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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


After burning through $1 billion, Jawbone’s Hosain Rahman has raised $65 million more

Posted: 11 May 2019 03:22 PM PDT

Not everyone gets a second chance in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneur Hosain Rahman has been given many more than that. Though his last company, Jawbone, which produced wireless speakers and Bluetooth earpieces, went kaput in 2017 after burning up $1 billion in venture funding over the course of ten years, Rahman has managed to raise $65.4 million for his new company. So shows a new SEC filing that, coincidentally or otherwise, was processed late yesterday while most of the world’s attention was focused on Uber’s IPO.

The company, Jawbone Health, isn’t brand new. According to reports of two years ago and Rahman’s LinkedIn bio, he began working in earnest on his newest endeavor when the original Jawbone was running on fumes in the summer of 2017.

In fact, according to LinkedIn, Jawbone Health now employs 51 people, including people who worked with Rahman previously. Among these is the new outfit’s VP of engineering, Jonathan Hummel, who’d been a senior engineering manager at Jawbone during the last two years of its life. Others are new to the organization because of its focus on healthcare. These include Yaniv Kerem, Jawbone Health’s VP of Informatics, whose last job was as an emergency medical physician with Kaiser Permanente.

Certainly, the company has a very different mission than even the wearable fitness trackers that Jawbone began making as a kind of Hail Mary pass whose failure signaled to some the end of the wearables industry — though it was really just the end of Jawbone.

Whether Rahman can do better with Jawbone Health will be interesting to see. As he told reporter Kara Swisher last fall, what Jawbone Health is selling is a “personalized subscription service where we take all of this continuous health data about you and we combine that with a lot of machine intelligence . . .”

The idea is to prevent the avoidable diseases that wind up killing two-thirds of us owing to bad-decision making and plain-old inattention. “If you catch that stuff early and you change your behavior or whatnot, you can push out half of those deaths and save 70 percent of the cost,” he told her.

Jawbone Health is making its own devices, which will will come free with the service. Still, one obvious concern for the new company is competition. Where Jawbone made attractive, wireless speakers ahead of many other companies whose products now litter our homes, Rahman is seemingly late to the party with Jawbone Health. There are already rings that track sleep activity and heart rate; bracelets that come with built-in accelerometers, heart rate sensors, and temperature sensors; and even textiles that unlock biometric insights.

That’s saying nothing of the Apple Watch, which has already put plenty of startups out of business.

Rahman says one of Jawbone Health’s biggest differentiators is that the product and service are “clinical grade.” That may be a selling point for some consumers, though we’d imagine most won’t really care. After all, humans don’t have the best track record when it comes to taking care of themselves.

Either way, the new funding, atop so much lost capital already, is sure to frustrate some founders who’ve been given fewer opportunities. It may also confuse others who’ve either worked with or funded Rahman in the past.

Then again, Rahman wouldn’t be the first founder to bounce back from failure, and he has plenty to prove. That may work in the favor of his new backers, including SignalFire and Refactor Capital in the Bay Area, and Polymath Ventures and Meraas in the United Arab Emirates.

We’ll have more on the company soon.

As a founder, I mistook my work for self-worth

Posted: 11 May 2019 01:03 PM PDT

These days, most days are good days. My clients are founder and executives, I set my own schedule, and I live in a city I love. As an executive coach and advisor, I work with founders and CEOs of companies who have raised more than $100M. Like any enterprise, it's taken a lot of building, planning, and failing for me to get where I am.

What I'm supposed to tell you is that I worked hard and persevered – and I did.

But what I'm not supposed to tell you is how it felt to do all that failing, and above all how, for years, shame was the primary emotion that guided my life and career. How, at my lowest point, I felt worthless. How I even contemplated self-harm.

It takes a herculean energy to start a company, which is maybe why, so often, our stories sound like myths. Mine went something like this: If I could just raise money from a top-tier VC, get to $1M in revenue, and sell the business for more than $5M, then I’d be good enough. I'd be the successful young adult I wanted to be. Then, once I had made my first million, I could take a swing and start a billion-dollar company.

The fact that I didn’t feel worthy of love, that I lacked inherent value, drove my decisions. My failure to reach the goals I set reinforced the belief I that I was unworthy. Luckily, I eventually found the self-awareness to realize that blindly pursuing goals I couldn’t achieve was unhealthy.

But I didn’t expect that walking away from my job as CEO would break me, nor did I realize how far I would sink.

I thought that if I was "successful," people would see that I wasn't flawed, and I'd finally be worth something.

After extensive therapy, it's easy for me to see how misguided I was from the outset. Shame, most of the time, is a thing of the past. But for a long time, it fueled every decision I made yet never seemed to exhaust itself – there was always more. In the business world, this is more common than we're led to think — almost every entrepreneur I meet shares an experience "otherness." We glorify failure, but we don’t have the patience to honor the pain that turns into the shame of feeling "I'm not good enough."

We are supposed to be resolute, driven, and resilient. To that end, I want to share what I’ve learned so others who struggle with worthlessness know they aren’t alone, and that happiness – and enjoying success – is still possible.

Accidentally Starting a Company

At 19, I didn’t have a grand plan to change higher education. I was simply a pissed off freshman in college. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeff Young asked me: what would I do with UnCollege, the site I'd just put online?

UnCollege was a fledgling website I'd created out of my frustration in college. It was designed to create a community of people who were frustrated with the status quo in higher education. In that pivotal moment, when Young asked about my plans for the site, I immediately tied my self-worth to its future. It was, after all, the reason I was being interviewed by a major publication. I had to turn UnCollege into something, or else I'd be a failure – and worse, everyone would know it, because now it was public.

From then on, I started a mental list of what I needed to do to be a successful entrepreneur. My list grew quickly and each item carried a familiar caveat. I must write a book or I’m worthless. I must start a company and raise $1M or I’m worthless I must speak at conferences around the world or I'm worthless.

I did raise money. I did start the company. I got to $1M in revenue. Each time I checked one of these boxes, I wasn't happier. I started to be afraid I would never feel I was enough. I didn’t feel "successful," especially in the way I saw success portrayed by others, both online and in the industry.

I thought that if I was "successful," people would see that I wasn't flawed, and I'd finally be worth something. What I didn't know is that each time I checked something off my mental checklist, I'd be consumed with shame and insecurity, needing to check the next item off the list in order to feel worthy.

Instead, I felt trapped. I didn't yet know that self-worth must come from within.

Mistaking my work for self-worth

I realized quickly that I’d committed myself to starting a company because I was afraid of failure, not because I had carefully considered what problem I wanted to dedicate the next ten years of my life to solving. Nonetheless, UnCollege enrolled its first students in September 2013.

That fall, I began to suspect I’d made a mistake. But I was afraid to tell my investors, and those that had supported me to get the business this far. My survival skill was to smile and act like I knew better than everyone else. If only I'd had the courage to sincerely ask for advice.

One consequence of not asking for help was I had to let go of two of the first people I hired, and layoff two more because we didn’t have the cash.

The first cohort was a disaster. I hadn't designed a properly structured curriculum, and students were dissatisfied. The students liked the community of self-directed learners, but the company wasn't delivering value beyond the community. Two weeks before the end of the semester, the students declared mutiny and demanded to know what we were going to do to improve the program.

I was terrified and wanted to leave, but we’d already taken money for the next cohort of students. I believed I didn’t have any other choice. We created a coaching program, hired coaches, built two dozen new workshops, and started working to get students placed into internships. The coaching model we built worked, and we spent the next two years improving it.

In the spring of 2015, I called my lead investor, my voice shaking. He knew that I had my share of fear and insecurity, but I told him clearly that day "I can't do this anymore. It's going to break me."

Ignoring my feelings was a survival skill as child. Ignoring the doubt and anxiety caused by early critics allowed me to push through and launch a company. But it was also my achilles heel.

At the same time I was experiencing burnout, the company was pivoting from a college alternative into a pre-college program. The board agreed: it was time to hire a CEO.

After hiring a CEO, it became more difficult to motivate myself to go to work every day. Getting out of bed became a chore. One morning, after a breakfast with a prospective investor at the Four Seasons, I sat down on a bench outside and began to cry. Looking up, I saw one of our previous students waving at me, and quickly wipe away my tears to give him a faint smile.

I felt embarrassed, weak, and helpless.

Deriving identity from my work wasn’t working, and I knew I had to put an end to it. But what were my alternatives?

I was excited for my company and its new leadership, but I was anxious. I was empty. I didn't know where the company stopped and I began. At my 25th birthday dinner, I couldn’t eat. I was consumed by shame, by fear. I managed to hold off all through dinner, but as soon as I arrived home I broke down sobbing.

Shame is a Habit

In December, I was no longer CEO of my own company. Six months later, I couldn't get out of bed.

Those first few months I spent catching my breath. I was still on the board of the company, but I didn't control it. As I began constructing a life post-UnCollege, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t yet realize it, but I needed to go through the individuation process – to figure out who I was and what I believed, independent of my family of origin. Already 25, I'd managed to avoid these questions. The irony is not lost on me that most of my peers faced them in college.

Shame is a consumptive state of being. The longer I went without answers to questions tied to my selfhood, the more shame ate me up. What did I care about? Did I make the right choice? Was the sacrifice I'd made to start this company worth it? Had I taken the wrong path? Was all the pain I'd been through a waste? Would I ever learn to feel happy again? I was beginning to feel as if I had no self at all.

Without a job to make me feel useful, I spent most days drinking at Dolores Park in San Francisco. I knew this wasn't healthy, but I convinced myself I deserved it after years of hard work. Again, I was only 25. Life had lost its color. Things that once brought me joy no longer did. I could no longer grin and bear the pain. Believing my own bullshit about how I was going to be OK was no longer working. The more this cycle continued, the stronger it got, and the weaker I felt – all the more trapped.

Even the most successful people carry trauma, and often lash themselves onward with its whip

One Monday in October, I found myself completely unable to function. Alone in my house, I realized I hadn't gotten out of bed or eaten a meal for several days. I was supposed to get on a plane to fly to Minneapolis, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I called my dad, who encouraged me to message my doctor and say, "I think I might be depressed." I was still too scared to pick up the phone, and it would be another few months before I uttered those words out loud. I started therapy, but things got worse before they got better.

Beyond "I'm sad that my company didn't turn into what I wanted," I didn't have names for my emotions. A lightbulb moment came when my therapist asked, "When have you felt anxiety?" The only example I could think of was the time my company was only a few days from running out of cash.

"Have you ever considered that you only feel your emotions at extremes – a 20, for example, on a 1-10 scale? It's human to feel anxiety in day-to-day life."

That opened a door. I wasn't just sad about leaving my company: I felt shame that I wasn't "successful." It wasn't only my identity I'd tied to the business, but my self-worth. Deep down, my core belief that I – myself – wasn't good enough. This is shame by definition: a hole that forms in our deepest selves we can never fill because it seems permanent; it seems, by nature, that this is who we are, not what we have done.

Shame often comes from feeling different as a child. In my case, I stuttered as a child. My voice was too ugly to be heard, so I concealed it. I used synonyms to avoid the sounds I couldn't make. I did this because I couldn't handle the intense shame of not being able to say my own last name without stuttering. In doing so, I learned to ignore, to numb those intense feelings of shame. I coped, and because I learned to cope so early in life, I learned to numb the rest of my feelings along with it.

By the time I launched a company, all those feelings that tell us "something's wrong" – sadness, exhaustion, frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, and so on – were so buried and so unnamed that I could only tell myself "You are what's wrong" when I hit a block, when I encountered the normal and natural failures that entrepreneurs face every day, no matter how successful in the long run.

Ignoring my feelings was a survival skill as child. Ignoring the doubt and anxiety caused by early critics allowed me to push through and launch a company. But it was also my achilles heel. It led me to derive my identity and self-worth from my work.

A CEO, the story goes, has it all together: a CEO is a visionary who sees around corners without any help. Because of this, I couldn't give myself permission to ask for help, and when I left the company, I lacked the vocabulary or awareness to describe my feelings. My perfectionism, which long ago enabled me to ignore my stuttering, had associated help with failure, and failure with shame.

All these years later, I still couldn't allow myself to ask for help.

Learning to tame trauma

Stress, overwhelm, burnout: these were the closest words I had to describe my feelings. This is startup lingo for things you cycle through now and again, and the story goes that we push past them and keep working. But these aren't emotions. They are coverups for feelings of pain and shame. Ultimately, they describe trauma.

When most people think of trauma they imagine a car crash, or maybe a natural disaster or physical assault. An event that curtails your ability to function entirely. But trauma is simply a piece of the past we carry with us in the present that shapes us — in both positive and negative ways.

In my coaching career, I've worked with entrepreneurs and executives who felt too pretty, too ugly, too gay, too fat, too foreign, too dumb, too smart, too dark, or too light. These were the holes of shame they couldn't fill and believed would always be there. They weren't by any means failures: even the most successful people carry trauma, and often lash themselves onward with its whip. But shame is something even the best of us can't outrun. Eventually it catches up with you. It took me years to understand this, and being compassionate towards myself will be a lifelong journey.

Once I had the vocabulary to separate my self-worth from my professional ambitions, UnCollege was a failure I could be proud of, not to mention a learning experience I could bring to my next project: Helping others learn to love themselves, and as a result, build wildly successful companies.

HTC introduces a cheaper blockchain phone, opens Zion Vault SDK

Posted: 11 May 2019 12:00 PM PDT

Happy Blockchain Week to you and yours. HTC helped kick off this important national holiday by announcing the upcoming release of the HTC Exodus 1s. The latest version of the company's intriguing blockchain phone shaves some of price off the Exodus 1 — which eventually sold for $699 when the company made it available in more traditional currency.

HTC's being predictably cagey about exact pricing here, instead simply calling it "a more value-oriented version" of the original. Nor is the company discussing the actions it's taking to reduce the cost here — though I'd expect much of them to be similar to those undergone by Google for the Pixel 3a, which was built by the former HTC team. There, most of the hits were to processing power and building material. Certainly the delightfully gimmicky transparent rear was a nice touch on the Exodus 1.

Most interesting here is the motivation behind the price drop. Here's HTC in the press release:

It will allow users in emerging economies, or those wanting to dip their toes into the crypto world for the first time, easier access to the technology with a more accessible price point. This will democratize access to crypto and blockchain technology and help its global proliferation and adoption. HTC will release further details on exact specification and cost over the coming months.

A grandiose vision, obviously, but I think there's something to be said for the idea. Access to some blockchain technology is somewhat price-prohibitive. Even so. Many experts in the space agree that blockchain will be an important foundation for microtransactions going forward. The Exodus 1 wasn't exactly a smash from the look of things, but this could be an interesting first step.

Another interesting bit in all of this is the opening of the SDK for Zion Vault, the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) product vault the company introduced with the Exodus 1. HTC will be tossing it up on GitHub for developers. "We understand it takes a community to ensure strength and security," the company says, "so it's important to the Exodus team that our community has the best tools available to them."

EC-exclusive interview with Tim Cook, Slacklash, and tech inclusion

Posted: 11 May 2019 11:00 AM PDT

An EC-exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook

TechCrunch editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino traveled to Florida this week to talk with Tim Cook about Apple's developer education initiatives and also meet with high school developer Liam Rosenfeld of Lyman High School. Apple wants to attract the next set of app developers like Liam into the Xcode world, and the company is building a more ambitious strategy to do so going forward:

But that conversation with Liam does bring up some questions, and I ask Cook whether the thinks that there are more viable pathways to coding, especially for people with non-standard education or backgrounds.

"I don't think a four year degree is necessary to be proficient at coding," says Cook. "I think that's an old, traditional view. What we found out is that if we can get coding in in the early grades and have a progression of difficulty over the tenure of somebody's high school years, by the time you graduate kids like Liam, as an example of this, they're already writing apps that could be put on the App Store."

Against the Slacklash

TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans often writes on developer tools and productivity (see, for example, his Extra Crunch overview of the headless CMS space). Now, he sets his sights on Slack, and finds the product … much better and more productive than many would have you believe, and offers tips for maximizing its value:

Cat vs best and worst robot vacuum cleaners 

Posted: 11 May 2019 11:00 AM PDT

If you’ve flirted with the idea of buying a robot vacuum you may also have stepped back from the brink in unfolding horror at the alphabetic soup of branded discs popping into view. Consumer choice sounds like a great idea until you’ve tried to get a handle on the handle-less vacuum space.

Amazon offers an A to Z linklist of “top brands” that’s only a handful of letters short of a full alphabetic set. The horror.

What awaits the unseasoned robot vacuum buyer as they resign themselves to hours of online research to try to inform — or, well, form — a purchase decision is a seeming endless permutation of robot vac reviews and round-ups.

Unfortunately there are just so many brands in play that all these reviews tend to act as fuel, feeding a growing black hole of indecision that sucks away at your precious spare time, demanding you spend more and more of it reading about robots that suck (when you could, let’s be frank, be getting on with the vacuuming task yourself) — only to come up for air each time even less convinced that buying a robot dirtbag is at all a good idea.

Reader, I know, because I fell into this hole. And it was hellish. So in the spirit of trying to prevent anyone else falling prey to convenience-based indecision I am — apologies in advance — adding to the pile of existing literature about robot vacuums with a short comparative account that (hopefully) helps cut through some of the chaff to the dirt-pulling chase.

Here’s the bottom line: Budget robot vacuums that lack navigational smarts are simply not worth your money, or indeed your time.

Yes, that’s despite the fact they are still actually expensive vacuum cleaners.

Basically these models entail overpaying for a vacuum cleaner that’s so poor you’ll still have to do most of the job yourself (i.e. with a non-robotic vacuum cleaner).

It’s the very worst kind of badly applied robotics.

Abandon hope of getting anything worth your money at the bottom end of the heap. I know this because, alas, I tried — opting, finally and foolishly (but, in my defence, at a point of near desperation after sifting so much virtual chaff the whole enterprise seemed to have gained lottery odds of success and I frankly just wanted my spare time back), for a model sold by a well-known local retailer.

It was a budget option but I assumed — or, well, hoped — the retailer had done its homework and picked a better-than-average choice. Or at least something that, y’know, could suck dust.

The brand in question (Rowenta) sat alongside the better known (and a bit more expensive) iRobot on the shop shelf. Surely that must count for something? I imagined wildly. Reader, that logic is a trap.

I can’t comment on the comparative performance of iRobot’s bots, which I have not personally tested, but I do not hesitate to compare a €180 (~$200) Rowenta-branded robot vacuum to a very expensive cat toy.

This robot vacuum was spectacularly successful at entertaining the cat — presumably on account of its dumb disposition, bouncing stupidly off of furniture owing to a total lack of navigational smarts. (Headbutting is a pretty big clue to how stupid a robot it is, as it’s never a stand-in for intelligence even when encountered in human form.)

Even more tantalizingly, from the cat’s point of view, the bot featured two white and whisker-like side brushes that protrude and spin at paw-tempting distance. In short: Pure robotic catnip.

The cat did not stop attacking the bot’s whiskers the whole time it was in operation. That certainly added to the obstacles getting in its way. But the more existential problem was it wasn’t sucking very much at all.

At the end of its first concluded ‘clean’, after it somehow managed to lurch its way back to first bump and finally hump its charging hub, I extracted the bin and had to laugh at the modest sized furball within. I’ve found larger clumps of dust gathering themselves in corners. So: Full marks for cat-based entertainment but as a vacuum cleaner it was horrible.

At this point I did what every sensible customer does when confronted with an abject lemon: Returned it for a full refund. And that, reader, might have been that for me and the cat and robot vacs. Who can be bothered to waste so much money and time for what appeared laughably incremental convenience? Even with a steady supply of cat fur to contend with.

But as luck would have it a Roborock representative emailed to ask if I would like to review their latest top-of-the-range model — which, at €549, does clock in at the opposite end of the price scale; ~3x the pitiful Rowenta. So of course I jumped at the chance to give the category a second spin — to see if a smarter device could impress me and not just tickle the cat’s fancy.

Clearly the price difference here, at the top vs the bottom of the range, is substantial. And yet, if you bought a car that was 3x times cheaper than a Ferrari you’d still expect not just that the wheels stay on but that it can actually get you somewhere, in good time and do so without making you horribly car sick.

Turns out buyers of robot vacuums need to tread far more carefully.

Here comes the bookending top-line conclusion: Robot vacuums are amazing. A modern convenience marvel. But — and it’s a big one — only if you’re willing to shell out serious cash to get a device that actually does the job intended.

Roborock S6: It’s a beast at gobbling your furry friend’s dander

Comparing the Roborock S6 and the Rowenta Smart Force Essential Aqua RR6971WH (to give it its full and equally terrible name) is like comparing a high-end electric car with a wind-up kid’s toy.

Where the latter product was so penny-pinching the company hadn’t even paid to include in the box a user manual that contained actual words — opting, we must assume, to save on translation costs by producing a comic packed with inscrutable graphics and bizarro don’t do diagrams which only served to cement the fast-cooling buyer’s conviction they’d been sold a total lemon — the Roborock’s box contains a well written paper manual that contains words and clearly labeled diagrams. What a luxury!

At the same time there’s not really that much you need to grok to get your head around operating the Roborock. After a first pass to familiarize yourself with its various functions it’s delightfully easy to use. It will even produce periodic vocal updates — such as telling you it’s done cleaning and is going back to base. (Presumably in case you start to worry it’s gone astray under the bed. Or that quiet industry is a front for brewing robotic rebellion against indentured human servitude.)

One button starts a full clean — and this does mean full thanks to on-board laser navigation that allows the bot to map the rooms in real-time. This means you get methodical passes, minimal headbutting and only occasional spots missed. (Another button will do a spot clean if the S6 does miss something or there’s a fresh spill that needs tidying — you just lift the bot to where you want it and hit the appropriate spot.)

There is an app too, if you want to access extra features like being able to tell it to go clean a specific room, schedule cleans or set no-go zones. But, equally delightfully, there’s no absolute need to hook the bot to your wi-fi just to get it to do its primary job. All core features work without the faff of having to connect it to the Internet — nor indeed the worry of who might get access to your room-mapping data. From a privacy point of view this wi-fi-less app-free operation is a major plus.

In a small apartment with hard flooring the only necessary prep is a quick check to clear stuff like charging cables and stray socks off the floor. You can of course park dining chairs on the table to offer the bot a cleaner sweep. Though I found the navigation pretty adept at circling chair legs. Sadly the unit is a little too tall to make it under the sofa.

The S6 includes an integrated mopping function, which works incredibly well on lino-style hard flooring (but won’t be any use if you only have carpets). To mop you fill the water tank attachment; velcro-fix a dampened mop cloth to the bottom; and slide-clip the whole unit under the bot’s rear. Then you hit the go button and it’ll vacuum and mop in the same pass.

In my small apartment the S6 had no trouble doing a full floor clean in under an hour, without needing to return to base to recharge in the middle. (Roborock says the S6 will drive for up to three hours on a single charge.)

It also did not seem to get confused by relatively dark flooring in my apartment — which some reviews had suggested can cause headaches for robot vacuums by confusing their cliff sensors.

After that first clean I popped the lid to check on the contents of the S6’s transparent lint bin — finding an impressive quantity of dusty fuzz neatly wadded therein. This was really just robot vacuum porn, though; the gleaming floors spoke for themselves on the quality of the clean.

The level of dust gobbled by the S6 vs the Rowenta underlines the quality difference between the bottom and top end of the robot vacuum category.

So where the latter’s plastic carapace immediately became a magnet for all the room dust it had kicked up but spectacularly failed to suck, the S6’s gleaming white shell has stayed remarkably lint-free, acquiring only a minimal smattering of cat hairs over several days of operation — while the floors it’s worked have been left visibly dust- and fur-free. (At least until the cat got to work dirtying them again.)

Higher suction power, better brushes and a higher quality integrated filter appear to make all the difference. The S6 also does a much better cleaning job a lot more quietly. Roborock claims it’s 50% quieter than the prior model (the S5) and touts it as its quietest robot vacuum yet.

It’s not super silent but is quiet enough when cleaning hard floors not to cause a major disturbance if you’re working or watching something in the same room. Though the novelty can certainly be distracting.

Even the look of the S6 exudes robotic smarts — with its raised laser-housing bump resembling a glowing orange cylonic eye-slot.

Although I was surprised, at first glance, by the single, rather feeble looking side brush vs the firm pair the Rowenta had fixed to its undercarriage. But again the S6’s tool is smartly applied — stepping up and down speed depending on what the bot’s tackling. I found it could miss the odd bit of lint or debris such as cat litter but when it did these specs stood out as the exception on an otherwise clean floor.

It’s also true that the cat did stick its paw in again to try attacking the S6’s single spinning brush. But these attacks were fewer and a lot less fervent than vs the Rowenta, as if the bot’s more deliberate navigation commanded greater respect and/or a more considered ambush. So it appears that even to a feline eye the premium S6 looks a lot less like a dumb toy.

Cat plots another ambush while the S6 works the floor

On a practical front, the S6’s lint bin has a capacity of 480ml. Roborock suggests cleaning it out weekly (assuming you’re using the bot every week), as well as washing the integrated dust filter (it supplies a spare in the box so you can switch one out to clean it and have enough time for it to fully dry before rotating it back into use).

If you use the mopping function the supplied reusable mop cloths do need washing afterwards too (Roborock also includes a few disposable alternatives in the box but that seems a pretty wasteful option when it’s easy enough to stick a reusable cloth in with a load of laundry or give it a quick wash yourself). So if you’re chasing a fully automated, robot-powered, end-to-cleaning-chores dream be warned there’s still a little human elbow grease required to keep everything running smoothly.

Still, there’s no doubt a top-of-the-range robot vacuum like the S6 will save you time cleaning.

If you can justify the not inconsiderable cost involved in buying this extra time by shelling out for a premium robot vacuum that’s smart enough to clean effectively all that’s left to figure out is how to spend your time windfall wisely — resisting the temptation to just put your feet up and watch the clever little robot at work.

Zuckerberg says breaking up Facebook “isn’t going to help”

Posted: 11 May 2019 10:41 AM PDT

With the look of someone betrayed, Facebook’s CEO has fired back at co-founder Chris Hughes and his brutal NYT op-ed calling for regulators to split up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues. So I think that if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference” Zuckerberg told France Info while in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Zuckerberg’s argument boils down to the idea that Facebook’s specific problems with privacy, safety, misinformation, and speech won’t be directly addressed by breaking up the company, and that would instead actually hinder its efforts to safeguard its social networks. The Facebook family of apps would theoretically have fewer economies of scale when investing in safety technology like artificial intelligence to spot bots spreading voter suppression content.

Facebook’s co-founders (from left): Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Mark Zuckerberg

Hughes claims that “Mark's power is unprecedented and un-American” and that Facebook’s rampant acquisitions and copying have made it so dominant that it deters competition. The call echoes other early execs like Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya who’ve raised alarms about how the social network they built impacts society.

But Zuckerberg argues that Facebook’s size benefits the public. “Our budget for safety this year is bigger than the whole revenue of our company was when we went public earlier this decade. A lot of that is because we’ve been able to build a successful business that can now support that. You know, we invest more in safety than anyone in social media” Zuckerberg told journalist Laurent Delahousse.

The Facebook CEO’s comments were largely missed by the media, in part because the TV interview was heavily dubbed into French with no transcript. But written out here for the first time, his quotes offer a window into how deeply Zuckerberg dismisses Hughes’ claims. “Well [Hughes] was talking about a very specific idea of breaking up the company to solve some of the social issues that we face” Zuckerberg says before trying to decouple solutions from anti-trust regulation. “The way that I look at this is, there are real issues. There are real issues around harmful content and finding the right balance between expression and safety, for preventing election interference, on privacy.”

Claiming that a breakup “isn’t going to do anything to help” is a more unequivocal refutation of Hughes’ claim than that of Facebook VP of communications and former UK deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg . He wrote in his own NYT op-ed today that “what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers, and our accountability to the governments and legislators who oversee commerce and communications . . . Big in itself isn't bad. Success should not be penalized.”

Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Hughes

Something certainly must be done to protect consumers. Perhaps that’s a break up of Facebook. At the least, banning it from acquiring more social networks of sufficient scale so it couldn’t snatch another Instagram from its crib would be an expedient and attainable remedy.

But the sharpest point of Hughes’ op-ed was how he identified that users are trapped on Facebook. “Competition alone wouldn't necessarily spur privacy protection — regulation is required to ensure accountability — but Facebook's lock on the market guarantees that users can't protest by moving to alternative platforms” he writes. After Cambridge Analytica “people did not leave the company's platforms en masse. After all, where would they go?”

That’s why given critics’ call for competition and Zuckerberg’s own support for interoperability, a core tenet of regulation must be making it easier for users to switch from Facebook to another social network. As I’ll explore in an upcoming piece, until users can easily bring their friend connections or ‘social graph’ somewhere else, there’s little to compel Facebook to treat them better.

Original Content podcast: We’re not impressed by Netflix’s ‘Extremely Wicked’ Ted Bundy movie

Posted: 11 May 2019 09:05 AM PDT

Despite its grandiose title, Netflix’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” turns out to be surprisingly forgettable.

In this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Brian Heater to review the film, which features Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as his initially unsuspecting girlfriend Liz Kendall.

The film is ostensibly about their relationship, but director Joe Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie can’t quite seem to commit — they end up dramatizing the broader story of Bundy’s capture and trials, while only intermittently returning to Kendall in the film’s second half.

Bundy’s actual murders also get short shrift. While one might argue that we already know he’s a killer and don’t necessarily need to see grisly recreations of his work, by being so coy about Bundy’s murderous side, the film ends up feeling strangely unbalanced and empty.

We also continue our discussion of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” with a review of the often-frustrating episode “The Last of the Starks.” We’re particularly concerned about what’s being set up as the show’s endgame, and where it’s taking Daenerys.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
1:29 “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” review (mild spoilers for the movie and for real-life events)
42:35 “Game of Thrones”/”Last of the Starks” discussion (spoilers ahoy!)

Startups Weekly: Venture capitalists are crazy for cannabis

Posted: 11 May 2019 05:00 AM PDT

Lately, my inbox has been chock-full of pitches for weed businesses.

A couple of years ago it was bitcoin/blockchain startups, then came scooters; now, it seems “CannTech” is hitting an all-time high thanks to support from venture capitalists. By the way, I didn’t make up the term CannTech, but it seems just as good as anything else, so I’m rolling with it.

According to data collected by PitchBook, VCs have put $1.2 billion in U.S.-based cannabis companies so far in 2019. That’s significantly more than last year’s record high of $836 million, and we aren’t even halfway through 2019.

At this rate, we can expect roughly $2.5 billion invested in CannTech in 2019, i.e. more capital invested in the space in a single year than has been funneled into the space in the last decade.

What’s going on? A few things. Of course, states are increasingly legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana. That’s allowed companies like Eaze, a marijuana delivery company, to grow at unprecedented rates. The startup, for example, closed its Series C in December on $65 million and is already fundraising again, this time at a $500 million valuation.

In addition to legalization, VCs, and more importantly, limited partners, have woken up to the business opportunity of cannabis. Soon, gone will be the days of strict morality clauses that dissuaded VC firms from supporting startups focused on weed. The firms that were early to understand the space, like DCM Ventures or Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital, will reap the benefits.

Speaking of DCM, the firm put on a huge, first-of-its-kind summit this week focused on CannTech: “For three years I was struggling with a lot of pain issues,” DCM co-founder David Chao told the audience. “One day I was playing Xbox with Blake Krikorian [co-founder of Sling Media] and I said ‘you know Blake, I have this pain problem’ and he said, ‘oh, you should try pot.’ And I said ‘why should I do that? I haven’t smoked since college?’ “

Long story short, Chao can thank his friend Blake for making him aware of an exploding market, and he can thank DCM’s scrappy partner, Kyle Lui, for helping the firm score some major investments in the space, like Eaze.

“We were the first Sand Hill VCs to invest in cannabis and everyone started calling me saying ‘you’re crazy, why are you doing this?’ ” Lui said.

It’s still very early days in the CannTech space, but the market is expected to be worth as much as $80 billion by 2030. That can only mean interest will soar from here.

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Uber Begins First Day Of Trading At New York Stock Exchange

IPO corner

Uber: It was a disappointing debut, to say the least. The ride-hailing business (NYSE: UBER), previously valued at $72 billion by venture capitalists, priced its stock at $45 apiece for a valuation of $82.4 billion on Thursday. Then it began trading Friday morning at $42 apiece, only to close even lower at $41.57, down 7.6% from its IPO price.

Slack: Not a whole lot of news to share here yet, other than that the workplace messaging business will host its investor day on Monday. It’s invite-only, though Slack, like Spotify, will live-stream the event to the public. More details on that here.

Luckin Coffee: The Chinese upstart going after Starbucks is set to debut on the Nasdaq under the symbol “LK.” In a new filing, Luckin said it plans to sell 30 million shares at an initial range of $15-$17. That gives an estimated raise of $450 million to $510 million, but it could be bumped up if underwriters take up the additional allocation of 4.5 million shares. So, as a grand total, the listing could raise $586.5 million if the full offering is bought at the top of the range.

Lyft: Not an IPO update but the company did release its first-ever earnings report. Here’s the TL;DR: revenues of $776 million on losses of $1.14 billion, including $894 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses. The company's revenues surpassed Wall Street estimates of $740 million, while losses came in much higher as a result of IPO-related expenses.

M&A

Harry’s razors are crappy, I’m told. Alas, the brand is worth $1.37 billion to Edgewell Personal Care, the company behind Schick and Banana Boat. Founded in 2013, Harry's had raised about $375 million in venture capital funding. Edgewell says its $1.37 billion payment will break down to roughly 79% cash and 21% stock, giving Harry's shareholders an 11% stake in Edgewell.

Big rounds

Small(er) rounds

Inspiration

Meet Beat Saber, an eight-person startup with no funding that’s turned into VR’s biggest success story. Venture capital isn’t always the answer, folks.

~Extra Crunch~

Our premium subscription service was loaded with A+ content this week. TechCrunch contributor Jon Evans wrote a piece titled “Against the Slacklash,” wherein he makes the case that Slack isn’t inherently bad. “Rather, the particular way in which you are misusing it epitomizes your company's deeper problems.” Plus, Eric Peckham asked nine top VCs, including Cyan Banister and Charles Hudson, to share where they are putting their money when it comes to media, gaming and entertainment.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch's venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week's episode, available here, Crunchbase News’ Alex Wilhelm, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos and I chat with blogging pioneer and True Ventures partner Om Malik about the on-demand economy, Carta’s big raise and more.

Equity transcribed: Why Om Malik thinks ‘the VC subsidized life is over’

Posted: 10 May 2019 08:09 PM PDT

It’s time for another transcribed edition of Equity. This week for the regularly scheduled episode we had the whole crew pop into the San Francisco studio. Kate Clark, Connie Loizos and Alex Wilhelm were joined by Om Malik, former journalist and current VC at True Ventures.

They convened just after Uber priced, so they had a lot to dig into: The low price, would it pop and would the former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick be at the ringing of the bell in New York (he wasn’t).

But it wasn’t all Uber; they talked Carta, Cruise and Harry’s. Below is an excerpt. And come back soon for an emergency episode where Alex and Kate will go deeper on the Uber IPO. For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Alex: Well, I want to go back to the price really quick because $82 billion is below the 90 we had heard after we’d heard the 120 back in October. So this is a dramatic downgrade in price, which I think as said Om said is actually pretty smart because they’ll have a nice pop and things will get better.

Connie: And also, when you look back, it never really matters that much. I mean, I feel like a couple of people have already pointed this out in the media today. But Google, Facebook, I mean, there’s been so many companies where their IPOs didn’t seem to even go very well. I just don’t think it really is going to matter in the long term what happens tomorrow.

Alex: Well, the difference though is Uber needs to raise a bunch of money to stay alive. I mean, Facebook when they went public had a relatively rough post IPO period, had $1 billion in trailing gap net income. They were fine. Their IPO wasn’t that important aside from the liquidity then. It wasn’t a fundraising metric. At this price, they are going to raise less money than they could’ve at a higher price, and they burn tons of it.

Kate: I think there are a lot of reasons why they probably did lower their targets, but I think one probably has to do with Lyft’s performance. So I think we should just quickly go over. Lyft did release their first earnings report this week, which was pretty interesting. The TL;DR is that they posted first quarter revenues of $776 million on losses of $1.14 billion, which did include 894 million of stock-based compensation related payroll tax expenses, which in other words, just major IPO expenses. So losses were huge, yes. The company’s revenues did surpass Wall Street estimates, which were 740 million. But of course, with all the IPO expenses, losses came in significantly higher.

India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted: 10 May 2019 08:01 PM PDT

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India's internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent's playbook. The Chinese tech giant's WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own “app store” that hosts mini apps. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app's offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn't you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

"This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around," Kolla said.

"The agenda for these apps is to hold people's attention and monopolize a user's activities on their mobile devices," he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm's Sharma agrees. "Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it," he told TechCrunch. "Now that's a business model… payment itself can't make you money."

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay's business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

"We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features," the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app's offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

"In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we're going to do it with an evolved approach. We're going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we're going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we're unbundling Hike," Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

It remains unclear how users are responding to the new features on their favorite apps. Some signs suggest, however, that at least some users are embracing the additional features. Truecaller said it is seeing tens of thousands of users try the payment feature for the first time each day. It’s also being used to send 3 billion texts a month.

And Reliance Jio, of course

Regardless, the race is still on, and there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.

These companies may smooth startups’ path to the public market — if they don’t kill each other first

Posted: 10 May 2019 06:35 PM PDT

This morning, the SEC approved as the U.S.’s 14th stock exchange Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), an outfit that was conceived in 2012 by “Lean Startup” author Eric Ries as a place where public market shareholders who hold onto their shares through thick and thin would be rewarded for their loyalty.

Ries thinks such rewards are important because he believes in public markets. Among other things, by establishing a common currency, being publicly traded enables companies to more easily acquire other companies. It enables employees to more freely sell their shares. It also allows retail investors to participate in the growth of tech companies — growth from which they’ve largely been shut out in recent years as the average time a company remains private has stretched to roughly 12 years.

Indeed, Ries’s biggest issue with public market shareholders is their focus on short-term results, citing it as the primary reason that startups remain privately held for so long. After all, it’s hard to innovate when you’re being sued over disappointing earnings.

Whether LTSE can usher in rules that encourage both companies and shareholders to focus on the longer term remains to be seen. LTSE has not received approval over any kind of listings standards. It hasn’t even submitted these yet.

While ideally, the exchange wants to welcome “values-based” companies that limit executive bonuses and grant more voting power to shareholders who hang on for the ride, Ries seems to recognize that he may have to settle for less owing to some pushback, including from the Council of Institutional Investors, a group of institutions that fear long-term voting could empower company insiders at the expense of other shareholders. During a call today, he told us that LTSE won’t necessarily give more voting power to shareholders. “These rewards could be voting or other things,” he said.

Certainly, Ries will benefit if LTSE takes off. While numerous reports today note that famed VC Marc Andreessen is one of LTSE’s financial backers, the biggest shareholder right now is Ries himself, who owns 30 percent of the for-profit company, according to government filings.

Other major shareholders include John Bautista, a cofounder of Long Term Stock Exchange who is also an attorney with the law firm Orrick; Founders Fund, which owns 14 percent of the company; Collaborative Fund, which owns 7.8 percent; and Obvious Ventures, which owns 6.7 percent. The company has raised roughly $19 million altogether to date.

Ries is hardly alone wanting companies to be able to go public sooner without worrying about activist investors. We’d written about the case for tenured voting in late 2017, noting then that concept has been around for decades.

But while it resonates with founders, few others have embraced the idea. Back in the 1980s, for example, U.S. stock exchanges determined that tenured voting was unnecessarily complicated and too hard to track. Bankers don’t like the idea because anything that looks different to the market is harder to sell.

Meanwhile, another Andreessen-backed startup to make headlines this week — Carta — seems like a bet that LTSE won’t realize its vision completely. The seven-year-old, San Francisco-based startup largely helps private company investors, founders, and employees manage their equity and ownership. But it just raised $300 million in Series E funding at a $1.7 billion valuation led by Andreessen Horowitz largely to become what Carta CEO Henry Ward describes as the world’s largest marketplace for private company shares.

Carta paints the evolution as a natural one given the needs of aging private companies, as well as the fact that so many startups and institutional investors use its platform already.

In fact, Ward, like Ries, talks about democratizing access to more of today’s up-and-coming companies on Carta’s platform. Still, Ries seems more interesting in getting shares into the hands of people who haven’t been able to access them in recent years; Carta seems more interested in more efficiently allowing startups and  institutional investors to trade shares amongst themselves, using Carta as a hub. (Carta also has exponentially more funding than LSTE, having raised $447 million altogether from VCs.)

Whether either company realizes its bold ambitions will take time to know. Much depends on external factors, like the macroeconomy, and whether outfits like SoftBank keeps showering privately held companies with funding.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to understand whether LTSE and Carta can together create a safer, smoother path for startups that are looking to go public. It’s certainly one plausible scenario.

Another is that the two wind up locked in a kind of battle for fast-growing startups, with Carta enticing them to stay private, while LTSE pushes for them to get onto its exchange — and out into the broader world.

We’d be curious to know what Andreessen Horowitz imagines will happen. We asked the firm earlier today; we’re still waiting on a response.

Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over data misuse

Posted: 10 May 2019 05:37 PM PDT

Facebook might have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands. In a late Friday news dump, Facebook revealed that today it filed a lawsuit alleging South Korean analytics firm Rankwave abused its developer platform’s data, and has refused to cooperate with a mandatory compliance audit and request to delete the data.

Facebook’s lawsuit centers around Rankwave offering to help businesses build a Facebook authorization step into their apps so they can pass all the user data to Rankwave, which then analyzes biographic and behavioral traits to supply user contact info and ad targeting assistance to the business. Rankwave also apparently misused data sucked in by its own consumer app for checking your social media “influencer score”. That app could pull data about your Facebook activity such as location checkins, determine that you’ve checked into a baseball stadium, and then Rankwave could help its clients target you with ads for baseball tickets.

The use of a seemingly fun app to slurp up user data and repurpose it for other business goals is strikingly similar to how Cambridge Analytica’s personality quiz app tempted millions of users to provide data about themselves and their friends.

Rankwave touts its Facebook data usage in this 2014 pitch deck

TechCrunch has attained a copy of the lawsuit that alleges that Rankwave misused Facebook data outside of the apps where it was collected, purposefully delayed responding to a cease-and-desist order, claimed it didn’t violate Facebook policy, lied about not using its apps since 2018 when they were accessed in April 2019, and then refused to comply with a mandatory audit of its data practices. Facebook Platform data is not supposed to be repurposed for other business goals, only for the developer to improve their app’s user experience.

“By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message to developers that Facebook is serious about enforcing our policies, including requiring developers to cooperate with us during an investigation” Facebook’s director of platform enforcement and litigation Jessica Romero wrote. Facebook tells TechCrunch that “To date Rankwave has not participated in our investigation and we are trying to get more info from them to determine if there was any misuse of Pages data.” We’ve reached out to Rankwave for its response.

Cambridge Analytic-ish

Facebook’s lawsuit details that “Rankwave used the Facebook data associated with Rankwave’s apps to create and sell advertising and marketing analytics and models — which violated Facebook’s policies and terms” and that it “failed to comply with Facebook’s requests for proof of Rankwave’s compliance with Facebook policies, including an audit.” Rankwave apparently accessed data from over thirty apps, including those created by its clients.

Specifically, Facebook cites that its “Platform Policies largely restrict Developers from using Facebook data outside of the environment of the app, for any purpose other than enhancing the app users’ experience on the app.” But Rankwave allegedly used Facebook data outside those apps.

Rankwave describes how it extracts contact info and ad targeting data from Facebook data

Facebook’s suit claims that “Rankwave’s B2B apps were installed and used by businesses to track and analyze activity on their Facebook Pages . . . Rankwave operated a consumer app called the ‘Rankwave App.’ This consumer app was designed to measure the app user’s popularity on Facebook by analyzing the level of interaction that other users had with the app user’s Facebook posts. On its website, Rankwave claimed that this app calculated a user’s ‘Social influence score’ by ‘evaluating your social activities’ and receiving ‘responses from your friends.'”

TechCrunch has found that Rankwave still offers an Android app that asks for you to login with Facebook so it can assess the popularity of your posts and give you a “Social Influencer Score”. Until 2015 when Facebook tightened its policies, this kind of app could ingest not only a user’s own data but that about their Facebook friends. As with Cambridge Analytica, this likely massively compounded Rankwave’s total data access.

Rankwave’s Android app asks for users’ Facebook data in exchange for providing them a Social Influencer Score

Facebook Delays Coming After Rankwave

Founded in 2012 by Sungwha Shim, Rankwave came into Facebook’s crosshairs in June 2018 after it was sold to a Korean entertainment company in May 2017. Facebook assesses that the value of its data at the time of the buyout was $9.8 million.

Worryingly, Facebook didn’t reach out to Rankwave until January 2019 for information proving it complied with the social network’s policies. After receiving no response, Facebook issued a cease-and-desist order in February, which Rankwave replied to seeking more time because it’s CTO had resigned, which Facebook calls “false representations”. Later that month, Rankwave denied violating Facebook’s policies but refused to provide proof. Facebook gave it more time to provide proof, but Rankwave didn’t respond. Facebook has now shut down Rankwave’s apps.

Rankwave claims to be able to extract a wide array of ad targeting data from Facebook data

Now Facebook is seeking money to cover the $9.8 million value of the data, additional monetary damages and legal fees, plus injunctive relief restraining Rankwave from accessing the Facebook Platform, requiring it to comply with Facebook’s audit, requiring that it delete all Facebook data.

The fact that Rankwave was openly promoting these services that blatantly violate Facebook’s policies casts further doubt on how the social network was policing its platform. And the six month delay between Facebook identifying a potential issue with Rankwave and it even reaching out for information, plus another several months before it blocked Rankwave’s app shows a failure to move swiftly to enforce its policies. These blunders might explain why Facebook buried the news by announcing it on a Friday afternoon when many reporters and readers have already signed off for the weekend.

For now there’s no evidence of wholesale transfer of Rankwave’s data to other parties or its misuse for especially nefarious purposes like influencing an election as with Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit merely alleges data was wrongly harnessed to make money, which may not spur the same level of backlash. But the case further proves that Facebook was too busy growing itself thanks to the platform to properly safeguard it against abuse.

You can learn more about Rankwave’s analytics practices from this 2014 presentation.

Equity Shot: Judging Uber’s less-than-grand opening day

Posted: 10 May 2019 04:41 PM PDT

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch's venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We are back, as promised. Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm re-convened today to discuss the latest from the Uber IPO. Namely that it opened down, and then kept falling.

A few questions spring to mind. Why did Uber lose ground? Was it the company’s fault? Was it simply the macro market? Was it something else altogether? What we do know is that Uber’s pricing wasn’t what we were expecting and its first day was not smooth.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why Uber went out the way it did. Firstly, the stock market has had a rough week. That, coupled with rising U.S.-China tensions made this week one of the worst of the year for Uber’s monstrous IPO.

But, to make all that clear, we ran back through some history, recalled some key Lyft stats, and more.

We don’t know what’s next but we will be keeping a close watch, specifically on the next cohort of unicorn companies ready to IPO (Postmates, hi!).

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.