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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Senate passes ‘rip and replace’ bill to remove old Huawei and ZTE equipment from networks

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 03:23 PM PST

The U.S. Senate today voted unanimously to pass the Secure and Trusted Telecommunications Networks Act. Written as a response to recent concerns around Chinese hardware manufacturers, the bill would ban purchase of telecom equipment from embattled Chinese manufactures like Huawei and ZTE.

H.R. 4998, which passed the House last December, would also include $1 billion in funding to help smaller rural telecoms "rip and replace" existing equipment from specific manufacturers. The bill still needs to be signed off by Trump in order to become a law, though Politico notes that the administration has already acknowledged support for the funding, which would be managed by the FCC.

"Telecommunications equipment from certain foreign adversaries poses a significant threat to our national security, economic prosperity, and the future of U.S. leadership in advanced wireless technology," Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said of the bipartisan bill in a statement. "By establishing a 'rip and replace' program, this legislation will provide meaningful safeguards for our communications networks and more secure connections for Americans. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for coming together to help move this bill to the President's desk."

Huawei in particular has been the focus of U.S. concern over alleged ties to the Chinese government for a number of years. The Trump administration has targeted the company over spying concerns — charges Huawei has long staunchly denied. Last May, the company was added to an entity list, effectively barring U.S. companies from conducting business with the hardware giant.

DocuSign acquires Seal Software for $188M to enhance its AI chops

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 03:03 PM PST

Contract management service DocuSign today announced that it is acquiring Seal Software for $188 million in cash. The acquisition is expected to close later this year. DocuSign, it’s worth noting, previously invested $15 million in Seal Software in 2019.

Seal Software was founded in 2010, and, while it may not be a mainstream brand, its customers include the likes of PayPal, Dell, Nokia and DocuSign itself. These companies use Seal for its contract management tools, but also for its analytics, discovery and data extraction services. And it’s these AI smarts the company developed over time to help businesses analyze their contracts that made DocuSign acquire the company. This can help them significantly reduce their time for legal reviews, for example.

“Seal was built to make finding, analyzing, and extracting data from contracts simpler and faster,” DocuSign CEO John O’Melia said in today’s announcement. “We have a natural synergy with DocuSign, and our team is excited to leverage our AI expertise to help make the Agreement Cloud even smarter. Also, given the company’s scale and expansive vision, becoming part of DocuSign will provide great opportunities for our customers and partners.”

DocuSign says it will continue to sell Seal’s analytics tools. What’s surely more important to DocuSign, though, is that it will also leverage the company’s AI tools to bolster its DocuSign CLM offering. CLM is DocuSign’s service for automating the full contract life cycle, with a graphical interface for creating workflows and collaboration tools for reviewing and tracking changes, among other things. And integration with Seal’s tools, DocuSign argues, will allow it to provide its customers with a “faster, more efficient agreement process,” while Seal’s customers will benefit from deeper integrations with the DocuSign Agreement Cloud.

Stem is offering cash advances to help musicians stay independent

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 02:56 PM PST

Stem, a startup that helps independent musicians get paid, is expanding with a new financing program called Scale.

Co-founder and CEO Milana Rabkin Lewis described the company’s core offering as a way for collaborators to “memorialize the split” of the proceeds from a song — once they’ve uploaded a track, Scale can automatically handle splitting the payments among those collaborators. It also offers a broader suite of tools, including revenue data, to help musicians manage the financial side of their careers.

However, Rabkin Lewis noticed that some musicians on Stem were starting to “graduate” by signing a deal with a record label, usually because they needed capital: “Sometimes that was money for marketing, sometimes it was money for production, sometimes it was the cost of going on tour.”

With Scale, Rabkin Lewis and her team are trying to offer something better — a way for musicians to get access to the money they need without having to sign a restrictive contract. The payment terms are transparent; they’re calculated as a percentage of monthly revenue, with musicians able to adjust how much money they take and how quickly they want to pay it back.

Plus they’re able to maintain creative control and full ownership of their master recordings. And Stem says these advances are better from a tax perspective, because they’re classified as a merchant credit advance that only gets taxed as money is actually earned.

Milana Rabkin Lewis

Money might not be the only thing a musician needs, but Rabkin Lewis (a former agent at the United Talent Agency) said that marketing and other services that were once the sole domain of record labels are now available through independent professionals. And Stem already helps connect artists to those specialists through its Stem Direct membership program.

While Scale is officially launching today, Stem has already been testing the program with select artists. Rabkin Lewis said the advances vary from $2,500 to $250,000, with most of them in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, and payback periods ranging from four to 18 months.

Artists who have already participated in the program include Brent Faiyaz, Justine Skye and Lil Donald.

Rabin Lewis added that there’s a “huge white space” when it comes to offering financial services to “the creative class.”

“In the future, I’m excited to be thinking about how artists can collateralize their music,” she said. “You should be able to take out money against your music to be able to finance your recording studio, or finance your child's studies. I want to be the platform that understands what it means to be a creative professional and be able to provide the best-in-class services to these people that other segments of workers have access to.”

Fear and liability in algorithmic hiring 

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 02:37 PM PST

It would be a foolish U.S. business that tried to sell chlorine-washed chicken in Europe — a region where very different food standards apply. But in the high-tech world of algorithmically assisted hiring, it’s a different story.

A number of startups are selling data-driven tech tools designed to comply with U.S. equality laws into the European Union, where their specific flavor of anti-discrimination compliance may be as legally meaningless as the marketing glitter they’re sprinkling — with eye-catching (but unquantifiable) claims of “fairness metrics” and “bias beating” AIs.

First up, if your business is trying to crystal-ball-gaze something as difficult to quantify (let alone predict) as “job fit” and workplace performance, where each individual hire will almost certainly be folded into (and have their performance shaped by) a dynamic mix of other individuals commonly referred to as “a team” — and you’re going about this job matchmaking “astrology” by working off of data sets that are absolutely not representative of our colorful, complex, messy human reality — then the most pressing question is probably, “what are you actually selling?”

Snake oil in software form? Automation of something math won’t ever be able to “fix?” An impossibly reductionist dream of friction-free recruitment?

Deep down in the small print, does your USP sum to claiming to do the least possible damage? And doesn’t that sound, well, kind of awkward?

The Dow Jones drops nearly 1200 points as coronavirus fears batter stock markets

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 02:04 PM PST

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 1200 points today to close at 25,766.64, marking the worst intraday point decline in the history of the Dow. The Nasdaq stock market fell over 400 points.

Behind the collapse was a growing realization that COVID-19, the coronavirus strain sweeping across the globe, has indeed landed on U.S. shores and will likely have a much stronger effect on the economy than analysts and investors initially predicted.

Morning trading showed that economists and investors were not assuaged by the reassurances from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who repeatedly indicated that the U.S. was well-prepared to meet the threat posed by the spreading virus.

It was only minutes after the press conference concluded that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement that the U.S. had identified its first case of community infection — when a person who was not known to have traveled outside of the U.S. or had been in contact with anyone who had been infected with the virus was diagnosed with the disease.

Most technology companies weren’t able to avoid the crumbling faith investors displayed toward the short term prospects of the U.S. economy if it’s forced to endure a prolonged slowdown thanks to the illness. (Though there were a few exceptions.)

Facebook shares were down nearly 4%, or $7.35, to close at $189.75, while Amazon dropped $95.29 — or 4.81 percent — to close at $1,884.30. Apple and Microsoft were the hardest hit, with their shares off 6.5% and 7%, respectively. Microsoft closed down $11.99 at $158.13 and Apple closed at $273.52.

SaaS stocks wound up down 2.7%, while the Nasdaq itself closed off 4.6%.

To better illustrate what is going on, here is a set of figures. Just a few days ago, in mid-February, the Nasdaq was testing the 10,000 point threshold, a result that would have been not only an all-time record, but a key psychological barrier as well. Instead, after reaching fresh highs on the 19th, the Nasdaq is worth just a bit over 8,500 on the 27th. That’s a big rejection of optimism.

More in the morning when the markets open again, and react to the night’s news.

SaaS earnings bump Dropbox, Box and Sprout Social

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 01:49 PM PST

A quick hit as we have a podcast to record, but a few public companies in the broader SaaS market reported earnings in the past week. Their results are worth unpacking as they paint a good picture of what the markets are hunting for in modern software companies.

Of course, we’re covering the firms’ share-price movements in the context of an epic selloff stemming from global conditions that are already impacting earnings.

But, hey, not all the news out there is bad. In fact, for our three companies, public investors are waving green flags. So let’s take a peek regarding why Dropbox, Box and Sprout Social — one recent IPO and two slightly-out-of-favor SaaS shops — each shot higher after reporting their Q4-era results.

Earnings, results

Let’s proceed in alphabetical order, putting Box at the top of our list. We’ll then work through Dropbox and Sprout Social.

Box’s calendar Q4-era earnings report (the company’s Fiscal 2020 Q4) beat investor expectations three times. It reported more revenue than anticipated, $183.6 million over expectations of $181.6 million; a slimmer loss than predicted, $0.07 per-share in adjusted profit against a projected $0.04; and the storage-grounded, corporate productivity company’s quarterly forecast of $183.0 million to $184.0 million was a few million ahead of expectations ($181.8 million, per Yahoo Finance).

‘Robot’ was coined 100 years ago, in a play predicting human extinction by android hands

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 01:38 PM PST

The big climax arrives in Act Three. There's an uprising, as the robots take over the factory that created them. By the Epilogue, humankind is all but extinct. Fed up with their treatment, the robots have laid waste to the hands that created them, sparing only a single human — a fellow worker.

The decision may have ultimately doomed themselves, however, as they failed to save the one person capable of proliferating their kind. It is, however, the last living man who finds humanity in a pair of robots and likens them to the first two humans, in the biblical tradition. It's a hopeful note following an extinction that mostly occurred between acts. Two robots exit the stage, leaving the last man to utter the final words, "Adam—Eve."

To borrow a phrase from another science fiction cautionary tale released seven decades later, "Life finds a way."

It's the final lesson of a play loaded to the artificial gills with allegory. Published 100 years ago (and premiering 99 years ago last month) R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), by Czech writer Karel Čapek, is best remembered for bringing the word "robot" to sci-fi — and English, generally. It's a key piece of the seven-time Nobel Prize-nominated writer's legacy, who infused deeply held political beliefs into his early science fiction writings.

Čapek's use of "robot" is rooted in the Old Church Slavonic word, "robot," which translates to forced labor" or "worker" in some derivations. "The word also has cognates in German, Russian, Polish and Czech," history professor Howard Markel explained in a 2011 interview with NPR. "And it’s really a product of the Central European system of serfdom, where a tenants’ rent was paid for in forced labor or service."

The concept of robots as forced labor dates back at least as far as the word robot itself — so, too, does the notion of a robotic uprising. That is to say that "kill all humans" wasn't uttered first by Bender in Futurama or in the comments section of Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog YouTube video. No, the first commonly understood robots to bear that name were wholly invested in returning power to the hands of the exploited workers — by any means necessary.

The roots of robotics in human society is commonly acknowledged to date back centuries prior, to classical cultures like Greek mythology and the golems of Jewish tradition. But Čapek is the one who gave us the word we still use today. 

Of course, the writer’s robots were more human than we presently associate with the word. In fact, perhaps, more in common with the older term, "android," which stems from a Greek term that translates to "having the form of a man/human." The robots of R.U.R. are living beings, built of artificial flesh, who eventually inherit the Earth.

"When the play opens, a few decades beyond the present day, the factory had turned out already, following a secret formula, hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of manufactured workmen, living automats, without souls, desires or feelings," the official “Story of the Play” explains. "They are high-powered laborers, good for nothing but work. There are two grades, the unskilled and the skilled, and especially trained workmen are furnished on request."

Set largely in the year 2000, the play grapples with questions of humanity decades before either Blade Runner or its source material, with the robots ultimately achieving a sort of humanity somewhere between Pinocchio and Oz's Tin Man, albeit out from the ashes of the human creators they murdered en masse. A happy ending, perhaps, by 1920 standards.

For more robotics, check out our upcoming event March 3 at UC Berkeley. 

Pinterest adds DoorDash exec and Caviar Lead Gokul Rajaram to its board

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 01:30 PM PST

Pinterest is bringing on a new board member. The company announced today it’s appointed Gokul Rajaram, Caviar Lead at soon-to-go-public DoorDash to its Board of Directors and as a member of its Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee. The addition signals Pinterest’s desire to bring more digital advertising expertise to its board, given Rajaram’s past experience as Product Director of Ads at Facebook and Product Management Director at Google AdSense.

“Gokul brings great experience and innovation to our Board and we look forward to his many contributions,” said Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann, in a statement. “His proven track record in shopping, digital advertising and content will be incredibly beneficial as we continue to bring inspirational experiences to users and advertisers on Pinterest,” he added.

Currently, Rajaram serves on DoorDash’s executive team where he leads the premium food ordering service, Caviar, which DoorDash acquired from Square last year for $410 million. The Caviar deal included Rajaram and team, in addition to the service’s restaurant partnerships. At Square, Rajaram spent five years heading Caviar and before that, had led several product development teams.

Rajaram’s background also includes time at Facebook and Google, where he focused on digital ads. At Facebook, he helped the company transform its ads business to become mobile-first. And at Google, he helped launch the Google AdSense product and grow it into a substantial portion of Google’s business, Pinterest notes.

Other relevant experience includes time on RetailMeNot’s board, as well as an investor and advisor to numerous startups, including those that intersected retail/e-commerce, analytics, and social — like Pinterest-focused Piquora, mobile ad company Vungle, retail advertising startup PromoteIQ, and many others.

Today, Rajaram additionally serves on the boards of The Trade Desk and Course Hero.

Rajaram has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur where he was class valedictorian. He received an M.B.A. from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Master of Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin, where he received the MCD University Fellowship.

His addition to Pinterest’s board comes at a time when the company’s ad business is growing.

Earlier this month, Pinterest reported revenues for 2019 had topped $1 billion, up 51% over 2018. In the fourth quarter alone, Pinterest saw $400 million in revenue, up 46% year-over-year, and beating analyst forecasts of $371.2 million. Feed-based Shopping Ads contributed heavily to this growth, with the ads more than doubling in the second half of 2019 compared with the first. Pinterest also said its investment in measurement tools had been paying off. In Q4, conversion campaigns — which let advertisers track from pin clicks to actions, like adding items to a cart — grew by 150%.

The company said during earnings that scaling its ads business would continue to be a strategic priority in 2020, as it looks to capture more mid-size and international advertisers and make the service more shoppable.

“Pinterest is a beloved brand that inspires people to create a life they love,” said Gokul Rajaram, about his board appointment. “I’ve always been excited about Pinterest’s mission and impact on people’s everyday lives, and am thrilled to help Ben, Evan, and the team continue building amazing products that empower people and advertisers around the world,” he said.

Rajaram joins other Pinterest board members Jeffrey Jordan, GP at Andreessen Horowitz; Leslie Kilgore, previously Netflix CMO; BVP partner Jeremy Levine; Fredric Reyolds, previously CFO at CBS; Michelle Wilson, previously from Amazon legal; and Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann.



Andreessen Horowitz has backed Run The World, a startup with a timely offering: live online events

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 01:24 PM PST

Every day, there’s another event-related cancellation owing to concern around the coronavirus. Just today Microsoft announced it will not have a presence at the Game Developers Conference in mid-March “out of an abundance of caution.” Facebook also said today that it is canceling its annual F8 conference scheduled for May over coronavirus-outbreak concerns.

The last is a particularly big deal. F8 is by far the largest event that Facebook hosts every year, so it’s little wonder that it plans to host part of the event online.

Likely, Facebook will use its own tech toward this end. But there is a new option for other companies that are right now second-guessing their event plans, and that’s Run The World, a year-old, 18-person company that’s based in Mountain View, Ca., and has small teams both in China and Taiwan.

What it’s doing: smooshing together every functionality that a conference organizer might need in a time of a pandemic. Think video conferencing, ticketing, interactivity, and networking.

Who’s backing it: Andreessen Horowitz largely, though the company — which has raised $4.3 million in seed funding — also counts as investors GSR Ventures, Pear Ventures, 122 West Ventures, Unanimous Capital, and angel investors like Kevin Weil, the VP of product at the Facebook subsidiary Calibra; Patreon cofounder Sam Yam; and Jetblue Airways Chairman Joel Peterson.

Who started it: Xiaoyin Qu, who is the CEO of the company and previously led products for both Facebook and Instagram (“basically anything to do with entertainment influencers and creators,” she says of part of her time at Facebook).

She dropped out Stanford’s MBA program after a year to start the company last year with Xuan Jiang, a former colleague who was a technical lead for Facebook events, ads, and stories. (Jiang does have a master’s degree — one in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.).

We talked with Qu yesterday after learning about the company from Connie Chan, the general partner who led the deal for a16z.

Qu says the impetus for the startup ties to her mother, a doctor in China who focuses on meningitis and traveled to a conference in Chicago in late 2018 where she made a connection with a Dubai-based physician who was able to share with her some rare, valuable insight into his own work around meningitis.

That might not seem so exceptional to those who travel regularly, but it was enough of an ordeal for Qu’s mother — who had to secure a visa; take off two weeks around the event, including for travel days; and spent a fortune on airfare and accommodations — that it was the first major trip she’d taken in 35 years.

As Qu half-joked, “It isn’t like at Stanford, where there are events held regularly that [local] doctors can even walk over to.”

Indeed, like a lot of founders who solve a pain point for themselves or someone they love, Qu wanted to create a platform where her mother could meet and have meaningful work connections with people regularly, and this would mean remotely, through digitized events.

Turns out, her timing is pretty good. Though numerous startups have launched live online events businesses in the past (many of them since shuttered), you can bet many more organizers are thinking about exactly the type of platform that Run The World is fine-tuning right now.

Though publicly launched just four months ago, it has already hosted dozens of events and has hundreds in the pipeline, says Qu. One of its customers is Wuhan2020, a large open source community with more than 3,000 developers who will be using the platform as part of a long-distance hackathon that hopes to produce tech solutions to those affected by the coronavirus in Wuhan.

Qu also mentions an elephant conservation reserve in Laos that was recently able to raise $30,000 from donors from 15 countries in two weeks through a conference they organized on the platform. The reserve had a constrained budget, but being able to bring together a distributed audience (beyond just wealthy donors) for nearly zero overhead (no venue, no catering), turned it into a major success for the organization.

As an example of a smaller event, a dating coach who specializes in working with engineers recently held a workshop where just 40 people showed up but she was able to make $1,300 from the event, says Qu.

Run The World keeps the cost structure simple, taking 25 percent of ticket sales in exchange for what it provides organizers, from the templates they can choose for their events, to the ability to sell tickets, to processing those payments (via Stripe), streaming the event, enabling social interactions throughout the event, and helping organizers follow up with attendees afterward.

Indeed, beyond enabling organizers to reach a wider audience at perhaps a more accessible price point, a big advantage conferred by online events is the potential for more effective networking, insists Qu. For example, rather than walk into a physical space where it’s sometimes hard to know who to talk with about what, Run The World asks every event attendee to create a quick video profile akin to an Instagram story that can help inform other attendees about who is with them online.

It also organizes related “cocktail parties” where it can match attendees for several minutes at a time.

Naturally, there are also downsides to streamed live events as the world was reminded last year, when a gunman filmed the mass murder of 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand on Facebook Live.

One could also imagine that those video profiles could attract unwanted attention to some attendees who might rather just watch an event.

These are certainly facets of the business about which Qu and Jiang are well aware. While the plan is to keep adding new features (including, potentially, to use LinkedIn to validate attendees’ identities), Qu notes that another way to ensure the quality of the events on the platform remains high — and that attendees feel safe —  is to steer clear of most free events.

“When organizers are recruiting their own people and curating a community” of paid attendees who they know or can ostensibly learn more about, it keeps things above the level, she suggests, noting that paid attendees also show up in far greater numbers.

As Run The World scales, she concedes, “we’ll need to figure out new ways.”

Certainly, the lessons learned at Facebook and Instagram should help as the business picks up momentum and creates more structure around its offerings, she says. Besides, Qu adds, “The ideal event to me isn’t one with 2 million people. I’d rather we hosted 2 million events with 50 people.”

Improving the logistics of trucking, San Diego’s Flock Freight raises $50 million

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 12:27 PM PST

“We want to change the way freight moves,” says Oren Zaslansky, the chief executive and founder of Flock Freight.

His company, which has been operating in stealth mode for the last two years, has finally emerged with a new solution for freight shipping that purports to bring in more money to shippers, remove inefficiencies in the current hub-and-spoke model for freight and offer better deals to shipping customers.

He’s also got $50 million in financing in the bank in what is one of the largest recent investments in a San Diego-based company.

For Zaslansky, the shipping business is a family affair. “My parents grew up in the moving business… I grew up around both entrepreneurship and freight,” he says.

Those twin passions led him to start his own trucking business out of college in the San Diego area. He also launched a brokerage business to support supply chain logistics. The exposure to both is what led Zaslansky to launch Flock Freight and its big new financing round, which closed earlier this week.

The company raised its cash to change the way shippers move small amounts of goods — those less-than-a-truckload-sized amounts that have to move through hub-and-spoke operations which increase the time goods are on the road and the possibility for breakage as they’re unloaded and reloaded onto different delivery vehicles.

“We want to disintermediate the infrastructure of hub and spoke,” says Zaslansky. “We want to carpool. We use our technology to change the way freight moves.”

Zaslansky isn’t talking about very small orders that can be delivered through a service like Roadie — the delivery company that raised $39 million from investors led by Home Depot back in February 2019.

This is still trucking — it’s a carpool in a 70-foot-long tractor trailer. Flock Freight works by reaching out to small and mid-size trucking companies and integrating their orders onto the shipments that these firms are already making. “We go to the carriers that are much more used to working with a third party to fill up empty trucks,” Zaslansky says.  

Right now, that’s about 15% of the $110 billion freight and logistics trucking market, Zaslansky says.

The new investments into Flock Freight came from SignalFire and GLP Capital Partners in mid-February and they were likely drawn to the company’s claims that its service can eliminate damage claims, collect freight from multiple shippers and optimize route delivery for a 40% savings in fuel emissions, and the guaranteed delivery rate of 97.5%. 

Companies like Tuft & Needle and Titan Supply Group are already using the company’s services, according to a statement from Flock Freight.

Flock Freight makes its market by having a window into the spare capacity of trucks and charging shippers for the exact amount of capacity that they’re using. “We want to go to a shipper and say — that [cargo] is 75% of the truck and we’ll charge you 75% of the truck,” said Zaslansky. For carriers, they can say that the price they’ve charged is for 100% of the truck and Flock Freight will add another 10 feet of freight and an additional $1,000 into a carrier’s pocket, Zaslansky said.


Citroën introduces a two-seat EV that costs €19.99 a month

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 12:20 PM PST

The Citroën Ami is a new take on urban mobility. It's electric, cheap and doesn't require a license. In short, it's less of a car and more of an electric scooter with two seats, doors and a heater. Jokes aside, the Citroën Ami could be a glimpse at the future of mobility.

The innovation isn't in the technical aspects of the Ami. Citroën is positioning the Ami as an urban mobility solution. The size is perfect for narrow streets and the price is right to be competitive against public transport. The Ami is not classified as a motor vehicle. As such, operators do not need a license and can be as young as 14 in France and 16 in other European countries.

Passengers sit side-by-side in the heated compartment and under the panoramic roof. The 5.5kWh lithium-ion battery is housed under the floor and is good for up to 70 kilometers after a three-hour charge from a standard 220v outlet. The top speed is 45 km/h (28 mph).

And because it's a Citroën, there's a nod to the company's quirky past: The side windows open manually by tilting upwards like the classic 2 CV.

The Ami is available to consumers in several different ways. It can be rented long term at a cost of €19.99 (including VAT) per month with an initial payment of €2,644 (including VAT). The Ami can be rented through a car-sharing service for up to a day at a rate of €0.26 per min. Or, the Ami is available for purchase from €6,000 (including VAT).

Citroën is taking orders for the Ami starting on March 30 in France and several months later in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal and then Germany. The first Ami vehicles are expected by June.

Tinder’s video series ‘Swipe Night’ gets a second season

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 11:59 AM PST

Following a successful debut for Tinder’s first foray into original content, the company is giving its interactive video series “Swipe Night” another run. The company confirmed today it’s renewing “Swipe Night” for a second season, which will launch this summer (again) as an in-app experience within Tinder’s dating app.

Variety first reported the news of “Swipe Night’s” return. Tinder further confirmed the details to TechCrunch.

“Swipe Night,” as you may recall, first launched in October 2019 within Tinder. The experience introduced a first-person adventure played in-app, where users would make choices at key turning points to progress the narrative — like a choose-your-own-adventure story.

The series was designed to increase user engagement and help the app’s young users better connect.

Today, half of Tinder is Gen Z (ages 18-25) — a demographic that’s embracing their single lifestyle and more casual relationships compared with those on other dating apps, like Tinder parent company Match, for example, or its newer acquisition Hinge. These younger users connected with the idea of starting conversations based on a shared experience, says Tinder.

However, the reality is that “Swipe Night” had also arrived at a time when users were opening Tinder’s app less on a daily basis, even as monthly usage climbed. Though “Swipe Night” only ran on specific dates in October 2019, users’ choices within the interactive experience were added to their profiles. This allowed users to see who else agreed with their decisions and who took the opposite path. That made launching Tinder and swiping through profiles more compelling — even for those who may have been tiring of Tinder before the series’ arrival.

The experiment worked. Tinder said millions of users tuned in to “Swipe Night,” and matches and conversations increased by 26% and 12%, respectively. With “Swipe Night,” it seemed, Tinder finally gave users something to talk about.

The returning second season of “Swipe Night” will again be directed by Karena Evans, who directed Coldplay’s music video “Everyday Life” and Drake’s “In My Feelings” and “God’s Plan.” This time, it will be written by Jessica Stickles (“Portlandia,” “Another Period”) and Julie Sharbutt (“3 Days”).

“Working on Swipe Night was such a fulfilling experience for me. I got to do something that had never been done before and innovate with storytelling to bring a generation of people together. I’m in search of projects that impact, shift or curate a culture and couldn’t be more excited to return for more,” said Evans, in a statement.

“Swipe Night’s” second season may see Tinder tweaking the formula a bit, and may even introduce new mechanics to keep it feeling fresh.

In addition to the Season 2 launching in the U.S., Match previously confirmed that 10 international markets across Europe and Asia will get “Swipe Night” this year. Tinder said today that Season 1 would be launching internationally on March 14th, but declined to say when those users would receive Season 2.

Google Cloud’s newest data center opens in Salt Lake City

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 11:22 AM PST

Google Cloud announced today that its new data center in Salt Lake City has opened, making it the 22nd such center the company has opened to date.

This Salt Lake City data center marks the third in the western region, joining LA and The Dalles, Oregon with the goal of providing lower latency compute power across the region.

“We’re committed to building the most secure, high-performance and scalable public cloud, and we continue to make critical infrastructure investments that deliver our cloud services closer to customers that need them the most,” said Jennifer Chason, director of Google Cloud Enterprise for the Western States and Southern California said in a statement.

Cloud vendors in general are trying to open more locations closer to potential customers. This is a similar approach taken by AWS when it announced its LA local zone at AWS re:Invent last year. The idea is to reduce latency by moving compute resources closer to the companies that need them, or to spread workloads across a set of regional resources.

Google also announced that PayPal, a company that was already a customer, has signed a multi-year contract, and will be moving parts of its payment systems into the western region. It’s worth noting that Salt Lake City is also home to a thriving startup scene that could benefit from having a data center located close by.

Google Cloud’s parent company Alphabet recently shared the cloud division’s quarterly earnings for the first time, indicating that it was on a run rate of more than $10 billion. While it still has a long way to go to catch rivals Microsoft and Amazon, as it expands its reach in this fashion, it could help grow that market share.

Vice President Pence bulks up Coronavirus Task Force with medical and economic experts

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 11:00 AM PST

The point person for the government (who will be reporting to Vice President Pence) is Deborah Birx, a longtime leader in the U.S. government’s efforts to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

From her position within the State Department as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Policy, Birx coordinated the Army, Navy and Air Force in their HIV/AIDS efforts and led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS program.

In addition to Birx, the vice president also appointed to the task force Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.

The appointments emphasize the importance the White House is placing on controlling the economic impact of the crisis.

Stock markets have declined significantly over the past week as economists and investors weigh the prospects of much slower growth in 2020 as a result of the global spread of coronavirus.

Tech companies like Microsoft have already issued warnings over the effect coronavirus will have on earnings, and large technology events, including (most recently) Facebook’s developer conference and the Mobile World Congress (which was slated to begin this week) have been cancelled.



Quick notes on the DoorDash IPO filing

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 10:51 AM PST

Earlier today, during an eye-popping market selloff, DoorDash announced that it has privately filed to go public. The decision to file privately will allow the high-valued startup to get its S-1 documents in good order with the SEC before showing the rest of us what it has up its sleeve.

The move to announce its private filing is more interesting and could be related to prepping demand for its shares, providing some PR-cover for backer SoftBank, which could use the assist, or, perhaps, to dampen investor excitement for rival companies, in the face of DoorDash’s implied success and maturity.

Whatever the reasons behind the timing — some of which must deal with the capital requirements of long-running cash burn — the filing is a new milestone for the on-demand and gig economies. And how well DoorDash’s filing is received, predicated in no small part on its recent financial performance, will help set sentiment for a number of other, richly backed startups.

So let’s remind ourselves of what we know about DoorDash’s financial history. This will give us a workable foundation heading into its eventual S-1, and, we presume, old-fashioned IPO. (It’s hard to imagine the cash-fired engine that is DoorDash looking toward a direct listing.) We’ll dig through its fundraising, unearth what we know about its revenue over time and turn over some data concerning its hiring efforts in recent months to better understand its IPO prep.


DoorDash’s fundraising history is well-known but worth recalling sequentially.

Microsoft withdraws from GDC gaming conference over coronavirus concerns

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 10:40 AM PST

Xbox-maker Microsoft announced today that it will not have a presence at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, highlighting concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

The company made the announcement on its Game Stack Blog:

After a close review of guidance by global health authorities and out of an abundance of caution, we've made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating at Game Developers Conference 2020 in San Francisco.

Instead of holding a physical event at the conference, Microsoft says it will be holding an online-only event that week.

Microsoft is just the latest company to pull out from the conference, which is being held March 16-20. Other companies backing out include Facebook, Unity and Sony. Epic Games announced it would also be pulling out of the event Thursday.

Earlier this week, city officials in San Francisco declared a state of emergency.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already affected several large industry conference. Facebook also announced Thursday morning that it would be canceling its F8 conference. With such major players exiting GDC, one wonder whether the conference could face a similar fate to GSMA’s Mobile World Congress which eventually had to cancel the mobile event outright after its major exhibitors all bowed out.

We’ve reached out to the folks behind GDC for comment.

Facebook cancels F8 conference, citing coronavirus concerns

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 10:15 AM PST

Facebook has confirmed that it has canceled its annual F8 developers conference over growing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

More specifically, the company says it’s canceling the “in-person component,” which would have been held in San Jose, Calif. There may still be video presentations, along with live-streamed and local events, under the F8 umbrella.

“Celebrating our global developer community at F8 each year is incredibly important to us at Facebook, but we won't sacrifice the health and safety of our community to do so,” said Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, in a statement. “Out of concerns around COVID-19, we're cancelling the in-person component of F8, but we look forward to connecting with our developer partners through local events, video and live streamed content."

The move follows the recent cancellation of the Mobile World Congress event, which was scheduled to happen this week in Barcelona. Meanwhile, a number of companies have pulled out of next month’s Game Developers Conference, although organizers said yesterday that the event will be “moving forward as planned.”

“We explored other ways to keep the in-person part of F8, but it's important to us to host an inclusive event and it didn't feel right to have F8 without our international developers in attendance,” Papamiltiadis added in a blog post.

The official site notes that it will share additional details on the event “in the coming weeks.”

In order to mitigate the impact of the cancellation, Papamiltiadis said Facebook will be donating $500,000 (double the normal amount) to organizations working to make the tech industry more diverse, “and will prioritize organizations serving local San Jose residents.” He also noted that Facebook normally hosts local students as part of F8, so this year it will be providing them with “an F8-inspired experience” instead.

It remains to be seen what the fears around the disease will mean for other large tech events throughout the year; it’s already affecting the stock marketing and tech earnings. There have been more than 82,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 47 countries, according to the World Health Organization, resulting in around 2,800 deaths so far.

Update: Both Google and Microsoft are also scheduled to host their annual developer conferences in May. We have asked both companies for statements. “Yes, Google I/O is still planned for May 12 – 14 at Shoreline and there’s more specific info here for people planning to attend,” Google tells us. “We’ll continue to monitor developments around COVID-19 and follow the best practices laid out by the CDC, WHO, and other relevant entities.”

From Microsoft: “Our plans to host Build 2020 remain unchanged. The safety of our employees is a top priority and we will evaluate the situation and adjust plans as necessary.”


James Currier, Sarah Nahm, Arun Mathew and Vlad Magdalin to speak at Early Stage SF

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 10:03 AM PST

TC Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, and we are more excited than ever to introduce this brand new event to the community.

The day-long event is meant to give early-stage founders the chance to pick their own adventure, hearing from a wide variety of experts in fundraising, marketing and operations in a more intimate, Q&A-centered environment. Unlike our other events, which usually center around a single, large stage, Early Stage will feature speakers in breakout rooms fit for ~100 people, who will give their own tactical advice and then answer audience questions.

We're thrilled to announce that James Currier, Sarah Nahm, Arun Mathew and Vlad Magdalin will be joining us at the event.

James Currier

A serial entrepreneur, James Currier has led four VC-backed companies (Tickle, acquired by Monster; WonderHill, acquired by Kabam; Iron Pearl, acquired by PayPal; and Jiff (acquired by Castlight). He's an early pioneer of some of the most-used tactics in the tech startup world, including viral marketing, A/B testing and crowdsourcing. In 2015, Currier co-founded NFX, an early-stage venture firm with $425 million under management.

How to move fast and find the right VC investors

Learn the right and wrong ways to find and approach the right investors for your startup. Discover the six elements VCs look for that will make your process fast, in this lightning talk with James Currier, investor in over 130 startups and managing partner at NFX Capital.

Sarah Nahm

Sarah Nahm began her tech career at Google after graduating from Stanford with a bachelor's degree in engineering and product design. She's now CEO and founder of Lever, an enterprise SaaS startup with more than $70 million in funding. Lever boasts a 50-50 gender ratio, with 53% women in management, 40% women on its board, and is overall 40% non-white.

What scale-stage execs need to know about culture and D&I during hypergrowth

Your company's culture and commitment to diversity and inclusion shouldn't take a backseat when hiring at scale. Hear from Sarah Nahm, CEO of Lever, on how her company has evolved their culture as they grew from 20 to 250 while keeping D&I at the forefront of how they hire. A leader in the D&I and hiring space, Sarah will share actionable advice from Lever, her time at Google, and examples from leaders in the tech industry.

Arun Mathew and Vlad Magdalin

Vlad Magdalin is the founder and CEO of Webflow, a no-code tool that allows designers and entrepreneurs to build websites and apps easily. Magdalin bootstrapped Webflow for seven years, bringing the company to profitability before ever entertaining the idea of VC money. Arun Mathew, who leads growth investments in enterprise, security and infrastructure markets for Accel, ended up leading Webflow's first investment ever.

The business of bootstrapping

Webflow was bootstrapped and profitable for seven years before co-founder and CEO Vlad Magdalin trusted Accel’s Arun Mathew as their first institutional investor. Hear how Magdalin designed a sustainable, high-growth business without institutional investment, and the surprising factors that led him to take VC investment.

There will be about 50+ breakout sessions at the show, and attendees will have an opportunity to attend at least seven. The sessions will cover all the core topics confronting early-stage founders — up through Series A — as they build a company, from raising capital to building a team to growth. Each breakout session will be led by notables in the startup world on par with the folks we've announced today. 

But wait, there's more! Don't worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch's platform to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here's the fine print. Each of the breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, plus you’ll save $50 with the early-bird discount. Pass holders will also receive advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can "drop" a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

So get your TC Early Stage: San Francisco pass today, and get the inside track on the sessions we announced today, as well as the ones to be announced in the coming weeks. 

Possible sponsor? We have some very nifty ways to bring sponsors in on the show flow, so please contact us here!

Daily Crunch: DoorDash files to go public

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 09:53 AM PST

DoorDash prepares to go public, Roblox raises $150 million and Reddit’s CEO takes aim at TikTok. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 27, 2020.

1. DoorDash, the $13B on-demand food delivery startup, says it has confidentially filed for an IPO

The company said that its Form S-1 (a draft registration statement) was filed with the SEC and is now being reviewed. It did not say how many shares it would potentially sell, nor the price range for the IPO, nor what the timing of its next steps would be.

The timing of the news underscores just how cash-intensive the on-demand food delivery business can be. DoorDash closed its latest round, for $700 million at a $13 billion valuation, in November of last year.

2. Roblox raises $150M Series G, led by Andreessen Horowitz, now valued at $4B

The funding comes at a period of significant growth for the gaming platform. Just last summer, it was being visited by 100 million users, topping Minecraft, and its developer community of over 2 million actives earned $110 million in 2019.

3. Reddit CEO: TikTok is 'fundamentally parasitic'

At the Social 2030 conference, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman pushed back hard on the notion that Silicon Valley startups had something to learn from TikTok, saying, “Maybe I'm going to regret this, but I can't even get to that level of thinking with them. Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it's always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone."

4. Apple to begin online sales in India this year, open first retail store in 2021

For a decade, Apple has solely relied on third-party sellers, stores and marketplaces to sell its products in India. That will begin to change this year.

5. What virtual worlds in the coming multiverse era will look like

In Part 3 of our virtual worlds series, we imagine what the experience of these new social environments will feel like. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Dahmakan, a Malaysian 'full-stack' food delivery startup, raises $18M Series B

Launched by former executives from Foodpanda, Dahmakan was the first Malaysian startup to participate in Y Combinator's startup accelerator program. Operational costs for food delivery companies are notoriously high, but Dahmakan is among several startups that use "cloud" kitchens, located closer to customers, to reduce delivery costs.

7. Vice President Mike Pence will lead the US response to the COVID-19 outbreak

In a press conference, President Donald Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. response to the COVID-19 outbreak that has spread through Europe, Asia and Latin America. The new coronavirus strain has infected about 81,000 people around the world, killed 3,000 and wrought havoc on the global economy.

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.

With better recall of our photos and videos, will our ability to forgive disappear?

Posted: 27 Feb 2020 09:45 AM PST

We're cruising through the short stories in Ted Chiang's collection “Exhalation.” Today, we read one of the most popular from the set, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling,” which Lux Capital's Josh Wolfe described in our end-of-year books guide a few weeks ago:

This year for me it was Ted Chiang's "Exhalation". The gap between sci-fi and sci-fact keeps shrinking. I contend either our authors are becoming less creative or our scientists more creative. Chiang disproves the former. One of the most provocative stories in this collection is “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” which parallels two protagonists set in the near future and the not-too-distant past. One sub-story centers on a Black Mirror-esque technology that gives high-fidelity perfect recall and recordings of prior experience. The other story is of a tribe that lives by oral tradition that has one member encounter an outsider with the technology of writing. Together they make a provocative poignant point on the distinction between being precise and being right—and the meaning in our lives between them.

It's a great story, with tough questions that don't posit easy answers. In short: it's fantastic fodder for a book club. Read on for some analysis, plus some questions for the next (super) short story in the collection, “The Great Silence.”

Some further quick notes:

  • Want to join the conversation? Feel free to email me your thoughts at (we got a real email address!) or join some of the discussions on Reddit or Twitter (hashtag TCBookClub)
  • Follow these informal book club articles here: That page also has a built-in RSS feed for posts exclusively in the Book Review category, which is very low volume.
  • Feel free to add your comments in our TechCrunch comments section below this post.

Reading ‘The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling’

This is a deeply meditative story on the purpose and mechanisms of memory. Perhaps not gorgeously written like some of the earlier short stories in this collection, but Chiang manages to interrogate an incredibly deep and intellectual question about what truth means in a world of digital remembrance.

Dichotomies flow throughout the text. The core of the story contains twin narratives set in different eras. In one, a first-person narrator who works as a journalist discusses testing a new device called Remem that can search all data ever generated about a person and instantly recall that information to the user (photos, videos, or what have you). The parallel story is about a tribe called the Tiv and what happens when they encounter a European missionary who teaches some members of the tribe writing and literacy.

Those dual storylines create a kaleidoscope of other dualities. In the language of the Tiv are two words that describe different kinds of truths: "There is what's right, mimi, and what's precise, vough." That relates directly to the dichotomy in this short story's title and its primary question around forgetting and forgiving.

Chiang structures the stories in such a way that we are compelled to confront our typical response to memory, that "forgiving" quite literally requires "forgetting," and that new technologies — whether Remem, writing or other ways of transmitting information — damage our ability to redefine and improve ourselves and others. A perfect memory will create a very imperfect society.

Plus, these technologies always lose information in their transcription process, as when the author describes what happens with storytelling among the Tiv:

When Kokwa told the story, he didn't merely use words; he used the sound of his voice, the movement of his hands, the light in his eyes. He told you the story with his whole body, and you understood it the same way. None of that was captured on paper; only the bare words could be written down. And reading just the words gave you only a hint of the experience of listening to Kokwa himself, as if one were licking the pot in which okra had been cooked instead of eating the okra itself.

This whole frame is an illuminating if somewhat banal point, and if that was all this story offered, it would be an interesting meditation on a classic question if fairly unremarkable. But then Chiang does something surprising: He basically reverses the entire course of the plot, showing that in fact these technologies don't really create problems themselves, but instead foist demands on people to confront their own memories and the underlying problems they signify.

In the case of the Tiv, writing forces the group's elders to confront the fact that they have differing views on their own family lineages, and that they no longer believe in the same historical narrative of the tribe. In the case of the main narrator, his relationship with his daughter turns a corner when he realizes that he has, over the years, completely mis-remembered one of their major arguments from when she was young. In fact, he has essentially misremembered the entire period, casually transforming himself into a decent person rather than the pitiful father he has actually been.

Chiang thus turns the idea of "forgive and forget" into "remember and forgive," and not just about forgiving others, but ourselves as well. We want to believe in the best possible narrative of our actions, and in so doing, construct stories for ourselves that carefully elide facts and memories that don't fit. But technology will change this:

And I think I've found the real benefit of digital memory. The point is not to prove you were right; the point is to admit you were wrong.


With Remem providing only the unvarnished facts, my image of myself will never stray too far from the truth in the first place.

Far from constraining our potential or forcing us to stay the same, remembering more precisely who we are is exactly what we need to evolve and improve from where we have been before. In the words of the Tiv, we need vough in order to find mimi. Even after reading the story twice, I find myself enchanted by how deep a perspective this point raises.

Chiang lays on the thesis a bit thick at times ("I've told a story in order to make a case for the truth. I recognize the contradiction here.") But with cynicism of "technology" at a zenith, he has carefully structured the story to create an empathetic connection with a narrator asking similar questions about our joint futures and holding similar fears as ours. The about-face hits us like whiplash, but also seems contextually reasonable — opening our minds to further questions around the meaning of memory.

Perhaps ironically given the title, I found that the thread around emotion seemed to drop out a bit in the story. Talking about childhood amnesia, Chiang writes:

In fact, I suspect I no longer remember the day itself. It's more likely that I manufactured the memory when I was first show the snapshots, and over time, I've imbued it with the emotion I imagine I felt that day.

But while many of the scenes and memories in the story are indeed fraught with emotion, his thesis around remembering doesn't seem to answer why memories are hard to handle in the first place: Some of our experiences may be just too intense or negative for us to ever want to remember again anyway.

While I did find this story to be a bit more didactic and direct with its conclusions than some of the previous short stories we have reviewed here, I do want to point out one beautiful symbol that he chose. The European missionary, Moseby, himself is a symbol of memory and technology, clutching a Bible that itself has been scribed and re-scribed throughout the centuries and represents the bedrock of European civilization. The motif of writing in the context of religion — of memory within culture and civilization — is a subtle layer that whispers throughout the text and that I appreciated.

Better, digital memories are coming — rapidly. And while dystopian accounts abound about what that all means, Chiang actually proposes maybe not a utopia, but a more human depiction of what's to come next. Perhaps remembering who we are reminds us that we have the power to change who we want to become.

‘The Great Silence’

Here's a short short story for everyone, and some questions to think about as you are reading:

  • What message does the story present about empathy?
  • Would we recognize a different species if we met them?
  • Aspiration is a motif in this piece — how does that relate to some of the other stories in this collection?
  • What does the story say about attentiveness and focus?
  • What would be humanity's contact call?

With the development of generalized AI, what's the meaning of a person?

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