More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.
Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”
“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”
Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.
“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”
Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”
As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.
“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”
The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures
And there we have it: the very last trailer for a Star Wars movie focusing on the Skywalkers*.
After 42 long years of Jedi returning, clones attacking, and Force awakenings… the three pack of trilogies that is the “Skywalker saga” comes to an end this December with the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.
The saga will end, the story lives forever. Watch the final trailer for @StarWars: #TheRiseOfSkywalker in theaters December 20. Get your tickets now: https://t.co/MLbzRXrCJb pic.twitter.com/RLllQGme76
— Star Wars (@starwars) October 22, 2019
As with the last few Star Wars movies, Rise of Skywalker’s final trailer dropped right in the middle of Monday Night Football. This comes roughly six months after the first teaser landed back in April.
Rise of Skywalker is set to open on December 20th according to the billboards… which means it’s actually opening the evening of December 19th in much of the US due to midnight screenings and timezone rules. If your goal is to see it as early as possible to avoid spoilers and whatnot, double check when your theater’s first screening actually is.
(* until the inevitable point down the road when another Skywalker trilogy is announced… because, well, people like the Skywalkers.)
Nvidia is making a hard pitch at this year’s Mobile World Congress Los Angeles that the future of software defined 5G networks should be powered by its chipsets.
Through the launch of a new software development toolkit and a series of partnerships announced today with Ericsson (for networking); Microsoft (for its cloud computing); and Red Hat (for its Kubernetes expertise), Nvidia is pitching telecommunications companies that its chipsets are the best base for managing the breadth of new services 5G networking will enable.
Getting in on the ground floor would be a huge win for the chip manufacturer, especially since 5G antennas will need to be fairly ubiquitous to be effective.
Helping to make that case is the launch of a new software development toolkit that will let telecommunications companies take more advantage of the “network slicing” abilities (allowing telecom companies to dial up and down capacity on a session-by-session basis) that 5G networking provides.
In a keynote speech from Nvidia’s chief executive, Jensen Huang, ahead of the convention, the company’s pitch is that embedding its chipsets and new software into those networks is the best way for telecom companies to add dynamically provisioned additional services.
The company has developed two software development kits: a CUDA Virtual Network Function, which provides optimized inputs and outputs and processing; and CUDA Baseband, which has a GPU-accelerated signal processing pipeline.
What’s more, the Aerial software development kits run on top of Nvidia’s previously announced EGX stack, which works with the new containerized software development paradigm dominated by Kubernetes.
The GPU-enabled off-the-shelf servers that telecoms can all be installed with NVIDIA software as containers that run on Kubernetes.
If the software is one new hook for telecommunications companies, Nvidia’s “collaboration” wth Ericsson could be another.
With Ericsson, Nvidia hopes to build out its abilities to virtualize radio area network architectures to make the networking technology lower-cost, more scalable, and more energy efficient.
“With NVIDIA we will jointly look at bringing alternatives to market for virtualizing the complete radio access network,” Fredrik Jejdling, executive vice president and head of Networks at Ericsson, said, in a statement.
Another partner that Nvidia is bringing to the table is Microsoft, whose Azure cloud services will be more tightly integrated with Nvidia’s EGX hardware and software like the Metropolis video analytics tools.
“In a world where computing is becoming embedded in every place and every thing, organizations require a distributed computing fabric that spans the cloud and edge,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, in a statement. Nvidia represents the edge, and Microsoft is making a pitch to be the cloud service provider.
Tighter connectivity to cloud services is one way that Nvidia can ensure its stack of hardware and software tools makes an appealing choice for telecommunications companies casting around for the right hardware provider to complement their networking services. Another is to make sure that Nvidia’s chipsets are developer friendly.
To achieve that, the company also is expanding on its partnership with RedHat to speed up the adoption of Kubernetes in data centers and to telecom infrastructure through the newly announced Nvidia Aerial software development toolkit.
“The industry is ramping 5G and the ‘smart everything’ revolution is beginning. Billions of sensors and devices will be sprinkled all over the world enabling new applications and services,” said Huang. “We’re working with Red Hat to build a cloud-native, massively scalable, high-performance GPU computing infrastructure for this new 5G world. Powered by the NVIDIA EGX Edge Supercomputing Platform, a new wave of applications will emerge, just as with the smartphone revolution.”
SoftBank, a long-time WeWork investor, plans to invest between $4 billion and $5 billion in exchange for new and existing shares, according to CNBC . The deal, expected to be announced as soon as tomorrow, represents a lifeline for WeWork, which is said to be mere weeks from running out of cash and has been shopping several of its assets as it attempts to lessen its cash burn.
WeWork declined to comment.
To be clear, it is reportedly the Vision Fund’s parent company, SoftBank Group Corp. that is taking control, with SoftBank International chief executive officer Marcelo Claure stepping in to support company management, per reports.
The Japanese telecom giant’s move comes precisely four weeks after co-founder and former CEO Adam Neumann relinquished control of the company and transitioned into a non-executive chairman role, and about three weeks after WeWork decided to delay its highly anticipated initial public offering. WeWork’s vice chairman Sebastian Gunningham and the company’s president and chief operating officer Artie Minson are currently serving as WeWork’s co-CEOs.
In addition to those personnel shake-ups, WeWork has lost its communications chief, Jimmy Asci, its chief marketing officer, Robin Daniels and several others. Meanwhile, the company has slashed hundreds of jobs, and opted to shut down its school, WeGrow, in 2020.
Now expected to go public in 2020, WeWork was also said to be in negotiations with JPMorgan for a last-minute cash infusion. The company, now a cautionary tale, will surely continue to reduce the sky-high costs of its money-losing operation in the upcoming months.
WeWork revealed an unusual IPO prospectus in August after raising more than $8 billion in equity and debt funding. Despite financials that showed losses of nearly $1 billion in the six months ending June 30, the company still managed to accumulate a valuation as high as $47 billion, largely as a result of Neumann’s fundraising abilities.
“As co-founder of WeWork, I am so proud of this team and the incredible company that we have built over the last decade,” Neumann said in a statement confirming his resignation last month. “Our global platform now spans 111 cities in 29 countries, serving more than 527,000 members each day. While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive. Thank you to my colleagues, our members, our landlord partners, and our investors for continuing to believe in this great business.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took part in a joint presentation by the chiefs of a number of international space agencies at the annual International Astronautical Conference on Monday. At the end of the event, a question was put to the entire group — when do we get to Mars?
After a joke answer of “Tuesday” by ESA Director General Jan Wörner, Bridenstine followed with a serious answer that he believes — provided everyone can get their governments to actually back them and provide the support needed — it’s possible that astronauts could land on Mars by as early as 2035.
“If we accelerate the Moon landing, we’re accelerating the Mars landing — that’s what we’re doing,” Bridenstine said, referring to the agency’s aggressive, accelerated timeline of aiming to land the first American woman and next American man on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program.
“If our budgets were sufficient,” Bridenstine said, turning to his colleagues from NASA’s international equivalents, “I would suggest that we could do it by 2035.”
“The goal is to land on the Moon within five years and be sustainable by 2028,” Bridenstine said during a press conference following the agency leadership panel, clarifying that sustainability means “people living and working on another world for long periods of time.”
The caveat Bridenstine offered, that budgets match ambition, is not an insignificant one. NASA just faced a congressional subcommittee budgetary hearing about its plan to get to the Moon by 2024, and faced some heavy skepticism. From NASA’s scientific and technical assessment of Mars mission feasibility for a 2035 target, however, the agency previously discussed this date as early as 2015.
In China, Toutiao is literally big news.
Not only has its parent company ByteDance achieved a $75 billion valuation, two of its apps — Toutiao, a news aggregator, and Douyin (Tik Tok in China) — are chipping into WeChat’s user engagement numbers, no small feat considering the central role WeChat plays in the daily lives of the region’s smartphone users.
The success of Toutiao (its name means “headline”) prompts the question: why hasn’t one news aggregator app achieved similar success in the United States? There, users can pick from a roster of news apps, including Google News, Apple News (on iOS), Flipboard, Nuzzel and SmartNews, but no app is truly analogous to Toutiao, at least in terms of reach. Many readers still get news from Google Search (not the company’s news app) and when they do use an app for news, it’s Facebook.
The top social media platform continues to be a major source of news for many Americans, even as they express reservations about the reliability of the content they find there. According to research from Columbia Journalism Review, 43% of Americans use Facebook and other social media platforms to get news, but 57% said they “expect the news they see on those platforms to be largely inaccurate.” Regardless, they stick with Facebook because it’s timely, convenient and they can share content with friends and read other’s comments.
The social media platform is one of the main reasons why no single news aggregator app has won over American users the same way Toutiao has in China, but it’s not the only one. Other factors, including differences between how the Internet developed in each country, also play a role, says Ruiwan Xu, the founder and CEO of CareerTu, an online education platform that focuses on data analytics, digital marketing and research.
While Americans first encountered the Internet on PCs and then shifted to mobile devices, many people in China first went online through their smartphones and the majority of the country’s 800 million Internet users access it through mobile. This makes them much more open to consuming content — including news and streaming video — on mobile.
Heaven forbid a political candidate’s Facebook account gets hacked. They might spread disinformation…like they’re already allowed to do in Facebook ads…
Today Facebook made a slew of announcements designed to stop 2020 election interference. “The bottom line here is that elections have changed significantly since 2016″ and so has Facebook in response, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters. “We’ve gone from being on our back foot to proactively going after some of the biggest threats out there”
One new feature is called Facebook Protect. By hijacking accounts of political candidates or their campaign staff, bad actors can steal sensitive information, expose secrets, and spread disinformation. So to safeguard these vulnerable users, Facebook is launching a new program with extra security.
Facebook Protect entails requiring two-factor authentication, and having Facebook monitor for hacking attempts like suspicious logins. Facebook can then inform the rest of an organization and investigate if it sees one member under attack.
Today’s other announcements include:
Combined, the efforts could protect both campaigns and constituents from misinformation while giving everyone more clarity about where content comes from. Yet the approach highlights Facebook’s tightrope walk between policing its networks and overstepping into censorship.
In a speech last week, Zuckerberg tried to firmly plant Facebook as erring on the side of giving people a voice rather than stifling speech. He raised the threat of China’s influence over foreign businesses by dangling its giant market in exchange for adherence to its political values. And he tried to defend allowing lies in political ads, arguing that banning political ads on Facebook as I’ve recommended the company do would benefit incumbents and silence challengers who don’t have media attention.
A Trump ad spreads misinformation claiming Democrats want to repeal the second amendment
Yet throughout the call, Zuckerberg was hammered with questions about Facebook’s willingness to fact check what users share with friends, but not what politicians pay to show to millions of voters.
“People should make up their own minds about what candidates are credible. I don’t think those determinations should come from tech companies . . . People need to be able to see this content for themselves” Zuckerberg insisted. Yet if Facebook is willing to cover photos containing misinformation with a warning label you have to click to see past, it’s strange that it’s unwilling to do the same for political ads.
Like farming out fact-checking to third-party news outlets as Facebook already does, banning political ads wouldn’t force Facebook to judge the truth of individual statements, and they’d still have the right to share what they want to their own followers.
When I asked why he believes banning political ads would favor incumbents, Zuckerberg admitted “You’re right that incumbents can raise more money” and he wasn’t sure there’d been a comprehensive study on the matter. His defense relied on anecdotal beliefs of unnamed sources:
“I’ve talked to a lot of people. The general belief that they have, when they’re a challenger, is that they rely on different mechanisms like ads in order to get their voices into a debate more than incumbents do . . .
From all of the conversations that I’ve had, the general overwhelming consensus from people who are participating in these things and who work on them has been that removing political ads would favor incumbents.”
While the rest of Facebook’s announcements today felt like sensible steps in the right direction, the company will need a stronger arguments for why it polices misinformation shared by users but not political ad campaigns.
If it wants to find a better middleground, it could offer standardized ad units for political campaigns that endorse the candidate and ask for donations, but can’t make potentially untruthful assertions about themselves or their competitors.
Amazon-owned game streaming service Twitch has snagged Zynga’s Chief Marketing Officer, Doug Scott, to join as its own CMO, the company announced today. At Zynga, Scott led global marketing for just over three years. Prior to that, he was CMO at the music startup BandPage and the VP, Marketing and Revenue at mobile game publisher, DeNA.
He has additionally served on the board for Matrixx Initiatives and as an advisor to YouTube Music.
Scott’s background spanning gaming, entertainment, and streaming make him a good fit to join Twitch at a time when it’s trying to stretch beyond its roots.
In more recent years, Twitch’s creators have expanded into areas like personal vlogs, creative arts, entertainment, and more. One Twitch streamer’s efforts in interactive media even won the site its first Emmy this year.
Meanwhile, Twitch itself has driven the expansion beyond video games in its own way. It has made deals with sports leagues including the NBA and NFL to stream some games, and more recently announced deals with wrestling and women’s hockey, The NYT reported.
Twitch also makes its own content. In April, for example, it launched its first game — Twitch Sings, a karaoke-style experience designed for live streaming.
Last month, the company underwent a huge makeover, from a marketing and branding perspective, with the introduction of a new Twitch logo and other branding changes.
While purple remains the Twitch logo’s iconic color, it’s now supported by a range of complementary colors that streamers can adopt for themselves. Via a new “Creator Color” tool, Twitch streamers can pick a color that better represents their own personal brand — even if it’s not Twitch’s classic purple. The updated style also includes a new Glitch logo, new font, and larger plans for Twitch’s unique ’emotes.’
Twitch presented the platform’s makeover at this year’s TwitchCon event in San Diego, where it unveiled a new ad campaign that highlights how Twitch can be more than just a place to stream games. (Its tagline: “You’re already one of us.”)
With all these shifts underway, it was high time for Twitch to fill its vacated CMO position, which was previously held by Kate Jhaveri, who left for the NBA this summer.
Other recent hires at Twitch have included Sarah Iooss, previously of Mic, as Head of North America Sales, and ex-Googler Dan Clancy as executive VP of creator and community experience.
“Twitch is revolutionizing entertainment through its massive and highly engaged community of creators and fans,” said Scott, in a statement. “I could not be more excited to join this incredible team and help to bring Twitch’s unique culture, brand and its passionate community to new audiences and global markets.”
“We’re thrilled to welcome Doug Scott to Twitch as our Chief Marketing Officer,” added Sara Clemens, COO, Twitch. “Doug has deep experience extending brands into new markets across games and entertainment industries, making him the ideal fit to lead Twitch’s marketing strategy. As Twitch continues to grow, Doug will play an integral role in extending the brand beyond endemic audiences, supporting our incredible creators and expanding our presence in global markets,” she said.
Twitch today claims over 15 million average daily users and over 3 million unique creators streaming each month. At any given time, the site has an average of 1.3 million viewers, the company says.
Microsoft wants to make it as easy as possible to migrate to Microsoft 365, and today the company announced it had purchased a Canadian startup called Mover to help. The companies did not reveal the acquisition price.
Microsoft 365 is the company’s bundle that includes Office 365, Microsoft Teams, security tools and workflow. The idea is to provide customers with a soup-to-nuts, cloud-based productivity package. Mover helps customers get files from another service into the Microsoft 365 cloud.
As Jeff Tepper wrote in a post on the Official Microsoft Blog announcing the acquisition, this about helping customers get to the Microsoft cloud as quickly and smoothly as possible. “Today, Mover supports migration from over a dozen cloud service providers — including Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, and Google Drive — into OneDrive and SharePoint, enabling seamless file collaboration across Microsoft 365 apps and services, including the Office apps and Microsoft Teams,” Tepper wrote.
Tepper also points out that they will be gaining the expertise of the Mover team as it moves to Microsoft and helps add to the migration tools already in place.
Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, says that moving files from one system to another like this can be extremely challenging regardless of how you do it, and the file transfer mechanism is only part of it. “The transition to 365 from an on-prem system or competing cloud supplier is never a migration, per se. It’s a rebuild, with a completely different UX, admin model, set of services, and operational assumptions all built into the Microsoft cloud offering,” Byrne explained.
Mover is based in Calgary, Canada. It was founded in 2012 and raised $1 million, according to Crunchbase data. It counts some big clients as customers including AutoDesk, Symantec and BuzzFeed.
At the recent TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Senegalese VC investor Marieme Diop suggested that Silicon Valley’s unicorn IPO model might not be right for African startups.
The is largely because the continent’s startups face a vastly different macro business environment, Diop explained during a discussion of investing in Africa with 500 Startups’ Sheel Mohnot and IFC’s Wale Ayeni. In a subsequent conversation, she clarified an alternative approach for African startups to raise capital from public listings.
“It might be a better option to set lower revenue expectations and have startups list on local exchanges to raise capital from IPOs when they’re ready,” said Diop. “We may be able to create more gazelles at home than unicorns abroad,”
A gazelle at home could be a company valued at a $100 million or more and generating revenues of $15 to $50 million, according to Diop.
“We should have a discussion of setting a right valuation, a valuation that is more appropriate to African startups,” she said.
A VC investor at Orange Digital Ventures and co-founder of Dakar Angels Network, Diop’s perspective comes in the wake of Jumia’s going public on the New York Stock Exchange this April.
The e-commerce venture became the first VC-funded digital company operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange, a fact that may have raised expectations for additional $100 million revenue tech firms creating unicorns and IPOs in Africa.
The $100 million revenue point has served as the unofficial IPO benchmark for startups and investors; after reaching unicorn status in 2014, Jumia achieved it last year (with big losses in tow).
But as I mentioned in a previous Extra Crunch piece, it will be difficult for startups operating in Africa to hit that revenue mark, even with all the leaps and bounds occurring in the continent’s economies and tech sector. The overall operating environment is still fairly costly and challenging, compared to other regions.
To put the $100 million revenue benchmark in perspective for Africa, the continent’s entire tech VC funding only recently surpassed $1 billion annually, according to Partech data, which means the $100 million rule would requires a company to generate annual revenues up to roughly 10% of the yearly value of VC raised across the entire ecosystem.
Chad Hurley is hunting for what comes after fantasy sports. He envisions a new way for fans to play by watching live and cheering for the athletes they love. Beyond a few scraps of info the YouTube co-founder would share and his new startup’s job listings revealed, we don’t know what Hurley’s game will feel like. But the company is called GreenPark Sports, and it’s launching in Spring 2020.
“There is an absence of compelling, inclusive ways for large masses of sports fans to compete together” Hurley tells me. “The idea of a ‘sports fan’ has evolved – it is now more a social behavior than ever before. We’re looking at a much bigger, inclusive way for all fans of sports and esports teams to play.”
Hurley already has an all-star team. One of GreenPark’s co-founders Nick Swinmurn helped start Zappos, while another Ken Martin created marketing agency BLITZ. Together they’ve raised an $8.5 million seed round led by SignalFire and joined by Sapphire Sports and Founders Fund. “With this team’s impeccable track record and vision for the future of fandom, this was an investment we had to make,” said Chris Farmer, founder and CEO of SignalFire.
It all comes down to allegiance — something Hurley, Swinmurn, and Martin truly understand. Everyone is seeking ways to belong and emblems to represent them. In an age when many of our most prized possessions from photographs to record collections have been digitized, we lack tangible objects that center our individuality. Culture increasingly centers around landmark events, with what we’ve done mattering more than what we own.
GreenPark could seize upon this moment by helping us to align our identities with a team. This instantly unlocks a likeminded community, a recurrent activity, and a unified aesthetic. And when reality gets heavy, people can lose themselves by hitching their spirits to the scoreboard.
Rather than just tabulating results after the match like in fantasy sports, GreenPark wants to be entwined with the spectacle as it happens. “We’re going to be working with a mix of ways to visualize the live game – from unique gamecast-like data to highlight clips. The social viewing experience can be much more than just the straight live video” Hurley explains.
He came up with GreenPark after selling assets of his video editing app Mixbit to BlueJeans a year ago. Hurley already had an interactive relationship with sports…though one that’s reserved for the rich: he’s part owner of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Football Club. Meanwhile, Swinmurn co-founded the Burlingame Dragons Football Club affiliated with San Jose’s team, and is on the board of Denmark’s FC Helsingør.
Those experiences taught them the satisfaction that comes from a deeper sense of ownership or allegiance with a team. GreenPark will give an opportunity for anyone to turn fandom into its own sport. “We shared a love of sports and set out to look into opportunities around legalized sports betting in the US” Hurley tells me.” But quickly they found “it was obvious the regulated space wouldn’t allow us to innovate as quickly as we wanted” and they saw a more opportunity amidst a younger mainstream audience.
“We’re not ready to disclose publicly the exact detailed gameplay yet” Hurley says. But here’s what we could cobble together from around the web.
GreenPark Sports lets you “Destroy the other teams’ fans” to “climb the leaderboards”, its site says cryptically. According to job listings, it will pipe in live game data, starting with the NBA and expanding to other leagues, and offer cartoon characters with facial expressions and full-body gestures to let users live out the highs and lows of matches. Don’t expect trivia questions or player stat memorization. It almost sounds like a massively multiplayer online fan arena.
As with blockbuster games Fortnite or League Of Legends, GreenPark is free-to-play. But a mention of virtual clothing hints at monetization, where you could spruce up avatars with digital team apparel. Hurley tells me “We are in the perfect storm of the thirst for innovation at the traditional league level, the next level of maturing for esports, investment in sports betting and overall dire need to better understand today’s largest populace of sports fans – Millenial / Gen Z.” The closed beta launches in the Spring.
There’s a massive hole to fill in the wake of the Draft Kings / FanDuel marketing sure a few years ago. Most apps in the space just carry scores or analysis, rather than community. “What’s amazing about being a fan of a team or player is the common bond you have with other fans” Hurley explains, “where even if you don’t know the other fans of your team – you are all in it to win it – together.”
Publications like The Athletic have proven there are plenty of fans willing to pay to feel closer to their favorite teams. The most direct competitor for GreenPark might be Strafe, that lets you track and predict the winners of esports matches.
People already spend tons of time on building fictional worlds like Minecraft and money outfitting their Fortnite avatar with the coolest clothes. If GreenPark can create a space for sports’ fan self-expression, it could create the online destination for legions of IRL enthusiasts that see who they root for as core to who they are.
The Australian scene industry has, in the last few years, started to generate a swathe of startups that have broken through internationally. Prior to this current era, Australia was scene has very much a local market in tech terms, with only occasional breakouts, like Atlassian . In fact, it’s now gaining a reputation as a serial producer of high-quality tech platforms, the hottest of which right now is Canva, which recently raised an additional $85 million to bring its valuation to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in May. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Notably, Sydney-based AirTree Ventures also invested early.
So that momentum is further confirmed by the news that Airtree has closed its 3rd fund of $275m. This new fund comes after AirTree’s $250m fund in 2016 and a $60m fund in 2014. You can clearly see the buildup in these numbers.
John Henderson, Partner said: “The interest from investors in our fund is a stunning reflection on the performance of the entrepreneurs we’ve been lucky enough to back. We were humbled by overwhelming demand, but felt it was the right thing for our investors to maintain discipline and a consistent fund size across vintages.”
Australian venture capital was less than fashionable after the dotcom boom and bust, and local institutional capital in Australia and New Zealand all but disappeared, hence why we saw so few startups form the region.
AirTree’s $60m fund in 2014, broke that drought and Australia now boasts over 50 tech startups valued at $100 million, 14 over $500 million and produces one ‘unicorn’ per year on average.
Airtree has gone on to invest in Australian and Kiwi startups like Canva, Prospa, Secure Code Warrior, Athena, Flurosat, Brighte, Joyous, Thematic and A Cloud Guru. Prospa, Australia’s main online lender to small businesses, IPO’ed on the Australian Stock Exchange in June 2019.
Airtree can invest as little as $200k, but now has the firepower to own the pipeline all the way up the investment stack.
Craig Blair, Managing Partner commented: “As ex-founders, we have experienced the tough, lonely road ourselves. This empathy with the founder journey helps us focus on when to provide support and when to get out of the way. In our next fund, we’ll be expanding our suite of services and our network of connections, all designed to give our founders an unfair advantage.”
The VC also announced two promotions and a new executive hire:
• Elicia McDonald promoted to Principal, with a mandate to lead new investments
• Emily Close joining the investment team, promoted to Associate
• Melissa Ran leading AirTree’s Community and Advocacy efforts
AirTree’s latest fund is backed by six institutional investors from Australia including AustralianSuper, SunSuper and Statewide. The rest of the new fund comes from a range of successful entrepreneurs and family offices.
Henderson added: “An important portion of our portfolio is already in New Zealand and we remain very focused on supporting that market. We’ve been investing meaningful resources and funds in New Zealand since 2014 and we’ll have more Kiwi news to share soon.”
The fund raise follows news that AirTree portfolio company Property-tech start-up :Different has raised a second round of capital from AirTree, alongside Brisbane-based real estate fund PieLAB, as it expands into Queensland.
Nielsen announced this morning it will now be able to measure the viewing taking place on Amazon Prime Video, through its Subscription Video on Demand Content Ratings solution. This product, first launched two years ago, was originally focused on measuring Netflix’s viewing numbers with promises to add support for measuring Prime Video in 2018.
Though delayed by a year, that Prime Video measurement is now available.
Through Nielsen’s service, clients will have access to the measurement data for their own content, as well as the total content life cycle for competitive media — whether it’s live, content-shifted viewing, steamed or available through video-on-demand, Nielsen says.
As with Netflix, however, Nielsen is able to measure only the Amazon Prime Video streams taking place in the U.S. via TVs. This includes through connected and smart devices — like streaming media players, for example.
That limitation has been a point of criticism from Netflix, which routinely dismisses Nielsen’s accuracy because it misses streams coming from mobile devices and PCs. But insiders now say Nielsen’s numbers are fairly close, according to a Variety report from earlier this year, which detailed how Nielsen’s numbers backed up Netflix’s claims about its hit movie “Bird Box.”
Plus, those missing mobile and PC streams may not be as important in terms of U.S. viewership as you may think. Although many U.S. consumers are cutting the cord with traditional linear TV, they still often watch their streamed shows on the TV’s big screen. Hulu, for example, said last year that as much as 78% of its viewing takes place on a TV, to give you an idea.
For networks and studios, Nielsen’s SVOD measurement numbers help provide insight into what otherwise can be a bit of a black box. Although Netflix argued during its Q3 earnings last week that it does now share some viewing data with producers, it can be hard for studios and networks to put those numbers in context.
“Nielsen’s measurement in the SVOD space is invaluable for our studio to understand how our programs perform on these platforms and the audiences they attract,” said James Petretti, SVP, U.S. Research and Analytics at Sony Pictures Television, in a statement. “It becomes even more exciting for us, because Nielsen has the ability to help us understand what these audiences are doing outside of those platforms as well — how and what they are watching on other on-demand and linear services,” he continued.
“We are also able to understand the impact of traditional linear advertising driving viewers to these SVOD programs so what Nielsen is providing is extraordinarily compelling,” said Petretti.
To kick off its news of new capabilities, Nielsen also offered a few examples of what sort of data its Prime Video measurements can deliver.
The company says the Amazon Prime Video show “The Boys” averaged 4.1 million viewers per episode, with its premier averaging a little over 6 million. The largest share (39%) of viewers are aged 35 to 49, it also said. And within the first 10 days, the show had reached nearly 8 million viewers across its eight-episode season.
“This is a significant milestone for Nielsen, especially considering the upcoming high-profile streaming service launches,” said Brian Fuhrer, SVP Product Leadership, Nielsen, in a statement. “We think the addition of Amazon Prime Video will allow rights owners an added ability to understand both the size, as well as the composition, of their streaming audiences relative to other platforms or programs. Beyond that, making this enhancement re-affirms our commitment to continuous improvement and to being the one media truth of an increasingly-fragmented video landscape,” he added.
We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment and will update if one is provided.
During the first six months of 2019, advertisers spent $57.9 billion on U.S. digital advertising, according to the latest report prepared by PwC for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (an online advertising trade group).
That’s a 17% increase compared to the same period in 2018, and the most spending IAB has ever seen in the first half of the year.
However, PwC’s David Silverman noted that it’s actually “a touch lower” compared to the second six months of last year, marking the first time we haven’t seen continual growth since 2009.
Silverman suggested that one factor contributing to this is slowing growth in mobile and social advertising. To be clear, both sectors are up year-over-year: Mobile ads grew 29% to $30.9 billion, while social media spending increased 26% to $16.5 billion.
But he said, “Those sectors of the industry are likely maturing” — so we’re not seeing the growth levels that we have in recent years.
Meanwhile, the IAB’s senior vice president of research and analytics Sue Hogan noted that the dropoff between the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 amounts to “a rounding error” (in fact, the report puts spending during both periods at $57.9 billion).
Overall, she argued that every category remains “healthy,” and that the big story is the growth in video advertising, which was up 36% to $9.5 billion.
The report also includes numbers around revenue concentration, specifically the amount of ad spend going to the top 10 digital ad companies. It doesn’t name specific companies (Google and Facebook are widely seen as the two giants dominating this space), but it says that revenue concentration in the top 10 has fluctuated between 69% and 77% over the past decade.
During the second quarter of 2019, revenue concentration remained at the top end of that range, specifically 76%. Meanwhile, companies 11 through 25 only accounted for 7%.
For the second time this year, Netflix is offering $2 billion in debt to fund its investment in content, including original programming, content acquisitions, investments, and more. The news was announced on Monday morning, and was followed by a slight dip in Netflix’s stock price.
The decision to increase its investment in content production follows Netflix’s well-received earnings beat last week, when it reported revenues of $5.24 billion versus the $5.25 billion expected, and EPS of $1.47 versus the $1.07 expected. Despite missing on subscriber numbers in Q3, Netflix’s stock quickly surged on the news.
However, the streaming service is not out of the woods just yet. It will soon face significant competition — especially among families with children — when Disney+ launches next month. Apple is also poised to launch Apple TV+, NBCU is bringing us Peacock, AT&T’s TimeWarner is debuting HBO Max, and Jeffrey Katzenberg is launching a mobile-only service called Quibi with big-name talent attached.
On their own, each of the new services wouldn’t be likely to unseat Netflix as a top streamer. But combined, they can chip away at Netflix’s user base if consumers decide to ditch and switch, instead of adding on yet another subscription.
On Netflix’s Q3 earnings call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even admitted that Disney is going to be “a great competitor.” However, he pointed out that all of the services — including Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime –have been competing more with linear TV than with each other.
That said, Netflix still needs to up its content game to keep customers subscribed. And that can be expensive.
“We don’t shy away from taking bold swings if we think the business impact will also be amazing. We don’t close every deal we chase and we don’t chase every deal on the table,” said Hastings, in Netflix’s Q3 letter to shareholders. He added that while not all Netflix’s projects work out, the large and growing subscriber base lets its experiment. And the size of its content budget — $10 billion on P&L spend and $15 billion in cash content spend — helps Netflix from getting too dependent on any single hit show.
The company also said its growing revenue base and expanding margins would allow it to fund more content spending internally, with cash flow freeing up further in 2020 and beyond.
In the meantime, however, Netflix is taking on debt.
In today’s announcement, Netflix says it intends to use the net proceeds from this offering “for general corporate purposes, which may include content acquisitions, production and development, capital expenditures, investments, working capital and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”
Bob Stutz has had a storied career with enterprise software companies including stints at Siebel Systems, SAP, Microsoft and Salesforce. He announced on Facebook last week that he’s leaving his job as head of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and heading back to SAP as president of customer experience.
Bob Stutz Facebook announcement
Constellation Research founder and principal analyst Ray Wang says that Stutz has a reputation for taking companies to the next level. He helped put Microsoft CRM on the map (although it still had just 2.7% marketshare in 2018, according to Gartner) and he helped move the needle at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
Bob Stutz, SAP’s new president of customer experience. Photo: Salesforce
“Stutz was the reason Salesforce could grow in the Marketing Cloud and analytics areas. He fixed a lot of the fundamental architectural and development issues at Salesforce, and he did most of the big work in the first 12 months. He got the acquisitions going, as well,” Wang told TechCrunch. He added, “SAP has a big portfolio from CallidusCloud to Hybris to Qualtrics to put together. Bob is the guy you bring in to take a team to the next level.”
Brent Leary, who is a long-time CRM industry watcher, says the move makes a lot of sense for SAP. “Having Bob return to head up their Customer Experience business is a huge win for SAP. He’s been everywhere, and everywhere he’s been was better for it. And going back to SAP at this particular time may be his biggest challenge, but he’s the right person for this particular challenge,” Leary said.
The move comes against the backdrop of lots of changes going on at the German software giant. Just last week, long-time CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down, and that Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein would be replacing him as co-CEOs. Earlier this year, the company saw a line of other long-time executives and board members head out the door including including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board.
Having Stutz on board could help stabilize the situation somewhat, as he brings more than 25 years of solid software company experience to bear on the company.
I’ll be the first to admit that when the first generation Surface two-in-one launched, I wasn’t sure this was a device that people actually wanted to use. But Microsoft was clearly on to something, as the proliferation of Surface Pros among coffee shop dwellers clearly shows. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced both the seventh generation Surface Pro 7 and the Surface Pro X. The X is probably the most interesting update in the Surface Pro’s recent history, with a slimmer profile, larger screen, thinner bezels and plenty of new internals. But the Pro 7, which is going on sale today, starting at $749, is a competent upgrade that gives Surface Pro users exactly what they want — even if it sticks to a tried and tested formula.
It’s pretty easy to sum up what’s new in the Surface Pro 7. There’s the new 10th-generation Intel chips and a USB-C port for both charging and attaching accessories. The Surface Pen and detachable keyboard remain optional — and somewhat pricey — accessories, though Microsoft tells me that a large percentage opt to get the type cover keyboard, with fewer opting for the pen. There are new colors for the accessories, though: poppy red (which is what Microsoft provided me with my test device and which is indeed very red) and ice blue. The type cover also feels a little bit stiffer, but that’s hard to quantify.
The versions with Intel’s newest i3 and i5 chips are fanless, while the i7 version does have a fan.
And that’s pretty much it. The overall design remains the same, with its bezels that are starting to feel a bit too thick these days, and a thin strip of air vents around the sides. The kickstand is something Microsoft has pretty much perfected, so it’s no surprise that it remains virtually unchanged. While Microsoft added a single USB-C port, the plug for the Surface connector is also still there to help you charge your Surface or connect it to a docking station.
Because you’re mostly going to use a Pro on the go, I don’t think only having a single USB-A and USB-C port is a major issue. If you’re using it at home, then getting the $199 Surface Dock is likely the way to go, anyway.
As for the design, if it wasn’t for that USB-C port, you’d have a hard time telling the Pro 7 from the recent Surface Pros. Everything else looks pretty much identical to last the couple of iterations.
I’ve used the i5-powered Pro 7 while traveling over the course of the last few days. Microsoft promises that the new Intel chips are up to twice as fast as their predecessors. I’m sure those numbers work out in artificial benchmarks. In daily use, I noticed that using the device did indeed feel a bit smoother than the last few Surfaces I tested that fell into the same price range as this machine. I’m among those that barely use the pen, but when I do, the experience feels seamless, with no noticeable lag in most circumstances.
Microsoft promises full-day battery life, and that’s pretty much what I got, too, using the Surface to write for a few hours on the plane, surfing the web during a layover and watching Netflix in the evening.
If you’re in the market for a Surface Pro, this is obviously the one to get. If you own a Pro 5 or 6 and you’re still happy with their performance, then there’s no real reason to upgrade. Depending on your use case, the Surface Pro X may be the one to get anyway, but that’s still two weeks out and we’ll have to see how well it performs in the real world and if it’s worth the higher starting price of $999. Come back in two weeks and we’ll let you know.
Rocket Lab kicked off the International Astronautical Congress with the news that it’ll begin offering small satellite delivery service to orbits beyond low Earth orbit, where it currently operates — including delivering payloads all the way to the Moon. The longer-range service will be provided via its Photon spacecraft, which it’ll pair with a new additional stage to add range to the vehicle. The company expects to be able to begin serving customers with this new combined, longer range spacecraft possibly as early as Q4 2020.
This will extend significantly the launch startup’s effective operating range, which, since it began serving customers last year, has been entirely focused on the LEO range (from between around 200 miles and 1,200 miles above the surface of the Earth). Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a press release announcing the news that this is in response to additional inbound interest in reaching these orbits, from both government and private sector clients.
Beck notes that this demand will only grow as we look to put more investment into human exploration and infrastructure established on and around the Moon (NASA’s Artemis program will involve both a Lunar Gateway orbital station with international cooperation and eventually establishment of a base on the Moon’s surface). Small satellites, he argues, will be instrumental in providing low-risk advance scouting and establishing the necessary advance infrastructure for establishing a larger, more permanent presence.
There’s existing demand, he says, too, with a lot of research equipment and “full satellites” already “on shelves” just waiting for a ride to deeper space than is currently available. In other words, Rocket Lab is very eager to point out that this move isn’t just predicting future demand, but addressing a current unmet need that exists in the market.
Photon, the spacecraft Rocket Lab will use to accomplish this goal, is an evolved version of the Kick Stage of Electron. Combining it with Electron will provide Rocket Lab’s customers with a “complete solution” for missions anywhere from LEO, to farther-out Earth orbits, all the way to covering anything between here and the Moon, the company says.
Spiff, a Salt Lake City-based company pitching a new service for calculating sales commissions for salespeople around the world, has raised $6 million in funding to sell its own product to the millions of Willie Lohman’s looking for an end to needless paperwork.
“Amazing as it may seem, there isn’t an effective, modern SaaS solution for managing incentive compensation,” said Jeron Paul, Spiff’s founder and chief executive. “Most companies use Excel or decades-old tech that’s really just professional services masquerading as software.”
Spiff’s own data indicates that 90% of businesses rely on spreadsheets alone to calculate commissions and it can take up to one month for sales representatives to learn about their commissions after they’ve closed deals.
Paul has had a long career starting and selling businesses before he launched Spiff in 2018. The serial entrepreneur previously sold Capshare to a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley; launched and sold Scalar Analytics, and Boardlink, which was bought by ThomsonReuters, according to the company.
Spiff projects that the market for sales commissions in the U.S. is roughly $800 billion, with the incentive compensation market numbering in the trillions of dollars. It’s a big, niche, problem for customers that the company thinks its solution can address.
Global retail e-commerce is expected to be a $25 trillion business this year, and today one of the companies that has built a set of tools to help larger enterprises to sell to consumers online has raised a large growth round to meet that demand. Commercetools, a German startup that provides a set of APIs that power e-commerce sales and related functions for large businesses, has raised $145 million (€130 million) in a growth round of funding led by Insight Partners, at a valuation that we understand from a close source is around $300 million.
The funding comes at the same time that commercetools is getting spun out by REWE, a German retail and tourist services giant that acquired the startup in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.
The route the company took after that is a not-totally-uncommon one for tech startups acquired by non-tech companies: commercetools had been acquired by REWE as part of a strategy to take some of its own e-commerce tech in-house, but commercetools had always continued to work with outside clients and has been growing at about 110% annually, CEO and co-founder Dirk Hoerig said in an interview.
Current companies include Audi, Bang & Olufsen, Carhartt, Yamaha and some very big names in retail products and services (including major telco/media brands in the USA that you will definitely know). Ultimately, the decision was taken to bring in outside funding and spin out the businesses as an independent startup once again to supercharge that growth. REWE will remain a significant shareholder with this deal.
Hoerig said that commercetools had raised only around $30 million in outside funding when it was a startup ahead of getting acquired.
Although e-commerce has grown over the last couple of years with slightly less momentum than in previous years given wider economic uncertainty, it continues to expand, and in that growth, we’ve seen a swing back to individual retail brands looking for ways of connecting more directly with customers outside of the third-party marketplaces (like Amazon) that have come to dominate how people spending money online.
That is giving a boost to those providing essentially non-tech businesses the tools to build e-commerce activity by offering “headless” tools that are attached to front-end systems designed by others.
Shopify — coincidentally, also backed by Insight when it was still a private company — focuses more on providing e-commerce tools by way of APIs to medium and smaller customers, and it has ballooned to some 800,000 customers. Commercetools, in contrast, focuses more on companies that typically generate revenues in excess of $100 million annually, Hoerig said.
Commercetools has no plans to expand to smaller companies — “We have no plan to compete against Shopify,” Hoerig said. Nor is there any strategy in place to extend into logistics, another important component of e-commerce services.
That’s not to say that commercetools doesn’t have a crowded field when it comes to competition, though. Hoerig noted that companies like SAP, Oracle and IBM are typical competitors and are more often already the incumbent provider to large enterprises. Then, there are others like Microsoft, in hot competition with Amazon for cloud customers, also expanding their commerce services for business. Companies typically make the change to replace them with something like commercetools, he said, when they decide they need a “more modern” approach.
In all (if that list alone wasn’t a strong enough hint), the wider market for e-commerce tools is very fragmented.
“Even SAP has only something like a 2% share,” he added.
Today, commercetools offers a range of services, starting at APIs to power the basics of webshops and mobile sites, along with IoT services (“machines buying from machines,” Hoerig noted), powering chatbots, the architecture for running marketplaces, social commerce services (for example, powering selling through Instagram), and augmented reality. It currently integrates with Adobe, Frontastic, Bloomreach and Magnolia.
Commercetools plans to use the funding to continue expanding its business in North America and other parts of the world, as well as to continue building up its B2B2B offering — that is, tools for businesses to sell to other businesses. This is an area that companies like Alibaba are very strong in (and Amazon has been also growing its business), and the idea is to provide tools to let companies sell on their own sites either as a complement to, or to replace, third-party marketplaces.
Another area where it will continue to figure where it can play better is in the development of better online-to-offline technology.
Richard Wells and Matt Gatto of Insight are both joining the board with this deal.
“With a strong track record of investing in retail software leaders, we are excited to have the opportunity to invest in commercetools and help them scale up internationally,” said Wells in a statement. “In our opinion commercetools represents the next wave of enterprise commerce software and has the potential to unlock powerful innovation and growth within the e-commerce sector.”