Translate

Post Your Self

Hello Dearest Gameforumer.com readers

Its your chance to get your news, articles, reviews on board, just use the link: PYS

Thanks and Regards

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Copilot is a subscription personal finance tracker aiming to kill Mint

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 03:28 PM PST

When Intuit acquired Mint more than a decade ago, mobile was in a different place — as were tech-enabled financial services. There hasn’t been much progress for the personal finance tracker app category in the meantime. Mint has stumbled along with integration issues and tiresome data misclassifications. For many, the best alternative has been firing up a spreadsheet.

Copilot is a new personal finance-tracking app from a former Googler that seems like it could garner a following based on its slick design and ease of use. The subscription iOS app lets you load your financial data, create custom categories for transactions and set budgets. It has been invitation-only for the past several months, but is launching publicly today.

Founder Andrés Ugarte told TechCrunch that he started the effort after eight years at Google — most recently inside its Area 120 experimental products division — because of slow progress in the personal finance space since Mint’s acquisition.

“I’ve been trying to use personal finance apps for the last eight years, and I eventually ended up giving up on them,” Ugarte says. “I was willing to make them work, and create my own categories and fix the data so that stuff was all categorized correctly. But I was always disappointed because the apps never felt smart because they would make the same mistakes again.”

I spent a few hours poking around Copilot over the past couple of days and I like what I’ve seen. The design is friendlier than other options, but its major strengths are that you can easily re-categorize a transaction that didn’t automatically fall in the bucket that you wanted it to, mark internal transfers between accounts and exclude one-off purchases from your tracked budget. Other apps have also allowed these functionalities, but Copilot lets you denote whether you want every transaction with a particular vendor to route to a certain category or bypass your budget entirely, so it actually learns from your activity.

In some ways, the killer feature of Copilot is just how great Plaid is. The app relies heavily on the Visa-acquired financial services API startup, and I can see why the startup was so successful. The integration’s intuitiveness alongside Copilot’s already smooth on-boarding process gives users early indication for the app’s thoughtful design.

Copilot has its limitations, mainly in that the team is just two people right now, so those holding out for desktop or Android support might have to wait a bit. Some may be turned off by the app’s $2.99 monthly subscription price, though there are more than a few reasons to avoid free apps that have access to all of your financial info. Copilot maintains that users’ financial info will never be sold to or shared with third parties.

Ugarte has largely been self-funding the effort by selling off his Google shares, but the team just locked down a $250,000 angel round and is searching for more funding.

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an ‘internet of vehicles’ business

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 03:15 PM PST

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese electronics giant best known for its iPhone manufacturing contract, is forming a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China.

The joint venture was disclosed in a regulatory filing. Nikkei was first to report the joint venture.

According to the filing, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business. Hon Hai’s direct shareholding in the subsidiary will not exceed 40%, the filing says.

The venture will initially focus on making electric vehicles for China. But these vehicles could be exported at a later date, according to Foxconn.

The wording in the regulatory filing suggests these will be new vehicles that are designed and built from the ground up and not a project to electrify any of the vehicles in FCA’s current portfolio.

The venture could give FCA a better path to capturing more business in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

Foxconn has invested in other electric vehicle ventures before, although this appears to be the first tie-up in which the company will develop and build the product. EV startup Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent and Foxconn. And Foxconn is also an investor in XPeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup that recently raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi as a strategic investor.

Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 02:45 PM PST

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies' offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don't take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

Investors like Sundar Pichai; they just pushed Alphabet into the trillion-dollar club for the first time

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 02:31 PM PST

Alphabet this afternoon became the fourth tech giant to join the highly exclusive trillion-dollar club, one whose original member, Apple, saw its market cap soar past $1 trillion for the first time in August 2018 and which has since welcomed — and pushed back out — Amazon, which passed the $1 trillion mark in September 2018 but is now valued at $931 billion; and Microsoft, a charter member since August 2019 and now worth $1.27 trillion.

Saudi Aramco, the petroleum and natural gas company that went public last month, also now has a market value of $1.19 trillion.

That Alphabet would be the next tech giant to crack into the ranks is hardly surprising. The now 22-year-old company has grown like gangbusters since its second year in business and has exploded in value since going public in 2004. Still, it’s impossible not to draw a line between today’s development and the news in early December that the company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were handing over day-to-day control to Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet’s Google since 2015. (That’s when Alphabet itself was incorporated as a holding company.)

For one thing, investors seem to like that much of Pichai’s compensation is tied to the company’s performance. According to an SEC filing from last month, Pichai — now the CEO of both Google and Alphabet — will receive $2 million in salary per year, but he’s poised to earn much more — at least $150 million — if the company hits certain performance targets this year, next year and in 2022.

Analysts have also said they’re hopeful the leadership transition will see Alphabet become more transparent when it comes to reporting its financials to investors. Indeed, despite the company’s many holdings — from YouTube to Waymo, its self-driving car business — Alphabet has been famously vague when it comes to explaining how its various bets are panning out.

Not last, there’s a widespread expectation that Alphabet will become more amenable to larger share buybacks, or that it might institute a dividend payment for the first time because so much of Pichai’s bonus is tied to share performance.

Naturally there are broader trends that have led to this moment.

Alphabet has long been the biggest beneficiary of the ongoing shift online of global advertising and marketing spending, and it has only tightened its grip on the market over time. Just Tuesday, its Google unit announced plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within the next two years, which could be the death knell for the rest of the long-suffering online ad industry.

Meanwhile, despite questions about some of its subsidiaries, including Waymo, whose progress has been slower than expected, its 2006 acquisition of YouTube has proven one of the smartest and most lucrative deals in internet history.

Either way, as the WSJ notes, citing Dow Jones Market Data, it took Alphabet nearly two years to rise from a company with an $800 billion market cap to one that enjoyed a $900 billion market cap. In contrast, it has jumped from $900 billion to $1 trillion in just the last several months.

‘PigeonBot’ brings flying robots closer to real birds

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 02:21 PM PST

Try as they might, even the most advanced roboticists on Earth struggle to recreate the effortless elegance and efficiency with which birds fly through the air. The “PigeonBot” from Stanford researchers takes a step toward changing that by investigating and demonstrating the unique qualities of feathered flight.

On a superficial level, PigeonBot looks a bit, shall we say, like a school project. But a lot of thought went into this rather haphazard-looking contraption. Turns out the way birds fly is really not very well understood, as the relationship between the dynamic wing shape and positions of individual feathers are super complex.

Mechanical engineering professor David Lentink challenged some of his graduate students to “dissect the biomechanics of the avian wing morphing mechanism and embody these insights in a morphing biohybrid robot that features real flight feathers,” taking as their model the common pigeon — the resilience of which Lentink admires.

As he explains in an interview with the journal Science:

The first Ph.D.student, Amanda Stowers, analyzed the skeletal motion and determined we only needed to emulate the wrist and finger motion in our robot to actuate all 20 primary and 20 secondary flight feathers. The second student, Laura Matloff,uncovered how the feathers moved via a simple linear response to skeletal movement. The robotic insight here is that a bird wing is a gigantic underactuated system in which a bird doesn't have to constantly actuate each feather individually. Instead, all the feathers follow wrist and finger motion automatically via the elastic ligament that connects the feathers to the skeleton. It’s an ingenious system that greatly simplifies feather position control.

In addition to finding that the individual control of feathers is more automatic than manual, the team found that tiny microstructures on the feathers form a sort of one-way Velcro-type material that keeps them forming a continuous surface rather than a bunch of disconnected ones. These and other findings were published in Science, while the robot itself, devised by “the third student,” Eric Chang, is described in Science Robotics.

Using 40 actual pigeon feathers and a super-light frame, Chang and the team made a simple flying machine that doesn’t derive lift from its feathers — it has a propeller on the front — but uses them to steer and maneuver using the same type of flexion and morphing as the birds themselves do when gliding.

Studying the biology of the wing itself, then observing and adjusting the PigeonBot systems, the team found that the bird (and bot) used its “wrist” when the wing was partly retracted, and “fingers” when extended, to control flight. But it’s done in a highly elegant fashion that minimizes the thought and the mechanisms required.

PigeonBot’s wing. You can see that the feathers are joined by elastic connections so moving one moves others.

It’s the kind of thing that could inform improved wing design for aircraft, which currently rely in many ways on principles established more than a century ago. Passenger jets, of course, don’t need to dive or roll on short notice, but drones and other small craft might find the ability extremely useful.

“The underactuated morphing wing principles presented here may inspire more economical and simpler morphing wing designs for aircraft and robots with more degrees of freedom than previously considered,” write the researchers in the Science Robotics paper.

Up next for the team is observation of more bird species to see if these techniques are shared with others. Lentink is working on a tail to match the wings, and separately on a new bio-inspired robot inspired by falcons, which could potentially have legs and claws as well. “I have many ideas,” he admitted.

NBCU’s streaming service Peacock launches April 15 for Comcast subscribers, everyone else on July 15

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 01:47 PM PST

NBCUniversal officially unveiled its new streaming service, Peacock, today, announcing that the service will be available at no additional cost for Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers on April 15, before launching nationally on July 15.

The company had announced its plans to enter the streaming market a year ago, describing it as an ad-supported, subscription service that would also be available to pay-TV subscribers at no additional cost.

That’s more-or-less what the company detailed at an investor presentation today, where it said there will be a free tier of Peacock that includes more than 7,500 hours of programming, including classic shows and the current seasons of freshman broadcast series.

But if you want to see the original programming that NBCUniversal is creating for Peacock — as well as get early access to “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and twice as many hours of content overall — you’ll need Peacock Premium, which will be bundled for Comcast and Cox subscribers, and will cost $4.99 per month otherwise.

Both of those versions will include ads, though you can also pay $9.99 per month for an ad-free experience.

NBCUniversal said it will be spending aggressively over the next two years, with an investment of $2 billion over 2020 and 2021. The plan is to reach between 30 to 35 million active users in the United States by 2024, and to break even at that time

The new service is one of several big streaming launches expected this year, with WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile service Quibi also preparing to make their debuts. Those join other recent entries from Disney and Apple in an increasingly crowded streaming landscape still led by the big three  — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. (The latter is now majority owned by Disney, but NBCU parent Comcast will hold onto its Hulu stake until 2024.)

Many of the newer streamers — including the just-launched Disney+ and Apple TV+, as well as the upcoming HBO Max — are opting for an ad-free experience. But NBCU’s Peacock will instead follow the business models adopted by Hulu and ViacomCBS Inc.s’ CBS All Access, where advertising helps to bring down the cost of the subscription.

NBCUniversal Chairman Steve Burke and other executives addressed the question of “subscription fatigue” during their presentation, with Burke arguing that this fatigue is exactly why Peacock is going with a (sort of) free approach: “We found it interesting that no one's focused on primarily ad-supported, premium content. We believe that affordability will be critical as more subscriptions are launched.”

Why launch a service at all, if not to bring in subscription revenue? Burke argued that with DVR and on-demand viewing, NBCUniversal content is reaching a broader audience than ever — but on services like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube, “We don't control the consumer experience … we don't control how shows are sold to advertisers and in many cases, we don't sell to advertisers ourselves.”

And those aforementioned cable bundles illustrate how these streaming services may also function less as businesses on their own and more a way to draw consumers as part of a broader strategy.

Despite its terrible name (they couldn’t even avoid Peacock jokes during the presentation itself, with Fallon asking, “What names did you turn down before settling on Peacock?”), the service has a chance to grab a slice of the streaming market thanks to its decent back catalog and NBCU’s plans to promote the service heavily during the Summer Olympics on NBC.

The presentation emphasized some of the star power and intellectual property that Peacock is drawing on, with appearances by Fallon, Tina Fey and Seth Meyers, as well as NBC News and Sports presenters.

NBCU announced much of Peacock’s original programming lineup last fall, including reboots of “Battlestar Galactica,” “Punky Brewster” and “Saved by the Bell,” plus new series like “Dr. Death,” based on the true-crime podcast; “Brave New World,” based on the dystopian Aldous Huxley novel; an SNL docu-series “Who Wrote That”; “One of Us Is Lying,” based on the NYT best-seller; and many more.

More recent additions to the originals lineup include the Fey-produced comedy “Girls5Eva,” as well as in-development shows like "Expecting" from Mindy Kaling, "Division One" from Amy Poehler, "Clean Slate" from Norman Lear and "MacGruber," from Will Forte.

Peacock will also be the new home for Netflix's most-watched series, “The Office,” in a deal valued at $500 million for the comedy classic.

Other NBC shows will be available on Peacock, too, including  "30 Rock," "Bates Motel," "Battlestar Galactica," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "Cheers," "Chrisley Knows Best," "Covert Affairs," "Downton Abbey," "Everyone Loves Raymond," "Frasier," "Friday Night Lights," "House," "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," "King of Queens," "Married…With Children," "Monk," "Parenthood," "Psych," "Royal Pains," "Saturday Night Live," "Superstore," "The Real Housewives," "Top Chef" and "Will & Grace."

Popular films to stream on Peacock include "American Pie," "Bridesmaids," "Knocked Up," "Meet the Parents," "Meet the Fockers," "A Beautiful Mind," "Back to the Future," "Brokeback Mountain," "Casino," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Do the Right Thing," "Erin Brockovich," "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," "Field of Dreams," "Jaws," "Mamma Mia!," "Shrek" and "The Breakfast Club." Peacock will also feature films from these franchises: "Bourne," "Despicable Me" and "Fast & Furious."

And while you might think that every streaming service works the same, Peacock Chairman Matt Strauss said the company is trying to find approaches that don’t rely on the “endless scroll.” You’ll be able to look up a specific show or movie, but there also will be “channels” like "SNL Vault," "Family Movie Night" and "Olympic Profiles." And the service is supposed to get more personalized as you watch.

Peacock launch

The ad-supported version of the service will include a variety of ad products, including an e-commerce experience called “shoppable TV,” plus 60-second “prime pods,” interactive engagement ads, sponsorships called solo ads, editorially selector curator ads, contextually relevant explore ads, topical trending ads, voice-based on-command ads and two others inspired by Hulu: pause ads and binge ads. Peacock is also promising a light ad load with only five minutes of ads per hour or less.

Strauss added that NBCUniversal plans to eventually launch internationally, but the company is currently focused on the United States.

 

 

Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 01:35 PM PST

Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview of activity in the space startup industry, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019.

I spoke to Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson about what he’s seen in terms of changes in the industry since Space Angels began publishing this quarterly update in 2017, and about what’s in store for 2020 and beyond as commercial space matures and comes into its own. Informed by data released publicly, SEC filings and investor databases — as well as anonymized and aggregated info from Space Angels’ own due diligence process and portfolio company management — Anderson is among the best-positioned people on either the investment or the operator side to weigh in on the current and future state of the space startup industry.

“2019 was a record year — record number of investments, record number of companies, a record on all these fronts,” Anderson said. “2019 in its own right was a huge year, but then you look at everything that happened over the last decade. We always refer to this last decade as ‘the entrepreneurial space age’ […] and you see everything that’s happened over the last 10 years, you see it all culminating in a record year like this one.”

Marijuana delivery giant Eaze may go up in smoke

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 01:07 PM PST

The first cannabis startup to raise big money in Silicon Valley is in danger of burning out. TechCrunch has learned that pot delivery middleman Eaze has seen unannounced layoffs, and its depleted cash reserves threaten its ability to make payroll or settle its AWS bill. Eaze was forced to raise a bridge round to keep the lights on as it prepares to attempt major pivot to ‘touching the plant’ by selling its own marijuana brands through its own depots.

TechCrunch spoke with nine sources with knowledge of Eaze’s struggles to piece together this report. If Eaze fails, it could highlight serious growing pains amid the ‘green rush’ of startups into the marijuana business.

Eaze, the startup backed by some $166 million in funding that once positioned itself as the "Uber of pot" — a marketplace selling pot and other cannabis products from dispensaries and delivering it to customers — has recently closed a $15 million bridge round, according to multiple source. The funding was meant to keep the lights on as Eaze struggles to raise its next round of funding amid problems with making decent margins on its current business model, lawsuits, payment processing issues, and internal disorganization.

 

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company is low on cash. Sources tell us that the company, which laid off some 30 people last summer, is preparing another round of cuts in the meantime. The spokesperson refused to discuss personnel issues but noted that there have been layoffs at many late stage startups as investors want to see companies cut costs and become more efficient.

From what we understand, Eaze is currently trying to raise a $35 million Series D round according to its pitch deck. The $15 million bridge round came from unnamed current investors. (Previous backers of the company include 500 Startups, DCM Ventures, Slow Ventures, Great Oaks, FJ Labs, the Winklevoss brothers, and a number of others.) Originally, Eaze had tried to raise a $50 million Series D, but the investor that was looking at the deal, Athos Capital, is said to have walked away at the eleventh hour.

Eaze is going into the fundraising with an enterprise value of $388 million, according to company documents reviewed by TechCrunch. It's not clear what valuation it's aiming for in the next round.

An Eaze spokesperson declined to discuss fundraising efforts but told TechCrunch, “The company is going through a very important transition right now, moving to becoming a plant-touching company through acquisitions of former retail partners that will hopefully allow us to more efficiently run the business and continue to provide good service to customers.

Desperate to grow margins

The news comes as Eaze is hoping to pull off a "verticalization" pivot, moving beyond online storefront and delivery of third-party products (rolled joints, flower, vaping products and edibles) and into sourcing, branding and dispensing the product directly. Instead of just moving other company’s marijuana brands between third-party dispensaries and customers, it wants to sell its own in-house brands through its own delivery depots to earn a higher margin. With a number of other cannabis companies struggling, the hope is that it will be able to acquire brands in areas like marijuana flower, pre-rolled joints, vaporizer cartridges, or edibles at low prices.

An Eaze spokesperson confirmed that the company plans to announce the pivot in the coming days, telling TechCrunch that it’s “a pretty significant change from provider of services to operating in that fashion but also operating a depot directly ourselves.”

The startup is already making moves in this direction, and is in the process of acquiring some of the assets of a bankrupt cannabis business out of Canada called Dionymed — which had initially been a partner of Eaze's, then became a competitor, and then sued it over payment disputes, before finally selling part of its business. These assets are said to include Oakland dispensary Hometown Heart, which it acquired in an all-share transaction ("Eaze effectively bought the lawsuit," is how one source described the sale). This will become Eaze’s first owned delivery depot.

In a recent presentation deck that Eaze has been using when pitching to investors — which has been obtained by TechCrunch — the company describes itself as the largest direct-to-consumer cannabis retailer in California. It has completed more than 5 million deliveries, served 600,000 customers and tallied up an average transaction value of $85. 

To date, Eaze has only expanded to one other state beyond California, Oregon. Its aim is to add five more states this year, and another three in 2021. But the company appears to have expected more states to legalize recreational marijuana sooner, which would have provided geographic expansion. Eaze seems to have overextended itself too early in hopes of capturing market share as soon as it became available.

An employee at the company tells us that on a good day Eaze can bring in between $800,000 and $1 million in net revenue, which sounds great, except that this is total merchandise value, before any cuts to suppliers and others are made. Eaze makes only a fraction of that amount, one reason why it's now looking to verticatlize into more of a primary role in the ecosystem. And that's before considering all of the costs associated with running the business. 

Eaze is suffering from a problem rampant in the marijuana industry: a lack of working capital. Since banks often won’t issue working capital loans to weed-related business, deliverers like Eaze can experience delays in paying back vendors. Another source says late payments have pushed some brands to stop selling through Eaze.

Another drain on its finances have been its marketing efforts. A source said out-of-home ads (billboards and the like) allegedly were a significant expense at one point. It has to compete with other pot purchasing options like visiting retail stores in person, using dispensaries’ in-house delivery services, or buying via startups like Meadow that act as aggregated online points of sale for multiple dispensaries.

Indeed, Eaze claims that its pivot into verticalization will bring it $204 million in revenues on gross transactions of $300 million. It notes in the presentation that it makes $9.04 on an average sale of $85, which will go up to $18.31 if it successfully brings in 'private label' products and has more depot control.

Selling weed isn’t eazy

The poor margins are only one of the problems with Eaze's current business model, which the company admits in its presentation have led to an inconsistent customer experience and poor customer affinity with its brand — especially in the face of competition from a number of other delivery businesses.  

Playing on the on-demand, delivery-of-everything theme, it connected with two customer bases. First, existing cannabis consumers already using some form of delivery service for their supply; and a newer, more mainstream audience with disposable income that had become more interested in cannabis-related products but might feel less comfortable walking into a dispensary, or buying from a black market dealer.

It is not the only startup that has been chasing that audience. Other competitors in the wider market for cannabis discovery, distribution and sales include Weedmaps, Puffy, Blackbird, Chill (a brand from Dionymed that it founded after ending its earlier relationship with Eaze), and Meadow, with the wider industry estimated to be worth some $11.9 billion in 2018 and projected to grow to $63 billion by 2025.

Eaze was founded on the premise that the gradual decriminalisation of pot — first making it legal to buy for medicinal use, and gradually for recreational use — would spread across the US and make the consumption of cannabis-related products much more ubiquitous, presenting a big opportunity for Eaze and other startups like it. 

It found a willing audience among consumers, but also tech workers in the Bay Area, a tight market for recruitment. 

"I was excited for the opportunity to join the cannabis industry," one source said. "It has for the most part has gotten a bad rap, and I saw Eaze's mission as a noble thing, and the team seemed like good people."

Eaze CEO Ro Choy

That impression was not to last. The company, this employee was told when joining, had plenty of funding with more on the way. The newer funding never materialised, and as Eaze sought to figure out the best way forward, the company cycled through different ideas and leadership: former Yammer executive Keith McCarty, who cofounded the company with Roie Edery (both are now founders at another Cannabis startup, Wayv), left, and the CEO role was given to another ex-Yammer executive, Jim Patterson, who was then replaced by Ro Choy, who is the current CEO. 

"I personally lost trust in the ability to execute on some of the vision once I got there," the ex-employee said. "I thought that on one hand a picture was painted that wasn't the truth. As we got closer and as I'd been there longer and we had issues with funding, the story around why we were having issues kept changing." Several sources familiar with its business performance and culture referred to Eaze as a “shitshow”.

No ‘Push For Kush’

The quick shifts in strategy were a recurring pattern that started well before the company got tight financial straits. 

One employee recalled an acquisition Eaze made several years ago of a startup called Push for Pizza. Founded by five young friends in Brooklyn, Push for Pizza had gone viral over a simple concept: you set up your favourite pizza order in the app, and when you want it, you pushed a single button to order it. (Does that sound silly? Don't forget, this was also the era of Yo, which was either a low point for innovation, or a high point for cynicism when it came to average consumer intelligence… maybe both.)

Eaze's idea, the employee said, was to take the basics of Push for Pizza and turn it into a weed app, Push for Kush. In it, customers could craft their favourite mix and, at the touch of a button, order it, lowering the procurement barrier even more.

The company was very excited about the deal and the prospect of the new app. They planned a big campaign to spread the word, and held an internal event to excite staff about the new app and business line. 

"They had even made a movie of some kind that they showed us, featuring a caricature of Jim" — the CEO at a the time — "hanging out of the sunroof of a limo." (I've been able to find the opening segment of this video online, and the Twitter and Instagram accounts that had been created for Push for Kush, but no more than that.)

Then just one week later, the whole plan was scrapped, and the founders of Push for Pizza fired. "It was just brushed under the carpet," the former employee said. "No one could get anything out of management about what had happened."

Something had happened, though: the company had been taking payments by card when it made the acquisition, but the process was never stable and by then it had recently gone back to the cash-only model. Push for Kush by cash was less appealing. "They didn't think it would work," the person said, adding that this was the normal course of business at the startup. "Big initiatives would just die in favor of pushing out whatever new thing was on the product team's radar." 

Eaze’s spokesperson confirmed that “we did acquire Push For Pizza . . but ultimately didn’t choose to pursue [launching Push For Kush].”

Payments were a recurring issue for the startup. Eaze started out taking payments only in cash — but as the business grew, that became increasingly problematic. The company found itself kicked off the credit card networks and was stuck with a less traceable, more open to error (and theft) cash-only model at a time when one employee estimated it was bringing in between $800,000 and $1 million per day in sales. 

Eventually, it moved to cards, but not smoothly: Visa specifically did not want Eaze on its platform. Eaze found a workaround, employees say, but it was never above board, which became the subject of the lawsuit between Eaze and Dionymed. Currently the company appear to only take payments via debit cards, ACH transfer, and cash, not credit card.

Another incident sheds light on how the company viewed and handled security issues. 

Can Eaze rise from the ashes?

At one point, employees allegedly discovered that Eaze was essentially storing all of its customer data — including users' signatures and other personal information — in an Azure bucket that was not secured, meaning that if anyone was nosing around, it could be easily discovered and exploited.

The vulnerability was brought to the company's attention. It was something that was up to product to fix, but the job was pushed down the list. It ultimately took seven months to patch this up. "I just kept seeing things with all these huge holes in them, just not ready for prime time," one ex-employee said of the state of products. "No one was listening to engineers, and no one seemed to be looking for viable products." Eaze’s spokesperson confirms a vulnerability was discovered but claims it was promptly resolved.

Today, the issue is a more pressing financial one: the company is running out of money. Employees have been told the company may not make its next payroll, and AWS will shut down its servers in two days if it doesn't pay up. 

Eaze’s spokesperson tried to remain optimistic while admitting the dire situation the company faces. “Eaze is going to continue doing everything we can to support customers and the overall legal cannabis industry. We’re excited about the future and acknowledge the challenges that the entire community is facing.”

As medicinal and recreational marijuana access became legal in some states in the latter 2010s, entrepreneurs and investors flocked to the market. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on the end of a major prohibition — a once in a lifetime event. But high government taxes, enduring black markets, intense competition, and a lack of financial infrastructure willing to deal with any legal haziness have caused major setbacks.

While the pot business might sound chill, operations like Eaze depend on coordinating high-stress logistics with thin margins and little room for error. Plenty of food delivery startups from Sprig to Munchery went under after running into similar struggles, and at least banks and payment processors would work with them. With the odds stacked against it, Eaze has a tough road ahead.

VCs are just tired

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 12:46 PM PST

I was in SF last week and met with more than a dozen VCs over the course of two days. This was post the holidays, post their visits to the ski chalets in Tahoe and the island beaches, and in the smack dab of one of the most important fundraise periods of the year — the mid-to-late January to April stretch when all the backlog of startups from Q4 initiate their fundraises for the new year.

And the one constant refrain I heard over and over again across these conversations was just this: VCs are tired.

The reasons were similar if not perfectly overlapping. The biggest driver was the sheer flood of venture dollars targeting too few deals in the Valley these days. Consumer investing has become passé as exits disappear and the mobile wave crests (last year was the first year B2B investing overtook consumer investing in modern memory), forcing everyone to chase the same set of SaaS companies.

VCs described to me how the top deals start and close their fundraises in 48-72 hours. Several VCs groused that dozens of firms now descend like hawks on the unwitting but fortunate target startup, angling for a term sheet and willing to give up valuation and preferences left and right for any chance at the cap table. Earlier investors are just as desperate to own that equity, and no longer play any sort of honest broker role that they might have in the past.

Plus, the FOMO of the moment is more acute than ever — a VC at the end of the day might have already seen a dozen companies, but gets a late night intro to one last company — perhaps the company that could make or break their career. And so they will take that one last meeting, and then one more last meeting, hoping to find some meaningful edge against the competition.

And so VCs are running ragged around South Park, and increasingly, flying around the world scouring for any alpha wherever they can find it. Increasingly, it feels, they aren't finding it though.

Firms are doing what they can. They are staffing up, trying to hire more raw talent in the hopes of finding that last undiscovered company. They scour their own portfolios and probe their founders, trying to find a tip to a deal that their competitor may have missed. They host dinner after dinner (sometimes multiple in one night — as I sometimes witness when I get an invitation to all of them, as if I can be in more than one place at the same time), again, hoping to find some bit of magic.

Ironically, the "tired" line was something I used to hear from seed investors, who constantly had to churn through dozens of under-hearted startups to find the gold. Now, I've heard this language more and more from later-stage VCs, where the Excel spreadsheet drives the valuation more than a relationship with a founder — and everyone can read the gridiron of SaaS metrics.

All of this in some ways is good for startup founders (and their earliest investors) — higher markups are going to result in more resources with less dilution, and that's always nice. The challenge is that relationships are being forged in the most intense of sale processes, and that means that founders may only have a short period of time to work with a partner before committing a board seat to that individual. Personalities are hard to judge in such a crucible.

As are the numbers. We've chatted on Equity a bit about reneged term sheets, but it's a pattern that I hear whispered about more and more. Less due diligence is happening before the term sheet is signed (again, to beat out the rabid competition), and there is now more buyer's remorse from VCs (and very occasionally founders) that can lead to a botched round along the way.

Lack of bandwidth, hyper-velocity, a pittance of sleep — all of these are intensifying the sensitivity of VC returns. Email a VC an hour before or after and it may well change the result of a fundraise. VCs once had a reputation for plodding and slow deliberation. That old normal is definitely dead right now, and in its place is a new, modern VC who is going to determine millions of dollars in a few minutes on a jet fuel of caffeine and ambition.

It's the best and worst of times, and I can't help but wonder what the results of the 2019 and 2020 vintage years are going to look like eight-10 years from now.

SiteMinder raises $70M at $750M valuation after cresting $70M ARR in 2019

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 12:00 PM PST

Today SiteMinder, an Australian software company focused on the hotel industry, announced a $70 million (USD) round that values the company at $750 million. That’s about $1.08 billion in Australian dollars, making the firm a Down Under Unicorn, even if it’s a bit shy here in America.

According to SiteMinder, the round was “led by equity funds managed by BlackRock.” The company has previously raised capital from TCV and Bailador.

TechCrunch discussed SiteMinder earlier this year as part of our running examination of companies that have reached certain annual recurring revenue (ARR) thresholds. At that time, we noted that the firm’s revenue was at AU$100 million ARR, while it was a bit light of the level in American dollars.

As we understand the company’s new valuation in both countries’ currencies, it is possible to calculate the company’s current ARR multiple. It’s about 11x. That price is similar to what public SaaS companies command in today’s market, according to Bessemer’s cloud index.

Growth

SiteMinder announced some time ago that it had surpassed the AU$100 million ARR mark in 2019. Software companies — SiteMinder appears to also generate service-oriented revenues from activities like website design — that reach similar scale tend to slow down in percentage growth terms.

To understand the company’s approach to growth, TechCrunch asked SiteMinder if its new capital would allow it to maintain its current pace of ARR growth. The firm had cited “accelerated go-to-market strategies” as a possible use for its new funds, helping frame the question.

According to SiteMinder CEO Sankar Narayan, the answer is “Yes, absolutely.” Narayan went on to say that the company has “the widest global footprint and the largest multilingual capability in our category, giving us pole position as technology adoption accelerates across the hotel industry.” Narayan also cited planned hiring and expanded distribution work in Europe and Asia as giving his company “even greater opportunities for growth.”

SiteMinder operates globally, providing it with a closer presence to some customers (80% of the firm’s revenue is international, it says). That distribution, however, raises a question. Quickly growing companies often struggled to hold their culture together when they are in a single office. SiteMinder operates in over a dozen countries, likely compounding the issue.

Narayan told TechCrunch that SiteMinder is “no stranger to the challenges that come with being a global business.” To combat cultural drift, the CEO says that he visits an overseas office every month, and that his company recently introduced “an all-staff shadow equity plan” to let everyone profit from the company’s progress.

With new capital, and presumably more staff and offices to come, it will be interesting to see what new things the company’s cultural integrity requires.

Regardless, SiteMinder is now the inaugural member of the AU$100 million ARR club, and is a local-currency unicorn to boot. And as it’s harder to reach that valuation outside of Silicon Valley than inside of it, neither of those honorifics should be viewed as dismissive; they’re compliments.

Can a $350 headband deliver better sleep?

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 11:45 AM PST

Sleep is the next battleground on which the war for wearable health will be waged. Smartwatch and fitness band makers have been dipping their collective toes in the water for a few years now, but there's only so much that can be done from the wrist.

I wrote a CES trend piece earlier this week that examined what the category is going to look like in the upcoming years. It's understandably pretty scattershot at the moment, with everything from smart beds to alarm clocks to gel cooling headbands. It's a lot of different companies with different form factors presenting different solutions to the same simple problem: help your tech-addicted, stress-plagued brain get a decent night’s sleep for once in your life.

The Muse S was — and continues to be — the one I'm most excited about. That's due in part to the fact that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the company's first-generation project. As a self-diagnosed Dude Who Is Bad at Meditation, I found the brain-scanning tech legitimately helpful. If meditation is akin to flexing a muscle, the Muse headband is quite good at helping you determine which muscle to flex.

The S promises to extend that technology up to and beyond bedtime. Makes sense. Sleep is certainly a logical jump from mindfulness practice — and certainly the two things feed into each other nicely. Better meditation generally leads to better sleep, and vice versa.

I was able to pick up the new headset for CES and began using it at the show — talk about a trial by fire. Because I was using it on the road, certain aspects have really leapt out at me. The move from a rigid plastic material to fabric with a modular sensor unit is big beyond the obvious ability to wear the headset to bed (sleeping with it is another story, depending on your own habits).

The win for me here is portability. A device I can take apart and safely stick in my bag is a big deal for me. I'm on the road a lot these days, and between the plane and the hotel rooms, it can be tough to set aside time to meditate. The constant pinball machine of time zones has also severely mucked up my already iffy sleep habits. Putting on the headband, sticking in my AirPods and just being still for a while is a good ritual to cultivate.

The Muse app features a number of guided meditation and sleep sessions available via subscription (think Calm/Headspace). Seems like it would be a win-win to partner with one of the existing services, but these days every hardware startup needs a content play. The offerings are generally pretty solid, if a bit limited, though I found myself more drawn to ambient soundscapes rather than spoken guides.

One annoyance that carries over from earlier versions is the required calibration before meditation. It's not the worst thing, but it does add an extra minute or so to your morning routine.

The original meditation is still my favorite bit here. The more the Muse senses your mind wandering, the more the sound of rain increases. Once you regain focus, the rain dies down and birds start to sing. There's a gamified (an annoying word that is even more annoying in the context of meditation) aspect where you're given a tally of birds at the end. It's a silly little Portlandian aspect, but it's useful in an era when Fitbit and the like have trained us to quantify our own health and habits.

The jury is still out on the sleep aspect for me. I'd love to revisit the topic in a few weeks and let you know if things have improved. I'm still fairly restless, and using a headband takes getting used to. There also are some practical things to deal with. For one thing, the band appears to work best when the sensor is positioned with the power light facing down, but then the light is shining in your eyes. I've taken to putting on a sleep mask. I'm slowly turning myself into Darth Vader each night before bed. It's fine; I'm sure he slept like a baby.

The Muse S is available for a not insignificant $350. A year of the guided meditation service will run you close to $100 (though that's discounted to $55 right now). The pricing is still prohibitively expensive for most users. I will, however, be continuing my time with the device. If it helps me sleep well without self-medication, it's a small price to pay.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

What we know (and don’t) about Goldman Sachs’ Africa VC investing

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 11:30 AM PST

Goldman Sachs is investing in African tech companies. The venerable American investment bank and financial services firm has backed startups from Kenya to Nigeria and taken a significant stake in e-commerce venture Jumia, which listed on the NYSE in 2019.

Though Goldman declined to comment on its Africa VC activities for this article, the company has spoken to TechCrunch in the past about specific investments.

Goldman Sachs is one of the most enviable investment banking shops on Wall Street, generating $36 billion in net revenues in 2019, or roughly $1 million per employee. It’s the firm that always seems to come out on top, making money during the financial crisis while its competitors were hemorrhaging. For generations, MBAs from the world’s top business schools have clamored to work there, helping make it a professional incubator of sorts that has spun off alums into leadership positions in politics, VC and industry.

All that cache is why Goldman’s name popping up related to African tech got people’s attention, including mine, several years ago.

Hyundai and Kia put over $110M into UK electric delivery vehicles startup Arrival

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 10:57 AM PST

Forget the consumer market for electric vehicles. It turns out delivery vehicles could be the “Trojan horse” for electric to really take off.

Korean auto giants Hyundai and Kia put more than $110 million in U.K. startup Arrival, which emerged from relative stealth today. The investment immediately makes Arrival one of Britain’s most valuable startups, valuing it at €3 billion ($3.4 billion), a company spokesperson said. According to the latest research from CB insights, only five other U.K. startups are worth more than this.

Although a five-year-old London-based company that has about 800 employees across five countries, including Germany, the United States and Russia, Arrival has been cagey about its activity until now.

Their idea is to make electric vehicles at similar costs to traditional fossil fuel vehicles but by drastically cutting costs by using “microfactories” close to major cities for manufacturing.

Its modular “skateboard” platform will allow a range of models to be built on one system and its prototypes are already participating in trials by global delivery companies such as DHL, UPS and Royal Mail.

In a statement, Youngcho Chi, Hyundai’s president and chief innovation officer said: “This investment is part of an open innovation strategy pursued by Hyundai and Kia”

Hyundai is understood to be investing $35 billion in autonomous driving and electric cars.

Last year Hyundai announced a $35 billion commitment to develop self-driving technology and electric vehicles. As part of that, it wants to release 23 types of electric vehicles by 2025. Last week, it unveiled a flying taxi concept with Uber at the CES tech conference in Las Vegas.

Matera raises $11.2 million to let you handle residential property management yourself

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 10:46 AM PST

Matera, the French startup formerly known as illiCopro, is raising an $11.2 million funding round (€10 million). The company has been building a SaaS platform to give you all the tools you need to handle property management for your residential building.

Index Ventures is leading the round, with existing investor Samaipata also participating. Business angels, such as Bertrand Jelensperger, Paulin Dementhon and Marc-David Choukroun are also participating.

In France, there are two ways to handle property management of residential buildings. Co-owners of the hallways, elevator and common space of the building can either hire a company to do it and handle all the pesky tasks, or you can do it yourself.

Matera wants to target the second category — co-owners who want to manage their building themselves. Other startups, such as Bellman, have chosen a different approach. Matera has built a web-based platform to view information, communicate with other co-owners and make sure everything is up-to-date.

Everybody has their own account and can access the platform. Co-owners meet regularly to handle outstanding issues. Matera centralizes all topics, helps you write a report and checks that it complies with legal requirements.

Matera then handles everything that involves money. You can collect money from co-owners every month and check how your money is spent. The platform tries to do the heavy lifting when it comes to accounting.

Finally, Matera helps you manage contracts with partners — elevator maintenance, heating maintenance, cleaning company, water, electricity, insurance, taking care of the garden, etc. You get an address book for your partners, and the company is working on a way to help you switch to another partner from the platform.

If there's something you don't feel comfortable doing yourself, Matera can help you work with legal, accounting, insurance and construction experts.

So far, Matera has managed to attract 1,000 residential buildings representing 25,000 users. The company plans to expand to other European countries in the future, starting with Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany. With today's funding round, the company plans to hire 100 persons.

TRI-AD’s James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya are coming to TC Sessions: Robotics+AI 2020

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 10:36 AM PST

With the Tokyo Summer Olympics rapidly approaching, 2020 is shaping up to be a big year for TRI-AD (Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development). Opened in 2018, the research wing is devoted to bringing some of TRI's work into practice. The organization is heavily invested in both autonomous driving and other key robotics projects.

TRI-AD's CEO James Kuffner and VP of Robotics Max Bajracharya will be joining us onstage at TC Sessions Robotics+AI on March 3 at UC Berkeley to discuss their work in the field. The company has been working to promote accessibility, both in terms of its work in automotive and smart cities, as well as robotics aimed to help assist Japan's aging population.

The Summer Olympics will serve as an opportunity for TRI-AD to showcase those technologies in practice. Kuffner and Bajracharya will discuss why companies like Toyota are investing in robotics and working to make every day robotics a reality.

Early-Bird tickets are now on sale for $275. Book your tickets now and save $150 before prices go up!

Student Tickets are just $50 — grab yours here.

Startups, book a demo exhibitor table and get four tickets to the show and a demo area to showcase your company. Packages run $2,200.

Loliware’s kelp-based plastic alternatives snag $6M seed round from eco-conscious investors

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 10:25 AM PST

The last few years have seen many cities ban plastic bags, plastic straws and other common forms of waste, giving environmentally conscious alternatives a huge boost — among them Loliware, purveyor of fine disposable goods created from kelp. Huge demand and smart sourcing has attracted a big first funding round.

I covered Loliware early on when it was one of the first companies to be invested in by the Ocean Solutions Accelerator, a program started in 2017 by the nonprofit Sustainable Ocean Alliance. Founder Chelsea “Sea” Briganti told me about the new funding on the SOA’s strange yet quite successful “Accelerator at Sea” program late last year.

The company makes straws primarily, with other products planned, out of kelp matter. Kelp, if you’re not familiar, is a common type of aquatic algae (also called seaweed) that can grow quite large and is known for its robustness. It also grows in vast, vast quantities in many coastal locations, creating “kelp forests” that sustain entire ecosystems. Intelligent stewardship of these fast-growing kelp stocks could make them a significantly better source than corn or paper, which are currently used to create most biodegradable straws.

A proprietary process turns the kelp into straws that feel plastic-like but degrade simply (and not in your hot drink — it can stand considerably more exposure than corn and paper-based straws). Naturally the taste, desirable in some circumstances but not when drinking a seltzer, is also removed.

It took a lot of R&D and fine-tuning, Briganti told me:

“None of this has ever been done before. We led all development from material technology to new-to-world engineering of machinery and manufacturing practices. This way we ensure all aspects of the product’s development are truly scalable.”

They’ve gone through more than a thousand prototypes and are continuing to iterate as advances make possible things like higher flexibility or different shapes.

“Ultimately our material is a massive departure from the paradigms with which other companies are approaching the development of biodegradable materials,” she said. “They start with a problematic, last-forever, fossil fuel-derived paradigm and try to make it not so bad — this is step-change development and too slow and frumpy to truly make an impact.”

Of course it doesn’t matter how good your process is if no one is buying it, a fact that plagues many ethics-first operations, but in fact demand has grown so fast that Loliware’s biggest challenge has been scaling to meet it. The company has gone from a few million to a hundred million in recent years to a projected billion straws shipping in 2020.

“It takes us about 12 months to get to full automation [from the lab],” she said. “Once we get to full automation, we license the tech to a strategic plastic or paper manufacturer. Meaning, we do not manufacture billions of straws, or anything, in-house.”

It makes sense, of course, just as contracting out your PCB or plastic mold or what have you. Briganti wanted to have global impact, and that requires taking advantage of global infrastructure that’s already there.

Lastly, the consideration of a sustainable ecosystem was always important to Briganti, as the whole company is founded on the idea of reducing waste and using fundamentally ethical processes.

“Our products utilize a super-sustainable supply of seaweed, a supply that is overseen and regulated by local governments,” Briganti said. “In 2020, Loliware will launch the first-ever Algae Sustainability Council (ASC), which allows us to be at the helm of the design of these new global seaweed supply chain systems as well as establishing the oversight, ensuring sustainable practices and equitability. We are also pioneering what we have coined the ‘Zero Waste Circular Extraction Methodology,’ which will be a new paradigm in seaweed processing, utilizing every component of the biomass as it suggests.”

The $5.9 million “super seed” round has many investors, including several who were on board the ship in Alaska for the Accelerator at Sea this past October (as SOA Seabird Ventures). The CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee has invested, as have New York Ventures, Magic Hour, For Good VC, Hatzimemos/Libby, Geekdom Fund, HUmanCo VC, CityRock and Closed Loop Partners.

The money will be used for scaling and further R&D; Loliware plans to launch several new straw types (like a bent straw for juice boxes), a cup and a new utensil. 2020 may be the year you start seeing the company’s straws in your favorite coffee shop rather than a few early adopters here and there. You can keep track of where they can be found here at the company’s website.

44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 10:07 AM PST

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

Chrome gets global media controls

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 09:55 AM PST

Here is a small but useful new feature in Google Chrome: global media controls that allow you to control from a single widget all of the audio and video sources in your current tabs. With this, you can switch to the next song from your favorite web-based music streaming service, start and stop a YouTube video that’s playing in the background or switch back and forth between what’s playing in multiple tabs without having to hunt around your browser for the right tab. It’s not going to rock your world, but it’s a useful new feature.

Google started these media controls last year when it enabled it for Chromebook users, but it’s now live in the stable channel for all Chrome users across desktop platforms.

This seems to work with as many media tabs as you can handle, though from what I have seen, Google’s own services like YouTube and YouTube Music tend to get more extensive control options with thumbnails while Spotify only showed three controls to go back, skip to the next song and pause.

To give it a try, simply play media in any of your tabs and look for the new media control icon to pop up to the right of the URL field.

It’s worth noting that the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge, which came out of preview yesterday, features the exact same media controls (down to the icon) in its pre-release channels, though they haven’t made it into the stable release yet. Firefox does not currently have a similar built-in feature.

Venture Highway announces $78.6M second fund to invest in early-stage startups in India

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 09:55 AM PST

Venture Highway, a VC firm in India founded by former Google executive Samir Sood, said on Thursday it has raised $78.6 million for its second fund as it looks to double down on investing in early-stage startups.

The firm, founded in 2015, has invested in more than two dozen startups to date, including social network ShareChat, which last year raised $100 million in a financing round led by Twitter; social commerce Meesho, which has since grown to be backed by Facebook and Prosus Ventures; and Lightspeed-backed OkCredit, which provides a bookkeeping app for small merchants.

Moving forward, Venture Highway aims to lead pre-seed and seed financing rounds and cut checks between $1 million to $1.5 million on each investment (up from its earlier investment range of $100,000 to $1 million), said Sood in an interview with TechCrunch.

Venture Highway counts Neeraj Arora, former business head of WhatsApp who played an instrumental role in selling the messaging app to Facebook, as a founding “anchor of LPs” and advisor. Arora and Sood worked together at Google more than a decade ago and helped the Silicon Valley giant explore merger and acquisition deals in Asia and other regions.

Samir Sood, the founder of Venture Highway

The VC firm said it has already made a number of investments through its second fund. Some of those deals include investments in OkCredit, mobile esports platform MPL, Gurgaon-based supply chain SaaS platform O4S, social commerce startup WMall, online rental platform CityFurnish, community platform MyScoot and online gasoline delivery platform MyPetrolPump.

As apparent from the aforementioned names, Venture Highway focuses on investing in startups that are using technology to address problems that have not been previously tackled.

Last year Venture Highway also participated in a funding round of Marsplay, a New Delhi-based startup that operates a social app where influencers showcase beauty and apparel content to sell to consumers.

"It’s very rare to have investors who keep their calm, get into an entrepreneurial mindset and help founders achieve their dreams. Throughout the journey, Venture Highway has been extremely helpful, emotionally available (super important to founders) and very resourceful," said Misbah Ashraf, 26-year-old co-founder and chief executive of Marsplay, in an interview with TechCrunch.

There is no "theme" or category that Venture Highway is particularly interested in, said Sood. "As long as there is a tech layer; and the startup is doing something where we or our network of LPs, advisors and investors can add value, we are open to discussions," he said.

This is the first time Venture Highway has raised money from LPs. The firm’s first fund was bankrolled by Sood and Arora.

Dozens of local and international VC funds are today active in India, where startups raised a record $14.5 billion last year. But a significant number of them focus on late-stage deals.

Daily Crunch: Mozilla lays off 70

Posted: 16 Jan 2020 09:37 AM PST

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Mozilla lays off 70 as it waits for new products to generate revenue

In an internal memo, Mozilla chairwoman and interim CEO Mitchell Baker specifically mentions the slow rollout of the organization's new revenue-generating products as the reason for the cuts. The overall number may end up being higher than 70, as Mozilla is still looking into how this decision will affect workers in the U.K. and France.

“Mozilla has a strong line of sight to future revenue generation, but we are taking a more conservative approach to our finances,” Baker wrote. “This will enable us to pivot as needed to respond to market threats to internet health, and champion user privacy and agency."

2. Apple buys edge-based AI startup Xnor.ai for a reported $200M

Xnor.ai began as a process for making machine learning algorithms highly efficient — so efficient that they could run on even the lowest tier of hardware out there, things like embedded electronics in security cameras. This acquisition makes sense, as Apple clearly intends for its devices to operate independent of the cloud when it comes to tasks like facial recognition, natural language processing and augmented reality.

3. The US government should stop demanding tech companies compromise on encryption

In a tweet late Tuesday, President Trump criticized Apple for refusing "to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements” — referring to a locked iPhone that belonged to a Saudi airman who killed three U.S sailors in December. Zack Whittaker explains why the government’s argument is a red herring. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Mojo Vision's AR contact lenses are very cool, but many questions remain

The company’s latest demos involve holding a lens or device close to the eye in order to get a feel for what an eventual AR contact lens would look like.

5. Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly Google Cloud Platform spend (with a minimum cost of around $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time in situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production.

6. Amazon's fresh $1B investment in India is not a big favor, says India trade minister

A day after Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that his company is pumping in an additional $1 billion into its India operations, the nation's trade minister Piyush Goyal said he wasn’t impressed.

7. Companies take baby steps toward home robots at CES

CES is slowly, but steadily, starting to take robotics more seriously. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gameforumer QR Scan

Gameforumer QR Scan
Gameforumer QR Scan