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Okendo raises $5.3M to help DTC brands ween themselves off of Big Tech customer data

By Lucas Matney

While direct-to-consumer growth has exploded in the past year, some brands are finding there’s still plenty of room to forge ahead in building a more direct relationships with their customers.

Sydney-based Okendo has made a splash in this world by building out a popular customer reviews systems for Shopify sellers, but it’s aiming to expand its ambitions and tackle a much bigger problem with its first outside funding — helping brands scale the quality of their first-party data and loosen their reliance on tech advertising kingpins for customer acquisition and engagement.

“Most DTC brands are still very dependent on big tech,” CEO Matthew Goodman tells TechCrunch.

Gathering more customer reviews data directly from consumers has been the first part of the puzzle with its product that helps brands manage and showcase customer ratings, reviews, user-generated media and product questions. Moving forward Okendo is looking to help firms manage more of the web of cross-channel customer data they have, standardizing it and allowing them to give customers a more personalized experience when they shop with them.

via Okendo

“Merchants have goals and want to better understand their customers,” Goodman says. “As soon as a brand reaches a certain level of scale they’re dealing with unwieldy data.”

Goodman says that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature and Google’s pledge to end third-party cookie tracking has pushed some brands to get more serious about scaling their own data sets to insulate themselves from any sudden movements.

The company needs more coin in its coffers to take on the challenge, raising their first bout of funding since launching back in 2018. They’ve raised $5.3 million in seed funding led by Index Ventures. 2020 was a big growth year for the startup as e-commerce spending surged and sellers looked more thoughtfully at how they were scaling. The company tripled its ARR during the year and doubled its headcount. The bootstrapped company was profitable at the time of the raise, Goodman says.

Today, the company boasts more than 3,500 DTC brands in the Shopify network as customers, including heavyweights like Netflix, Lego, Skims, Fanjoy and Crunchyroll. The startup is tight-lipped on what their next product launches will look like, but plans to jump into two new areas in the next 12 months, Goodman says.

Netflix says its gaming push will begin with mobile

By Darrell Etherington
Billy Steele Contributor
Billy Steele is a Senior News Editor at Engadget.

A report last week hinted at some of Netflix’s gaming ambitions. In its Q2 2021 earnings report, the company confirmed some things. First, Netflix says it “will be primarily focused” on mobile at first, looking to expand on its interactivity projects like Black Mirror Bandersnatch and its Stranger Things games. The upcoming titles will be available at no additional cost as part of your subscription and the company was clear it will keep up the pace on movies and television.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in a letter to its shareholders.

2020 was a big year for Netflix. With everyone stuck at home and movie theaters closed, the streaming service attracted 16 million new customers in three months. As expected, in 2021 that pace has dramatically slowed and the new customer numbers continue to be a struggle. In its earnings report, the company says it added 1.5 million subscribers in Q2, which was actually a bit better than its forecast mark of one million. However, that’s lower than Q1 2021, which saw the company tack on 3.98 new customers globally.

Netflix says it forecasts new customer additions to hit 3.5 million in Q3 2021, up from 2.2 million during the same three-month a year ago. If it does so, the company explains that would bring the total new subscriber tally to 54 million over the last two years. The pace may have slowed for Netflix, but overall it’s doing just fine. Revenue was still up 19 percent year-over-year at $7.3 billion for the quarter.

According to Netflix’s own numbers, Shadow and Bone was a popular series this quarter, streaming to over 55 million “member households” in less than a month. The show has already been renewed for a second season based on those numbers. Sweet Tooth, a series based on a DC comic, was streamed by 60 million households the first month it was available. Unscripted series like Too Hot to Handle and The Circle were popular selections as well, as was true crime docuseries The Sons of Sam. In terms of movies, Zac Snyder’s Army of the Dead hit 75 million households in the first month. Netflix also explained that The Mitchells vs. The Machines is now its biggest animated film to date, streaming to 53 million households.

Netflix says COVID-related production delays led to a “lighter” first half of 2021 in terms of content, but the pace will pick up throughout the rest of the year. The company’s Q3 lineup includes new seasons of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), Sex Education, Virgin River and Never Have I Ever in addition to live action films like Sweet Girl (Jason Momoa), Kissing Booth 3 and Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Plus, there’s the animated film Vivo, which will feature new music from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

After raising $10M, Ryte launches ‘Carbon KPI’ to measure the CO2 footprint of web sites

By Mike Butcher

As we become more and more aware of the kind of impact we are having on this planet we call our home, just about everything is having its CO2 impact measured. Who knew, until recently, that streaming Netflix might have a measurable impact on the environment, for instance. But given vast swathes of the Internet are populated by Web sites, as well as streaming services, then they too must have some sort of impact.

It transpires that a new service has identified how to gauge that, and now it’s raised Venture capital to scale.

Ryte raised €8.5 million ($10M) in a previously undisclosed round led by Bayern Kapital out of Munich and Octopus Investments out of London earlier this year for its Website User Experience Platform.

It has now launched the ‘Ryte Website Carbon KPI’, which claims to be able to help make 5% of all websites carbon neutral by 2023.

Ryte says it worked with data scientists and environmental experts to develop the ability to accurately measure the carbon impact of client’s websites. According to carbon transition thinktank, the Shift Project, the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them accounts for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions. And this trend is rising rapidly as the world digitizes itself, especially post-pandemic.

Ryte has now engaged its Data Scientist, Katharina Meraner, who has a PhD in climate science and global warming, and input from Climate Partner, to launch this new service.

Andy Bruckschloegl, CEO of Ryte said: “There are currently 189 million active websites. Our goal is to make 5% of all active websites, or 9.5 million websites, climate neutral by the end of 2023 with the help of our platform, strong partners, social media activities, and much more. Time is ticking and making websites carbon neutral is really easy compared to other industries and processes.”

Ryte says it is also collaborating with a reforestation project in San Jose, Nicaragua, to allow its customers to offset their remaining emissions through the purchase of climate certificates.

Using a proprietary algorithm, Ryte says it measures the code of the entire website, average page size, as well as monthly traffic by channel then produces a calculation of the amount of CO2 it uses up.

Admittedly there are similar services but these are ad-hoc and not connected to a platform. A simple Google search will bring us sites like Websitecarbon, Ecosistant, and academic papers. But as far as I can tell, a startup like this hasn’t put this kind of service into their platform yet.

“Teaming up with Ryte will help raise awareness on how information technology contributes to climate change – while at the same time providing tools to make a difference. Ryte’s industry-leading carbon calculator enables thousands of website owners to understand their carbon footprint, to offset unavoidable carbon emissions and thus lay a basis for a comprehensive climate action strategy,” commented Tristan A. Foerster, Co-CEO ClimatePartner.

Spielberg’s Amblin inks multiyear feature film deal with Netflix

By Devin Coldewey

In something of an about-face, Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg’s long-running film production company, will produce several films per year for Netflix. The deal reflects Netflix’s rising star and arguably acceptance by the legendary director of a new order to the cinematic world where home viewing is a first-class citizen.

The deal was announced in a press release with few details except glowing quotes from Amblin and Netflix executives. All that is certain is that Amblin will produce “multiple new feature films per year” for Netflix.

“From the minute Ted [Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer] and I started discussing a partnership, it was abundantly clear that we had an amazing opportunity to tell new stories together and reach audiences in new ways,” said Spielberg in the release.

Those new ways didn’t sound so amazing to Spielberg a couple years ago when he was reportedly pushing to exclude Netflix films from the Academy Awards.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg told ITV in March of 2019. “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

Ultimately no real push was made, though. Whether Spielberg was misrepresented, changed his mind or just read the room, he has since tempered his position. He has said rather that he simply wants to cherish and protect “the theatrical experience” — understandable from one of the pioneers of the modern blockbuster.

Naturally it’s a huge get for Netflix, which will get a steady stream of Amblin features, though there’s no guarantee of a Spielberg picture. Meanwhile Amblin will continue its longtime partnership with Universal, which fills the more traditional moviemaking and distribution side of things. The company has already broken bread with streaming companies, with shows and films made for and distributed by Netflix and others, but this is most significant partnership so far.

Perhaps it was COVID that suggested to Spielberg and Amblin that streaming platforms are, far from going away, simply the future of the industry in many ways. In a world where the “theatrical experience” is a potential superspreader event and people are perfectly happy to watch (and pay for) a “premiere” at home, it may be better to roll with the punches and hope that things bounce back.

SoftBank pours up to $150M into GBM, a Mexico City-based investment platform

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Grupo Bursátil Mexicano (GBM) is a 35-year-old investment platform in the Mexican stock market. In its first three decades of life, GBM was focused on providing investment services to high net worth individuals and local and global institutions.

Over the past decade, the Mexico City-based brokerage has ramped up its digital efforts, and, in the past five years, has evolved its business model to offer services to all Mexicans with the same products and services it offers large estates.

Today, GBM is announcing it has received an investment of “up to” $150 million from SoftBank via the Japanese conglomerate’s Latin America Fund at a valuation of “over $1 billion.” The investment is being made through one of GBM’s subsidiaries and is not contingent on anything, according to the company.

Co-CEO Pedro de Garay Montero told TechCrunch that GBM has built an app, GBM+, that organizes and invests clients’ money through three different tools: Wealth Management, Trading and Smart Cash.

Last year was a “historic” one for the company, he said, and GBM went from having 38,000 investment accounts in January 2020 to more than 650,000 by year’s end. In the first quarter of 2021, that number had grown to over 1 million — representing more than 30x growth from the beginning of 2020.

For some context, according to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), there were only 298,000 brokerage accounts in Mexico at the end of 2019, and that number climbed to 940,000 by the end of 2020 — with GBM holding a large share of them.

Most of GBM’s clients are retail clients, but the company also caters to “most of the largest investment managers worldwide,” as well as global companies such as Netflix, Google and BlackRock. Specifically, it services 40% of the largest public corporations in Mexico and a large base of ultra high net worth individuals.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to invest “heavily” in customer acquisition.

Montero said that half of its team of 450 are tech professionals, and that the company plans to also continue hiring as it focuses on growth in its B2C and B2B offerings and expanding into new verticals.

“We are improving our already robust financial education offering,” he added, “so that Mexicans can take control of their finances. GBM’s mission is to transform Mexico into a country of investors.”

Because Mexico is such a huge market — with a population of over 120 million and a GDP of more than $1 trillion — GBM is laser-focused on growing its presence in the country.

“The financial services industry is dominated by big banks and is inefficient, expensive and provides a poor client experience. This has resulted in less than 1% of individuals having an investment account,” Montero told TechCrunch. “We will be targeting clients through our own platform and internal advisors, as well as growing our base of external advisors to reach as many people as possible with the best investment products and user experience.”

When it comes to institutional clients, he believes there is “enormous potential” in serving both the large corporations and the SMEs “who have received limited services from banks.”

Juan Franck, investment lead for SoftBank Latin America Fund in Mexico, believes the retail investment space in Mexico is at an inflection point.

“The investing culture in Mexico has historically been low compared to the rest of the world, even when specifically compared to other countries in Latin America, like Brazil,” he added. “However, the landscape is quickly changing as, through technology, Mexicans are being provided more education around investing and more investment alternatives.”

In the midst of this shift, SoftBank was impressed by GBM’s “clear vision and playbook,” Franck said.

So, despite being a decades-old company, SoftBank sees big potential in the strength of the digital platform that GBM has built out.

“GBM is the leading broker in Mexico in terms of trading activity and broker accounts,” he said. “The company combines decades of industry know-how with an entrepreneurial drive to revolutionize the wealth management space in the country.”

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+.

Meet Justos, the new Brazilian insurtech that just got backing from the CEOs of 7 unicorns

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.

But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.

And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.

Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.

“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”

Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured. 

The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.

Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans  that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer. 

“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”

Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing. 

“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”

Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.

“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.

Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..

During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”

Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.

The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.

“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”

Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).

It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model. 

The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.

Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.

“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”

Amazon launches free video streaming service in India

By Manish Singh

Amazon has long maintained that its video streaming service, Prime Video, helps it drive more sales on the shopping app. Now the e-commerce giant is testing what happens when it brings the video streaming service to the shopping app itself.

The e-commerce giant on Saturday launched miniTV, an ad-supported video streaming service that is available within the Amazon shopping app and is “completely free.” miniTV is currently available only in India, Amazon said.

miniTV features web-series, comedy shows, and content around tech news, food, beauty, fashion “to begin with,” Amazon said. Some of the titles currently available have been produced by leading studios such as TVF and Pocket Aces — two of the largest web studios in India — and comedians such as Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Round2Hell, Harsh Beniwal, Shruti Arjun Anand, Elvish Yadav, Prajakta Koli, Swagger Sharma, Aakash Gupta and Nishant Tanwar.

“Viewers will be informed on latest products and trends by tech expert Trakin Tech, fashion and beauty experts such as Sejal Kumar, Malvika Sitlani, Jovita George, Prerna Chhabra and ShivShakti. Food lovers can enjoy content from Kabita’s Kitchen, Cook with Nisha, and Gobble. In the coming months, miniTV will add many more new and exclusive videos,” the company added, without sharing its future roadmap plans. (Amazon began integrating reviews and other web clippings — from media houses — on its shopping service in India for more than two years ago.)

miniTV is currently available on Amazon’s Android app, and will arrive on the iOS counterpart and mobile web over the coming months, Amazon said.

Amazon’s move follows a similar step by Walmart’s Flipkart, the company’s marquee rival in India, which rolled out video streaming service within its app in 2019. In recent years, scores of firms in India including Zomato have explored adding a video streaming offering to their own apps.

The video streaming landscape in “N2B” countries — the nations with the potential to help firms find their next two billion users. (UBS)

Amazon has also aggressively pushed to expand its Prime Video offerings in India in recent quarters. The company — which partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel earlier this year to launch a new monthly mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) tier (for $1.22) — has secured rights to stream some cricket matches in the country. Amazon also offers Prime Video as part of its Amazon Prime subscription in India. The service is priced at 999 Indian rupees ($13.6) for a year and also includes access to Amazon Music and faster-delivery.

Prime Video had over 60 million monthly active users in India in April, ahead of Netflix’s 40 million users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch). Netflix, which spent about $420 million on locally produced Indian content in 2019 and 2020, said in March that it will invest “significantly more this year” in India. But in the company’s recent earnings call, founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings said investment in India was more “speculative” than those in other markets.

Times Internet’s MX Player had over 180 million users during the same period, and DIsney+ Hotstar had about 120 million. Their biggest competition in India remains YouTube, which has amassed over 450 million monthly active users.

But other than competition, video streaming services face another challenge in India. In late March, Amazon issued a rare apology to users in India for an original political drama series over allegations that a few scenes in the nine-part mini series hurt religious sentiments of some people in the key overseas market.

Amazon’s apology came days after New Delhi announced new rules for on-demand video streaming services and social media firms.

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