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Week in Review: Snapchat beats a dead horse

By Lucas Matney

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it.


3d video spectacles 3

The big story

There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses.

The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses.

Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again.

Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative.

The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

tumblr phone sold

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change
    Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here.
  • Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs 
    The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here.
  • Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder
    This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle:
    [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission]
  2. Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued:
    [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google]
  3. Amazon has a little email mishap:
    [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders]

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public.

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

…How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves…

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

Snap looks to raise $1 billion in private debt offering

By Darrell Etherington

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, is looking to add some cash to its coffers via a new proposed private offering of $1 billion in convertible senior notes, with a due date for maturation of August 1, 2026. The debt offering will be used to cover the cost of general operating expenditures involved in running the business, Snap says, but also potentially to “acquire complementary businesses, products, services or technologies,” as well as possibly for future stock repurchase plans, though no such plans exist currently.

Raising debt to fund operations and acquisitions is not unusual for a publicly traded company – Netflix does this regularly to pick up more money to fund its increasingly expensive production budget for content, for instance. So far, the market seems to be reacting negatively to the news of Snap’s decision to seek this chunk of debt funding, however, as it’s down in pre-market trading.

Snap has generally been on a positive path in terms of its relationship with stockholders, however – its stock price rose on the back of a strong quarterly earnings report at the end of July, closing above its IPO price for the first time. It’s now dipped south of that mark again, but it’s still much-improved on a year-to-date timeline measure.

Snapchat launches ‘instant’ tool for creating vertical ads

By Anthony Ha

Snapchat is hoping to attract new advertisers (and make advertising easier for the ones already on the platform) with the launch of a new tool called Instant Create.

Some of these potential advertisers may not be used to creating ads in the smartphone-friendly vertical format that Snapchat has popularized, so Instant Create is to designed to make the process as simple as possible.

Executives at parent organization Snap discussed the tool during last week’s earnings call (in which the company reported that its daily active users increased to 203 million).

“Just this month we started testing our new Instant Create on-boarding flow, which generates ads for businesses in three simple steps from their existing assets, be it their app or their ecommerce storefront,” said CEO Evan Spiegel.

Now the product is moving from testing to availability for all advertisers using Snapchat’s self-serve Ads Manager.

Snapchat Instant Create

Those three steps that Spiegel mentioned involve identifying the objective of a campaign (website visits, app installs or app visits), entering you website address and finalizing you audience targeting.

You can upload your creative assets if you want, but that’s not required since Instant Create will also import images from your website. And Snap notes that you won’t need to do any real design work, because there’s “a streamlined ad creation flow that leverages our most popular templates and simplified ad detail options, enabling you to publish engaging creative without additional design resources.”

The goal is to make Snapchat advertisers accessible to smaller advertisers who may not have the time or resources to try to understand new ad formats. After all, on that same earnings call, Chief Business Officer Jeremi Gorman said, “We believe the single biggest driver for our revenue in the short to medium term will be increasing the number of active advertisers using Snapchat.”

Instant Create is currently focused Snapchat’s main ad format, Snap Ads. You can read more in the company’s blog post.

Snap overtakes its IPO debut price

By Lucas Matney

Snap may no longer be the laughing stock of the New York Stock Exchange.

On the heels of renewed user growth and an earnings beat, Snap closed Wednesday with a share price at $17.60, up 18.68% for the day, giving the company its first close above its $17 IPO debut price since March of last year.

After a highly anticipated debut sent Snap’s share price climbing 44% on its first day of trading in March of 2017, the company’s stock soon plummeted as its first earnings report detailed slowed user growth that would continue for the next several periods. It was only a few months later that the company’s stock dipped below its $17 debut share price, a number it briefly rose above in early 2018 before sinking to an all-time low of $4.82 in late December.

The company’s earnings report yesterday may signify a turning point for the social media company that has reportedly struggled to retain executive and engineering talent in recent months in the face of rapidly declining investor enthusiasm. In the company’s Q2 earnings report, Snap executives highlighted their strengths as they highlighted a 13 million quarter-over-quarter increase in daily active users and a command over the 18-24 age bracket.

The key to maintaining that growth will be whether Snap can continue to deliver viral hits that bring users to the platform, like its augmented reality lenses that the company said contributed 7-9 million of the new users that came aboard last quarter.

Wednesday’s rally will give Snap more breathing room to pursue its original content strategy and its more ambitious efforts, like its game development and augmented reality platforms.

Snap shares its in-house accelerator’s next 10 investments

By Lucas Matney

After generally being the butt of the public market’s jokes since its IPO, Snap is having a killer 2019, with its stock price nearly tripling in value. The successes are perhaps giving the company a moment to pause and think more about generating future value.

Part of that equation is certainly the company’s Yellow accelerator that aims to invest in pre-seed startups that bring mobile users to shared experiences.

We covered Yellow’s inaugural batch back in September, now we’ve got the full rundown on Snap’s second class of bets.

Yellow’s latest accelerator class definitely showcases some similarities to their inaugural group, but you’ll notice more online-to-offline startups aiming to bring users into real-world scenarios and communities like a concert subscription service and workout service reviews. This contrasts a bit to the first class which seemed a bit more focused on camera-based startups that centered around selfies, AR and photos.

From an organizational standpoint, things haven’t shifted too much inside Yellow. The broader company has had a standout 2019, building back a healthy chunk of the market cap value it has lost since debuting publicly. One wonders whether this has enabled the company’s accelerator group to push its investment ambitions beyond Snap’s mobile app focus.

Mike Su, Snap’s director of Yellow, tells me that there haven’t been any top-down directives to shift investment strategies for the accelerator and that the prevalence of offline startups in the class is just more representative of the applicants.

“[The class] continues to be an extension of our values and our thesis,” Su tells me. “Snap has always been about people making connections inside and outside the app.”

Here is Yellow’s summer 2019 class of startups.

Active Spaces

ClassPass might toss you in a random workout and say good luck, but Active Spaces is looking to give you more info when searching for your exercising fix. The New York startup is scouring its way through the NYC reviewing gyms and studios one-at-a-time. It’s less about star ratings than it is about giving you a bird’s eye view of what’s there and what’s missing. It’s all really well-done and gives you a ton of info about what you’re in for, and you can book direct from the app.

casino royale2

Cash Live

HQ Trivia might be falling on hard times but Cash Live is looking to take the daily mobile quiz show in a new direction by leaning on the laurels of gaming, some good ole fashioned casino titles. The Vancouver startup is planning to bring a live host to scheduled 15-minute poker, blackjack and bingo tournaments.

AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

Disko

Finding local concerts sucks and it’s a process that hasn’t found its startup solution yet. Disko is building a concert subscription service that helps users discover new events in their city with a flat rate $25 per month subscription service which will let users attend up to four concerts per month. The LA startup is starting off in its hometown but has ambitions to expand elsewhere soon.

image16 800x500

Dose of Society

We’re missing a lot of diversity in the voices and perspectives we see in the media we enjoy. Dose of Society is a London media startup looking to share “real stories from real people.” The group’s videos have had more than 18 million views since launching at the end of 2017.

Screen Shot 2019 07 10 at 11.28.05 AM

Frame

Snap still has vertical video startups firmly in its purview. Frame is a weekly newsmagazine built for mobile that’s trying to rethink how we get news delivered to us. The NY startup is looking beyond push notifications and is also supporting text updates and calendar updates so that its subscribers can make time to absorb its narrative vertical video  journalism.

Screen Shot 2019 07 10 at 11.44.14 AM

Loco Adventures

Pokémon GO brought people into physical spaces with its location-based gaming, but other startups are seeing the potential to even further localize AR experiences. Berlin-based Loco Adventures is building games that guide you through local areas with a chat message narrative style.

Muze

Muze sees the endless wave of comments on the web and wants to make things a bit noisier, the New York team is working on a way to bring audio commentary “to the always-on stream of internet video” and share it across the web.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Quirktastic, Inc.

The startup has the ambitious goal of building a community for “geeks, gamers and nerds” that’s less toxic to minority groups. The Durham, NC company wants to connect these people with each other and the events they want to check out. Quirktastic says they have 15,000 users since they launched in beta in March.

nike

SNKRHUD

The sneaker business is a hefty one, but SNKRHUD is betting that it still isn’t as big as it could be. It’s trying to focus on the dormant sneaker heads who are liking shoes on Instagram and searching through online stores but haven’t delved further into communities. The Brooklyn team wants to be the glue between existing platforms.

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Stop, Breathe & Think

There’s a lot in the world to get stressed and anxious about, Stop, Breathe & Think is aiming to build a digital wellness platform to help people feel better. The app lets people check-in with how they’re feeling and then the app is able to recommend short activities like meditation, breathing, yoga, acupressure, guided journaling, and more.

Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

By Anthony Ha

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As  initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weighs in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who’ve a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment…. kind of embarrassing, I know …”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.

The rise of the new crypto “mafias”

By Arman Tabatabai
Ash Egan Contributor
Ash Egan leads crypto investing at Accomplice. He formerly was a VC at ConsenSys Ventures and Converge.

In the early 2000s, journalists popularized the term “PayPal mafia” to describe the PayPal founders and employees who left to start their own wildly successful tech companies, including Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk. Drawing from that idea, this article seeks to cover the formation and flow of talent within the crypto landscape today.

I'm fascinated by the concept of tech mafias, popularized by Paypal in the early 00s.

Early signs of crypto mafias:

Coinbase ➡@0xProject @dydxprotocol
Ethereum/ConsenSys ➡@Cardano @polkadotnetwork @metamask_io
MIT ➡@EnigmaMPC @Algorand Unit-e
IC3 ➡ Avalanche

Others?

— Ash Egan (@AshAEgan) April 3, 2019

The crypto world is in a constant state of flux, with new startups entrants joining the industry every single day. These new startups have the potential either to be superstars within a portfolio company or to start the next Coinbase. Additionally, there are already impressive spin-outs from some of the more established crypto companies.

For ease of framing, I’ve separated these early-forming mafias into four categories: CryptoTechWall Street, and Academia. Since 2009, there have been 186 spinout companies originating from those four categories (33% from Academia, 28% from Crypto, 24% from Tech, and 15% from Wall Street).

crypto mafias

Obvious but important disclaimer: this article does not intend to promote organized crime within crypto.

Criteria

Walmart now accepts SNAP for online grocery orders at all 2,500+ pickup locations

By Sarah Perez

Walmart has been working to address the needs of low-income shoppers for some time. More recently, it’s been introducing new ways to serve customers on public assistance. In fall 2017, the retailer began a small test allowing customers to pay for online grocery orders using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — more casually known as food stamps. Today, Walmart says SNAP is now accepted for online grocery orders at all of the company’s 2,500-plus pickup locations.

For SNAP customers, the process of placing an online order is as simple as it is for those paying with debit or credit. They put in their zip code on the Walmart Grocery website to select their local store, then shop for groceries online by adding items to their cart. At checkout, they select a pickup time and choose “EBT card” as their payment option.

When they arrive at the store, they’ll park in the customer spaces marked for Grocery Pickup orders and give their EBT benefit card to the store associate who brings their order to the car.

As Walmart and other retailers have explained, online shopping should not be considered a luxury. Low-income shoppers can often save money by going online where there can be better deals available than at local stores. In Walmart’s case, however, online groceries are priced the same as they are in store.

In addition, be able to shop online can be a huge time saver for those working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Walmart says it’s planning to accept the SNAP payment option at over 3,100 Walmart stores by the end of the year.

The SNAP at Pickup program isn’t the only way Walmart is serving low-income customers.

The retailer also announced in April its participation in a USDA pilot program designed to test the acceptance of SNAP payments directly on retailers’ websites for both grocery pickup and delivery. Walmart is one of several retailers who agreed to participate in the pilot, along with Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Safeway, and Wright’s Markets.

Another pilot we recently spotted is focused on bringing down the cost of grocery delivery by offering customers the option to pay an annual subscription fee of $98, instead of per-delivery charges which can add up over time. Though not aimed at the low-income shopper, it is a viable alternative to rival grocery delivery programs from Target (Shipt), Amazon, and Instacart.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Right Side Up

By Yvonne Leow

Right Side Up is not your typical growth marketing agency. As a former entrepreneur and in-house growth marketer for startups like Eventbrite, founder Tyler Elliston says he created RSU as a way to help his former self. RSU recruits a collective of expert growth marketers and partners them with various companies, but unlike a traditional agency, RSU actively encourages growth teams to hire their top talent.

It may seem counterintuitive, but two and a half years later, with more than 250 marketers in their “growth collective”, and having helped 120+ companies, Tyler seems to be fulfilling his vision. Learn more about RSU’s unique approach to growth marketing for startups.

On what makes Right Side Up unique

“They can support individual channel marketing needs across all levels of seniority and sophistication, as well as a full-fledged interim VP of Marketing needs.” Micah Moreau, SF, VP, Growth Marketing, DoorDash

“There are a number of lessons that I learned as an in-house marketer and a founder, that have become the underpinning for how we operate the business. Great performance comes from great marketers, not from companies or brands. It’s really about the person doing the work. So, our goal is to find the best marketers as they are today, instead of training junior talent, which is a common agency practice.”

Advice to startup founders

“A lot of what we consider growth marketing is simply scaling a one to one conversation with a prospective customer. So, if you can get a prospect in front of you and you can persuade them, how do you do that? How do you talk about it? That’s your positioning. What are you offering them?

That’s your value prop. I would recommend doing one on one conversations at a small scale before you try scaling it. Be in touch with your customer and then think about growth as automating what’s happening on a very small scale.”

 

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Right Side Up founder Tyler Elliston

Yvonne Leow: Tell me a little bit about how you got into growth and why you decided to start Right Side Up.

Tyler Elliston: I came to the Bay Area in 2006 because I wanted to help build tech companies. I went to Berkeley to get my MBA and basically gave myself two years to figure out how to best plug into the startup community.

I eventually started a company and raised venture capital, but I really struggled to crack customer acquisition, and of all the hats I wore as an entrepreneur, growth marketing felt particularly fun and challenging. So, I went on this quest to find the answers to customer acquisition, and it was difficult to find people who could help me unlock growth channels. I often heard, “Oh, I did this for my company,” but it wouldn’t work for us.

Zynga launches battle royale game as a Snap Games exclusive

By Jonathan Shieber

Zynga the casual games developer which once rode Facebook’s platform to popularity and riches is now turning its attention to Snap for growth.

Today, the gaming company is launching its new battle royale game, Tiny Royale, exclusively on Snap’s gaming platform, Snap Games.

A multiplayer shooting game first announced as part of the big unveiling of Snap Games in April, Tiny Royale’s likely aim is to bring the popular game format that has made Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds so successful to the Snap platform.

In the game, players can choose custom characters and form squads with friends or battle alone for quick two-minute rounds to gather loot and shoot their way to victory.

Up to 30 players can battle at a time in terms of up to four. The game play is much the same as the other battle royale games with maps shrinking in size until only one player, or team, remains, the company said.

“We are thrilled to be one of the first companies to launch a gaming experience on Snapchat,” said Bernard Kim, president of Publishing at Zynga, in a statement. “Game developers rarely get the opportunity to create an entirely new experience on an emerging platform so our team was excited to remix the battle royale genre into a fast-paced game designed to rock on Snap Games.”

Built on the PlayCanvas game engine, Snap Games features a selection of third party titles. Players can access Tiny Royale through the Snapchat messaging feature and use text and voice-based features during game play. Later the summer, Zynga will offer a ranked matchmaking feature called Tiny Royale Leagues, which will place competitors in groups of 100, broken out into 20 tiers. Players can battle to climb up in tier ranks earning trophies and rewards based on their performance.

Snap launched in April with six announced titles including Tiny Royale and:

  • Bitmoji Party, you can play as yourself in a series of quick, wacky mini-games.
  • Snake Squad from Game Closure, you and your squad work together to be the last ones standing!
  • C.A.T.S. Drift Race from ZeptoLab, you’ll drift around the track and speed past friends for the win!
  • Zombie Rescue Squad from PikPok, your squad will rescue survivors in a zombie-infested city.
  • Alphabear Hustle from Spry Fox, you’ll collaborate to form words — fast! — to build your village.

“Snap Games is all about exploring new ways for friends to play together and Tiny Royale™ is the perfect example of that,” said Will Wu, Snap’s Head of Snap Games. “We jumped at the chance to have a global leader in mobile games like Zynga develop for our platform, and we can’t wait to see what our community thinks about this new way to connect with each other.”

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Bell Curve

By Yvonne Leow

Bell Curve founder Julian Shapiro describes his team as talented growth marketers who have a long tail expertise of various channels and who aren’t afraid to play part-time therapists. As an agency, they’re comfortable grounding founder expectations by explaining “No, virality isn’t a dependable growth strategy,” but “Hey, we can come up with a better strategy together.”

Bell Curve, the agency, also runs Demand Curve, a remote growth marketing training program that teaches students (and marketing professionals) the ins and outs of performance marketing.

For a glimpse of how Bell Curve thinks about growth marketing, check out Julian’s guest posts about how startups can actually get content marketing to work and how founders can hire a great growth marketer.

What makes Bell Curve different:

“Bell Curve runs a growth bootcamp which we took in February. It radically improved our growth rate, gave us access to enough data to experiment with, and as a result we built an engine for growth that we could continue to tune.” Gil Akos, SF, CEO & Co-founder, Astra
“We run a program where we train companies to run ads on every channel. So, what makes Bell Curve unique is that we, by necessity, have a deep understanding of many more channels than the average agency. We have an archive of tactics and approaches that we’ve accumulated for how to do them just as well as the big ad channels.

In effect, companies come to us when they need expertise beyond Facebook, Google and Instagram, which we still bring to the table, but when they also need to figure out how to make Quora ads profitable, how to get Reddit working, how to get YouTube videos working, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. These are channels people don’t specialize in enough and so we also bring that long tail of expertise.”

On common misconceptions about growth:

“A common mistake people make coming into growth is thinking that growth hacks are a meaningful thing. The ultimate growth hack is having the self-discipline to pursue growth fundamentals properly and completely. So, things like properly A/B testing, identifying your most enticing value propositions and articulating them clearly and concisely, bringing in deep channel expertise for Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, and a couple of other channels. These are the tenants of making digital growth work. Not one-off hacks.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Bell Curve Founder Julian Shapiro

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into this game of growth?

Julian Shapiro: I actually started by running growth for friends’ companies because they had a hard time finding experienced growth marketers. After a year and a half of doing this, I realized it’d be a more stable source of income if I formed an agency. It’d also allow me to pattern match so I could exchange learnings among clients and have a better net performance.

It all came together very quickly. Once Bell Curve hit about 10 clients, we had enough strategic and customer acquisition overlap that we were able to share tactics, double our volume of A/B testing, and get better results. It also gave us the ability to hire out a full-fledged team so we could start specializing, whereas, as a contractor, I was too much of a generalist. I wasn’t able to go deep on certain channels, like Snapchat or Pinterest ads.

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

By Jordan Crook

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Chairman of the Board and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.

UK Internet attitudes study finds public support for social media regulation

By Natasha Lomas

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has published a new joint report and stat-fest on Internet attitudes and usage with the national data protection watchdog, the ICO — a quantitative study to be published annually which they’re calling the Online Nation report.

The new structure hints at the direction of travel for online regulation in the UK, following government plans set out in a recent whitepaper to regulate online harms — which will include creating a new independent regulator to ensure Internet companies meet their responsibilities.

Ministers are still consulting on whether this should be a new or existing body. But both Ofcom and the ICO have relevant interests in being involved — so it’s fitting to see joint working going into this report.

As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content — and also more likely to come across it,” writes Yih-Choung Teh, group director of strategy and research at Ofcom, in a statement. “ For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”

While it’s not yet clear exactly what form the UK’s future Internet regulator will take, the Online Nation report does suggest a flavor of the planned focus.

The report, which is based on responses from 2,057 adult internet users and 1,001 children, flags as a top-line finding that eight in ten adults have concerns about some aspects of Internet use and further suggests the proportion of adults concerned about going online has risen from 59% to 78% since last year (though its small-print notes this result is not directly comparable with last year’s survey so “can only be interpreted as indicative”).

Another stat being highlighted is a finding that 61% of adults have had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year — rising to 79% among children (aged 12-15). (Albeit with the caveat that it’s using a “broad definition”, with experiences ranging from “mildly annoying to seriously harmful”.)

While a full 83% of polled adults are found to have expressed concern about harms to children on the Internet.

The UK government, meanwhile, has made child safety a key focus of its push to regulate online content.

At the same time the report found that most adults (59%) agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks, and 61% of children think the internet makes their lives better.

While Ofcom’s annual Internet reports of years past often had a fairly dry flavor, tracking usage such as time spent online on different devices and particular services, the new joint study puts more of an emphasis on attitudes to online content and how people understand (or don’t) the commercial workings of the Internet — delving into more nuanced questions, such as by asking web users whether they understand how and why their data is collected, and assessing their understanding of ad-supported business models, as well as registering relative trust in different online services’ use of personal data.

The report also assesses public support for Internet regulation — and on that front it suggests there is increased support for greater online regulation in a range of areas. Specifically it found that most adults favour tighter rules for social media sites (70% in 2019, up from 52% in 2018); video-sharing sites (64% v. 46%); and instant-messaging services (61% v. 40%).

At the same time it says nearly half (47%) of adult internet users expressed recognition that websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech — “even where some people might find content offensive”. So the subtext there is that future regulation of harmful Internet content needs to strike the right balance.

On managing personal data, the report found most Internet users (74%) say they feel confident to do so. A majority of UK adults are also happy for companies to collect their information under certain conditions — vs over a third (39%) saying they are not happy for companies to collect and use their personal information.

Those conditions look to be key, though — with only small minorities reporting they are happy for their personal data to be used to program content (17% of adult Internet users were okay with this); and to target them with ads (only 18% didn’t mind that, so most do).

Trust in online services to protect user data and/or use it responsibly also varies significantly, per the report findings — with social media definitely in the dog house on that front. “Among ten leading UK sites, trust among users of these services was highest for BBC News (67%) and Amazon (66%) and lowest for Facebook (31%) and YouTube (34%),” the report notes.

Despite low privacy trust in tech giants, more than a third (35%) of the total time spent online in the UK is on sites owned by Google or Facebook.

“This reflects the primacy of video and social media in people’s online consumption, particularly on smartphones,” it writes. “Around nine in ten internet users visit YouTube every month, spending an average of 27 minutes a day on the site. A similar number visit Facebook, spending an average of 23 minutes a day there.”

And while the report records relatively high awareness that personal data collection is happening online — finding that 71% of adults were aware of cookies being used to collect information through websites they’re browsing (falling to 60% for social media accounts; and 49% for smartphone apps) — most (69%) also reported accepting terms and conditions without reading them.

So, again, mainstream public awareness of how personal data is being used looks questionable.

The report also flags limited understanding of how search engines are funded — despite the bald fact that around half of UK online advertising revenue comes from paid-for search (£6.7BN in 2018). “[T]here is still widespread lack of understanding about how search engines are funded,” it writes. “Fifty-four per cent of adult internet users correctly said they are funded by advertising, with 18% giving an incorrect response and 28% saying they did not know.”

The report also highlights the disconnect between time spent online and digital ad revenue generated by the adtech duopoly, Google and Facebook — which it says together generated an estimated 61% of UK online advertising revenue in 2018; a share of revenue that it points out is far greater than time spent (35%) on their websites (even as those websites are the most visited by adults in the UK).

As in previous years of Ofcom ‘state of the Internet’ reports, the Online Nation study also found that Facebook use still dominates the social media landscape in the UK.

Though use of the eponymous service continues falling (from 95% of social media users in 2016 to 88% in 2018). Even as use of other Facebook-owned social properties — Instagram and WhatsApp — grew over the same period.


The report also recorded an increase in people using multiple social services — with just a fifth of social media users only using Facebook in 2018 (down from 32% in 2018). Though as noted above, Facebook still dominates time spent, clocking up way more time (~23 minutes) per user per day on average vs Snapchat (around nine minutes) and Instagram (five minutes).  

A large majority (74%) of Facebook users also still check it at least once a day.

Overall, the report found that Brits have a varied online diet, though — on average spending a minute or more each day on 15 different internet sites and apps. Even as online ad revenues are not so equally distributed.

“Sites and apps that were not among the top 40 sites ranked by time spent accounted for 43% of average daily consumption,” the report notes. “Just over one in five internet users said that in the past month they had used ‘lots of websites or apps they’ve used before’ while a third (36%) said they ‘only use websites or apps they’ve used before’.”

There is also variety when it comes to how Brits search for stuff online, and while 97% of adult internet users still use search engines the report found a variety of other services also in the mix. 

It found that nearly two-thirds of people (65%) go more often to specific sites to find specific things, such as a news site for news stories or a video site for videos; while 30% of respondents said they used to have a search engine as their home page but no longer do.

The high proportion of searches being registered on shopping websites/apps (61%) also looks interesting in light of the 2017 EU antitrust ruling against Google Shopping — when the European Commission found Google had demoted rival shopping comparison services in search results, while promoting its own, thereby undermining rivals’ ability to gain traffic and brand recognition.

The report findings also indicate that use of voice-based search interfaces remains relatively low in the UK, with just 10% using voice assistants on a mobile phone — and even smaller percentages tapping into smart speakers (7%) or voice AIs on connected TVs (3%).

In another finding, the report suggests recommendation engines play a major part in content discovery.

“Recommendation engines are a key way for platforms to help people discover content and products — 70% of viewing to YouTube is reportedly driven by recommendations, while 35% of what consumers purchase on Amazon comes from recommendations,” it writes. 

In overarching aggregate, the report says UK adults now spend the equivalent of almost 50 days online per year.

While, each week, 44 million Brits use the internet to send or receive email; 29 million send instant messages; 30 million bank or pay bills via the internet; 27 million shop online; and 21 million people download information for work, school or university.

The full report can be found here.

Qualcomm and Lenovo reveal the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC

By Catherine Shu

Qualcomm announced during its Computex press conference today that it will launch the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC with Lenovo. The two companies describe the PC, called Project Limitless, as “the world’s first 7nm platform purpose-built for PCs that offers 5G connectivity.”

Qualcomm and Lenovo unveil the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC at Computex in Taipei

Qualcomm and Lenovo unveil the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC at Computex in Taipei

The laptop runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Compute Platform, which is designed to support both 5G and 4G connections, combines the Qualcomm Adreno 680 GPU with the Qualcomm Kryo 495 CPU and has a battery that Qualcomm claims can last for several days per charge. The platform uses the Snapdragon X55 5G modem, which has download speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps.

Project Limitless’ release date and pricing haven’t been revealed yet.

Snap, which has yet to release a diversity report, hires its first head of D&I

By Megan Rose Dickey

Snap has brought on its first-ever diversity and inclusion lead, former Google Director of Diversity Strategy Oona King.

In a memo sent to Snap employees today, Snap Chief People Officer Lara Sweet announced King’s hiring. Although Snap is late in the game of hiring a diversity lead and has yet to release a diversity report, Sweet said Snap wants to “lead by example and contribute to human progress by breaking down systemic barriers that lead to people feeling excluded.”

This comes shortly after reports surfaced that Snap paid settlements to at least three female employees who alleged they were laid off due to their gender. And about one year ago, a former Snap engineer‘s email surfaced from November 2017 that criticized the company for having a toxic and sexist culture that is unwelcome to people of color and women. The former Snap engineer, Shannon Lubetich, described how Snap is not adequately promoting diversity at the company.

“The letter was a really good wake-up call for us,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said last May at a tech conference.

Spiegel described how, in light of the letter, Snap hired external consultants to help the company figure out areas in which to improve. Snap also ran a company-wide survey and changed its promotion structure, Spiegel said.

While Snap has previously said it provides diversity numbers to its employees, the company has yet to publicly produce a diversity report, unlike its many peers in the tech industry.

Here’s the full memo Sweet sent to employees:

Hi Team,

At Snap we are deeply committed to making progress on Diversity & Inclusion. We want to lead by example and contribute to human progress by breaking down systemic barriers that lead to people feeling excluded. And we know we have to start at home: ensuring Snap’s employee culture represents the diversity of our global users is critical to our success.

As a part of this commitment, I’m very excited to announce Oona King as Snap’s first VP of Diversity and Inclusion. Oona comes to us from Google, where she is Director of Diversity Strategy. She brings extensive experience from a variety of industries including technology, media, and politics, having been an advisor to the British Prime Minister on issues of equality and the second black woman elected to British Parliament earlier in her career. She also held Head of Diversity and Inclusion roles at both YouTube and the British Broadcaster, Channel 4. Oona will report to me, and help ensure our diversity and inclusion efforts are even more impactful – both within the company and across our products and content. Oona starts on June 11.

We’re so excited to have Oona join us, to help us build diversity and inclusion into everything we do – from how we build teams, to how we create products and content. We’re confident she will help us make Snap a more diverse and inclusive company at all levels, so please join me in welcoming Oona to Snap — we can’t wait to have her on the team!

Lara

❌