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Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

By Amanda Silberling

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though they intend to donate profits from the app, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remain listed as investors, but Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

Apple introduces SharePlay for co-watching, streaming and screen sharing over FaceTime

By Sarah Perez

As part of its FaceTime update in iOS 15, Apple introduced a new set of features designed for shared experiences — like co-watching TV shows or TikTok videos, listening to music together, screen sharing and more — while on a FaceTime call. The feature, called SharePlay, enables real-time connections with family and friends while you’re hanging out on FaceTime, Apple explained, by integrating access to apps from within the call itself.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple demonstrated the new feature during its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, showing how friends could press play in Apple Music to listen together, as the music streams to everyone on the call. Shared playback controls also let anyone on the call play, pause or jump to the next track.

The company also showed off watching video from its Apple TV+ streaming service, where the video was synced in real time between call participants. This was a popular trend during the pandemic, as people looked to virtually watch movies and TV with family and friends, prompting services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video to add native co-watching features.

But Apple’s SharePlay goes much further than streaming music and video from just Apple’s own services.

The company announced a set of launch partners for SharePlay, including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, NBA, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, Paramount+ and Pluto TV. It’s also making an API available to developers so they can integrate their own apps with SharePlay.

Image Credits: Apple

Users can screen share via SharePlay, too, so you can do things like browse Zillow listings together or show off a mobile gameplay, Apple suggested.

“Screen sharing is also a simple and super effective way to help someone out and answer questions right in the moment, and it works across Apple devices,” noted Apple SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi.

The feature will roll out with iOS 15.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

Paramount+ will launch a $4.99 monthly ad-supported subscription

By Amanda Silberling

If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.

This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers. 

What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend. 

The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads. 

Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.

Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks. 

Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.

SpaceX launches Dragon cargo spacecraft to the Space Station with new Falcon 9

By Aria Alamalhodaei

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is once again heading to the International Space Station.

The company launched its 22nd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA on Thursday. This is the fifth capsule SpaceX has sent to ISS in the last twelve months, SpaceX director of Dragon mission management Sarah Walker noted in a media briefing Tuesday. It’s also the first launch of the year on a new Falcon 9 rocket booster.

The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1:29 PM eastern time, right on schedule despite the threat of storm clouds from the south and east. The first stage separated as planned and touched down on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Atlantic Ocean eight minutes after launch. The second stage, which takes the capsule to orbit, separated 12 minutes after launch, also right on schedule.

Image Credits: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 Rocket launch vehicle is sending more than 7,300 pounds of research materials, supplies, and hardware, including new solar arrays, to the ISS crew. It’s the second mission under SpaceX’s new CRS contract with NASA; the first took place last December.

Dragon is carrying a number of research experiments to be conducted on the ISS, including oral bacteria to test germ growth with Colgate toothpaste; a number of tardigrades (also affectionately called water bears), primordial organisms that will attempt to fare and reproduce in space environments; and an investigation that will study the effects of microgravity on the formation of kidney stones – an ailment that many crew members display an increased susceptibility to during spaceflight.

The capsule is also delivering fresh food, including apples, navel oranges, lemons, and avocados.

Of the over 7,300 pounds of cargo, around 3,000 pounds will be taken up by a new roll-out, “flex blanket” solar array developed by space infrastructure company Redwire. As opposed to more traditional rigid paneled solar arrays, flex blanket technology provides more mass and performance benefits, Redwire technical director Matt LaPointe told TechCrunch.

The arrays were placed in the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. It’s the first of three missions to send iROSA solar arrays to the station, with each mission carrying two arrays, LaPointe said. Once installed, the six iROSA arrays will collectively produce over 120KW of power. Redwire, which announced in March that it would go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, says the new iROSA arrays will improve the ISS’s power generation by 20-30%.

The Dragon capsule is set to arrive at the space station at around 5 AM on June 5, where it will autonomously dock on a port of the Harmony module of the ISS. It will spend more than a month with the station before splashing down in the Atlantic with research and return cargo.

The SolarWinds Hackers Aren't 'Back.' They Never Went Away

By Lily Hay Newman
A new phishing campaign from Russian spies targeted USAID among others. But it's less an escalation than a regression to the mean.

Dapper Labs backs art hardware startup Infinite Objects in $6 million seed raise

By Lucas Matney

The NFT world is all about reshaping the idea of digital ownership, but art hardware startup Infinite Objects sees a big opportunity in making physical copies of those assets as it looks to reshape digital art and collectibles.

The startup makes screens that show a single video from a single artist and don’t do anything else. You can’t download apps to the screens or upload your own photos to them or check the time or weather. If you even want another piece of art from Infinite Objects, you can’t just download it, you have to actually go to their site and buy another display with that artwork on it. Each screen boasts information about the work, edition numbers and serial numbers etched on the back of it, inextricably tying the physical display to the work that it displays.

Infinite Objects CEO Joe Saavedra tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $6 million in seed funding from a host of backers including Courtside VC, which led the deal, and NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs.

For the longest time, Infinite Objects was an NFT platform without the NFTs. The company has worked with artists since 2018 to make (often limited run) series of physical display frames highlighting a specific digital work of the artist that looped forever. Sure, users could watch that looping video on the Infinite Objects website whenever they wanted, but the value was in owning an official copy of that artist’s work. Sound familiar?

When the wider popularity of NFTs as a speculative asset hit earlier this year, Saavedra saw a huge opportunity as internet users began discussing the future of digital art and digital scarcity. His team had already flirted with NFTs, partnering with artist Beeple back in December — months before he would spring out of relative obscurity in art circles with a $69 million sale at the Christie’s auction house — to release “physical tokens” of NFTs he was selling on the platform Nifty Gateway.

Saavedra sees a bigger opportunity for companies and creators in the NFT world to make their assets more approachable and understandable to a general audience with what his company is building, but he also sees a chance to transform NFTs from blind ownership to something more focused on actually appreciating the digital art that’s been purchased.

“When it comes to ownership, it’s exciting to be buying an NFT for $500 or $5,000, but what’s not exciting is having to open Safari on your phone to show it off,” Saavedra tells TechCrunch. “This physical vessel that we’ve designed is just so understandable for people who maybe don’t even understand what the blockchain at all, but they certainly understand limited edition physical merchandise.”

Saavedra is dismissive of other digital displays that cycle through artwork and says that art owners could also just toss images of their NFTs onto the TV if they wanted to, but that they all only serve up art as “glorified screensavers.”

The team at Infinite Objects sees broader opportunities in the NFT world but they’ve been tight-lipped on exactly what these efforts will look like. You can see some potential hints in the list of backers in this round, including most interestingly NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs. The startup has been building out its own blockchain called Flow and Saavedra was quick to sing its praises in our conversation, noting that its more scalable and sustainable than the Ethereum network. Dapper Labs recently announced its first major third-party NFT platform, partnering with avatar startup Genies –another investor in this round — for a digital accessories storefront that’s being launched this summer.

Serena Ventures, Betaworks, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, GFR Fund, Kevin Durant & Rich Kleiman, Genies, and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participated in the round.

 

A New Antitrust Case Cuts to the Core of Amazon’s Identity

By Gilad Edelman
The Washington, DC, attorney general claims that the company obsessed with satisfying customers is actually screwing them.

Announcing the WIRED Resilience Residency

By Caitlin Kelly
We’re looking for new voices to provide an insider perspective on rapidly changing industries.

Healios raises $10M to scale its mental health platform for children scarred by the COVID-19 pandemic

By Mike Butcher

Heaven knows what will happen to the mental health of children who’ve gone through this past year but if there’s one thing we need right now it’s mental health provision for young people that can scale. And as much as some of us can’t bear the thought of another video call, a UK startup reckons it’s come up with the magic formula for online therapy for children.

Now, Healios has raised a £7 million ($10M) Series A round to expand its platform across the UK. If the roll-out is successful, the startup is looking at expanding internationally. The round was led by InHealth Ventures with participation from existing investors AlbionVC.

Healios will use the funding to expand its AI, machine learning, and data science expertise, as well as add to the team. Healios says its platform digitises the clinical pathway, enabling children, adults, and their family members to use clinical services at home.

According to UK government statistics, one in eight (12.8%) five to 19-year-olds in the UK have a mental health disorder but two-thirds are unable to access NHS care because of soaring demands. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse.

Launched in 2013, Healios says it has now worked with 65% of NHS Mental Health Trusts, with 70,000 specialized clinical sessions delivered, which is a high success rate for a startup, considering how hard it is to get NHS approval.

The online, family-focused therapy program for young people zeros in on psychosis and schizophrenia. Healios says that studies have shown involving family members from the start can reduce suicide by as much as 90%. It also covers anxiety, low mood, autism and ADHD, as well as support to their families.

Unlike some startups in the area of mental health, Healios is not a marketplace of advisers but is an end-to-end provider of these services.

InHealth Ventures and InHealth Group Chair, Richard Bradford, will be joining the Healios board, alongside Cat McDonald of AlbionVC.

Rich Andrews, Founder, and CEO of Healios, said: “This funding will help us reach more families in need and enable us to develop further sector-leading interventions and therapies. By bringing together clinical experts and giving them the tools to reach their patients regardless of where they are, we are closing the access gap which has plagued mental health provision for far too long.”

Andrews also told me: “A young person will have an initial mental health assessment with us. If needed, we’ll make a diagnosis and then they’ll move on to other interventions with us, so this is a seamless experience.”

Dr Ben Evans, Managing Director of InHealth Ventures, said: “Healios is a standard-bearer for healthcare innovation. They bring together clinical excellence with digital expertise, working in partnership with the NHS to address a critical, but complex area of care delivery. Healios’ work to date speaks for itself; their holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment has had a substantive impact on clinical outcomes and patient experience.”

Cat McDonald, Investor at AlbionVC, added: “Covid has engendered a pace of innovation previously unseen in healthcare. In particular, we have seen that remote care not only works, but often works much better than traditional alternatives. The option to receive care remotely, at home and in a family-centric setting is the strong preference of most kids suffering from poor mental health.”

Avatar startup Genies scores $65 million in funding round led by Mary Meeker’s Bond

By Lucas Matney

Over the past several years I’ve covered my fair share of upstart avatar companies that were all chasing the same dream — building out a customizable platform for a digital persona that gained wide adoption across games and digital spaces. Few of those startups I’ve covered in the past are still around. But by netting a string of successful partnerships with celebrity musicians, LA-based Genies has come closer than any startup before it to realizing the full vision of a wide-reaching avatar platform.

The company announced today that they’ve closed a $65 million Series B led by Mary Meeker’s firm Bond. NEA, Breyer Capital, Tull Investment Group, NetEase, Dapper Labs and Coinbase Ventures also participated in the deal. Mary Meeker will be joining the Genies board. The company didn’t disclose the Genies’ most recent valuation.

This funding comes at an inflection point for the eight-year-old company, evidenced by the investments from NBA Top Shot-maker Dapper Labs and crypto giant Coinbase. As announced last week, the company is rolling out an NFT platform on Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain, partnering closely with the startup, which will be building out the backend for a Genies avatar accessories storefront. Like Dapper Labs has leveraged its exclusive deals with sports leagues to ship NFTs with official backing, Genies is planning to capitalize on its partnerships with celebrities in its roster, including Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Cardi B and others to create a platform for buying and trading avatar accessories en masse.

In October, the company announced a brand partnership with Gucci, opening the startup to another big market opportunity.

Genies’ business has largely focused on leveraging high-profile partnerships to give its entertainer clients a digital presence that can spice up what they’re sharing on social media and beyond. As they’ve rolled out avatar creation to all users through beta mobile apps, Genies has been focusing on one of the more explicit dreams of the avatar companies before it; building out a broad network of avatar users and a broad network of compatible platforms through its SDK.

“An avatar is a vehicle to be able to showcase more of your authentic self,” Genies CEO Akash Nigam tells TechCrunch. “It’s not limited by real-world constraints, it’s an alter-ego personality.”

Trends in the NFT world have provided new realms of exploration for Genies, but so have broader pandemic-era trends that have pushed more users to wholly digital spaces where they socialize and connect. “The pandemic accelerated everything,” Nigam says.

Nigam emphasizes that despite the major opportunity its upcoming NFT platform will present, Genies is still an avatar company first-and-foremost, not an NFT startup, though he does say he is believes crypto-backed digital goods are going to be around for a long time. He has few doubts that the current environment around digital goods helped juice Genies’ funding round, which he says was “6-8X oversubscribed” and was an opportunistic play for the startup, which “could have gone years without having to raise.”

The company says their crypto marketplace will launch in the coming months, as early as this summer.

Biden proposes ARPA-H, a health research agency to ‘end cancer’ modeled after DARPA

By Taylor Hatmaker

In a joint address to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation on vaccination efforts and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals.

Biden’s first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping legislative packages that could lift millions of Americans out of poverty and slow the clock on the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president highlighted another smaller plan that’s no less ambitious: to “end cancer as we know it.”

“I can think of no more worthy investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan…. It’s within our power to do it.”

The comments weren’t out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House released a budget request for $6.5 billion to launch a new government agency for breakthrough health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would live within the NIH. The initial focus would be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but the agency would also pursue other “transformational innovation” that could remake health research.

The $6.5 billion investment is a piece of the full $51 billion NIH budget. But some critics believe that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services rather than being nested under NIH. 

ARPA-H would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops moonshot-like tech for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science, but the agency contributed to or created a number of now ubiquitous technologies, including a predecessor to GPS and most famously ARPANET, the computer network that grew into the modern internet.

Unlike more conservative, incremental research teams, DARPA aggressively pursues major scientific advances in a way that shares more in common with Silicon Valley than it does with other governmental agencies. Biden believes that using the DARPA model on cutting edge health research would keep the U.S. from lagging behind in biotech.

“China and other countries are closing in fast,” Biden said during the address. “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has launched another batch of Starlink satellites, adding 60 more to the constellation on orbit. This is the 24th Starlink launch in total, and means SpaceX has now sent up over 1,500 Starlink spacecraft, with around 1,438 of those still in operation. This is the first Starlink launch since April 7 — which, surprisingly, is the biggest gap between these launches in quite a while.

This year, SpaceX’s overall launch calendar has been dominated by Starlink launches, as the company seeks to expand the availability, quality and coverage of its low Earth orbit broadband internet network. SpaceX also opened up availability of Starlink service this year, and now seems to be mostly supply-constrained on the consumer receiver terminal side, rather than necessarily on network capacity or regional ability.

Regarding that few week gap in the Starlink launch pace, it’s not like SpaceX was slacking in the meantime; the launcher sent up its second crew of astronauts destined for the International Space Station in a flight just last week. Plus, it has two three additional Starlink launches tentatively scheduled to happen in May.

This latest launch took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 11:44 PM EDT (8:44 PM PDT) on Wednesday, and it used a flight-proven Falcon 9 first stage booster, which was used on six prior missions, including four Starlink launches.

An Ambitious Plan to Tackle Ransomware Faces Long Odds

By Lily Hay Newman
A task force counting Amazon, Cisco, and the FBI among its members has proposed a framework to solve one of cybersecurity's biggest problems. Good luck.

Kry closes $312M Series D after use of its telehealth tools grows 100% yoy

By Natasha Lomas

Swedish digital health startup Kry, which offers a telehealth service (and software tools) to connect clinicians with patients for remote consultations, last raised just before the pandemic hit in Western Europe, netting a €140M Series C in January 2020.

Today it’s announcing an oversubscribed sequel: The Series D raise clocks in at $312M (€262M) and will be used to keep stepping on the growth gas in the region.

Investors in this latest round for the 2015-founded startup are a mix of old and new backers: The Series D is led by CPP Investments (aka, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board) and Fidelity Management & Research LLC, with participation from existing investors including The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, as well as European-based VC firms Index Ventures, Accel, Creandum and Project A.

The need for people to socially distance during the coronavirus pandemic has given obvious uplift to the telehealth category, accelerating the rate of adoption of digital health tools that enable remote consultations by both patients and clinicians. Kry quickly stepped in to offer a free service for doctors to conduct web-based consultations last year, saying at the time that it felt a huge responsibility to help.

That agility in a time of public health crisis has clearly paid off. Kry’s year-over-year growth in 2020 was 100% — meaning that the ~1.6M digital doctors appointments it had served up a year ago now exceed 3M. Some 6,000 clinicians are also now using its telehealth platform and software tools. (It doesn’t break out registered patient numbers).

Yet co-founder and CEO, Johannes Schildt, says that, in some ways, it’s been a rather quiet 12 months for healthcare demand.

Sure the pandemic has driven specific demand, related to COVID-19 — including around testing for the disease (a service Kry offers in some of its markets) — but he says national lockdowns and coronavirus concerns have also dampened some of the usual demand for healthcare. So he’s confident that the 100% growth rate Kry has seen amid the COVID-19 public health crisis is just a taster of what’s to come — as healthcare provision shifts toward more digital delivery.

“Obviously we have been on the right side of a global pandemic. And if you look back the mega trend was obviously there long before the pandemic but the pandemic has accelerated the trend and it has served us and the industry well in terms of anchoring what we do. It’s now very well anchored across the globe — that telemedicine and digital healthcare is a crucial part of the healthcare systems moving forward,” Schildt tells TechCrunch.

“Demand has been increasing during the year, most obviously, but if you look at the broader picture of healthcare delivery — in most European markets — you actually have healthcare usage at an all time low. Because a lot of people are not as sick anymore given that you have tight restrictions. So it’s this rather strange dynamic. If you look at healthcare usage in general it’s actually at an all time low. But telemedicine is on an upward trend and we are operating on higher volumes… than we did before. And that is great, and we have been hiring a lot of great clinicians and been shipping a lot of great tools for clinicians to make the shift to digital.”

The free version of Kry’s tools for clinicians generated “big uplift” for the business, per Schildt, but he’s more excited about the wider service delivery shifts that are happening as the pandemic has accelerated uptake of digital health tools.

“For me the biggest thing has been that [telemedicine is] now very well established, it’s well anchored… There is still a different level of maturity between different European markets. Even [at the time of Kry’s Series C round last year] telemedicine was maybe not something that was a given — for us it’s always been of course; for me it’s always been crystal clear that this is the way of the future; it’s a necessity, you need to shift a lot of the healthcare delivery to digital. We just need to get there.”

The shift to digital is a necessary one, Schildt argues, in order to widen access to (inevitably) limited healthcare resources vs ever growing demand (current pandemic lockdown dampeners excepted). This is why Kry’s focus has always been on solving inefficiencies in healthcare delivery.

It seeks to do that in a variety of ways — including by offering support tools for clinicians working in public healthcare systems (for example, more than 60% of all the GPs in the UK market, where most healthcare is delivered via the taxpayer-funded NHS, is using Kry’s tools, per Schildt); as well as (in a few markets) running a full healthcare service itself where it combines telemedicine with a network of physical clinics where users can go when they need to be examined in person by a clinician. It also has partnerships with private healthcare providers in Europe.

In short, Kry is agnostic about how it helps deliver healthcare. That philosophy extends to the tech side — meaning video consultations are just one component of its telemedicine business which offers remote consultations for a range of medical issues, including infections, skin conditions, stomach problems and psychological disorders. (Obviously not every issue can be treated remotely but at the primary care level there are plenty of doctor-patient visits that don’t need to take place in person.)

Kry’s product roadmap — which is getting an investment boost with this new funding — involves expanding its patient-facing app to offer more digitally delivered treatments, such as Internet Cognitive Based Therapy (ICBT) and mental health self-assessment tools. It also plans to invest in digital healthcare tools to support chronic healthcare conditions — whether by developing more digital treatments itself (either by digitizing existing, proven treatments or coming up with novel approaches), and/or expanding its capabilities via acquisitions and strategic partnerships, according to Schildt.

Over the past five+ years, a growing number of startups have been digitizing proven treatment programs, such as for disorders like insomnia and anxiety, or musculoskeletal and chronic conditions that might otherwise require accessing a physiotherapist in person. Options for partners for Kry to work with on expanding its platform are certainly plentiful — although it’s developed the ICBT programs in house so isn’t afraid to tackle the digital treatment side itself.

“Given that we are in the fourth round of this massive change and transition in healthcare it makes a lot of sense for us to continue to invest in great tools for clinicians to deliver high quality care at great efficiency and deepening the experience from the patient side so we can continue to help even more people,” says Schildt.

“A lot of what we do we do is through video and text but that’s just one part of it. Now we’re investing a lot in our mental health plans and doing ICBT treatment plans. We’re going deeper into chronic treatments. We have great tools for clinicians to deliver high quality care at scale. Both digitally and physically because our platform supports both of it. And we have put a lot of effort during this year to link together our digital healthcare delivery with our physical healthcare delivery that we sometimes run ourselves and we sometimes do in partnerships. So the video itself is just one piece of the puzzle. And for us it’s always been about making sure we saw this from the end consumer’s perspective, from the patient’s perspective.”

“I’m a patient myself and still a lot of what we do is driven by my own frustration on how inefficient the system is structured in some areas,” he adds. “You do have a lot of great clinicians out there but there’s truly a lack of patient focus and in a lot of European markets there’s a clear access problem. And that has always been our starting point — how can we make sure that we solve this in a better way for the patients? And then obviously that involves us both building strong tools and front ends for patients so they can easily access care and manage their health, be pro-active about their health. It also involves us building great tools for clinicians that they can operate and work within — and there we’re putting way more effort as well.

“A lot of clinicians are using our tools to deliver digital care — not only clinicians that we run ourselves but ones we’re partnering with. So we do a lot of it in partnerships. And then also, given that we are a European provider, it involves us partnering with both public and private payers to make sure that the end consumer can actually access care.”

Another batch of startups in the digital healthcare delivery space talk a big game about ‘democratizing’ access to healthcare with the help of AI-fuelled triage or even diagnosis chatbots — with the idea that these tools can replace at least some of the work done by human doctors. The loudest on that front is probably Babylon Health.

Kry, by contrast, has avoided flashy AI hype, even though its tools do frequently incorporate machine learning technology, per Schildt. It also doesn’t offer a diagnosis chatbot. The reason for its different emphasis comes back to the choice of problem to focus on: Inefficiencies in healthcare delivery — with Schildt arguing that decision-making by doctors isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of service pain-points in the sector.

“We’re obviously using what would be considered AI or machine learning tools in all products that we’re building. I think sometimes personally I’m a bit annoyed at companies screaming and shouting about the technology itself and less about what problem you are solving with it,” he tells us. “On the decision-support [front], we don’t have the same sort of chatbot system that some other companies do, no. It’s obviously something that we could build really effortlessly. But I think — for me — it’s always about asking yourself what is the problem that you’re solving for? For the patient. And to be honest I don’t find it very useful.

“In many cases, especially in primary care, you have two categories. You have patients that already know why they need help, because you have a urinary tract infection; you had it before. You have an eye infection. You have a rash —  you know that it’s a rash, you need to see someone, you need to get help. Or you’re worried about your symptoms and you’re not really sure what it is — and you need comfort. And I think we’re not there yet where a chatbot would give you that sort of comfort, if this is something severe or not. You still want to talk to a human being. So I think it’s of limited use.

“Then on the decision side of it — sort of making sure that clinicians are making better decisions — we are obviously doing decision support for our clinicians. But if it’s one thing clinicians are really good at it’s actually making decisions. And if you look into the inefficiencies in healthcare the decision-making process is not the inefficiency. The matching side is an inefficiency side.”

He gives the example of how much the Swedish healthcare system spends on translators (circa €200M) as a “huge inefficiency” that could be reduced simply — by smarter matching of multilingual clinicians to patients.

“Most of our doctors are bilingual but they’re not there at the same time as the patient. So on the matching side you have a lot of inefficiency — and that’s where we have spent time on, for example. How can we sort that, how can we make sure that a patient that is seeking help with us ends up with the right level of care? If that is someone that speaks your native language so you can actually understand each other. Is this something that could be fully treated by a nurse? Or should it be directly to a psychologist?”

“With all technology it’s always about how do we use technology to solve a real problem, it’s less about the technology itself,” he adds.

Another ‘inefficiency’ that can affect healthcare provision in Europe relates to a problematic incentive to try to shrink costs (and, if it’s private healthcare, maximize an insurer’s profits) by making it harder for patients to access primary medical care — whether through complicated claims processes or by offering a bare minimum of information and support to access services (or indeed limiting appointment availability), making patients do the legwork of tracking down a relevant professional for their particular complaint and obtaining a coveted slot to see them.

It’s a maddening dynamic in a sector that should be focused on making as many people as healthy as they possibly can be in order that they avoid as much disease as possible — obviously as that outcome is better for the patients themselves. But also given the costs involved in treating really sick people (medical and societal). A wide range of chronic conditions, from type 2 diabetes to lower back pain, can be particularly costly to treat and yet may be entirely preventable with the right interventions.

Schildt sees a key role for digital healthcare tools to drive a much needed shift toward the kind of preventative healthcare that would be better all round, for both patients and for healthcare costs.

“That annoys me a lot,” he says. “That’s sometimes how healthcare systems are structured because it’s just costly for them to deliver healthcare so they try to make it as hard as possible for people to access healthcare — which is an absurdity and also one of the reasons why you now have increasing costs in healthcare systems in general, it’s exactly that. Because you have a lack of access in the first point of contact, with primary care. And what happens is you do have a spillover effect to secondary care.

“We see that in the data in all European markets. You have people ending up in emergency rooms that should have been treated in primary care but they can’t access primary care because there’s no access — you don’t know how to get in there, it’s long waiting times, it’s just triaged to different levels without getting any help and you have people with urinary tract infections ending up in emergency rooms. It’s super costly… when you have healthcare systems trying to fend people off. That’s not the right way doing it. You have to — and I think we will be able to play a crucial role in that in the coming ten years — push the whole system into being more preventative and proactive and access is a key part of that.

“We want to make it very, very simple for the patients — that they should be able to reach out to us and we will direct you to the right level of care.”

With so much still to do tackling the challenges of healthcare delivery in Europe, Kry isn’t in a hurry to expand its services geographically. Its main markets are Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and the UK, where it operates a healthcare service itself (not necessarily nationwide), though it notes that it offers a video consultation service to 30 regional markets.

“Right now we are very European focused,” says Schildt, when asked whether it has any plans for a U.S. launch. “I would never say that we would never go outside of Europe but for here and now we are extremely focused on Europe, we know those markets very, very well. We know how to manoeuvre in the European systems.

“It’s a very different payer infrastructure in Europe vs the US and then it’s also so that focus is always king and Europe is the mega market. Healthcare is 10% of the GDP in all European markets, we don’t have to go outside of Europe to build a very big business. But for the time being I think it makes a lot of sense for us to stay focused.”

 

Why Lawmakers Are Interested in Apple’s and Google’s ‘Rents’

By Gilad Edelman
You can’t understand the app store debate without knowing a crucial piece of antitrust jargon.

Watch SpaceX launch its second crew of Space Station astronauts on a flight-proven Falcon 9 live

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is set to launch its second operational commercial crew mission to the International Space Station for NASA, with a liftoff time of 5:49 AM EDT (2:49 AM PDT) on Friday morning. The flight will carry four astronauts, including two from NASA, one from JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and one from the ESA (European Space Agency), to the station, where they will begin a regular tour of duty conducting science experiments, and maintaining and upgrading the orbital platform.

This is the second commercial crew mission for SpaceX, which officially qualified its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket for human flight last year. NASA then launched four astronauts using SpaceX’s human-certified launch system later that year in November, becoming the first private company to deliver people to the ISS, and the first American vehicle to do so since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since the end of that program, NASA has relied on buying rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets to keep up its representation on the ISS.

There’s already a SpaceX Crew Dragon at the Space Station from that Crew-1 launch last year, and it was relocated to another port on the station earlier this month in preparation for the arrival of the one flying for Crew-2. The Crew-1 Dragon capsule is set to return back to Earth with astronauts on board once they’re relieved by this flight’s crew, likely later this month on April 28.

One major notable change for this launch is the use of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket booster. SpaceX has previously used new boosters fresh from the factory for its human launches, though it has a spotless track record when it comes to booster re-use for its cargo flights. It’s also the first re-use of a dragon spacecraft, and both components of this launch system actually previously supported human launches, with the first stage serving during Crew-1, and the Dragon capsule providing the ride for Demo-2, which flew astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The astronauts on today’s flight are Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur from NASA, as well as Akihiko Hoshide from JAXA and Thomas Pesquet from the ESA. As mentioned, liftoff time is set for 5:49 AM EDT, but SpaceX will begin streaming live hours in advance at approximately 1:30 AM EDT on Friday (10:30 PM PDT on Thursday).

Backed by Nas and Dapper Labs CEO, SportsIcon launches to deliver NFTs bundled with exclusive athlete content

By Darrell Etherington

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have a natural fit with sports memorabilia, another category of speculative asset whose value is primarily dependent on the prices its adherents are willing to pay. A new startup called SportsIcon aims to deliver even more value via sports-focused NFTs, with direct collaboration with athletes and lessons from the pros to accompany the one-off digital collectibles.

SportsIcon has backing from Roham Gharegozlou, the CEO of Dapper Labs, which was at the very forefront of the NFT craze and which powers NBA Top Shot. It’s also funded by rapper Nas, whose portfolio includes a number of prescient early bets, former NBA player Andrew Bogut, Eniac Ventures’ Partner Nihal Mehta and more. The company announced its initial round of funding along with its public launch, but declined to disclose the total amount, noting only that it was “in the seven figures.”

Initially, SportsIcon will be debuting between 15 and 20 NFTs, created in collaboration with athletes, that commemorate specific, historic moments from their sporting careers. Accompanying these NFTs will be “two-hour masterclasses,” which the company said in a press release will give “fans access to their mental and physical training methods, techniques and best practices.”

That masterclass approach is due in part to the background of co-founder Chris Worsey, who previously built a number of edtech startups including Coursematch. Worsey told TechCrunch that the key to its approach lies in the exclusive content that will be packaged along with the NFTs it’s bringing to market. SportsIcon is differentiated because it’s creating unique content, shooting for two days with the athlete — the first day will be “interviews about their journey and their past,” the second day will be shooting them on the training field, he said.

“This is the key: The beauty is the built-in scarcity of this content,” Worsey added. “We won’t be releasing it elsewhere.”

The hope is to build a “long-term relationship with the icons,” he explained, while the exact financial details/split will differ from deal to deal. In some cases, the athlete is donating their proceeds to the charity of their choice. Each unique art piece will be auctioned off, and the packs will sell for anywhere from $10 to $999. The more expensive packs will be “the really rare, scarce moments where the icon’s talking about their greatest moments,” according to Worsey. Packs can also include real-world prizes like signed memorabilia or box seats at a game.

The real differentiator for SportsIcon, he says, is down to the focus on content, and creating something that’s not only unique, but also high-quality.

“SportsIcon is different because we invest in the content,” Worsey told TechCrunch. “We hire world-class directors and we make world-class content.”

While the startup isn’t yet revealing any of the athletes its working with on its debut NFTs, it says the first sports stars that will appear on the platform will come from soccer, tennis, MMA, basketball and baseball, with agreements with stars in each of those areas currently in progress.

With $30M extension, BigID boosts Series D to $100M at $1.25B valuation

By Ron Miller

When we last heard from BigID at the end of 2020, the company was announcing a $70 million Series D at a $1 billion valuation. Today, it announced a $30 million extension on that deal valuing the company at $1.25 billion just 4 months later.

This chunk of money comes from private equity firm Advent International, and brings the total raised to over $200 million across 4 rounds, according to the company. The late stage startup is attracting all of this capital by building a security and privacy platform. When I spoke to CEO Dimitri Sirota in September 2019 at the time of the $50 million Series C, he described the company’s direction this way:

“We’ve separated the product into some constituent parts. While it’s still sold as a broad-based [privacy and security] solution, it’s much more of a platform now in the sense that there’s a core set of capabilities that we heard over and over that customers want.”

Sirota says he has been putting the money to work, and as the economy improves he is seeing more traction for the product set. “Since December, we’ve added employees as we’ve seen broader economic recovery and increased demand. In tandem, we have been busy building a whole host of new products and offerings that we will announce over the coming weeks that will be transformational for BigID,” he said.

He also said that as with previous rounds, he didn’t go looking for the additional money, but decided to take advantage of the new funds at a higher valuation with a firm that he believes can add value overall. What’s more, the funds should allow the company to expand in ways it might have held off on.

“It was important to us that this wouldn’t be a distraction and that we could balance any funding without the need to over-capitalize, which is becoming a bigger issue in today’s environment. In the end, we took what we thought could bring forward some additional product modules and add a sales team focused on smaller commercial accounts,” Sirota said.

Ashwin Krishnan, a principal on Advent’s technology team in New York says that BigID was clearly aligned with two trends his firm has been following. That includes the explosion of data being collected and the increasing focus on managing and securing that data with the goal of ultimately using it to make better decisions.

“When we met with Dimitri and the BigID team, we immediately knew we had found a company with a powerful platform that solves the most challenging problem at the center of these trends and the data question,”Krishnan said.

Past investors in the company include Boldstart Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global. Strategic investors include Comcast Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and SAP.io.

Dear Sophie: How can I get my startup off the ground and visit the US?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’m a female entrepreneur who created my first startup a few months ago.

Once my startup gets off the ground — and as COVID-19 gets under control — I’d like to visit the United States to test the market and meet with investors. Which visas would allow me to do that?

—Noteworthy in Nairobi

Dear Noteworthy,

Congratulations on founding your startup! There are many ways to engage with the U.S. startup ecosystem, and you can start now, even before you physically come to the United States.

I recommend doing some research into the programs and resources offered to entrepreneurs like you through the U.S. Embassy and Consulates near you in your home country. I recently interviewed Lilly Wahl-Tuco, a foreign service officer who has worked for the U.S. Department of State for 15 years, on my podcast.

Wahl-Tuco discussed some of the State Department resources — including programs, competitions and grants — made available by U.S. embassies and consulates for entrepreneurs living in the area.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Serving as the first Environment, Science, Technology and Health (ESTH) officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, Wahl-Tuco was tasked with energizing the entrepreneurs of Bosnia. After she traveled around the country, visiting every incubator and meeting several entrepreneurs, Wahl-Tuco said she was surprised that most of the people she talked with didn’t know about the resources that the U.S. government offers through its embassies.

She recommends that entrepreneurs reach out, network and do online research to figure out what’s offered in their country or even if other foreign embassies offer resources and programs aimed at entrepreneurs.

Wahl-Tuco also suggested that entrepreneurs reach out to their local U.S. Embassy. For example, you can contact the U.S. Embassy in Kenya to find out if you can discuss your startup and business plan with an ESTH officer (if there is one) or someone else there. Connecting with embassy staff can open up many opportunities.

Union Says Amazon Violated Labor Law in the Alabama Election

By Caitlin Harrington
Amazon defeated the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s bid to represent workers at one warehouse. The union claims the company fought dirty.
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