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iOS 15 includes features to improve Google applications use

ios15, google, apple


Apple recently rolled out its latest operating system, iOS 15, and it will have new and improved features for improving the use of Google applications.

The announcement was made by the technology company was made in a statement.

A Focus mode is announced in which the feature will help in getting tasks finished within a given timeframe. They will be able to receive timely notifications.

Not only the feature will be handy in getting work done, but it will also be helpful in a different manner. For example, the tool will inform drivers if the road ahead is closed or quick turns have to be made.

The latest feature named Google Home will let the users know if strangers are standing outside their homes. This will help take precautions and inform the police or authorities of any suspicious person.

The tool will serve as a reminder regarding any work or house chore that needs to get done promptly.

But the less important notifications will get transferred to the Notifications Centre. They can get accessed later.

The statement mentioned that Google Photos and YouTube Music will release even larger versions of their widgets in the future for providing easy access to music and memories on iPads.

Earlier, Spotlight was making it easy to find content from Google Drive. With the latest version, songs – which are searched – will start playing on YouTube Music.

Cartona gets $4.5M pre-Series A to connect retailers with suppliers in Egypt

Cartona

image Credit: Cartona

Year-old startup Capiter announced last week that it raised a $33 million Series A to digitize Egypt’s traditional offline retail market.

It’s looking to take a large pie in the budding e-commerce and retail play, where multiple startups are pulling their weight including Cartona, also a year-old startup out of Egypt.

Today, Cartona is announcing that it has raised a $4.5 million pre-Series A funding round to connect retailers and manufacturers via an application.

The company confirmed that Dubai-based venture capital firm Global Ventures led the round, with Pan-African firm Kepple Africa, T5 Capital and angel investors also participating.

Cairo-based Cartona, founded in August 2020, focuses on solving the supply-chain and operational challenges of players in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry by helping buyers access products from sellers on a single platform.

Buyers, in this case, are retailers, while sellers are FMCG companies, distributors and wholesalers.

The problem retailers in Egypt and most of Africa face mainly revolves around limited access to suppliers. There are also issues around transparency in market prices, which are dependent on traditional logistical capabilities.

For suppliers, the lack of data and inability to make data-backed decisions to improve margins and aid growth add up to unoptimized warehouses. 

“The trade market is completely inefficient and it’s not good for the supplier nor the manufacturers, and it’s definitely not good for retailers,” CEO Mahmoud Talaat told TechCrunch in an interview. “So we came up with the idea of Cartona, which is basically a fully light-asset model that connects manufacturers and wholesalers to retailers.”

Talaat founded the company alongside Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah. Before Cartona, Abdel-Fattah founded Speakol, a MENA-focused adtech platform serving 60 million monthly users, while Talaat was the chief commercial officer of agriculture company Lamar Egypt.

Cartona works as an asset-light marketplace. On the platform, grocery retailers can get orders from a curated network of sellers. The company says this way, it can provide visibility through real-time price comparisons and clarity on delivery times.

Also, FMCGs and suppliers can optimize their go-to-market execution through the use of data and analytics. Cartona tops it off by providing embedded finance and access to credit to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona makes money through all these processes. It takes a commission on orders made, charges suppliers for running advertising to merchants (since they compete for the latter’s attention), and provides market insights on buyer behavior, price competition and market share.

“It is time to capitalize on technology beyond warehouses and trucks. Data and technology will transform traditional retail to a digitally native one, which in return will drastically improve the supply chain efficiency,” Abdel-Fattah said about how the company sells information to retailers and suppliers.

Cartona has over 30,000 merchants on its platform. Together, they have processed more than 400,000 orders with an annualized gross merchandise value of EGP 1 billion (~$64 million). Cartona also works with more than 1,000 distributors, wholesalers and 100 FMCG companies, offering consumers more than 10,000 products, including dry, fresh and frozen food.

The company’s business and revenue model is similar to other companies in this space, but the main difference lies in whether they own assets or not.

Taking a look at the players in Egypt, for instance, MaxAB operates its warehouses and fleets; Capiter uses a hybrid model in which it rents these assets and owns inventory when dealing with high-turnover products. But Cartona solely manages an asset-light model.

The CEO tells me that he thinks this model works best for all the stakeholders involved in the retail market. He argues that not owning assets and leasing the ones on the ground shows that the company is trying to improve the operations of existing suppliers and merchants instead of displacing them.

I believe that the infrastructure already exists. We already have many warehouses, many small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, and wholesalers and distributors and companies that have a lot of assets. If you want to fix the problem, we think one should enable the people who are strategically located in small streets all over Egypt and have the infrastructure but don’t have the technology needed to optimize their warehouses and carts.”

The current margins for suppliers with warehouses are slim, and Cartona provides the technology — an inventory and ordering system — to provide efficiency in its supply chain.

The general partner at lead investor Global Ventures, Basil Moftah, said in a statement that Cartona’s technology and not owning inventory proved critical in the firm’s decision to back the company.

“The trade market is one of the most sophisticated, yet [it is] characterized by multiple critical inefficiencies across the value chain,” he said. Cartona’s asset-light approach tackles those inefficiencies by optimizing the trade process in unique ways and does so with minimal capital spent.”

Proceeds of the investment focus on improving this technology, Talaat said. In addition, Cartona is expanding its team and operations beyond two cities in Egypt — Cairo and Alexandria — to other parts.

A longer-term plan might include horizontal and vertical product expansion into pharmaceuticals, electronics and fashion.

Paralympians bring home gold medals, but we’re failing them on web accessibility

Joseph Wengier Contributor
Joseph Wengier competed in five Paralympics and won nine gold medals. He promotes the advancement of a more inclusive internet as an ambassador for accessibility technology company UserWay.

After winning my first gold medal in the 1972 Paralympics, I went out with the swim team for a celebratory dinner. I’ll never forget the paradoxical sight of my teammates — all world-class athletes — being carried in their wheelchairs up the few steps into an inaccessible restaurant. While far from a rare occurrence at the time, the stark contrast between that moment and our victory in the pool earlier that day made it stand out.

As I strapped on my braces and slowly made my way up the stairs, I reflected on the irony of the situation. As Paralympic champions, we were sources of inspiration to millions. We were breaking down stereotypes and changing perceptions about what disabled people could accomplish. Yet while we were celebrated by society, we were not accommodated by it.

Accessing many basic goods and services required herculean feats of strength and agility. Attempts at participating fully in the physical world were met with hurdles and obstacles. At that time, it was clear that for the Paralympic movement, which strived to promote disability rights through Paralympic sport, the work was not yet done. In fact, it was just beginning.

Over the subsequent four Paralympic games that I participated in, we began to see the gradual shift toward more accessible cities. The Paralympic movement played no small part in that advancement. By putting a wide range of disabled people on TV around the world, it brought the need for equal access from the shadows into the spotlight.

Joseph Wengier and his teammates at the 1980 Paralympics. Wengier is second from left. Image Credits: Joseph Wengier.

The Paralympics also demanded host cities do better, requiring meaningful and lasting improvements to the accessibility of cities’ infrastructure. Today, while there is certainly still much room for improvement, disabled people have found solutions for most problems and are able to participate in society more than ever before.

Yet with the internet taking an increasingly central part in our daily lives, we are seeing the same exclusionary practices that we experienced — and fought against — all those years ago reappearing in a new form. A recent study reviewed the world’s top 1 million websites and found accessibility issues on the homepages of more than 97% of them.

A restaurant website that lacks support for keyboard navigation or does not work properly with screen readers can prevent a person who relies on these technologies from ordering food, similar to the way that lack of wheelchair access can prevent them from entering the establishment.

Now, with COVID-19 upending our daily routines, the shift online has accelerated. More and more businesses are going digital, with their website being the only way to schedule an appointment, buy groceries or apply for a job. This makes the need for accessible websites more critical than ever. It is not a matter of a minor inconvenience or an inability to access a new technology or service. We are seeing basic day-to-day needs moving online and becoming less accessible in the process. It is this slide backward that has compelled me to speak up and share my story.

As we go online to watch the highlight clips of our favorite athletes’ performances in Tokyo, take to social media to congratulate them, or visit our favorite sports site to read the coverage of the events, let’s demand that these businesses make their websites accessible so that Paralympic champions can do the same.

A recent image of Joseph Wengier at his computer with his medals in the background. Image Credits: Joseph Wengier.



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Netflix launches free plan in Kenya to boost growth

netflix-kenya-free plan-gettyimage
Image Credits: Krisztian Bocsi / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Netflix said on Monday it is launching a free mobile plan in Kenya as the global streaming giant looks to tap the East African nation that is home to over 20 million internet users.

The free plan, which will be rolled out to all users in Kenya in the coming weeks, won’t require them to provide any payment information during the sign-up, the company said. The new plan is available to any user aged 18 or above with an Android phone, the company said. It will also not include ads.

Netflix, available in over 190 countries, has experimented with a range of plans in recent years to lure customers in developing markets. For instance, it began testing a $3 mobile-only plan in India in 2018 — before expanding it to users in several other countries.

This is also not the first time Netflix is offering its service for free — or at little to no price. The company has previously supported free trials in many markets, offered a tiny portion of its original movies and shows to non-subscribers, and has run at least one campaign in India when the service was available at no charge over the course of a weekend.

But its latest offering in Kenya is still remarkable. The company told Reuters that it is making about one quarter of its movies and television shows catalog available to users in the free plan in the East African nation.

“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix, wrote in a blog post.

“And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”

The company didn’t disclose how long it plans to offer this free tier in Kenya — and whether it is considering expanding this offering to other markets.

On its past earnings calls, Netflix executives have insisted that they study each market and explore ways to make their service more compelling to all. The ability to sign up without a payment information lends credibility to such claims. Many individuals in developed countries don’t have a credit or debit card, which renders services requiring such payment instruments at the sign-up inaccessible to them.

The new push to win customers comes as the company, which is also planning to add mobile games to its offering, added only 1.5 million net paying subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, lower than what it had forecast. Netflix, which has amassed over 209 million subscribers, as well as Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services are increasingly trying to win customers outside of the U.S. to maintain faster growth rates.

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a free and ad-supported video streaming service within its shopping app in India to tap more customers.

Sorare raises $680 million for its fantasy sports NFT game

Sorare

image credit:Sorare

French startup Sorare has announced that it has raised a significant funding round. SoftBank's Vision Fund 2 has led a $680 million Series B round, which values the company at $4.3 billion.

Sorare has built a fantasty football (soccer) platform based on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Each digital card is registered as a unique token on the Ethereum blockchain. Players can buy and sell cards from other players. Transactions are all recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.

What makes Sorare unique is that it has partnered with 180 football organizations, including some of the most famous clubs in Europe, such as Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus. It creates a barrier to entry for other companies in the space.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to new sports, open an office in the U.S., hire more people and invest in marketing campaigns. You can expect more partnership announcements with professional sports organizations in the future.

In addition to SoftBank's Vision Fund team, Atomico, Bessemer Ventures, D1 Capital, Eurazeo, IVP and Liontree are also participating in the round. Some of the startup’s existing investors are also investing once again, such as Benchmark, Accel, Headline and various business angels.

Sorare generates revenue by issuing new cards on the platform. Players can then buy those new cards and add them to their collection. They can also manage a squad of players and earn points based on real-life performances.

Over time, the value of a card can go up or down. That’s why players often buy and sell cards from other players — there are even third-party websites that help you track auctions. $150 million worth of cards have been traded on the platform since January. Sorare doesn’t take a cut on player-to-player transactions right now.

While the volume of transaction is quite big, there is still a lot of potential for user growth. There are currently 600,000 registered users and 150,000 users who are buying a card or composing a team every month. Sales have grown by 51x between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021.

“We saw the immense potential that blockchain and NFTs brought to unlock a new way for football clubs, footballers, and their fans to experience a deeper connection with each other. We are thrilled by the success we have seen so far, but this is just the beginning. We believe this is a huge opportunity to create the next sports entertainment giant, bringing Sorare to more football fans and organisations, and to introduce the same proven model to other sports and sports fans worldwide,” Sorare co-founder and CEO Nicolas Julia said.

Sorare’s Series B is a huge funding round, especially for a French startup. Fantasy sports games are one of the best way to expose new people to the world of NFTs. That’s probably why NBA Top Shot is also incredibly popular for NBA fans.

And those platforms have become a great on-ramp to get started in cryptocurrencies. It’s going to be interesting to see whether it becomes more regulated in the future as more people start playing on Sorare.

MIT study finds Tesla drivers become inattentive when Autopilot is activated

tesla autopilot

Image Credits: Bloomberg / Contributor under a license.

By the end of this week, potentially thousands of Tesla owners will be testing out the automaker’s newest version of its “Full Self-Driving” beta software, version 10.0.1, on public roads, even as regulators and federal officials investigate the safety of the system after a few high-profile crashes.

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lends credence to the idea that the FSD system, which despite its name is not actually an autonomous system but rather an advanced driver assist system (ADAS), may not actually be that safe. Researchers studying glance data from 290 human-initiated Autopilot disengagement epochs found drivers may become inattentive when using partially automated driving systems.

“Visual behavior patterns change before and after [Autopilot] disengagement,” the study reads. “Before disengagement, drivers looked less on road and focused more on non-driving related areas compared to after the transition to manual driving. The higher proportion of off-road glances before disengagement to manual driving were not compensated by longer glances ahead.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that not everyone who has paid for the FSD software will be able to access the beta version, which promises more automated driving functions. First, Tesla will use telemetry data to capture personal driving metrics over a seven-day period in order to ensure drivers are still remaining attentive enough. The data may also be used to implement a new safety rating page that tracks the owner’s vehicle, which is linked to their insurance.

The MIT study provides evidence that drivers may not be using Tesla’s Autopilot (AP) as recommended. Because AP includes safety features like traffic-aware cruise control and autosteering, drivers become less attentive and take their hands off the wheel more. The researchers found this type of behavior may be the result of misunderstanding what the AP features can do and what its limitations are, which is reinforced when it performs well. Drivers whose tasks are automated for them may naturally become bored after attempting to sustain visual and physical alertness, which researchers say only creates further inattentiveness.

The report, titled “A model for naturalistic glance behavior around Tesla Autopilot disengagements,” has been following Tesla Model S and X owners during their daily routine for periods of a year or more throughout the greater Boston area. The vehicles were equipped with the Real-time Intelligent Driving Environment Recording data acquisition system1, which continuously collects data from the CAN bus, a GPS and three 720p video cameras. These sensors provide information like vehicle kinematics, driver interaction with the vehicle controllers, mileage, location and driver’s posture, face and the view in front of the vehicle. MIT collected nearly 500,000 miles’ worth of data. 

The point of this study is not to shame Tesla, but rather to advocate for driver attention management systems that can give drivers feedback in real time or adapt automation functionality to suit a driver’s level of attention. Currently, Autopilot uses a hands-on-wheel sensing system to monitor driver engagement, but it doesn’t monitor driver attention via eye or head-tracking.

The researchers behind the study have developed a model for glance behavior, “based on naturalistic data, that can help understand the characteristics of shifts in driver attention under automation and support the development of solutions to ensure that drivers remain sufficiently engaged in the driving tasks.” This would not only assist driver monitoring systems in addressing “atypical” glances, but it can also be used as a benchmark to study the safety effects of automation on a driver’s behavior.

Companies like Seeing Machines and Smart Eye already work with automakers like General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and reportedly Ford to bring camera-based driver monitoring systems to cars with ADAS, but also to address problems caused by drunk or impaired driving. The technology exists. The question is, will Tesla use it?

VC Mark Suster: “The bet we’re making now is on founder skills,” not customers or products

MARK SESTER

Image Credits: Mark Suster / Upfront Ventures

We recently caught up with longtime VC Mark Suster of L.A.-based Upfront Ventures, which last raised both an early-stage fund and a growth stage fund several years ago and, according to regulatory filings, is in the market right now, though Suster couldn’t discuss either owing to SEC regulations.

We did talk about a wide range of things, from his firm’s big bet on the micro mobility business Bird (which could be publicly traded soon), to his views on decentralized finance, to his fitness regime (we had to ask, as Suster has shed 60 pounds since early last year). If you’re curious to hear that conversation, you can listen here. In the meantime, what follows are outtakes of his reflections on broader industry trends, including the feverish pace of deal-making.

On changing check seed-stage sizes, and how much time VCs have to write them right now:

It used to be 10 years ago that I could write a $3 million or $4 million or $5 million [check] and that was called an A round, and that company probably had raised a few hundred thousand dollars from angels and maybe some seed funds, and I could get a lot of data on how companies were doing. I could talk to customers. I could look at customer retention. I could look at a startup’s marginal cost structure. I could talk to references of the founders. I could take my time and be thoughtful…

Fast forward a decade, and $5 million is a seed round, and now there are pre seed rounds and “day zero” companies” and seed extensions and A rounds and “A prime,” there’s B . . . I’m not actually doing anything differently than I did 10 years ago, in terms of deploying capital, getting involved with founders very early, helping you build your executive team, set your strategy, work on pricing, [figure out] which market are you in, [figure out] the sequence of how you launch products and how to raise downstream capital. But the pressure on me is, I now need to make faster decisions. I need to be involved with your company earlier. So I’m taking a little more risk in terms of not being able to look at customers. You may not even have customers.

On why his firm is averse to today’s A and B rounds and leaning more heavily into growth rounds. (It just brought aboard a former Twitter exec to lead the charge here and has meanwhile plugged more than $50 million in to several of its portfolio companies, including Bird; Rally, an investing platform for buying shares in collectibles; and Apeel Sciences, which makes edible coatings for fruit.)

I would never rule out any round. But what I will tell you is that the new a round that I maybe have an aversion to is call it $20 million to $30 million. What does that imply? It implies that you’re paying a $50 million, $60 million, $70 million valuation. It implies that to really drive fund-level returns, you have to have $5 billion, $10 billion, or $15 billion outcomes or greater.

The world is producing more of those. There are maybe 11 companies in the United States that are pure startups that are worth more than $10 billion. I get it. But if you want to be writing $20 million A rounds where you’re taking that level of risk, you have to have a $700 million to an $800 million to a $1 billion fund. And I don’t want to be in that business, not because I think it’s bad, but it’s a different business that implies different skills. . .

We want to be super early, like the earliest capital, we’ll even take a risk on you want to leave your company and we’ve known you. Let’s say we knew you at Riot Games we knew you at Snapchat, we knew you at Facebook, we knew you when you were working at Stripe or PayPal. We will back you at formation — at day zero. We want to [then] skip the expensive rounds and come in later.

On whether Upfront invests in priced rounds as well as convertible notes, wherein an investor is entitled to invest at a discount to the next round:

I think there’s a lot of misnomers that rounds themselves aren’t priced. Almost every round is priced. People just think they’re not priced. So [maybe the question is]: are we willing to do convertible notes, are we willing to do SAFE notes, are we willing to do all this stuff, and the answer is yes. Now, most convertible notes, most SAFE notes, they don’t fix a price, but they have a cap. And the cap is the price. What I always try to tell founders is, what you have is a maximum price with no minimum price. If you were willing to just raise capital and set the price, you’d have a maximum and it’s better for you. But for whatever reason, a generation of founders has been convinced that it’s better not to set a price, which really what they’re doing is setting a max, not a [minimum], and I’m not going to have that argument again. People don’t understand it. [The short version is] we will do convertible notes; we would not fund something that had no maximum price.

Regarding how Upfront competes in a world where deals are happening within shorter time windows than ever before:

If you’re looking for [a firm that will invest after one call] you’re calling the wrong firm. We don’t have as much time to know if customers love your product. You may not even have customers. But please don’t mistake that. We spend as much time as we can getting to know the founders. We might know the founders for five years before they create a company. We might be the people egging them on to quit Disney and go create a company. So we really want to know the founder. The bet that we’re making is now more on the founder skills and vision than on customer adoption of a product. That’s really what’s changed for us.

I always tell founders: if someone is willing to fund you after a 30-minute meeting, that’s a really bad trade for you. If a fund is doing 35 investments or 50 investments or even 20 investments and they get it wrong because they didn’t do due diligence, okay, well, they have 19 or 30 other investments. If you get it wrong and you chose an investor who’s not helpful, not ethical, not leaning in, not supportive, not adding value, you live with that. There’s no divorce clause.

Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson is coming to Disrupt

Nicole LaPointe Jameson Evil geniuses

Image Credits: Evil Geniuses

As the opportunities in the gaming world continue to expand aggressively as part of post-COVID shifts to the entertainment sector, esports has found its own opportunities in reaching new audiences. While competitive gaming is still in its early stages, the stakeholders of the industry are some of gaming’s most prominent publishers and organizations, and disrupting how business gets done can be a major challenge for rising leagues and platforms.

We’re excited to have Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson join us at TechCrunch Disrupt this week to discuss the business of competitive gaming and how esports is faring in its quest to gain an even larger audience. We’ll talk to LaPointe Jameson about the various leagues and stakeholders in the industry and where the momentum is shifting.

Evil Geniuses is a two decade-old competitive gaming brand, but over the past few years, the esports company has seen a dramatic revamp, exiting leagues and joining new ones while bulking up its roster and looking to find new opportunities in a space that has matured dramatically this decade but is still chasing after mainstream audiences. The esports organization was formerly part of Amazon as a result of the Twitch acquisition, but in 2019 was acquired by Chicago-based Peak6 Investments.

LaPointe Jameson joined Evil Geniuses as CEO back in 2019. At the time, the 25-year-old investor had scant experience running a gaming organization, but since her appointment, the esports company has looked to shake up how companies in the esports world operate. Earlier this year, the company launched its own esports analytics platform, collecting and parsing professional and amateur gameplay data and giving the industry access to more streamlined tools to analyze players and recruit.

As one of very few Black women in charge of an esports organization, LaPointe Jameson has looked to build out a more diverse organization and find a more expansive audience outside traditional niches. The league has helped pioneer signing mixed-gender teams to compete at major competitions.

“To clarify for the people in the back that didn’t catch it the first time… I don’t care where you come from. Nor your creed, gender, religion, class, past industry, or sexual orientation. If you are the best of the best, you have a home here at [Evil Geniuses],” LaPointe Jameson tweeted earlier this year.

We look forward to chatting with LaPointe Jameson, alongside a whole host of amazing speakers at Disrupt, including Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, and actor-entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds.

TrueLayer nabs $130M at a $1B+ valuation as open banking rises as a viable option to card networks

technolovy banking data
Image Credits: ipopba / Getty Images

Open banking — a disruptive technology that seeks to bypass the dominance of card networks and other traditional financial rails by letting banks open their systems directly to developers (and new services) by way of APIs — continues to gain ground in the world of financial services. As a mark of that traction, a startup playing a central role in open banking applications is announcing a big round of funding with a milestone valuation.

TrueLayer, which provides technology for developers to enable a range of open-banking-based services — these currently include payments  payouts, user account information and user verification — has raised $130 million in a funding round that values the London-based startup at over $1 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading the round, and notably, payments juggernaut Stripe is also participating.

Open Banking is a relatively new area in the world of fintech — the UK was an early adopter in 2018, Europe then signed on, and it looks like we are now seeing more movements that the U.S. may soon also join the party — and TrueLayer is considered a pioneer in the space.

The vast majority of transactions today are still made using card rails or more antiquated banking infrastructure, but the opportunity with open banking is to build a completely new infrastructure that works more efficiently, and might come with less (or no) fees for those using it, with the perennial API promise: all by way of few lines of code.

“We had a vision that finance should be opened up, and we are actively woking to remove the frictions that exist between intermediaries,” said CEO Francesco Simoneschi, who co-founded the company with Luca Martinetti (who is now the CTO), in an interview. “We want a financial system that works for everyone, but that hasn’t been the case up to now. The opportunity emerged five years ago, when open banking came into law in the UK and then elsewhere, to go after the most impressive oligopoly: the card networks and everything that revolves around them. Now, we can easily say that open banking is becoming a viable alternative to that.”

It seems that the world of finance and commerce is slowly catching on, and so the funding is coming on the heels of some strong growth for the company.

The startup says it now has “millions” of consumers making open banking transactions enabled by TrueLayer’s technology, and some 10,000 developers are building services based on open banking standards. TrueLayer so far this year has doubled its customer base, picking up some key customers like Cazoo to enable open-banking based payments for cars; and it has processed “billions” of dollars in payments, with payment volume growing 400%, and payment up 800%.

The plan is to use the funding to invest in building out that business further — specifically to extend its payments network to more regions (and more banks getting integrated into that network), as well as to bring on more customers using open banking services for more regular, recurring transactions.

“The shift to alternative payment methods is accelerating with the global growth of online commerce, and we believe TrueLayer will play a central role in making these payment methods more accessible,” said Alex Cook, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Francesco, Luca and the TrueLayer team as they help customers increase conversion and continue to grow the network.”

Notably, Stripe is not a strategic investor in TrueLayer at the moment, just a financial one. That is to say, it has yet to integrate open banking into its own payments infrastructure.

But you can imagine how it would be interested in it as part of the bigger mix of options for its customers, and potentially also to build its own standalone financial rails that well and truly compete with those provided by the card networks (which are such a close part of what Stripe does that its earliest web design was based on the physical card, and even its name is a reference to the stripe on the back of them.

There are other providers of open banking connectivity in the market today — Plaid out of the U.S. is one notable name — but Simoneschi believes that Stripe and TrueLayer on the same page as companies.

“We share a profound belief that progress comes through the eyes of developers so it’s about delivering the tools they need to use,” he he said. “We are in a very complementary space.”

Daily Crunch: European regulators share more privacy concerns over Facebook “smart” glasses

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for September 20, 2021. It is Disrupt week, everyone, and TechCrunch is buzzing. Kicking off tomorrow morning, Disrupt is set to be a pretty butt-kicking affair. Check the agenda here, speakers here, Battlefield companies here, and if you want to see your humble servant doing his first run (last run?) at hosting, well, stick to the Extra Crunch stage. Nice tweets only, please.

See you tomorrow morning! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Coinbase pulls plug on lending product: U.S. cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has decided to shelve its “Lend” product that would have provided yield to investors who stake their crypto assets. Why? The U.S. regulatory body involved with such products views the creation as a security and said that it would sue Coinbase if it launched the product. Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong publicly made the case that the SEC was being silly, which didn’t seem to help much. Perhaps somewhat-snarky Twitter threads are not the way to regulatory victory.
  • IPOs galore: Alrighty folks who care about public-market liquidity, we have a bevy of stories for you today. Here’s who is going to get rich from GitLab’s IPO, here is a dig into the new pricing for Toast’s IPO, and here are a few notes on Freshworks’ raised IPO price. Enjoy!
  • Europe wants Facebook to turn its lights on: Or at least more on. In the wake of Facebook’s announced Ray-Ban camera-glasses, the “lead privacy regulator in Europe has raised concerns” about the hardware. At issue is the small light indicating that they are recording. Perhaps a bigger light would be better. That or we may be in another cycle of Glasshole discourse, which I am sure we’d all rather avoid.

Startups/VC

  • You don’t have to go to space to image the Earth: That’s the lesson from Near Space Labs’ latest round of capital, a $13 million infusion. While several startups want to take lots of pictures of the Earth for commercial purposes from satellites (Albedo is one we’ve covered before), Near Space wants to use balloons that are merely, well, near space. Reaching orbit is cheaper than ever, but certainly still not cheap. Perhaps this is the way forward?
  • Fivetran raises huge round, buys smaller company: Hard enterprise reporter Ron Miller covered this $565 million investment for TechCrunch, noting that Fivetran is now worth some $5.6 billion. The company is also shelling out $700 million for HVR, what Miller describes as a “data integration competitor that had raised more than $50 million.” The latter deal is a mix of cash and stock. Fivetran helps companies move data around. Given the scale of data in the world, that’s big business.
  • Salesforce makes investment in Razorpay: As the Chinese market for startup investment retreats, India’s continues to collect checks, with the latest being an investment from Salesforce Ventures into Razorpay, a major fintech player in the Indian market that was last valued at $3 billion. This deal doesn’t appear huge in dollar terms, but that Salesforce is bridging the Pacific does in fact matter.
  • Video and photo editing is an industry: As companies like Picsart raise nine-figure rounds, it’s perhaps not a surprise to see the company behind Facetune and other editing applications raise similar-sized rounds. In this case, Facetune developer Lightricks has put together a $130 million round. The company “operates more than a dozen subscription-based photo- and video-editing apps across iOS and Android,” TechCrunch reports.
  • B2B fintech is hot: Airwallex just secured a $200 million round at a $4 billion valuation, which is notable not only for the dollars involved but also due to the fact that the company is based in Australia. The now-multiple unicorn offers embedded fintech services for other companies, as well as business banking services.
  • A marketplace for selling businesses sells part of its business: That’s the news from Flippa, a marketplace where online businesses and digital assets can be bought and sold. The company just secured an $11 million round, and as part of that released what has to be the single worst non-GAAP metric since community-adjusted EBITDA. TechCrunch writes that the company “sees over 600,000 monthly searches from investors looking to connect with business owners.” To which I say, sirs, are you so afraid of sharing real metrics that that is what you went with?
  • In related news, this newsletter is the leading internet missive that includes both “daily” and “crunch” in its heading, giving us a market-leading pace of readership activation and conversion of our newsletter-to-reads pipeline.
  • Cars24 raises $450 million in cash, debt: Indian used-car marketplace Cars24 is now worth $1.84 billion after raising $340 million in equity capital and $110 million in debt. It’s a healthy round for a company that has “sold 400,000 vehicles to date.” See? That’s an actually useful metric. Not incredibly useful; a rate of sales would be better than an absolute stat, but still!

The next healthcare revolution will have AI at its center

In an excerpt from “AI 2041: Ten Visions For Our Future,” author Kai-Fu Lee makes the case that recent advances in artificial intelligence are starting to transform healthcare.

Studies have shown that AI is as good as humans when it comes to diagnosing disease, but the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of patient records and data.

“Over the coming decades, we can expect medical diagnosis to evolve from an AI tool that provides analysis of options to an AI assistant that recommends treatments,” writes Lee.

Lee identifies several areas where AI will improve outcomes in drug discovery, complex surgeries and monitoring, but also looks at potential concerns, such as legal liabilities.

“AI healthcare is not just a market — it represents a tidal wave of transformations that will change the entire industry.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Maybe we’ve figured out this generation of mobile operating systems: TechCrunch’s dive into iOS 15 notes that the new mobile OS brought with it quality-of-life improvements and feature-bumps to Apple’s own apps. That’s what you have to look forward to. Or, more precisely, you will update to the new code, I reckon, and then instantly forget that you have. Such is the state of today’s mobile OSes, which, along with smartphone hardware, seem to have reached a plateau of boring excellence. It’s time for a new paradigm to shake things up.
  • Big Tech wins some awards that your parents cared about: How much stock do you put in the Emmys? Do you actually know what an Emmy is? I don’t. But it turns out that Netflix and Apple won some the other day. Good for them. It turns out that if you are among the most wealthy companies in the history of the world, you are able to buy talent and take enough shots on goal that you score some points. Or in this case, small, ugly trophies.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this interview Anna Heim did with Ammo, “Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts.”



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Study finds half of Americans get news on social media, but percentage has dropped

A new report from Pew Research finds that around a third of U.S. adults continue to get their news regularly from Facebook, though the exact percentage has slipped from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. This drop reflects an overall slight decline in the number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform — a percentage that also fell by 5 percentage points year-over-year, going from 53% in 2020 to a little under 48%, Pew’s study found.

By definition, “regularly” here means the survey respondents said they get their news either “often” or “sometimes,” as opposed to “rarely,” “never,” or “don’t get digital news.”

The change comes at a time when tech companies have come under heavy scrutiny for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. That criticism has ramped up over the course of the pandemic, leading to vaccine hesitancy and refusal, which in turn has led to worsened health outcomes for many Americans who consumed the misleading information.

Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly get their news from various social media sites hasn’t changed too much over the past year, demonstrating how much a part of people’s daily news habits these sites have become.

Image Credits: Pew Research

In addition to the one-third of U.S. adults who regularly get their news on Facebook, 22% say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.

However, many of the sites have seen small declines as a regular source of news among their own users, says Pew. This is a different measurement compared with the much smaller percentage of U.S. adults who use the sites for news, as it speaks to how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, it’s a measurement of the shifting news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.

Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly get news from its platform, compared with 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news dropped from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube fell from 32% to 30%, and Snapchat fell from 19% to 16%. Instagram is roughly the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.

Only one social media platform grew as a news source during this time: TikTok.

In 2020, 22% of the short-form video platform’s users said they regularly got their news there, compared with an increased 29% in 2021.

Overall, though, most of these sites have very little traction with the wider adult population in the U.S. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans regularly get their news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

Image Credits: Pew Research

There are demographic differences between who uses which sites, as well.

White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of the regular news consumers on Instagram (20% and 33%, respectively.) Younger adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on LinkedIn have four-year college degrees.

Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. That means people’s answers are based on how the users perceive their own usage of these various sites for newsgathering. This can produce different results compared with real-world measurements of how often users visited the sites to read news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.

People may also not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often molded into inflammatory clickbait in order to entice engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, may encourage strong reactions — but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent Pew studies, it found that social media news consumers tended to be less knowledgeable about the facts on key news topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty apparent to anyone reading the comments!)

For the current study, the full sample size was 11,178 respondents, and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

 



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Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts

When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very hard to gauge the right amount of effort to dedicate to marketing. Botch it and you risk looking unprofessional. Hire a traditional agency and you might be wasting time and money.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, in contrast, wants to make sure that its clients aren’t overinvesting nor underinvesting. Geared toward tech startups, it boasts that it has “supercharged the growth of over 200 innovative businesses,” from fintech and SaaS to hardware.

Ammo is based in Perth and an active member of Western Australia’s startup community, where it is “very highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended it to TechCrunch. But if that person decided to work with Ammo, they said it’s because “their results spoke.” (If you have growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please fill out our survey!)

After reading this, we reached out to Ammo’s director Cam Sinclair for insights on early-stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Check out our interview below:

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an overview of Ammo?

Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative businesses to help them set and reach their growth goals.

Cam Sinclair

Cam Sinclair. Image Credits: Aline Kuba(opens in a new window)

We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and have a small, lean team from a variety of backgrounds — none of which are traditional marketing.

As a nerdy kid I loved tech and was fascinated by how business works. I always knew I wanted to find some way to help founders and innovators get their great ideas out into the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that many of the skillsets overlapped with what startups need: moving fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable and staying flexible.

That inspired me to grow an “anti-agency” where startup founders could genuinely feel like they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.

How do you collaborate with startups?

Our services cater to every stage of the founder journey. When you’re starting, you’ll need a brand, strategy and the marketing infrastructure to reach early customers. As you’re growing, you’ll need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that bolsters your funnel. As you’re maturing, you’ll need the broader reach that PR and ongoing strategic advice provides.

We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible because startups are always discovering new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed in a week. Our long-term relationships start with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone is pulling in the same direction from day one.

Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the pirate metrics framework and turn that into a clear, step-by-step action plan which they can implement or outsource.


Have you worked with a talented individual or agency who helped you find and keep more users?

Respond to our survey and help other startups find top growth marketers they can work with!


There’s a survey on your site that encourages companies to check whether they are “ready for growth marketing.” What are the high-level points that make a company ready?

It’s really about having a small number of early fanatical customers — evangelists. Many people call it product-market-fit, but it’s really customer fit.

There is little point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a wide audience without a clear, confident direction. Sure, you might get somewhere fast, but where are you going?

We’ve made the mistake of taking on clients who were too early for growth, so we know how important it is to say “no” when it’s not a good fit. We can direct all the traffic in the world to your website, but without customer fit you’ll be fighting for every sale.

Startups need to get a few things right to be primed for growth. Not every startup will be ready for what we can do for them. We’re focused on our own customer fit too.

For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients? 

Our most successful relationships are with startups who have already established customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional businesses who are looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.

We’ve grown startups in Australia and abroad, including neuroscience startup Humm, based in Berkeley, California. We worked with them to identify early customers and preorder channels while they were gathering initial investment, build a learning/experimenting system within the team as they grew and, more recently, provide advisory at a strategic level.

What mistakes do you help startups avoid when it comes to branding? 

After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the pitfalls that inexperienced founders regularly fall into and make the most of the tight budgets that startups run on.

Marketing agencies are taking money that startups don’t have to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer to see those resources invested into building their product and talking to their customers.

That said, it’s important for a landing page or slide deck to be believable to customers, investors and partners — and when startups underinvest in their branding, people are less likely to hand over their attention, email address and money.

For example, some clients often don’t even have suitable logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into customers. If someone can’t clearly see your “sign-up” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”? 

The temptation in the startup world is to use a freelancer through an online marketplace (or even worse — letting an overenthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But this usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit within a larger brand identity.

Other startups might work with an agency to create a brand identity, and this can lead to brand overkill — stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements and endless meetings. None of which pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivoting startups with an expensive brand that can’t evolve as they do.

We take branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill it down to the core parts of the brand you need right now. This leads to a minimum viable brand identity that’s built to grow and created with the expectation that it will change as your startup does. It’s inspired by lean methodology and the minimum viable product (MVP) — it’s built to challenge assumptions and catch the attention of customers without overinvesting.

What’s the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?

Initially we help them come up with a name.

Naming is important so we generally invest time into this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure it meets the basic principles of distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likeability, extendibility and protectability (based on Marty Neumeier’s branding-in-business book Zag).

From there we design a logo. A good logomark (the “icon” part of the logo) is generally figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple and work in multiple environments including single color black or white. The logo is then complemented with brand color selections, fonts and simple imagery direction to create a basic but useful brand guide.

Most importantly, we believe your startup’s brand guidelines should be available publicly online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder on your Dropbox. Somewhere that you can direct your team members and partners to so you can ensure everyone can maintain brand consistency.

How does Ammo compare to having an in-house CMO?

Like a CMO, we’re strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups across dozens of industries — we can pull insights and lessons from unexpected places when we’re working with clients.

While we align closely with commercial goals like an in-house CMO, we also know the importance for startups to move quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our clients.

We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in front of customers quickly, collect valuable data along the way and stay nimble to adapt when they need it.

How do you and your clients measure your impact?

At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure outcomes. At the start of every project we define what success looks like with the client. Every client is different, and we’re responsive to that. We check back in with ongoing clients in monthly meetings to see how we’re tracking toward the success metric we agreed on, adjusting as necessary.

All of this is measured through quantitative analytics, qualitative feedback from customers and gut instinct.

In the past we have described our role as making ourselves obsolete — that our clients would grow large enough to be able to hire their own in-house marketing team. Today we still retain many of these client relationships in different ways, by providing more strategic advice. Those long-term relationships are the greatest indication to us that we’ve had a valuable impact.



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GM to replace battery modules in recalled Chevy Bolt EVs starting next month

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Image Credit:GM

General Motors said Monday it will replace battery modules in recalled Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV vehicles as soon as next month now that supplier LG Chem has restarted production of cells at two Michigan factories.

Replacement modules, which are made up of lithium-ion battery cells, will begin shipping to dealers as soon as mid-October, the company said. Chevy Bolt EV owners will be able to bring their vehicles to the dealership, where the old modules will be swapped out for new ones.

GM halted production of Chevy Bolt EV and EUVs in August due to a battery pack shortage related to the widespread safety recall of the two electric vehicles. The production downtime has been extended twice since then. Battery packs in EVs are comprised of modules.

The recall, which includes all Chevy Bolt EV and EUV models made since 2017, was issued after the automaker discovered two manufacturing defects in the battery cell — a torn anode tab and folded separator — that could increase the risk of fire. The fire risk prompted GM to recommend Bolt owners set the vehicle to a 90% state of charge limitation, avoid depleting the battery below 70 miles of range and charge the vehicle more frequently. GM still recommends owners park their Bolt EV and EUVs outside immediately after charging and to not leave vehicles charging indoors overnight.

LG has new manufacturing processes in place and has worked with GM to improve its quality assurance programs to provide confidence in its batteries moving forward. GM said the battery supplier will institute these new processes in other facilities that supply cells to the automaker.

Doug Parks, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, noted in a statement that resuming battery module production is a first step. However, GM’s Chevy Bolt EV problem is not entirely solved. The company must complete the replacement process for all recalled Bolts and assuage owners that the vehicles are safe to charge and park.

GM is counting on new advanced diagnostic software package to help. The company said it will launch the software package, which will need to be installed by dealers, in the next 60 days. The diagnostic software is designed to detect specific abnormalities that might indicate a damaged battery in Bolt EVs and EUVs by monitoring the battery performance.

The software will alert customers of any anomalies, according to GM, which said customers will be able to return to a 100 percent state of charge once all diagnostic processes are complete.

GM, which aims to add 30 new EVs to its global lineup by 2030, also must secure the battery cells it needs to power these vehicles. LG is its primary and longtime partner in this endeavor. Parks said GM will “continue to work aggressively with LG to obtain additional battery supply.

From passion to hobby to startup

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Hey team! Alex here. I am off next week. Anna, my regular co-pilot on the weekday column, will be handling next week’s newsletter. It will be beyond good. Enjoy!

A few weeks back we took a look at some startup results, with a focus on growth. Today we’re narrowing our focus to a single company from the collection of startups that wrote in: Water Cooler Trivia.

Many startups begin life as a solution to a problem. A developer finds a flaw in their workflow, codes up a solution for it and later builds that hack into a product that scales. That sort of thing.

Collin Waldoch did something different, turning a hobby of his into a business.

Coming from a family of six kids in what he called a competitive family, Waldoch hosted bar trivia during college, and later sent around weekly trivia questions at his workplace after he completed his schooling. He kept the habit up during his early career, which included a stint at Lyft.

It was during his corporate life that Waldoch realized that companies were willing to spend heavily on team activities. Like a soccer team that he joined during one job that his employer spent a few grand on, but which struggled to find enough regular players. If companies would drop that much money on a group sport that few of its denizens wanted, he thought, perhaps there was some budget he could attack with a trivia product.

So Waldoch started Water Cooler Trivia, building it as a corporate product that he and some friends scaled to around $20,000 in ARR as a side project. The founder described its level of success at the time as pretty good beer money. Helping the project bring in revenue was a super-low churn rate, something that helped Waldoch decide to quit his day job at Lyft and take his side project full time.

Today Water Cooler Trivia has reached $300,000 worth of ARR and sports a collection of workers around the globe that help it run. Companies can select difficulty levels for their weekly trivia questions and track employee scores with longitudinal leaderboards.

Part of the idea’s success in Waldoch’s view is that it is built for the end user — employees — instead of HR. Which means that it’s actually fun. Today the company has experienced some churn, but still sports net retention rates of just under 100%. That’s great for a product that doesn’t feature enterprise-SaaS level upsells.

And the service is cheap. Probably too cheap frankly. At $100 per month for 100 seats, Water Cooler could likely boost what it charges and push its revenues higher in short order. Waldoch said that his company might start raising its rates in Q4 of this year. But even without that, Water Cooler thinks that it has a huge amount of growth open to it from its core product.

I dig it. Long live software making life a bit more fun.

Drift, Xometry, Carrot

It was a busy week with infinite IPO filings and eight billion YC startups pitching, but other things did happen that we need to talk about:

I’m curious about Drift’s sale to private equity: Boston’s Drift sold the majority of its shares to Vista Equity Partners, it announced this week. I’ve been to the Drift offices, as the company once lent us a room to record a podcast in. The folks there were nice. But with the company reporting 70% ARR growth in 2020, I am dead curious why Drift didn’t just raise more capital and keep growing. The company was able to raise lots of private money in the past, including, say, a $60 million round back in 2018. Exiting the bulk of the company early feels a little weird, similar to how the Gainsight sale to PE was a bit of a head scratcher. For Boston, the exit is good news as it may help mint new angel investors. But it still feels like an exit for which we’re missing a key detail.

Xometry: This one has been in the notes folder for too long, and since I’m off next week we’re including it here. I spoke with Xometry CEO Randy Altschuler after his company reported earnings a few weeks back. Recall that Xometry went public earlier this year. Altschuler reported generally bullish views on the process of going public during the COVID-19 era, calling his company’s Zoom roadshow efficient in a manner that allowed his company to chat to more folks while also saving on travel-related exhaustion.

Xometry, continued: But past the standard post-IPO chit chat, Altschuler had a few notes that stood out in my memory. The first being that inflation can impact technology businesses. Rising costs are impacting companies like Root, who have to deal with used car prices impacting claims costs. Inflation also crops up in Xometry’s business connecting manufacturing demand with manufacturing supply. It’s a good reminder that macro market conditions really do matter in the technology world, just not in ways that we can always easily see.

Xometry, even more: Altschuler also said that he thinks that a carbon tax at some point is inevitable. This came up in our discussion of onshoring manufacturing in the United States over time. Shipping stuff is expensive today and would prove even more costly if we added in the price of carbon emissions via a tax. That could make local manufacturing more competitive, notably. Perhaps that will prove a boon to folks in favor of more industrial production in post-industrial societies. For tech companies that deal with physical-world goods, it’s something to keep in mind.

And, finally, Carrot: Another entry from the notes archive, let’s talk about Carrot. The startup raised a $75 million round a few weeks back, so I asked the company about its growth history and a few other things. Carrot sells a product to employers so that they can offer their workers fertility benefits. Given falling human fertility rates, coverage of this sort is, in my view, likely to become more popular over time.

Other factors are at work, of course, but the last 18 months have proved accelerative for Carrot’s business. Per the company, it has seen “nearly 5x overall growth” in the last six quarters. The startup expects to reach 450 customers by the end of 2021, which will add up to around one million covered folks.

Carrot declined to share a valuation differential from its Series B to its Series C. Happily PitchBook has data on the matter, so we can report that per its dataset, Carrot’s valuation rose from around $66 million (post-money) following its $21 million Series B to around $260 million after its Series C. That’s a good markup for the company’s employees and founders.

My general bullishness around rising needs for fertility support matches the company’s ethos, which it described in an email by saying that it thinks fertility and “family-forming care could and should be the fourth pillar of employee benefits and health care more broadly, much like medical or dental or vision.” A hard yes to that one.

OK, that’s all from me for a few weeks. Stay safe, get vaccinated, and let’s be kind to one another. — Alex

We’re focusing on fintech at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

By Alexandra Ames

Do you dig digital currency? Dream about decentralized finance, need to know NFTs? Maybe you’re just crypto-curious. Heck, check “all of the above” and get ready to focus on fintech at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on September 21-23.

Disrupt is known for bringing the top experts, visionaries, founders, investors and makers to the stage, and this year we’ve packed more than 80 stellar presentations, events and breakout sessions into three full days.

Join the discussion: Buy your pass today and get ready to hear from the leading voices across the tech spectrum.

With such a wealth of options, here are just some of the sessions dedicated to the topic of fintech in its myriad forms. Plus, we’ll have a dedicated Disrupt Desk session where industry experts and TechCrunch editors will break it down with deep-analysis, insight and likely a laugh or two. Peruse the full Disrupt agenda for specific days and times. Ready? Behold.

Collecting Crypto Opportunities

Dapper Labs launched the digital collectible craze into the mainstream earlier this year with its smash hit NBA Top Shot. Hear from CEO Roham Gharegozlou who, even amid sinking NFT sales, has big ambitions for the space. His startup recently hit a $7.5 billion valuation and aims to own the NFT ecosystem with its Flow blockchain product.

Breaking the Bank

Coinbase’s massive direct listing earlier this year couldn’t have come at a better time as peaking crypto enthusiasm reached market exuberance. Hear from CEO Brian Armstrong who, amid a major market correction, is tasked once again with building for the future and navigating volatility while fending off global competitors knocking at their door.

Bankrolling Web 3.0

At $2.2 billion, Andreessen Horowitz’s third crypto-centric fund is its largest vertical-specific bet ever and a signal of just how crucial blockchain tech and decentralized finance is to the firm’s future. Hear from General Partner Katie Haun who co-leads the crypto team tasked with tracking down the firm’s next Coinbase, which returned billions for the firm.

Revolutionizing the Global Metaverse Economy

Together Labs is leveraging the power of blockchain technology to create the new metaverse economy where users can buy, sell, invest and shape its future. Earlier this year, Together Labs launched VCOIN, the first global, digital currency that can be used in and out of the metaverse. VCOIN makes it possible for users to play to earn real value and then convert that value to cash. Soon, the company will introduce additional blockchain offerings to accelerate the transition to a complete blockchain economy, setting the economic model for other metaverses to follow. Presented by VCOIN.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23. Get your pass today and hear the absolute latest trends in fintech — and so much more.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Techstars’ Saba Karim is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

By Alex Wilhelm

Good news, TechCrunch family, Techstars’ Saba Karim is coming to Disrupt (Sept 21-23) this year.

With a great vantage point from his perspective as Global Startup Pipeline Manager at Techstars, Karim will be hosting a session on the Extra Crunch stage discussing how to craft a pitch deck that cannot be ignored. It’s a popular topic not only because of how important decks remain in today’s venture capital world, but also because what they should contain slowly changes over time — what not to include, as well.

Karim has a background in making people pay attention. Before he had his current role at Techstars, he was CMO at Evolve, for example. Earlier in his career, Karim helped found and run Rawberry in Australia, before working for Telstra. He was also the marketing director at T.H. Capital Ventures in Sydney, before jetting to Boston to work as the VP of growth at StartupCMO.

And as an investor — he writes checks to startups working in the future of work sphere, for example — he has seen pitch decks good, and pitch decks bad. We’re excited to have him aboard to help save our founder-heavy audience time and effort.

In case you need a refresher, Karim is joining what could be our strongest-ever Disrupt speaking cohort. Tope Awotona, the founder and CEO of Calendly is coming. Coinbase’s Brian Armstrong is making what I think is his third appearance at Disrupt. Mercedes Bent from Lightspeed Venture partners is coming. Salesforce’s Stewart Butterfield will be there. Hell, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is coming.

If you are in the startup world, it’s going to be a must-attend event, thanks in no small part to what Karim will be bringing to the show. And your humble servant will be hosting the Extra Crunch stage, so I will see you there! Disrupt is less than a month away and you can still get your pass to access it all for less than $100! Register today.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 kicks off in less than a month

By Alexandra Ames

We’re less than one month away from kicking off our flagship global event, TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. And we’re feeling the adrenaline rush that can only come when more than 10,000 startup icons, experts, founders, investors and makers gather to learn, inspire, connect, collaborate, compete and network.

Buy your pass here and brace yourself for three full days of Disrupt.

Let’s take a look at just some of the opportunities that can help you move the needle on your startup aspirations.

You’ll find plenty of startup action on two distinct stages. First up, the Disrupt main stage featuring in-depth interviews and panel discussions with a who’s-who of tech, policy and celebrity-slash-entrepreneurial talent — like Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and movie-star-turned-pot-businessman Seth Rogen.

The Extra Crunch stage is where you’ll find a deep bench of subject-matter experts sharing practical how-to content. You’ll take away actionable insights you can put into practice now — when you need it most. We’re talking essential topics like How to Raise Your First Dollars and The Subtle Challenges of Assessing Product-Market Fit.

Tip of the tech iceberg: Check out the full Disrupt 2021 agenda and don’t forget — your pass includes video-on-demand. You can relax knowing you won’t miss a single presentation.

Don’t miss the hundreds of innovative startups strutting their considerable stuff in Startup Alley, the virtual expo area. Dive into an ocean of opportunity — ask for a product demo, schedule a 1:1 video meeting or explore potential ways to collaborate.

Networking is a huge part of Disrupt, and you’ll find multiple ways to make valuable connections. Whether they happen spontaneously in our virtual event platform (the chat is where it’s at!) or curated meetups through CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform, you’ll meet smart, exciting people eager to make a business connection. Who knows where a simple conversation can lead?

Don’t miss Startup Battlefield — the epic pitch competition that launched big-name companies like Dropbox, Mint, TripIt, Vurb and many more. Top early-stage startups from around the world — from any country and industry — will compete for a shot at $100,000 in equity-free prize money. You might just catch the next unicorn in its pony stage. It’s more than thrilling — as noted by Jessica McLean, director of Marketing and Communications, Infinite-Compute:

Watching the Startup Battlefield was fantastic. You could see the ingenuity and innovation happening in different technology spaces. Just looking at the sheer number of other pitch decks and hearing the judges tear them down and give feedback was very helpful.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23 — that’s less than a month away, folks! Buy your pass, plan your schedule and get ready to join your people and move your business forward.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir is helping judge Startup Battlefield at this year’s Disrupt

By Connie Loizos

Deena Shakir is a partner at Lux Capital, where she looks to invest in technologies that are streamlining analog industries while also improving lives and livelihoods. Among the companies she has backed, for example, are Shiru, which is leveraging computational design to create enhanced proteins to help feed the world; and AllStripes, which aggregates and analyzes medical records, then sells the de-identified data to pharma companies to help them develop medicines.

It’s not a surprise that Shakir is focused on empowering people. Shakir’s father is a psychiatrist and as she once told us, “for a hot minute, I thought I was going to be a doctor myself.” Instead, after attending Harvard, then Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, she wound up working for the State Department during the Obama administration, then headed to Google. She would stay for the next seven years, spending the last of them with GV, Google’s venture unit. There, her work revolved in part around some of the alternative protein companies in GV’s portfolio. Then, in 2019, she was poached by Lux.

Indeed, while Shakir might have once imagined working with people on an individual basis, she has become an increasingly sought-after investor in startup teams, which is why we couldn’t be more excited that she’s able to join us this year for TechCrunch Disrupt. Specifically, we’re thrilled that Shakir will be judging our Startup Battlefield competition, the centerpiece of Disrupt every year and oftentimes a life-changing event for the winning team — and often runners-up, too. Consider that past winners include Vurb, Dropbox, Mint and Yammer, while runner-up Cloudflare currently boasts a market cap of $26 billion.

It’s because we take the competition — and our record to date — so seriously that we’re exceedingly thankful to savvy investors like Shakir, who ask the right questions, and make the tough decisions when it comes time to decide which teams to move along.

Want to watch and judge from home? With our entirely virtual event this year, you’re more than welcome to join us from the comfort of your home or office (and let us know what you think of the startups within the many networking forums you’ll find).

To watch this year’s 20+ startups compete for $100,000 — and to interact with more than 100 hours of content and thousands of enthusiastic startup fans — make sure to book your pass to TC Disrupt, happening September 21-23 — all for less than $100.

Secure your seat today.

Tracking startup growth rates

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Hey friends! This week was more than hectic, so we have a lot of ground to cover. Below are more notes on the Brazilian IPO market, more coverage of the Chicago startup scene and a host of numbers from startups concerning their recent growth results. So, if you like early-stage or later-stage startups, international startups or domestic startups, we have just what you want!

Another week, another Twitter conversation about funding rounds. To catch you up, this week saw more folks complaining about the media covering funding rounds over other examples of startup activity. My contention for years has been that we, the scribbling classes, cover funding rounds because they are the rare moment that startups are willing to actually share results of their operations.

That VCs will occasionally complain about this is particularly rich, given that investors would hardly be willing to invest in a company based on a short call with a founder about how they came up with an idea. And yet they tell founders to not tell the media anything at all. Alas.

Regardless, all this shook out to me saying, “Hey startups, send in your data!” And some folks did! Others sent in notes about stuff that they had announced before, but that we’d missed.

So here’s a digest of startup growth from a number of stages, markets and the like:

CopyAI: The company recently crossed the $2 million ARR threshold. CopyAI is busy building its business in public, which we love, sharing metrics as it goes. And it has raised external capital and grown rapidly while doing so, providing a proof point that you can share information and not have your startup instantly burst into flames.

I asked CEO Paul Yacoubian if growth has kept up with his expectations, and he said that it has. Our next question: How long until the company can double in size yet again? CopyAI reached $1 million ARR earlier this year.

TextNow: Now over the $100 million ARR mark. The company, essentially bootstrapped after raising less than $2 million during its life, also recently hired a CFO. You know what that means — an IPO is coming. Frankly TextNow is not a company I know well, but thanks to it sharing information, I now want to learn more about it. See!

Kalendar AI: This company helps folks book sales meetings using AI, it appears. And the model is showing some traction, according to founder and CEO Ravi Vadrevu. He shared a host of metrics with The Exchange, including its bank balance and growth charts. (Hell yeah, data!) The company is generating ARR in the six figures and raised $700,000 in a recent round.

And per its charts, subscriber signups appear to be accelerating. Per a different dataset shared, August is going to be the company’s busiest month yet when it comes to meetings booked, the key non-GAAP metric for its business. That figure is growing at 30% monthly, the startup said.

In Vadrevu’s own phrasing, Kalendar AI wants to “democratize growth for companies like how AWS democratized innovation with virtualization.”

Balto: Balto is a St. Louis-based startup that has raised just over $50 million. The company reached out with some neat data from its recent round, a $37.5 million Series B. Per the company’s COO Chris Kontes, “Jump Capital, OCA Ventures and Sandalphon” took part in the round. Which matters if you read our recent dig into the Chicago market.

Regardless, Balto said that it grew its customer base by 84% and its revenue by 200% since it raised its Series A in Q3 2020. I asked if the ∆ between the company’s customer and revenue growth was driven by net dollar retention (NDR) or larger customers. Per Kontes, “the answer is a bit of both” with a bias toward NDR. He didn’t share an absolute number, but did say that Balto’s “NDR is north of 150%.” Hot dang.

The company, by the by, built tech to help support agents know what to say during calls. Which, it appears, is big business.

HostiFi: Headquartered near Detroit, HostiFi helps customers “remotely monitor and manage UniFi Network devices.” I do not know what that means, sadly, and don’t have the minutes right now to dig in more deeply.

But in better news, HostiFi’s founder Reilly Chase dropped a grip of metrics into our inbox. His company will reach $1 million in ARR in the “next few weeks,” and wants to hit $10 million ARR in “the next 3 years,” which we dig. The company raised $100,000 from what was previously known as Earnest Capital, a group that we’ve covered. HostiFi has 1,700 customers, it says, and a fully remote team of six.

Fun, yeah? Private companies being more open with their financial performance is good for the world as the activity has a way of making the opaque startup world just a bit more limpid.

Brazil

Our dive into the Brazilian startup market and its impending IPOs was good fun to write. But as we went to press, Brazil’s B3 stock exchange got back to our questions with answers. They just missed our timeline, but we’d be remiss to not share some of their notes here.

Regarding the present state of the Brazilian technology IPO market, B3’s Rafaela Vesterman Araujo wrote the following (minor edits for clarity):

We are passing through a period of records in the Brazilian Capital Markets. Through the first half of August 2021 we had 44 IPOs (for comparison purposes, in all of 2020 we had 28) and around 30% of these IPOs were technology companies, which is very interesting, considering that before 2020, the technology sector was underrepresented at B3.

This is precisely the trend that we were trying to highlight, and note, so it’s nice to see the data back us up.

Next up, how big does a company have to be to list on B3? Here’s Vesterman Araujo (minor edits for clarity):

Around 70% of 2020 and 1H21 technology IPOs raised between [$110 million] and [$367 million]. In addition, 70% of these companies had a net income up to [$55 million]. In some of the cases, even with a lower net revenue compared to other sectors, we have noticed that many of them have been raising a greater amount of capital, probably reflecting the growth expectations.

Hello, growth premium! That’s great news for local Brazilian startups hoping to get public in their home market. With Nubank and Nuvemshop growing huge while private, where the country’s companies will go public is no small matter.

Chicago

We dug into the Chicago boom this week, tracking the Windy City’s huge venture capital results from the past few quarters and asking locals precisely what was driving the wave of funding and startup activity. As we got that into WordPress, another set of answers came in that we want you to read.

Techstars’ Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of its Chicago operations, had this to say about why Chicagoland startups have excelled in attracting capital since late 2020:

It’s a flight to quality. For too long, there’s been a concentration of capital in one hub and VCs following the decentralization of innovation after the COVID [lockdowns]. The pandemic broke old habits and brought investors to mature markets like Chicago. [ … ] For years, Chicago has grown as a national, top-tier destination for startups. The national VC community is finally catching up, exploring our amazing community of founders who are scaling fast in the Midwest.

I went to school in Chicago, so am pretty aware of the density of schools in the area. I was curious if that fact was beneficial to local startups. Per Sáles-Griffin, the answer is a hard yes:

Absolutely, we’re home to two of the top five MBA programs (UChicago, Northwestern), home to a top-five engineering college (UIUC) and [to] one of the most diverse engineering colleges in the country (UIC). But we’re also home to one of the largest city college districts in the region (City Colleges) and historically Black institutions like Chicago State — both home to several engineering and IT programs, training the next generation of talent.

Where should we look for the next generation of startups from Chicago? The Techstars denizen listed healthcare and life sciences as a key market, as well as food tech and companies building in the larger transit space.

So many other things!

Sadly, we are way over our word count for this newsletter, so we have to stop. But lots of other things out there are worth your attention. Like Indianapolis-based Lessonly being acquired by Seismic. Lessonly had raised just under $30 million while operating on its own, helmed by the dynamo-like Max Yoder. And Aspiration Partners — backed by a number of well-known actors — is going public via a SPAC. The deal will provide hundreds of millions in fresh capital to the company.

More next week.

Alex

Resurrecting the humble business card, why going public is good, BNPL is everywhere at once

By Richard Dal Porto

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Happy weekend, friends. I am writing to you on Friday afternoon after powering through a grilled cheese. But as I have a huge iced coffee on deck, we can dodge a food coma and get right to work. Today we’re talking about a pretty neat venture round, chatting with a founder about verticalization and riffing on Marqeta’s earnings report. So, we have fintech and SaaS and public company notes for your enjoyment. Let’s do it!

HiHello’s ambitious Series A

You may be familiar with Manu Kumar. He’s a venture capitalist at K9 Ventures. But he’s also building a startup at the same time, and it’s the latter effort that we’re interested in today.

The company, called HiHello, raised a $7.5 million Series A, it announced recently. Foundry led the investment, Lux Capital took part, and a host of angels also kicked in checks. So far, so ordinary. But the round is not the interesting bit of the HiHello story. Instead, it’s what the company is building.

A question: When did you last order business cards? I can’t recall, frankly, but somewhere between my last job and coming back to TechCrunch I forgot to get new cards. And not simply thanks to COVID or the fact that I now live far from San Francisco. I just didn’t think of it as they didn’t seem too useful.

HiHello is building something akin to the future of business cards for the internet. Per Kumar, everyone still needs a way to show their identity and introduce themselves, even in a digital world. Sure, for scheduled gatherings, he argued, you can do prep. But for meeting folks in a more unplanned manner, having a way to share your identity is useful.

So, HiHello lets you create virtual business cards of a sort for yourself. But not just one, the idea is to have several, one for each of your personas. Kumar said that I could have one for our podcast (Equity), one for TechCrunch proper and so forth. You can make them for your personal life as well.

I figured that business cards were dead. And that we didn’t need to rebuild them. Kumar doesn’t agree. He sees a future where HiHello can create what are, in effect, personal social networks around context. It’s bold and it’s counterintuitive. Good startup fodder, in other words.

HiHello is monetizing off of consumer revenue today and has a business product as well. Let’s see how quickly the startup can grow. It’s about time we got excited about a new sort of social product.

Going vertical

I’ve written about Skyflow a few times. It’s co-founder, Anshu Sharma, is someone I’ve known for ages. We met when he was at Storm Ventures. Since then he’s invested as an angel and founded a few companies, one of which is Skyflow. The software startup sells a digital vault that allows for PII and other critical information to be secured on customers’ behalf and accessed in a safe manner, allowing companies for whom information security is not their core focus to avoid breaches.

The model is working, with Skyflow raising capital at a pretty aggressive rate. And Sharma seems chuffed thus far with customer progress. (Sharma also provided notes that helped me ground an essay the other day.)

Recently Skyflow announced a particular flavor of product for the healthcare market. Given that I’ve been tracking the company since it first launched, I was curious. So I got Sharma back on the phone to explain his verticalization strategy — I was curious how he was picking markets to pursue and where he might take his company next.

Sharma said that his company’s plan is to prove its technology in complex markets, and then expand its remit over time. Hence the healthcare push and Skyflow’s work with storing financial data. By solving hard problems and selling to complicated customers he said, Skyflow will earn market permission to offer its tech to other folks.

From the CEO’s perspective, we need to “rewire” the internet from the ground up with a privacy focus. Citing a Marc Andreeseen riff about how not building payments tech into the internet from the start was an error, Sharma argued that two things were forgotten in the early days of the web: payments, yes, and privacy.

The verticalization strategy of Skyflow, then, is to tackle the hardest problems that it can — healthcare data is privy to all sorts of rules and regulations — and then broaden its focus until PII is safer for everyone. It’s a fundamentally optimistic take on where the internet could be heading. Not a Facebookian world where privacy is theoretical and adtech is persistent, but a world where your data is yours and is safe, stored and out of reach.

The competitive landscape that Skyflow plays in will harden. But so long as even some of the startups in the market that want to return privacy to individuals wins, I will be content.

Marqeta’s first earnings call

Somewhat lost amidst the wave of IPOs that we’ve seen this year was Marqeta’s debut, a fintech unicorn working in the card issuing space. It reported its earnings publicly for the first time this week, so I got on the phone with its CEO Jason Gardner to yammer about the results.

In brief, Marqeta grew quickly in the second quarter, easily besting expectations. The company lost more money than the markets anticipated however, leading to its shares shedding effectively all their post-IPO gains.

A few notes from the call. First, Gardner seems content to be past the public offering. He said that he’s had the chance to fall back in love with running the company now that his 18-month IPO market is complete. And he said that swapping yearly board-level planning for quarterly reports has been enjoyable, as having more regular disclosures brings a sense of urgency to the company’s work.

As we usually hear private company CEOs worry about distracting earnings calls and the like, it was somewhat refreshing to hear a public executive praise floating their company. It reminded us of the comments that we heard from BigCommerce CEO Brent Bellm on the same topic, even if they like being public for different reasons.

More important to our understanding of the world of startups, however, was Marqeta’s notes on the BNPL market. In the wake of Klarna’s rise, Square buying Afterpay and a zillion startup BNPL rounds, seeing Marqeta note the buy now. pay later space as a growth market for its work caught our eye. Why was BNPL helping a card issuing platform?

Well, it turns out, the virtual cards that Marqeta and others can spin up for customers are often used as part of the software sinew that makes BNPL transactions possible. The fintech world is always more interconnected than you expect. So, when we consider BNPL as a category, we’ll do well to also keep tabs on what other boats its growth may be floating. That expands the number of startups that could be riding the BNPL wave.

One tip before we go. The fastest way to get an explanation of a market dynamic that you are not familiar with is to ask a public CEO to explain it to you. The downside to this particular educational method is that if you were close to understanding the concept before but missed a single key element, you will feel pretty silly when said CEO tells you in small words what you previously failed to grok.

However, as I am, in fact, very dumb, I refuse to be red-faced about not knowing things. Alright, that’s enough for today. There’s an extra Equity episode out today, and The Exchange is back on Monday morning!

Hugs, and get vaccinated. Your friend,

Alex

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