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Today — February 20th 2020Your RSS feeds

These specialized Africa VC funds are welcoming co-investors

By Jake Bright

For global venture capitalists still on the fence about entering Africa, a first move could be co-investing with a proven fund that’s already working in the region.

Africa’s startup scene is performance-light — one major IPO and a handful of exits — but there could be greater returns for investors who get in early. For funds from Silicon Valley to Tokyo, building a portfolio and experience on the continent with those who already have expertise could be the best start.

VC in Africa

Africa has one of the fastest-growing tech sectors in the world, as ranked by startup origination and year-over-year increases in VC spending. There’s been a mass mobilization of capital toward African startups around a basic continent-wide value proposition for tech.

Significant economic growth and reform in the continent’s major commercial hubs of Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia is driving the formalization of a number of informal sectors, such as logistics, finance, retail and mobility. Demographically, Africa has one of the world’s fastest-growing youth populations, and continues to register the fastest global growth in smartphone adoption and internet penetration.

Africa is becoming a startup continent with thousands of entrepreneurs and ventures who have descended on every problem and opportunity.

How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps

By Matt Burns

Apple banned vaping apps in November 2019. Since then, the company has said very little about its decision, leaving many companies upset and confused about its blanket prohibition.

Three months later, companies are working around Apple’s ban. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Apple’s wide-sweeping ban on vaping affected apps from Juul, Pax and many others, including apps that calculate electrical resistance because they can be used to build vape components. It appears to have hit the cannabis industry at a higher rate than tobacco, as few tobacco vapes have a companion application.

The removal was sudden but not unexpected, given the climate at the time. In 2019, the vaping industry suffered a crisis as the Centers for Disease Control stumbled through a health scare caused by illicit products. Industry experts quickly identified a filler additive as the source of the illnesses, but these reports were ignored for months, creating widespread panic. Consumer sentiment promptly settled on the conclusion that all vapes are harmful, even when clear data shows the opposite. Vapes sourced through legal means are proven to be safer alternatives than other consumption methods.

It’s important to note Apple didn’t disable the apps or force the removal from phones. Apps that had already been downloaded continued to work, though they could not be updated.

Yesterday — February 19th 2020Your RSS feeds

Announcing the final agenda for Robotics + AI — March 3 at UC Berkeley

By Richard Smith

TechCrunch is returning to U.C. Berkeley on March 3 to bring together some of the most influential minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Each year we strive to bring together a cross-section of big companies and exciting new startups, along with top researchers, VCs and thinkers.

In addition to a main stage that includes the likes of Amazon’s Tye Brady, U .C. Berkeley’s Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan of Waymo, Claire Delaunay of NVIDIA, James Kuffner of Toyota’s TRI-AD, and a surprise interview with Disney Imagineers, we’ll also be offering a more intimate Q&A stage featuring speakers from SoftBank Robotics, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, NVIDIA and more.

Alongside a selection of handpicked demos, we’ll also be showcasing the winners from our first-ever pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. You won’t get a better look at exciting new robotics technologies than that. Tickets for the event are still available. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Zellerbach Hall.

Agenda

8:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Registration Open Hours

General Attendees can pick up their badges starting at 8:30 am at Lower Sproul Plaza located in front of Zellerbach Hall. We close registration at 4:00 pm.

10:00 AM – 10:05 AM

Welcome and Introduction from Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Saving Humanity from AI with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

10:25 AM – 10:45 AM

Engineering for the Red Planet with Lucy Condakchian (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its sixth (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

10:45 AM – 11:05 AM

Automating Amazon with Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics)

Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a work space. 

11:05 AM – 11:15 AM

Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club 

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Book signing with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

Join one of the foremost experts in artificial intelligence as he signs copies of his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible.

11:35 AM – 12:05 PM

Building the Robots that Build with Daniel Blank (Toggle Industries), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics), Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics) and Brian Ringley (Boston Dynamics)

Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete, Dusty builds robot-powered tools and longtime robotics pioneers Boston Dynamics have recently joined the construction space. We’ll talk with the founders and experts from these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

12:15 PM – 1:00 PM

Q&A: Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions with Kass Dawson (SoftBank Robotics America), Carlos Kokron (Qualcomm Ventures), and Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with three of the top minds in corporate VC.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-off 

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.

1:15 PM – 2:00 PM

Q&A: Founding Robotics Companies with Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics)

Your chance to ask questions of some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage

1:25 PM – 1:50 PM

Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry’s VCs with Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator)

Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

1:50 PM – 2:15 PM

Facilitating Human-Robot Interaction with Mike Dooley (Labrador Systems) and Clara Vu (Veo Robotics)

As robots become an ever more meaningful part of our lives, interactions with humans are increasingly inevitable. These experts will discuss the broad implications of HRI in the workplace and home.

2:15 PM – 2:40 PM

Toward a Driverless Future with Anca Dragan (UC Berkeley/Waymo), Jinnah Hosein (Aurora) and Jur van den Berg (Ike)

Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty of roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here. 

2:15 PM – 3:00 PM

Q&A: Investing in Robotics Startups with Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures), Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners) and Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI

2:40 PM – 3:10 PM

Disney Robotics

Imagineers from Disney will present start of the art robotics built to populate its theme parks.

3:10 PM – 3:35 PM

Bringing Robots to Life with Max Bajracharya and James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development)

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.

3:15 PM – 4:00 PM

Q&A: Building Robotics Platforms with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA) and Steve Macenski (Samsung Research America)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest engineers in robotics and AI.

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Next Century of Robo-Exoticism with Abigail De Kosnik (UC Berkeley), David Ewing Duncan, Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley), and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs)

In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. One hundred years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism,” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies and stereotypes.

4:00 PM – 4:10 PM 

Live Demo from Somatic

4:10 PM – 4:35 PM

Opening the Black Box with Explainable AI with Trevor Darrell (UC Berkeley), Krishna Gade (Fiddler Labs) and Karen Myers (SRI International)

Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.

4:35 PM – 5:00 PM 

Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots with Lewis Anderson (Traptic), Sebastian Boyer (FarmWise) and Michael Norcia (Pyka)

The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.

5:00 PM – 5:25 PM

Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups with Claire Delaunay (NVIDIA), Scott Phoenix (Vicarious) and Joshua Wilson (Freedom Robotics

Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Speakers will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large scale enterprises.

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Unofficial After Party, (Cash Bar Only) 

Come hang out at the unofficial After Party at Tap Haus, 2518 Durant Ave, Ste C, Berkeley

Final Tickets Available

We only have so much space in Zellerbach Hall and tickets are selling out fast. Grab your General Admission Ticket right now for $350 and save 50 bucks as prices go up at the door.

Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here. Student tickets are limited.

Startup Exhibitor Packages are sold out!

Google launches the first developer preview of Android 11

By Frederic Lardinois

With the days of desert-themed releases officially behind it, Google today announced the first developer preview of Android 11, which is now available as system images for Google’s own Pixel devices, starting with the Pixel 2.

As of now, there is no way to install the updates over the air. That’s usually something the company makes available at a later stage. These first releases aren’t meant for regular users anyway. Instead, they are a way for developers to test their applications and get a head start on making use of the latest features in the operating system.

With Android 11 we’re keeping our focus on helping users take advantage of the latest innovations, while continuing to keep privacy and security a top priority,” writes Google VP of Engineering Dave Burke. “We’ve added multiple new features to help users manage access to sensitive data and files, and we’ve hardened critical areas of the platform to keep the OS resilient and secure. For developers, Android 11 has a ton of new capabilities for your apps, like enhancements for foldables and 5G, call-screening APIs, new media and camera capabilities, machine learning, and more.”

Unlike some of Google’s previous early previews, this first version of Android 11 does actually bring quite a few new features to the table. As Burke noted, there are some obligatory 5G features like a new bandwidth estimate API, for example, as well as a new API that checks whether a connection is unmetered so apps can play higher resolution video, for example.

With Android 11, Google is also expanding its Project Mainline lineup of updatable modules from 10 to 22. With this, Google is able to update critical parts of the operating system without having to rely on the device manufacturers to release a full OS update. Users simply install these updates through the Google Play infrastructure.

Users will be happy to see that Android 11 will feature native support for waterfall screens that cover a device’s edges, using a new API that helps developers manage interactions near those edges.

Also new are some features that developers can use to handle conversational experiences, including a dedicated conversation section in the notification shade, as well as a new chat bubbles API and the ability to insert images into replies you want to send from the notifications pane.

Unsurprisingly, Google is adding a number of new privacy and security features to Android 11, too. These include one-time permissions for sensitive types of data, as well as updates to how the OS handles data on external storage, which it first previewed last year.

As for security, Google is expanding its support for biometrics and adding different levels of granularity (strong, weak and device credential), in addition to the usual hardening of the platform you would expect from a new release.

There are plenty of other smaller updates as well, including some that are specifically meant to make running machine learning applications easier, but Google specifically highlights the fact that Android 11 will also bring a couple of new features to the OS that will help IT manage corporate devices with enhanced work profiles.

This first developer preview of Android 11 is launching about a month earlier than previous releases, so Google is giving itself a bit more time to get the OS ready for a wider launch. Currently, the release schedule calls for monthly developer preview releases until April, followed by three betas and a final release in Q3 2020.

Founders Fund confirms $3 billion in new capital across two funds

By Jonathan Shieber

Founders Fund, the investment firm led by its controversial co-founder Peter Thiel and partners Keith Rabois and Brian Singerman, has closed on $3 billion in new capital across two investment funds, TechCrunch confirmed.

News of the firm’s latest fundraising close was first reported in Axios.

The firm’s $1.2 billion Founders Fund VII closed in December and follows on the heels of a $1.3 billion Fund VI, which closed in 2016. The firm’s first growth fund, which raked in $1.5 billion, closed on Monday as well, according to a spokesperson for the investment firm. An additional $300 million in commitments is coming from the firm’s partnership to round out the $3 billion figure.

Fundraising for the new investment vehicles was first reported in The Wall Street Journal last October. And it follows the reunion earlier in 2019 of Rabois and Thiel — two of the most notorious members of the “PayPal mafia” that’s produced a number of billionaire entrepreneurs and investors.

The speed with which Founders Fund has been able to raise new capital is matched by the firm’s alacrity in deploying new dollars, according to industry watchers. Rabois in particular has made a splash at Founders Fund since joining the firm — investing large sums in competitive rounds, investors said.

But the firm’s success in fundraising is likely due to the returns it has been able to reap for its limited partners. For its 2011-vintage fund four, Founders Fund has more than quadrupled every dollar that the fund committed, to $4.60, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal (thanks to investments in Airbnb and Stripe Inc.). That figure compares favorably to the industry average of $2.11. Meanwhile, the firm’s third fund saw its returns increase to $3.80, 75 cents more than the industry average.

Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister described how the firm’s investment practices differ from other venture capital investors in a wide-ranging interview with TechCrunch last year:

As for how decisions get made, Banister explained that the voting structure is dependent on the size of the check. “So you’d meet with one or two or three or four partners, depending on your [investing] stage,” she told attendees. Because she’s looking at very early-stage startups, for example, she doesn’t have to meet with many people to make a decision. As “dollar amounts gets larger,” she continued, “you’re looking at full GP oversight,” including the involvement of senior members like Brian Singerman and Keith Rabois, and “that can a little more difficult.”

At Axios, Dan Primack reported that the growth fund would write checks of $100 million at least. The firm’s investment decisions would be structured with any two investment team members agreeing to back deals under $1.5 million. Any deal above $1.5 million requires approval from one partner and a general partner; deals above $5 million require one partner and two general partners; and deals above $10 million require approvals from two partners and the unanimous approval of Singerman, Thiel and Rabois. Any deal requiring the approval of the general partners means that the startup that is pitching has to at least talk on the phone or meet in person with the general partners.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the firm’s Fund VII was $1.2 billion and its Growth Fund was $1.5 billion. 

Google Cloud opens its Seoul region

By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud today announced that its new Seoul region, its first in Korea, is now open for business. The region, which it first talked about last April, will feature three availability zones and support for virtually all of Google Cloud’s standard service, ranging from Compute Engine to BigQuery, Bigtable and Cloud Spanner.

With this, Google Cloud now has a presence in 16 countries and offers 21 regions with a total of 64 zones. The Seoul region (with the memorable name of asia-northeast3) will complement Google’s other regions in the area, including two in Japan, as well as regions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but the obvious focus here is on serving Korean companies with low-latency access to its cloud services.

“As South Korea’s largest gaming company, we’re partnering with Google Cloud for game development, infrastructure management, and to infuse our operations with business intelligence,” said Chang-Whan Sul, the CTO of Netmarble. “Google Cloud’s region in Seoul reinforces its commitment to the region and we welcome the opportunities this initiative offers our business.”

Over the course of this year, Google Cloud also plans to open more zones and regions in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Tortoise co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko is bringing autonomous scooters to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Megan Rose Dickey

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is gearing up to be a lit event. The one-day event, taking place May 14 in San Jose, has just added Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of an automatic repositioning startup for micromobility vehicles. Yes, that means we’ll be having autonomous scooters rolling around onstage. #2020

Tortoise, which recently received approval to deploy its tech in San Jose, is looking to become an operating system of sorts for micromobility vehicles. Just how Android is the operating system for a number of mobile phones, Tortoise wants to be the operating system for micromobility vehicles.

Given the volume of micromobility operators in the space today, Tortoise aims to make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed. Using autonomous technology in tandem with remote human intervention, Tortoise’s software enables operators to remotely relocate their scooters and bikes to places where riders need them, or, where operators need them to be recharged. On an empty sidewalk, Tortoise may employ autonomous technologies, while it may rely on humans to remotely control the vehicle on a highly trafficked city block.

Before co-founding Tortoise, Shevelenko served as Uber’s director of business development. While at Uber, Shevelenko helped the company expand into new mobility and led the acquisition of JUMP Bikes . Needless to say, Shevelenko is well-versed to talk about the next opportunities in micromobility.

Other speakers at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 include Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana; Uber’s director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay; and Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky.

Tickets are on sale now for $250 (early-bird status). After April 9, tickets go up, so be sure to get yours before that deadline. If you’re a student, tickets cost just $50.

Early-stage startups in the mobility space can book an exhibitor package for $2,000 and get four tickets and a demo table. Packages allow you to get in front of some of the biggest names in the industry and meet new customers. Book your tickets here.

SentinelOne raises $200M at a $1.1B valuation to expand its AI-based endpoint security platform

By Ingrid Lunden

As cybercrime continues to evolve and expand, a startup that is building a business focused on endpoint security has raised a big round of funding. SentinelOne — which provides a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones, containerised applications and the many other devices and services connected to a network — has picked up $200 million, a Series E round of funding that it says catapults its valuation to $1.1 billion.

The funding is notable not just for its size but for its velocity: it comes just eight months after SentinelOne announced a Series D of $120 million, which at the time valued the company around $500 million. In other words, the company has more than doubled its valuation in less than a year — a sign of the cybersecurity times.

This latest round is being led by Insight Partners, with Tiger Global Management, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Vista Public Strategies of Vista Equity Partners, Third Point Ventures, and other undisclosed previous investors all participating.

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in an interview that while this round gives SentinelOne the flexibility to remain in “startup” mode (privately funded) for some time — especially since it came so quickly on the heels of the previous large round — an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company. “But we’re not in any rush,” he added. “We have one to two years of growth left as a private company.”

While cybercrime is proving to be a very expensive business (or very lucrative, I guess, depending on which side of the equation you sit on), it has also meant that the market for cybersecurity has significantly expanded.

Endpoint security, the area where SentinelOne concentrates its efforts, last year was estimated to be around an $8 billion market, and analysts project that it could be worth as much as $18.4 billion by 2024.

Driving it is the single biggest trend that has changed the world of work in the last decade. Everyone — whether a road warrior or a desk-based administrator or strategist, a contractor or full-time employee, a front-line sales assistant or back-end engineer or executive — is now connected to the company network, often with more than one device. And that’s before you consider the various other “endpoints” that might be connected to a network, including machines, containers and more. The result is a spaghetti of a problem. One survey from LogMeIn, disconcertingly, even found that some 30% of IT managers couldn’t identify just how many endpoints they managed.

“The proliferation of devices and the expanding network are the biggest issues today,” said Weingarten. “The landscape is expanding and it is getting very hard to monitor not just what your network looks like but what your attackers are looking for.”

This is where an AI-based solution like SentinelOne’s comes into play. The company has roots in the Israeli cyberintelligence community but is based out of Mountain View, and its platform is built around the idea of working automatically not just to detect endpoints and their vulnerabilities, but to apply behavioral models, and various modes of protection, detection and response in one go — in a product that it calls its Singularity Platform that works across the entire edge of the network.

“We are seeing more automated and real-time attacks that themselves are using more machine learning,” Weingarten said. “That translates to the fact that you need defence that moves in real time as with as much automation as possible.”

SentinelOne is by no means the only company working in the space of endpoint protection. Others in the space include Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec and many others.

But nonetheless, its product has seen strong uptake to date. It currently has some 3,500 customers, including three of the biggest companies in the world, and “hundreds” from the global 2,000 enterprises, with what it says has been 113% year-on-year new bookings growth, revenue growth of 104% year-on-year, and 150% growth year-on-year in transactions over $2 million. It has 500 employees today and plans to hire up to 700 by the end of this year.

One of the key differentiators is the focus on using AI, and using it at scale to help mitigate an increasingly complex threat landscape, to take endpoint security to the next level.

“Competition in the endpoint market has cleared with a select few exhibiting the necessary vision and technology to flourish in an increasingly volatile threat landscape,” said Teddie Wardi, MD of Insight Partners, in a statement. “As evidenced by our ongoing financial commitment to SentinelOne along with the resources of Insight Onsite, our business strategy and ScaleUp division, we are confident that SentinelOne has an enormous opportunity to be a market leader in the cybersecurity space.”

Weingarten said that SentinelOne “gets approached every year” to be acquired, although he didn’t name any names. Nevertheless, that also points to the bigger consolidation trend that will be interesting to watch as the company grows. SentinelOne has never made an acquisition to date, but it’s hard to ignore that, as the company to expand its products and features, that it might tap into the wider market to bring in other kinds of technology into its stack.

“There are definitely a lot of security companies out there,” Weingarten noted. “Those that serve a very specific market are the targets for consolidation.”

Level launches a mobile banking app offering 1% cash back on debit purchases, 2.10% APY

By Sarah Perez

A number of startups are taking on big banks with new apps that offer modern, mobile banking experiences, innovative features, and reduced or even zero fees. Entering this now-crowded market is Level, a challenger bank and banking app with advantages like 1% cash back on debit card purchases, 2.1% APY on deposits, early access to paychecks, and no fees.

The banking service is the latest from the same team behind the “debit-style” credit card called Zero, aimed at millennials who want the benefits of credit, without the potential for overspending. As Zero, the company last year closed on $20 million in Series A funding from New Enterprise Associates (NEA) SignalFire, Eniac Ventures, and Nyca, bringing its total raise to date $35 million.

Similar to Zero, Level also targets a younger demographic — in this case, those who no longer see the need for physical banks, when a bank account, useful app, and debit card is all they need. Today, there are several of these sorts of banking services to choose from; in the U.S., for example, there’s Simple, Ally, Chime, Varo, N26, Current, Space, Step, Stash, Empower, and others.

Level takes on these rival challenger banks, too, by offering a higher 2.10% APY on its FDIC-insured deposits, without requiring a minimum balance. The company notes that’s 35x the national average, based on U.S. bank balances with a less than $100,000 balance.

It also snags a feature popular with credit card users, by offering 1.0% unlimited cash bank on debit card spending. This cashback applies to both signature-based and online purchases, and is paid out on accounts that have at least a $1,000 monthly direct deposit. To be clear, a signature-based purchase means you select “credit” instead of “debit” when paying at point-of-sale. This determines how the merchant processes the transaction and the fees it pays. In Level’s case, it’s sharing some of those fees back with customers as the “cash back” option.

Level is likely counting on the fact that running a card as credit takes an extra step, so customers will skip this when they’re in a hurry and run the card as a debit instead — allowing Level to keep the fees for itself.

Like many challenger banks, Level offers early access to your paycheck. For customers with a direct deposit, Level will make the funds available based on when they are received, which could be up to 2 days early.

Also like most other banking startups, Level ditches the numerous fees big banks charge. There are no monthly, overdraft, foreign transaction or add-on ATM fees, says Level, and no minimum balance is required to have an account. It will even reimburse ATM fees worldwide up to 3 times per month, at up to $4 per reimbursement to take the sting out of the increasingly costly fees to access your cash.

Level additionally includes features that have now become part of the baseline experience for challenger banking apps, like being able to see transactions on a map, lock a missing debit card from the app, and receive push notifications for purchases, refunds, and transfers.

The app itself has a clean, modern almost minimalist design, making it simple to understand and navigate. However, it sadly opted for that terrible design trend of using an overly lightened gray font on a white background. This could put off older customers, as it makes the screen harder to read.

However, where it’s lacking is in the more robust bill, expense and goal planning features offered by other banking apps like Simple, Empower or N26, for example, which help users better plan for both recurring expenses as well as long-term goals.

However, like most (but not all) of the digital banks operating today in the U.S., Level itself is not a bank. Its customers’ funds are actually held in FDIC-insured accounts (up to $250K) through Evolve Bank & Trust. Level, meanwhile, provides the technology, the customer-facing experience, and banking services.

“Level was built to challenge the status quo in banking and put an end to the era of big banks holding people’s money while giving them no interest, a clunky app experience, and frustrating customer service,” said Level founder and CEO Bryce Galen, in a statement. “Level is able to give customers dramatically better rewards and interest, a design-forward app, and superior customer support. Our goal is to revolutionize the way people engage with their finances on a daily basis,” he added.

Level is available today on both iOS and Android, after first signing up on levelbank.com.

Google Cloud acquires mainframe migration service Cornerstone

By Frederic Lardinois

Google today announced that it has acquired Cornerstone, a Dutch company that specializes in helping enterprises migrate their legacy workloads from mainframes to public clouds. Cornerstone, which provides very hands-on migration assistance, will form the basis of Google Cloud’s mainframe-to-GCP solutions.

This move is very much in line with Google Cloud’s overall enterprise strategy, which focuses on helping existing enterprises move their legacy workloads into the cloud (and start new projects as cloud-native solutions from the get-go).

“This is one more example of how Google Cloud is helping enterprise customers modernize their infrastructure and applications as they transition to the cloud,” said John Jester, VP of Customer Experience at Google Cloud. “We’ve been making great strides to better serve enterprise customers, including introducing Premium Support, better aligning our Customer Success organization, simplifying our commercial contracting process to make it easier to do business with Google Cloud, and expanding our partner relationships.”

A lot of businesses still rely on their mainframes to power mission-critical workloads. Moving them to the cloud is often a very complex undertaking, which is where Cornerstone and similar vendors come in. It doesn’t help that a lot of these mainframe applications were written in Cobol, PL/1 or assembly. Cornerstone’s technology can automatically break down these processes into cloud-native services that are then managed within a containerized environment. It can also migrate databases as needed.

It’s worth noting that Google Cloud also recently introduced support for IBM Power Systems in its cloud. This, too, was a move to help enterprises move their legacy systems into the cloud. With Cornerstone, Google Cloud adds yet another layer on top of this by providing even more hands-on migration assistance for users who want to slowly modernize their overall stack without having to re-architect all of their legacy applications.

 

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Join the Q&A with top speakers at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI (March 3)

By Brian Heater

Over the past four years, TechCrunch has brought together some of the biggest names in robotics — founders, CEOs, VCs and researchers — for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI. The show has provided a unique opportunity to explore the future and present of robotics, AI and the automation technologies that will define our professional and personal lives.

While the panels have been curated and hosted by our editorial staff, we’ve also long been interested in providing show-goers an opportunity to engage with guests. For this reason, we introduced the Q&A stage, where some of the biggest names can more directly engage with attendees.

This year, we’ve got top names from SoftBank, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, Nvidia and more joining us on the stage to answer questions. Here’s the full agenda of this year’s Q&A stage:

11:30 – 12:00 Russell Book signing
Stuart Russell

12:15 – 1:00 Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions
Carlos Kocher (Qualcomm)
/> Kass Dawson (SoftBank)
Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

1:15 – 2:00 Founders
Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise)
Noah Campbell-Ready (Built Robotics)

2:15 – 3:00 VC
Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners)
/> Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures)
Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

3:15 – 4:00 Building Robotics Platforms
Steven Macenski (Samsung)
Claire Delaunay (Nvidia)

$345 General admission tickets are still on sale — book yours here and join 1,000+ of today’s leading minds in the business for networking and discovery. The earlier you book the better, as prices go up at the door.

Students, save big with a $50 ticket and get full access to the show. Student tickets are available to current students only. Book yours here.

Noom competitor OurPath rebrands as Second Nature, raises $10M Series A

By Mike Butcher

Back in 2018, OurPath emerged as a startup in the U.K. tackling the problem of diabetes. The company helped customers tackle the disease, and raised a $3 million round of funding by combining advice from health experts with tracking technology via a smartphone app to help people build healthy habits and lose weight.

Now rebranded as Second Nature, it has raised a fresh $10 million in Series A funding.

New investors include Uniqa Ventures, the venture capital fund of Uniqa, a European insurance group, and the founders of mySugr, the digital diabetes management platform which was acquired by health giant Roche .

The round also secured the backing of existing investors including Connect and Speedinvest, two European seed funds, and Bethnal Green Ventures, the early-stage Impact investor, as well as angels including Taavet Hinrikus, founder of Transferwise.

This new injection takes the total investment in the company to $13m.

Competitors to the company include Weight Watchers and Noom, which provides a similar program and has raised $114.7M.

Second Nature claims to have a different, more intensive and personalized, approach to create habit change. The startup claims 10,000 of its participants revealed an average weight loss of 5.9kg at the 12-week mark. Separate peer-reviewed scientific data published by the company showed that much of this weight-loss is sustained at the 6-month and 12-month mark

Under its former guise as OurPath, the startup was the first ‘lifestyle change program’ to be commissioned by the NHS for diabetes management.

Second Nature was founded in 2015 by Chris Edson and Mike Gibbs, former healthcare strategy consultants, who designed the program to provide people with personalized support in order to make lifestyle changes.

Participants receive a set of ‘smart’ scales and an activity tracker that links with the app, allowing them to track their weight loss progress and daily step count. They are placed in a peer support group of 15 people starting simultaneously. Each group is coached by a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, who provides participants with daily 1:1 advice, support and motivation to via the app. Throughout the 12-week program, people have access to healthy recipes and daily articles covering topics like meal planning, how to sleep better, and overcoming emotional eating.

Gibbs said: “Our goal as Second Nature is to solve obesity. We need to rise above the confusing health misinformation to provide clarity about what’s really important: changing habits. Our new brand and investment will help us realize that.”

Philip Edmondson-Jones, Investment Manager at Beringea, who led the investment and joins the Board of Directors of Second Nature said: “Healthcare systems are struggling to cope with spiraling rates of obesity and associated illnesses, which are projected to cost the global economy $1.2tn annually by 2025. Second Nature’s pioneering approach to lifestyle change empowers people to address these conditions.”

New Early Stage speakers to talk fundraising strategies, growth marketing and PR

By Jordan Crook

TC Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, and we are getting pretty damn excited about it!

The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations and marketing. We’ll hear from VCs on how to create the perfect pitch deck and how to identify the right investors for you. We’ll hear from lawyers on how to navigate the immigration process when hiring, and how to negotiate the cap table. And we’ll hear from growth hackers on how to build a high-performance SEO engine, and PR experts on how to tell your brand’s story.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, I’m pleased to announce four more breakout sessions.


Lo Toney

Toney is the founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, which was incubated and spun out from GV. Before Plexo, Toney was a partner with Comcast Ventures, where he led the Catalyst Fund, and then moved to GV where he focused on marketplace, mobile and consumer products. Toney also has operational experience, having served as the GM of Zynga Poker, the company’s largest franchise at the time.

Think Like a PM for VC Pitch Success

Your pitchdeck is not just a reflection of your business, it’s a product unto itself. Your startup’s success, and avoiding the end of your runway, depends on the conversion rate of that product. Hear from Plexo Capital founding partner Lo Toney about how thinking like a PM when crafting your pitch deck can produce outstanding results.


Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw

Shaw and Rubino are marketing consultants for Right Side Up, a growth marketing consultancy. Prior to Right Side Up, Shaw scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft and Texture, and has worked with brands like McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur Sealy. Rubino has worked with companies across all stages and sizes, including Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft and Stitch Fix.

Why You Need Podcasts in Your Growth Marketing Mix

Podcast advertising is widely viewed as a nascent medium, but smart companies know it can be a powerful channel in their marketing mix. Opportunity is ripe — get in early and you can own the medium, box out competitors and catapult your growth. Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw have launched and scaled successful podcast ad campaigns for early-stage startups and household name brands and will be sharing their strategies for companies to succeed in this often misunderstood channel.


Jake Saper

Jake Saper, the son of serial co-founders, has been obsessed with entrepreneurialism from a young age. His origin in venture capital started at Kleiner Perkins, and he moved on to become a partner at Emergence in 2014, where he became a Kauffman Fellow. He serves on the boards of Textio, Guru, Ironclad, DroneDeploy, and Vymo, and his self-described “nerdy love” of frameworks has only grown over the years.

When It Comes to Fundraising, Timing Is Everything

There are some shockingly common timing mistakes founders make that can turn an otherwise successful fundraise into a failure. We’ll talk through how to avoid them and how to sequence efforts from the time you close your seed to ensure you find the right partner (at the right price!) for Series A and beyond.


April Conyers

Conyers has been in the communications industry for 15 years, currently serving as the senior director of Corporate Communications at Postmates . Before Postmates, Conyers served as a VP at Brew PR, working with clients like Automattic, NetSuite, Oracle, Doctor on Demand and about.me. During that time, she also found herself on BI’s “The 50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry In 2014” list.

The Media Is Misunderstood, But Your Company Shouldn’t Be

With the media industry in a state of flux, navigating the process of telling your story can be confusing and overwhelming. Hear from Postmates Senior Director of Corporate Communication April Conyers on how startups should think about PR, and how to get your message across in a hectic media landscape.


Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, with more than 50 breakout sessions to choose from. However, 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 great app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ 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, as well as those already announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour 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? Hit us up right here.

Gojek reportedly buys 4.3% stake in Indonesian taxi company Blue Bird

By Catherine Shu

Gojek has paid $30 million to take a minority stake in Blue Bird, one of the largest taxi operators in Indonesia, according to Bloomberg, which first reported that the deal was in progress last month.

Gojek’s stake in Blue Bird is worth $30 million. The taxi operator’s holding company disclosed in a regulatory filing earlier this month that it had sold 108 million shares of Blue Bird at 3,800 rupiahs (about 28 cents) to an undisclosed buyer. The company already offered reservations for Blue Bird taxis on its super-app, and the investment brings the two closer.

Gojek’s “super-app,” called that because it offers a wide range of services, including on-demand rides and deliveries, a payment service, streaming entertainment and home cleaning, competes against Grab, which announced last July that it will use $2 billion of the funding it raised from SoftBank to invest in Indonesian transportation infrastructure and businesses.

While Gojek and Grab compete in several markets, Gojek is currently the biggest player in Indonesia.

TechCrunch has contacted Gojek for comment.

GGV Capital says mom-and-pop shops can boost e-commerce in emerging markets

By Catherine Shu

Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce in India, Southeast Asia and other emerging markets, the vast majority of retail transactions there still happen offline in small stores that also serve as neighborhood hubs.

The central role these stores play in their communities led GGV Capital to develop what the firm refers to as its mom-and-pop shop investment thesis. This means backing startups that help small retailers digitize operations, tap into better supply chains and serve as delivery points in markets where logistics and online payment infrastructures are still developing. In turn, GGV’s managing partners believe this will lay the groundwork for stronger e-commerce growth.

Companies that GGV has already invested in under this thesis include B2B e-commerce platform Udaan and Telio, bookkeeping app KhataBook and social commerce startup Shihuituan (also called Nice Tuan) in China.

A sociological approach to e-commerce investment

GGV managing partner Hans Tung says the mom-and-pop shop thesis means looking at consumers’ shopping habits across countries and understanding why they are different from a historical and social perspective. During his career, Tung has observed e-commerce develop in markets including the United States, China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Offline shopping habits, population density, transportation infrastructure and credit card penetration all played a factor in how e-commerce evolved in each of those places.

“You realize e-commerce doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists as a substitute for what is happening in the offline world,” he says. “Mobile payment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It just fulfills the same needs with a different method. It was a substitution for what was happening in the offline world with credit card and debit card penetration.”

Images of TCL’s slide-out display smartphone surface in wake of MWC cancellation

By Brian Heater

This morning brought a look at some of what we’re missing at this year’s Mobile World Congress. The show may have been called off on account of coronavirus concerns, but the news goes on.

We knew that TCL was planning to show off a number of “alternative” smartphone form factors, and one just showed up on CNET. The device presents a promising take on the world of expandable screens, with a kind of slide-out display that expands the standard smartphone into something more akin to a tablet.

TCL, of course, showed off its own foldable at MWC last year, but the device was encased in a block of glass. By all accounts, the company’s decision to not rush to market was a good one, as foldables have not gotten off to the most auspicious of starts.

The sources behind the images say that the device would have debuted at MWC, though it’s hard to judge how far along the technology is, given the fact that these are, indeed, renders. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that best-case scenario, it would have been another under-glass, hands-off debut. These days, it seems that manufacturers are increasingly following the automotive model of showing off early concepts that may or may not ever actually come to market. The word “prototype” certainly seems apt in this case. 

In either case, a TCL rep declined to offer TechCrunch a comment on the images or whether we’ll get a better look in spite of the show’s cancellation.

Living with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

By Brian Heater

The Galaxy Z Flip ships with the same “Care Instructions” as the Fold. It’s a five-item list with the following basic points:

  • Don’t scratch the screen with a pen or fingernail
  • Don’t stick stuff between the screens when folding
  • Don’t get it dusty, wet or feed it after midnight
  • Don’t stick stickers to the screen
  • Don’t get it near credit cards or your pacemaker

Unlike the last time around, however, these warnings seem to have been included out of an (understandable) abundance of caution. As stated in my hands-on the other day, the Flip feels more solid than the Fold in just about every way, from the folding mechanism to the display, which now sports foldable protective glass.

A couple of notes before we start here. First, and most importantly, this is a rare 24-hour device loan. Short loan times are not entirely uncommon with high-end products, but a single day is a bit extreme. I’m being upfront about this because:

  1. You can only go into so much depth with limited time.
  2. It’s worth noting what appears to be a bit of caution on Samsung’s part.

This isn’t a case of an early product in limited supply. The Z Flip went on sale today (happy Valentine’s/Sonic the Hedgehog Day to you and yours). If I had to venture a guess, it would be that Samsung is still reeling a bit from fallout from the Fold, which found a number of review devices breaking prior to the product hitting the market.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

For all of the downside, however, I would argue that coverage that pushed the company to reinforce the product before actually selling it for $2,000 a pop was ultimately a good things. Besides, as was pointed out to me, most if not all of the faulty Folds went sideways before the 24-hour mark.

See also: the Moto Razr. Reviews of the product have started filtering in a week or so after the product hit the market. Seems the company opted not to give out review units until the product was already available (full transparency: I still haven’t gotten my hands on a review unit). The analogy I keep coming back to is movie reviews. If you don’t see any professional reviews by the time a movie hits theaters, that probably doesn’t bode well for spending $10 of your hard-earned cash.

None of this is an indictment of the Galaxy Z Flip, which so far is proving to be a pretty solid device. It’s more a comment on the optics of it all. Give than the handset is roughly the same price as 150 movies, reviews are all that much more valuable to consumers — many of whom are understandably wary after the category’s rocky start.

It’s a shame, because I’ve been enjoying my time with the Galaxy Z Flip. In many ways, this is exactly the device Samsung’s original foldable should have been. For starters, the form factor just makes more sense. The “why” of the Fold was significantly more difficult to explain to those outside the industry (and frankly, many of those inside it, as well).

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Anyone who’s ever used a clamshell phone, on the other hand, will immediately get the Flip. You’ve got a roomy 6.7-inch screen that you can snap shut and stick in your pocket. It’s pretty much as simple as that — it’s just that there was a lot of innovation that had to happen in order to get us back to square one with a larger, uninterrupted touchscreen display.

Also of note is the price. Of course, $1,380 isn’t cheap by practically any measure, but that’s a pretty big drop down from the $2,000 Galaxy Fold. The argument that Fold users should have been extra careful with the device given its price point have always struck me as somewhat counter-intuitive. If anything, a device that price ought to have added safeguards built-in.

The Flip has implemented a number of learnings from the earlier product, namely a glass covering, edges hidden beneath (sizable) bezels and an advanced folding mechanism designed to keep dust and debris out. In fact, this time out, the folding mechanism itself is considered a marquee feature. Per Samsung’s press material:

Inspired by a lotus blossom, the Hideaway Hinge is precisely articulated for a satisfying folding motion — even allowing you to adjust the folding angle. Sweeper technology helps repel dirt and dust to keep your folds as smooth as your style.

That’s a marketing way of saying that it’s a lot harder to get crap trapped behind the screen, which could eventually break it. The folding mechanism is, indeed, a nice step up. It feels more robust than the sometimes floppy Fold. You can keep it open at different configurations, like a 90 degree “L” shape for watching videos.

The biggest downside of the more robust mechanism is that it’s harder to flip open with a single hand, owing to resistance, and it doesn’t have as satisfying a snap shut. Those all seem like pretty minor quibbles, to be honest — especially if it means a more robust product. Samsung rates the Z Flip at 200,000 folds — same as the Fold. Of course, in CNET’s testing, the Fold lasted about 120,000 mechanical folds.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Not terrible, and definitely better than the 27,000 or so the Razr made it through. Also, unlike Motorola’s device, the Flip doesn’t make a troubling creaking sound when it opens and shuts. The Razr really does seem awash in first-generation problems. Motorola can’t be pleased that Samsung introduced a competing device with the same form factor soon after its own product and was able to bring it to market roughly a week after the Razr.

I can’t imagine either of these devices will prove huge sellers for their respective manufactures, but if I was Motorola, the Flip would be cause for concern. The Razr went from an exciting new entry in the foldable category to another strike against it when it was released and both consumer and professional reviews began trickling in.

A little bit of the novelty has worn off for Samsung. That’s honestly not a bad thing. By the second generation, the product should no longer be reviewed as a sort of oddity. Instead, it should be regarded as a, you know, phone. And as such, should be subject to the same sort of regular wear any smartphones go through.

In other words, it’s reasonable to expect that it can withstand, say, a hard press from a finger but not necessarily a five-foot drop onto concrete. Again, this is only after a day of use, but so far, so good on that front, at least.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The 21.9×9 aspect ratio is an odd one. The phone is really tall and skinny. Also, the crease is still very noticeable — that much hasn’t changed. But the Flip looks mostly unremarkable when open. I was using it open on the subway ride home and no one seemed to notice (New Yorkers, amiright?). The Fold, on the other hand, drew curious looks every time I used it. If having strangers notice your expensive new phone is an incentive for spending $1,400, then that’s a downside, I suppose.

There haven’t been too many updates to the Android UI to accommodate the new screen paradigm. The biggest change is the ability to have two windows open in a vertical configuration. There’s also Flex model, which is currently limited to a select number of applications. Open, say, the camera app, bend the phone so it holds at a 90-degree angle and the app will adapt. In this case, the view finder moves up, occupying the top half of the screens while the controls take up the bottom. It’s a cool feature, with the device essentially serving as its own kickstand for things like taking selfies or reading the news.

Utilizing it more broadly is going to require more work on Google’s part — and more adoption from app developers. The latter especially is going to depend quite a lot on how many of these devices are actually sold. For now, YouTube is the one pure video app that utilizes it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

That’s fine, honestly, as turning the device to landscape mode and opening it to about 130 degrees is actually an even better way to watch widescreen video. There are a smattering of other tricks here and there. Holding up a palm in selfie-mode, for instance, let’s you snap a photo without touching a button or using voice.

The Flip is the first Samsung device to bake Google’s Duo video calling directly into the UI. It’s a nice choice, too, since the Flex mode is basically built for video calling. Oh, and to answer the question I’ve been asked the most since the Flip was announced: yes, you can end a call by closing the phone. And yes, it is satisfying to give the person on the other end a tactile snap.

The feature is on by default and can be disabled in the settings menu. It won’t work if you have earbuds in, however, because in many cases you’ll want to be using them to chat while the phone is closed in your pocket.

As for the outside, Samsung’s gone decidedly minimalist. The inclusion of an exterior screen was a big selling point on the Fold, but honestly it was too skinny with too small an aspect ratio to do much. The outside of the device has a glossy mirror finish — black in my case. And yeah, it’s a complete fingerprint magnet.

There’s a one-inch display of sorts on the outside of the Flip, but it’s only large enough for small at-a-glance information like battery life and time. It can also show off notifications, but it’s too small to accomplish much without scrolling. If you’ve ever attempted to read a notification on a hybrid smartwatch, the experience is fairly similar.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The little window is actually a touchscreen. A double tap will turn it on, and from there a swipe with show off information like the music you’re listening to. Attempting to click into an app icon for more information on a notification, however, will prompt you to open the phone for more information. Interestingly, the tiny screen also serves as a view finder. Double-clicking the fingerprint reader/power button will fire it up. It’s okay for getting a rough approximation of what you’re shooting (likely yourself), but is pretty useless beyond that.

And honestly, I think that’s fine. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I think that’s actually a strength. In an era when so many of us are grappling with smartphone use, there’s something to be said for the ability to snap the device shut and disconnect for a bit. You can keep streaming music or listening to podcasts, but when the phone is closed, it’s time to engage with the world around you.

Or not. I’m not going to tell you how to live.

Hey, it’s your $1,400. There are plenty of other ways to spend that much money, of course. You could also pick up the Galaxy S20 Ultra — the mega premium version of Samsung’s latest flagship. For that price, you get the same-old boring form factor, coupled with some crazy high-end specs, including a 5,000 mAh battery, 12GB of RAM and the latest Snapdragon 865, versus the Flip’s 3,300 mAh, 8GB and Snapdragon 855+.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The Ultra also has an extreme edge on cameras, including a 108-megapixel wide angel, 48-megapixel telephoto, 12-megapixel ultra-wide and a time-of-fight sensor for depth. The Flip, meanwhile, sports a 12-megapixel zoom lens and 12-megapixel super-wide. There’s no competition, but Samsung’s breadth of imaging experience makes for a solid experience regardless.

Again, my time with the device has been limited, but so far I’m pretty satisfied with the combination of hardware an software options. The shots look good and have a nice color balance even in low light. I can’t see myself using Single Take too often, but the ability to get multiple different shot options with a single press could certainly prove useful for amateur photographers.

[gallery ids="1946884,1946886,1946881,1946882,1946883,1946885,1946887"]

Perhaps the most notable omission of all is 5G. While it’s true that a number of other companies (*cough* Apple) don’t even offer the option, Samsung introduced a 5G version of the Fold last year (in select markets) and went all in on 5G with the S20 line. It’s clear that the company took feedback over pricing concerns to heart with the Flip. The device is only available in a single configuration, highlighting the gulf between it and the Fold.

Which is to say, it’s still expensive, but that $500 or so makes a difference. So, too, does more robust build and new form factor. I’m recommending you buy the Flip. We’re still very much in the early stages of foldables here. That said, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Flip over the Fold. And while I haven’t really spent time with the Moto Razr, well, that seems like a slam dunk, too. 

Again, if I was Motorola, I would be considering, at very least, a significant price drop. While the Flip likely won’t convince the skeptical that foldables are the future, it should, at very least, be a heartening indication that Samsung is headed in the right direction.

Vodafone Idea shares tumble 23% after India orders it to pay billions in dues

By Manish Singh

Shares of Vodafone Idea fell by more than 23% on Friday after India’s apex court ordered the country’s second-largest telecom operator and Airtel, the third-largest telecom network, to arrange and pay billions of dollars in dues in a month.

In a strongly worded judgement, the Supreme Court rejected telecom networks’ application to defer paying historic $13 billion levies to the government. “This is pure contempt, 100% contempt,” Justice Arun Mishra told lawyers.

The order today, which may result in U.K. telecom giant Vodafone’s local joint venture’s collapse, saw Vodafone Idea’s shares plunge by 23.21%. Vodafone Idea had more than 336 million subscribers as of November last year, according to official figures (PDF).

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court’s order was followed by direction from the Department of Telecoms to pay the dues by the end of Friday. The local ministry of telecommunications also ordered the telecom companies to keep their relevant offices open on Saturday to “facilitate” payments and answer queries.

In October, the Supreme Court ruled that Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, as well as several other operators, including some that are no longer operational, will have to pay the government within 90 days a combined $13 billion in adjusted gross revenue as spectrum usage charges and license fees.

The Indian government and telecom operators have for a decade disputed how gross revenue should be calculated. The government has mandated the license and spectrum fee to be paid by operators as a share of their revenue. Telcos have argued that only core income accrued from use of spectrum should be considered for calculation of adjusted gross revenue.

Commenting on the ruling, Airtel said that it would pay $1.3 billion by next week and the remainder (about $5 billion) before March 17, when the Supreme Court hears the case again. Its shares rose 4.69% on Friday as the telecom operator is in a better position to pay and the prospects of it being only the second major telecom network to fight Reliance Jio, the top network run by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani .

In recent months, executives of U.K.-headquartered Vodafone, which owns 45% of Vodafone Idea, have said that the group’s telecom business in India would “shut shop” if the government does not offer it any relief. Vodafone Idea, which is already saddled by $14 billion in net debt, owes about $4 billion in levies to the Indian government.

Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said in December that the firm is headed toward insolvency in the absence of a relief from the government. “It doesn’t make sense to put good money after bad,” he said then.

The last few years have been difficult for telecom operators in India, which arrived in the nation to secure a slice of the world’s second most populous market. But since 2016, they have lost tens of millions of subscribers after Ambani launched Reliance Jio and offered free data and voice calls for an extended period of time, forcing every other company to slash their tariffs.

Sidharth Luthra, a senior advocate at Supreme Court, said in a televised interview that the court is within its rights to reach such a decision, but said that perhaps they should have considered the economic consequences of the ruling that would impact jobs, and could disrupt the everyday lives of people who rely on a network’s services.

Vodafone Idea is the top trending topic on Twitter as of early Saturday (local time), as numerous people expressed concerns about the future prospects of the telecom network and worried if the service would remain operational for them.

Married co-founders are a startup’s secret weapon

By Anna Escher

“If I was running Clearbanc by myself, it probably would have gone off the cliff eight times at this point,” says Clearbanc co-founder Andrew D’Souza. 

“If I were running the company by myself, it would be half its size,” adds Michele Romanow, Clearbanc’s other co-founder.

In addition to starting the $420 million-backed fintech company together, D’Souza and Romanow are in a relationship.

The two initially met at an event in San Francisco, and followed up with a friendly informational interview at a Mexican restaurant. D’Souza’s fundraising experience was a draw for Romanow, who at the time was looking for information about how to raise cash for her startup. Romanow ended up selling her company to Groupon, but her conversation with D’Souza helped to anchor the valuation. It was also the beginning of a relationship. 

When they started dating in 2014, they swapped war stories about company building. Their connection hinged on this initial commonality — D’Souza had fundraised all his businesses, whereas Romanow had bootstrapped. It was from these conversations that they created Clearbanc, the Canada-based VC firm that specializes in non-dilutive revenue share agreements for startups.

Startups with coupled co-founders at the helm are scoring big funding rounds and exiting companies. Julia and Kevin Hartz co-founded Eventbrite, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. Married couple Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum were on the co-founding team of VMware, which sold to Dell in 2015. The bond of a relationship may be a secret weapon in company building for new-wave tech startups, but that doesn’t come without risks, like co-founder disharmony, equity supermajority and even divorce.

Clearbanc founders Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow

“Just put the phone down.”

Talk to anyone with a co-founder title at a startup and you’ll find one trend: free time is nearly nonexistent. Couples running a business together say it’s advantageous to be on the same workday cycle. “When you’re working on the same business, you’re on the same cadence of when things are blowing up,” says Romanow. “So I know exactly why Andrew is on his phone. I know that if he doesn’t do this, I will have to do it.” 

NEXT Trucking co-founders Lidia Yan and Elton Chung have raised $125 million total for their logistics startup, including a $97 million Series C from Brookfield and Sequoia. The pair says that the company is a presence that’s fully built into their lives and their relationship at all times. While that may be great for a business, it’s not always great for their marriage. “We got into a momentum of talking about work all the time. Not only at the office but at home,” says Yan. The solution is a simple rule enforced by an iPhone alarm. All work-related talk must cease after 8pm every day after the alarm goes off. They also use free time on the weekends to go to restaurants in LA, one of their shared passions. 

NEXT Trucking co-founders Lidia Yan and Elton Chung

Co-founder couples say that if you’re scaling a company, you’ll have to be okay with putting other life decisions on hold, like going on your honeymoon or having kids. 

Leslie Voorhees and Calley Means were married in 2016, but still haven’t taken their honeymoon. They co-founded Anomalie, a wedding dress customization startup that has raised $13 million. Instead of vacationing to Bora Bora the day after their wedding, the newlywed founders hopped on a plane to China, where Leslie stayed for a couple of months to set up the supply chain for Anomalie. The couple admits that even now, they don’t make time for their personal lives.

“We have not spent more than an hour of our entire marriage not talking about wedding dresses. It’s not necessarily the healthiest thing, but we’ve enjoyed obsessing about wedding dresses every day,” says Leslie.

Their skills complement each other: Calley’s superpower is that he can move fast, whereas Leslie is more methodical and good at setting up structure. While they say that being a co-founder couple has strengthened their bond, they’re working on setting boundaries. Being a founder means you have to sacrifice other areas of your life for the company. 

“Once we raise the Series D, we’ll start thinking about having kids,” jokes Calley — in what may not actually be a joke. 

Leslie Voorhees and Calley Means, Anomalie co-founders

Investors are warming up to married co-founders

Clearbanc wants to make it easier and faster for startups to raise growth capital. Their 20-minute term sheet product is meant to help founders raise money in 20 minutes, rather than the traditional 3 to 6 months the process typically takes. But how did investors react to Clearbanc’s co-founders relationship status? Not well, at first. 

A Clearbanc investor passed on an early round, explaining to D’Souza and Romanow that they would have backed either of them individually, but that they were worried about backing them as a couple, especially since they had only been dating for a year at that point.

“The same investor ended up coming in two rounds later at 100 times the valuation,” says D’Souza. This, they felt, proved that fear of investing in a couple was a false sense of increased risk.

It seems investors today agree. When the married co-founders of Apli, a Mexico-based on-demand recruiting platform, walked into the office of ALLVP, the fund wasn’t entirely sure about what it meant to invest in a company run by a married couple.

Founders Vera and Jose met while studying together at Harvard Business School before working at two separate Rocket Internet companies in Mexico and foundling Apli. The business model, product market fit and potential impact for the company were typical factors the fund mulled over before writing a check, but ALLVP also considered the founders’ married status.

“After some discussion, we decided to analyze the team as any other founding team,” says ALLVP partner Federico Antoni. Besides the obvious personal chemistry, there was a professional chemistry between Vera and Jose. “We weighed the risk of divorce and decided to take it. We gained a team fully invested in the company and one that could balance personal life and startup life.” 

Equity could pose another risk factor. Investors could be wary of founder couples depending on the equity structure. If their finances are combined, a co-founder couple could own a supermajority of a startup. Say two non-married founders owned 20% of a company — a co-founder couple whose finances are tied together would own 40%. Given this logic, VCs would inherently have more negotiating power if the founders aren’t financially linked.

VCs I talked to didn’t necessarily agree with that logic, though.

“The only thing with equity that matters to me is if the founders have enough,” says Andreessen Horowitz General Partner David Ulevitch. “Venture capital investments are inherently minority investments, so it’s really just about ensuring founders are motivated and rewarded for building something enduring.” 

But what happens when the dual identities of co-founder and spouse don’t work?

Divorce won’t necessarily be the demise of a startup

Sara and Josh Margulis founded Honeyfund, a honeymoon registry site, in 2006. The then-married couple appeared on Shark Tank in 2015, winning an investment from Kevin O’Leary. Sara says that Honeyfund is different from popular wedding startups like Zola and The Knot in that the core product is a crowdfunding platform enabling newly engaged couples to organize wedding and honeymoon financing. 

When Sara and Josh divorced in 2019, the first instinct was to sell the company. However, “the more we pulled apart professionally, the more opportunities I saw to organize the team the way I wanted to and push the priorities that I wanted,” Sara says. Ultimately, Sara decided she would buy her ex-husband out of the company and continue on a new trajectory as CEO. 

“If we hadn’t been working together, our separation process would have been different. There were truths that needed to be spoken that were emotionally difficult in a marriage, that I didn’t want to put on Josh in the middle of a big Target partnership launch.”

The genesis of their business was rooted in their own experience as a married couple. They’d won the affection of Sharks, operating in a $72 billion industry hinging on the commoditization of love and lasting marriage. But the honeymoon phase can’t last forever. Up to 50% of married couples in the United States will split, according to the American Psychological Association.  

Now, Margulis’ experience of divorcing her co-founder is informing new products and a marketing strategy as she continues to iterate on her startup.

Post-divorce, Margulis has been working on a content-focused strategy at Honeyfund that will include a book and a podcast centered around the idea of how couples can successfully navigate marriages. She’s sourcing 14 years’ worth of Honeyfund couples to be interviewed, along with research from psychologists and marriage experts to help couples avoid the doom she went through. 

The secret weapon

Co-founder couples are the first to eagerly point out an obvious advantage. Aligned passions, equal motivation, complementary skillsets and industry experience are a baseline for any co-founder relationship, married or non-married. But being married to your co-founder includes unique challenges like time management and setting boundaries in the boardroom and in the bedroom.

“Co-founder disputes are the number one early startup killer, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” writes Garry Tan, managing partner at Initialized Capital and former Y Combinator partner.

Co-founders aren’t always aligned on big decisions at the company. Is remote work allowed? Who do we accept funding from and how do we deploy capital? Who do we hire for a key executive role?

There are plenty of things to fight about when the stakes are high and your employees’ careers are at risk. And co-founder disharmony has been a key reason many startups flounder. But being proactive about conflict management rather than avoiding it is key — as is knowing when to get professional help from an executive coach or a therapist. This could help early-stage companies recalibrate and dodge turmoil. 

If this line of reasoning holds, co-founder couples may be at an advantage because they already have built-in communication tools in their relationship.

Ulevitch says that for him, couples as co-founders is not a turn off.

“Lots of co-founding teams fall apart, and it’s often to not really knowing each other very well, especially when the going gets tough. Couples actually solve for that aspect nicely.” Founders certainly back up this assertion. 

“One of the company values is to disagree and commit,” says NEXT Trucking’s Lidia Yan. In what she describes as a rare occasion when executives are not aligned on a decision, she says that a vote will take place, and then the team will all commit to the final decision. In order to mitigate risk, founders say it’s key to have well-defined job descriptions. Stay in your zone, and because you are partners, you should already trust each other with what each person is specialized at. 

Being married to your co-founder is a secret weapon, according to Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht.

Haus co-founders Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht

Helena and Woody met during the pre-swipe era on OkCupid in 2012. “I had just joined the online dating space and saw this hot farmer dude. We were a 96% match, so I messaged him,” says Helena of how she first connected with her future husband. 

“I literally thought someone was catfishing me,” thought Woody upon reading Helena’s message. “There’s no way this person is writing me. It took me three or four times to write her back because I wasn’t sure if she was a real person.” 

After some back and forth, the two met at a dive bar in the San Francisco Richmond neighborhood on a date that culminated in drinking 40s and watching rap videos on their phones in the park. “It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was just so easy. We knew we were going to know each other for the rest of our lives. Maybe as friends, maybe more, we didn’t know.” They stayed friends for four years, and were married in 2018. 

Haus’ genesis was a combination of the founders’ backgrounds, and the direct-to-consumer aperitif brand just scored a $4.5 million seed round. Woody owned a wine and aperitif brand but felt that he wasn’t making a big enough impact. Helena, a Silicon Valley branding and production veteran, felt that Gen Z didn’t want to get drunk anymore, and millennials are tired of compulsory, expensive happy hours. In deciding where to put their money, younger consumers are thinking about their bodies, brand image, transparency, sustainability and authenticity.

Helena wondered why the same standards aren’t being applied to as big of an industry as liquor. Why was there not a Glossier or Everlane of alcohol? She felt that while there’s a massive opportunity with all these shifting consumer trends, no one can make a direct-to-consumer alcohol brand. Haus was born from what the founders say was a magic “techie married a wine maker” moment. Woody knew about a legal loophole that could allow the couple to build the Glossier of alcohol. 

“There’s this tiny sliver in the aperitif realm, where if a beverage is made of mostly grapes and is under 24% alcohol, it can be classed as a wine and sold DTC,” explains Helena. They had that idea when they had a three-month-old baby. “We do not have time to do this but we have to do it because it’s the best idea we’ll ever have in our life,” she says. 

“We have a tool kit. We are married. If we have a disagreement about something, we are going to work it out because we’re married. Our skillsets are so clearly defined so there’s not much friction. For us it’s this cool balance where we have two totally separate camps of expertise,” remarks Helena. 

Woody and Helena have another secret weapon. They work with a business coach who has a background in psychotherapy, and believe that all co-founders should go to therapy together, because it’s always deeper than just business. 

Talkspace founders Roni and Oren Frank

Talkspace’s Roni and Oren Frank would agree. Their journey to the mental health world started from a crisis within their own relationship.

“Our marriage was falling apart, and we eventually decided to give it a last chance in couples therapy.” It was the first time either of them had experienced therapy. It taught them how to communicate better, read each other and support each other better. It gave them tools to manage conflict. 

Therapy inspired Roni to leave her career as a software developer and go back to graduate school to study psychology. While studying, she says she was exposed to how broken the mental health system in America is.

Roni says that research showed 25% of Americans suffer from mental health complications, yet an entire two-thirds of that bucket has no access to mental health care. The two founders both felt passionate about fixing this problem based on how instrumental therapy was in rescuing their own marriage. They decided to launch a platform that lets patients and therapists communicate online. 

Talkspace, which wants to open access to mental healthcare, has now raised $110 million, most recently a $50 million Series D. The product ideation for the company was integral to the relationship, and the company now has more than 100 employees. But when Talkspace was a young, 10-person startup, it was a lot harder. Roni notes that the co-founder relationship provoked extreme anxiety.

“I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t eat well and I experienced burnout.” She says she had to force herself to place boundaries when it comes to being consumed with work. However, overall, her experience has been that sharing a mission and a goal empowers the marriage, a healthy inverse.

Co-founder couples rave about the experience of running a business with their spouse. It’s no doubt these companies are developing proprietary products, running winning marketing strategies and generating big rounds and exits.

The married co-founder dynamic appears to be great for business, but time will tell if it works as equally well for marriages.

Innovaccer wants to be the service that unifies all healthcare data

By Jonathan Shieber

The holy grail for technology companies working in the healthcare industry is becoming the gateway for all healthcare data.

Big legacy providers like Epic and Cerner are trying to reach out to hospital networks to hoover up all of their data. Google is interested in it. Salesforce is interested in it. Everyone wants to be the resource that organizes and manages healthcare data for physicians and hospital providers — everyone including the San Francisco-based startup Innovaccer, which has raised $70 million in new financing to finance its mission.

The new investment from firms including Steadview Capital, Tiger Global, Dragoneer, Westbridge Capital, the Abu Dhabi investment firm Mubadala Capital, and Microsoft’s corporate investment arm, M12.

These are deep-pocketed investors for whom money is no object, but Innovaccer has shown a fair bit of traction among hospitals and health systems with its data analysis and management platform.

The company’s software pulls from datasets including those generated by Cerner and Epic’s healthcare records, as well as insurance companies and pharmacies to create a more holistic view of a patient, the company says.

Since its launch in 2014, Innovaccer has provided a single source or healthcare information for 3.8 million patients and saved healthcare systems more than $400 million, the company said.

“Healthcare still needs a lot of work to become patient-centered and connected by organizing information and making it more accessible. It is really important to make patient data seamlessly available to all providers along the patient’s care journey,” said Abhinav Shashank, the co-founder and chief executive at Innovaccer, in a statement. “We have been fortunate to work with transformational healthcare initiatives that our amazing customers are engaged in. The vision of helping healthcare work as one needs a connected and open technology framework. We are excited to be at the forefront of providing the tech platform for our customers to drive that change.”

Its technology relies on over 200 APIs to take data from health plans, primary care providers, pharmacies, labs and hospitals and serves that data to 25,000 care providers. The company hopes to take that number ot over 100 million healthcare records and 500,000 caregivers over the next several years.

It’s a lofty goal, but one that appeals to the Ravi Mehta, the founder of the $2.5 billion hedge fund Steadview Capital.

“By using their connected care framework coupled with their leading-edge data aggregation and analytics platform, they are unifying patient records and enabling care teams to coordinate patient care at a new level,” said Mehta. “We believe this will achieve greater efficiencies, enable better care and reduce overall healthcare spend in the years to come.” 

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