new verification system. The feature, currently available only through Mercari’s mobile app, involves uploading a government-issued ID and a selfie. Mercari checks to see if the user’s selfie matches the ID’s photo before verifying them, a process that can take up to 48 hours.

Mercari, which has been downloaded about 45 million times in the United States and currently has 150,000 new listings every day, is typically used by people looking to declutter or make extra cash by offloading items they no longer need. It competes with eBay and Amazon, but its most direct rivals are apps designed for peer-to-peer transactions like Poshmark, Depop, OfferUp and LetGo, as well Facebook Marketplace. Mercari competes with a low selling fee, easy listing process (it says most items can be listed in about three minutes). Its Instant Pay feature will help it attract sellers who want to make quick cash.

The platform also offers free direct deposit for transfers over $10, with a waiting time of up to five days, in-line with its competitors.

Mercari was founded in Japan, where it raised $1.1 billion in its initial public offering last year (Instant Pay will be available only in the U.S.). The company entered the U.S. in 2017.

Categories: General News

Sony’s new A7R IV camera is a 61 MP full-frame mirrorless beast

TechCrunch - 7 hours 22 min ago

Sony unveiled the latest in its line of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras on Tuesday, debuting the A7R IV, its top-of-the-line full-frame digital shooter aimed at pros. The new camera packs a walloping 61-megapixel sensor, and will retail for $3,500 when it goes on sale this September.

The camera’s image resolution is a “world first” for a 35mm equivalent full-frame digital sensor, Sony notes, and that’s not where the improvements on this successor to the wildly popular A7R III ends: The A7R IV also has 10fps rapid shooting with continuous autofocus and autoexposure tracking capabilities; 567 phase-detect autofocus points that cover 74% of the frame; real-time eye autofocus tracking for stills and movies, which can handle both human and animal subjects; 4K HDR movie recording without any pixel binning and with S-Log 2/3 support for editing (although without a 60p mode, as it caps out at 30p); ISO range of 100-32000 (and 50-102400 expandable); battery life of around 539 shots with the EVF or 670 shots without, and much more.

This Sony camera is clearly a shot across the bow at recent entrants into the full-frame mirrorless camera market including Nikon and Canon, and it looks like Sony will be upping one of its biggest advantages by offering even better subject-tracking autofocus, which is a category where it already has a strong lead. The high-resolution sensor is another area where the competition will be left behind, since the Nikon Z7 captures at 45.7 MP and the Canon R maxes out at 30.3 MP.

Real-time eye autofocus in movie recording will also help a lot for video shooters, after Sony introduced it to still shooting for the A7 and A7R III via a firmware update in April. Touch tracking allows shooters to just tap the thing they want to maintain autofocus on using the back display LCD while shooting, and a new digital audio interface added to the camera’s hot shoe connector means recording with shotgun mic that support the feature without any additional cable clutter.

The A7R IV also offers five-axis in-body image stabilization, a 5.76 million-to UXGA OLED EVF, boosted weather and dust resistance, wireless tethered shooting capabilities and dual UHS-II SD card slots for storage.

Categories: General News

Learn how to change banking one dollar at a time at Disrupt SF

TechCrunch - 7 hours 40 min ago

Fintech startups are the hot new thing. Everybody wants to reinvent the way you manage money, invest and pay for things. That’s why we’re inviting three fintech experts to TechCrunch Disrupt SF to help you learn everything about the space.

They know that the bank of the future is not necessarily a bank and that the payment method of the future is not necessarily a card. And they’re going to tell you all about it.

First up is Chris Britt, the founder and CEO of Chime. While there are plenty of challenger banks in Europe, Chime is a rare success in the U.S. market.

The company has managed to attract over 3 million customers and $300 million in funding with a simple value proposition — a better user experience, an automatic way to save money and no fees for basic features. But Chime isn’t an overnight success. Britt has amassed a ton of experience in retail banking as Chief Product Officer at Green Dot and as a senior product leader at Visa.

We also invited Angela Strange, a general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz . As a founder of a fintech startup, you might want to know what investors are looking for. And Strange is an expert on this front.

She focuses on financial services of all sorts, including insurance, real estate and increasing inclusivity. She’s a board observer at Branch, Earnin, HealthIQ, Mayvenn, PeerStreet and Point. As you can see, it’s an impressive portfolio and she has encountered a ton of different situations in the fintech industry.

And finally, Omer Ismail from Goldman Sachs has seen both sides of the banking coin. After many years working in private equity investing and investment banking, he was asked to lead an unusual team — the consumer business of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs hasn’t been a powerful brand when it comes to consumer products — until very recently. The company successfully launched Marcus, a banking product focused on personal loans and online savings with high interest rates, and Clarity Money, a mobile app that acts as a financial dashboard.

More recently, Ismail was in charge of the surprising partnership with Apple for the Apple Card. It’s clear that he knows where the industry is heading, so you’ll want to learn a few tips from Ismail.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt SF to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on October 2-4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

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Categories: General News

3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

TechCrunch - 7 hours 47 min ago

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 2 million experiences to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Since Roblox keeps 65 percent of revenue from its games, that means it made around $230 million total in 2018. Its top 10 developers made about $2.5 million each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Categories: General News

Large retailers saw 64% increase in sales on Monday, thanks to Amazon Prime Day

TechCrunch - 8 hours 11 min ago

It’s no longer a winner-take-all scenario for Amazon Prime Day — in fact, that hasn’t been true for years. As soon as other large retailers realized they could piggyback on Amazon’s annual sales event to boost their own revenues from counter-sales, they’ve been doing just that. According to new data from Adobe Analytics out this morning, large retailers have already seen a big jump — a 64% increase — in their U.S. e-commerce spending thanks to Prime Day on Monday, July 15, when compared with an average Monday.

That’s up quite a bit from the 54% increase seen by these large retailers (those with over a billion in annual revenue) last year, the report notes.

Smaller retailers did well yesterday, too. Niche retailers with less than $5 million in annual revenue saw a 30% increase in their online sales on Monday, due to more people shopping online for deals.

Adobe earlier predicted Amazon Prime Day 2019 would push U.S. e-commerce sales to over $2 billion, when it all wraps. That will make it the third time outside the holiday shopping season that sales will hit that milestone, following Labor Day 2018 and Memorial Day 2019.

The increase in sales on non-Amazon sites so far can be attributed to the increased visitor traffic, which accounted for 66% of the revenue lift. Another 27% was caused by an increase in conversions, and 7% to bigger basket sizes.

Yesterday’s best non-Amazon deals were on electronics, Adobe also noted — particularly smart devices including smartwatches (12% off), smart TV (10% off), and smart home items (9% off).

Adobe’s data comes from its analytics business and is based on an analysis of one trillion visits to over 4,500 retail sites and 55 million SKUs. The company measures transactions for 80 of the top 100 U.S. e-commerce retailers.

Amazon, meanwhile, is reporting a successful Prime Day on Monday, without detailing revenues. It says that customers already saved “hundreds of millions of dollars” in the U.S., including on top sellers like the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Dot, with millions sold.

Categories: General News

Newsletter platform Substack raises $15.3M round led by a16z

TechCrunch - 8 hours 14 min ago

Andreessen Horowitz is betting that there’s still a big opportunity in newsletters — the venture capital firm is leading a $15.3 million Series A in Substack.

To be clear, although Substack started out two years ago as a way turn newsletters into a paid subscription business, it’s since added support for podcasts and discussion threads . As CEO Chris Best put it, the goal is to allow writers and creators to run their own “personal media empire.”

Writers using Substack include Nicole Cliffe, Daniel Ortberg, Judd Legum, Heather Havrilesky and Matt Taibbi. The startup says that newsletters on the platform have now amassed a total of 50,000 paying subscribers (up from 25,000 in October), and that the most popular Substack authors are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

A16Z’s Andrew Chen — a blogger and newsletter writer himself — is joining the Substack board of directors. In Chen’s view, the startup represents the combination of the old and the new, allowing writers to reach longstanding “passionate online communities,” while also pursuing “a new way of doing micro-entrepreneurship,” where they make money directly from their audience.

“When you combine the two — wow, this is something special,” Chen said.

Y Combinator, where Substack was incubated, is also participating in the funding.

Best told me that the team consists entirely of the three co-founders — CTO Jairaj Sethi, COO Hamish McKenzie and Best himself — “working out of my living room.” (The three of them are pictured above.) Even with the new funding, Best and McKenzie said they want to grow cautiously.

“We’re conscious of the writers depending on a reliable and stable Substack for their income,” McKenzie said. “We don’t want to go out there and do a bunch of crazy startup stuff.”

Still, they will be moving out of that living room and hiring a bigger team. Best also said they have plans to build more “writer success” tools that help creators get the most out of the platform, and to expand into other formats, like video.

Even as Substack grows, McKenzie said it will maintain a focus on subscription products for “people who are attracted to the idea of owning their relationship with their audience.” Best argued that that this approach avoids the incentives that have pushed online news in the direction of “cheap outrage, attention and addiction.”

He added, “It’s just a better model for creating culture.”

As for whether the newsletter boom might eventually reach a saturation point, making it harder for new titles to find an audience, Best acknowledged that there’s probably “some finite limit” to the number of newsletters that most readers will subscribe to, but he said, “Even if that’s the case, it can still be a very successful model. The magical thing about paid subscriptions is that you don’t need to have millions of people in your audience.”

TheSkimm closes its $12M Series C with big names Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks on board

Categories: General News

Esports org 100 Thieves raises $35 million in Series B

TechCrunch - 8 hours 15 min ago

100 Thieves has today announced the close of a $35 million Series B funding round. Artist Capital Management led the round, with ACM’s Chief Investment Officer Josh Dienstag joining Mike Sepso, MLG cofounder, on the board of directors. Aglaé Ventures, which is the technology investment firm of Groupe Arnault, controlling shareholder of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), also participated in the round.

CEO and founder Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag confirmed to TechCrunch that this latest round brings 100 Thieves’ post-funding valuation to $160 million, which is up from the $90 million valuation it had in October 2018.

100 Thieves was founded in 2017. Haag is a former pro gamer and content creator with one of the biggest followings in esports.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned going from gaming to leadership is ‘over-communicate, over-communicate, over-communicate’,” said Haag, explaining that he went from working by himself creating content to working with many people each day. “Making sure we’re all aligned on our goals for each day and each week and each month, to have an open and transparent environment, really builds a culture where everybody enjoys working with one another. Over-communication helps drive success.”

The org is co-owned by Drake, Dan Gilbert, and Scooter Braun, alongside Haag. 100 Theives has three revenue channels.

The first is esports. Right now, the organization competes in Call of Duty (where its team has won the last two tournaments), League of Legends, and Fortnite (100 Thieves is sending six of its players to the Fortnite World Cup).

The second channel is content creation. 100 Thieves includes big-name streamers such as Jack “Courage” Dunlop, who has nearly 1.9 million Twitch followers, and Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, who has more than 800K Twitch followers.

Finally, 100 Thieves has gotten into apparel, with limited edition hats, sweaters, jackets and t-shirts. As of right now, everything in the 100 Thieves Shop is sold out.

“What’s hurt me the most is having so many community members not be able to purchase this apparel for themselves,” said Haag. “We want to 100 Thieves to be all inclusive. If you want to support us, you should be able to.”

According to Haag, one goal is to expand into new esports titles — a few titles in consideration include “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive”, “Rainbow 6 Siege”, and “Rocket League”.

Another top-of-mind goal is building out a new HQ facility in Los Angeles that will house the esports, content creation and apparel divisions all under one roof. The 15,000 square-foot facility will include streaming stations, a content production sound stage for 100 Thieves two podcasts, and will serve as the storefront for 100 Thieves apparel lines.

Categories: General News

Workplace, Facebook’s service for business teams, is raising its prices for the first time since launch

TechCrunch - 8 hours 50 min ago

Three years into its life with 2 million paying users signed up, Workplace — Facebook’s platform for businesses and and other organizations to build internal communities and communications — is about to make a significant business shift of its own. Come September 2, Workplace is changing its pricing tiers, how it charges its users, and the services that it provides customers.

Up to now, Facebook has taken a very simple approach to how it charges for Workplace, unique not just because of it being a paid service (unlike Facebook itself, which is free), but for how it modelled its pricing on the basic building block of Facebook-the-consumer product: a basic version was free, with an enhanced premium edition costing a flat $3 per active user, per month.

In September, that will change. The standard (basic) tier is getting rebranded as Workplace Essential, and will still be free to use. Meanwhile, the premium tier is being renamed Workplace Advanced and getting charged $4 per person, per month. And Facebook is introducing a new tier, Workplace Enterprise, which will be charged at $8 per person, per month, and will come with a new set of services specifically around guaranteed, quicker support and first-look access at new features. (Those who are already customers have the option of being grandfathered for a year, the company said, before switching to a new plan.)

Those are not the only changes. Two other notable shifts are getting introduced with these new tiers. First, these prices will be for all users, regardless of whether they are active in the month.

And second, they are specifically prices for people who access Workplace as general “knowledge workers” — marked by having email addresses and specific job functions. Frontline workers — for example cashiers or baristas or others mostly on their feet all day helping customers — will be an add-on at $1.50 per person per month, also regardless of whether they are active or not.

For now, the rest of the features in the different tiers are remaining the same:

The changes at Workplace come amid a number of other developments among workforce collaboration and communication platforms.

First and foremost, Slack has how gone public, subjecting it and its ups and downs to a lot more public scrutiny, but also putting it on the map as a business of some standing, helping it make a bigger move into brokering more deals with the larger enterprises that Workplace has been winning over. The latter’s customers include the likes of Walmart, the worlds biggest employer; as well as Nestle, Vodafone, GSK, Telefonica, AstraZeneca and Delta Airlines, and Facebook says that there are more than 150 companies signed up with more than 10,000 employees each.

Teams, meanwhile, has now passed Slack in user numbers, and in a way is a more direct competitor: it has positioned itself (like Workplace) as a tool for both knowledge and frontline workers, helping with actual back-office collaboration, as well as a way to broadcast communications to a wider group of employees.

Julien Codorniou, the VP of Workplace, said that the changes in pricing tiers was not a reaction to competition, but rather a reaction to customers. Although the pricing for Workplace was an interesting twist on how enterprises tend to procure IT, it turned out to be too novel by half: it turned out that most actually like the predictability of paying the same amount for a service upfront, rather than having the pricing change each month depending on usage.

“Today, customers’ bills change every month, for example when a coworker goes on vacation or whatever,” he said. “It’s a nightmare for the accounting department, who needs to know how much to pay two years out.”

He added that this doesn’t mean you can’t change how much you pay: you could change the pricing each month if necessary.

So far,  no one has made the shift to the new tiers, so it will be interesting to see how and if they have much of an impact. I do know that from retail theory, customers in stores are more likely to select a middle-priced product if they are given an option of something cheap and something expensive at either end, and so this could be an interesting way to drive more users to Workplace’s paid tier.

What is more clear is that this is also a way for Facebook to raise its prices for the first time since the service launched, and lays the groundwork for more differentiation between different kinds of offerings.

 

Categories: General News

Patreon raises $60M Series D, targets international growth and more customization

TechCrunch - 9 hours 11 min ago

Patreon, the San Francisco-based platform that helps over 100,000 online content creators manage paid membership communities for their most dedicated fans, has raised $60 million in Series D funding.

Glade Brook Capital, a late-stage fund based in Greenwich, Connecticut, led this round with participation from prior investors like Index Ventures, CRV, Thrive Capital, Initialized, and DFJ Growth. This totals $165 million in funding that Patreon has raised since its founding in 2013.

In February, I published a 5-part series analyzing Patreon’s founding story, product evolution, business, competition, and overarching vision. The company has prioritized established creators who can generate $1,000+ per month in membership revenue as its core customer and is focused on being the underlying platform they use to manage relationships with superfans through a CRM, payment processing, and gating of exclusive access to content and discussion groups.

It makes money by taking a cut of each creator’s monthly revenue earned from their fans’ Patreon memberships.

Co-Founder & CEO Jack Conte shared news of the Series D via a blog post and tells me the new funds will contribute toward these priorities:

  1. Benefits functionality: integrating with more tech platforms using the Patreon API to ensure only paying members receive access to creators’ exclusive discussion groups on Discord or Discourse, receive special badges that mark them as a patron on Reddit, etc.
  2. Premium features: adding more features to the new Pro and Premium pricing tiers it launched in March which provide extra services and functionality to creators in exchange for a higher cut of their membership revenue (8% and 12%–plus payment processing fees–respectively, compared to 5% for the original Lite tier).
  3. Page customization: enabling creators to customize their Patreon pages more by changing colors, layout, and font to fit their own brand.
  4. Merchandising: expanding Patreon’s fulfillment of merchandise for creators who offer merch as a reward to their fans who subscribe to a given membership tier by adding international shipping options and more merch products to select for custom branding.
  5. International expansion: ensuring Patreon is available in more languages and can easily handle international payments, plus staffing new offices in Dublin (Ireland), Porto (Portugal), and other locations yet to be finalized.

When I asked Conte whether he plans to use this new funding to make more acquisitions — Patreon acquired the white-label membership management platform Memberful last summer — he responded that there are no deals currently in the pipeline but M&A is certainly on the table if they identify the right opportunity:

“It’s been a few years that we have been seeing the ‘Patreon for X’ trend of startups focused on a specific niche like podcasting. We’re looking at those companies and always open to joining forces if the mission is aligned and product is great.”

As it announced in January, Patreon expects to surpass $500 million in payments processed during 2019, passing the milestone of over $1 billion paid out to creators since founding. Roughly 40% of those payments are international and the overall monthly spend of fans who use Patreon is $12 on average.

Pie chart from TechCrunch’s Patreon EC-1 report showing patron monthly spending on Patreon using data from Second Measure, which tracks credit card transactions of millions of US consumers.

 

Glade Brook Capital’s managing partner Paul Hudson, who originally founded the firm as a hedge fund, shared a statement with TechCrunch on why he invested in Patreon:

“Too many talented creators struggle to monetize their efforts in the digital era. Patreon is growing so fast because creators recognize the value in building recurring fan-based revenue streams and improving engagement with their most passionate fans.”

Conte also revealed that a handful of artists, including musician Serj Tankian and comedian Hannibal Buress, invested in Patreon as part of this new round. He hopes that the Pro and Premium tiers will draw more creators who don’t already use Patreon and support existing customers who need more advanced toolset given the size of their fanbase.

Categories: General News

Watch 5,000 rockets attempt a world record simultaneous launch to celebrate Apollo 11

TechCrunch - 9 hours 14 min ago

50 years ago today, at 9:32 AM ET, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a Saturn V rocket. At 9:32 AM ET this morning in 2019, you can watch as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL attempts a record of its own.

The Space & Rocket Center will play host to a launch of 5,000 model rockets all blasting off at once, in what will be an attempt at a Guinness world record for the most rockets launched at once. It’s a demonstration with sponsors including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance, which all of course manage actual rocket launches with fair frequency.

Those model rockets may be small, but 5,000 of anything that’s propelled by controlled explosions into the sky is bound to be quite the show, so keep an eye on the stream above for the fireworks.

Categories: General News