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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

By Frederic Lardinois

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

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Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Emma Comeau

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

By Jonathan Shieber

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend more than 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 

‘Breaking Into Startups’: Torch CEO and Well Clinic founder Cameron Yarbrough on mental health & coaching

By Arman Tabatabai
Chad M. Crabtree Contributor
Chad M. Crabtree is the editor-in-Chief at Career KarmaCareer Karma, covering the Future of Work, Tech Education, and Startups.

There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.

Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”

In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.

Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.

For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.

The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.

Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.

In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.


Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.

If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.

On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.

If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.

Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.

Disney+ comes to Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, will support nearly all major platforms at launch

By Darrell Etherington

Disney+ will have an international launch that begins at the same time as its rollout in the U.S., Disney revealed. The company will be launching its digital streaming service on November 12 in Canada and The Netherlands on November 12, and will be available in Australia and New Zealand the following week. The streaming service will also support virtually every device and operating system from day one.

Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku and Xbox One at launch, which is pretty much an exhaustive list of everywhere someone might want to watch it, leaving aside some smaller proprietary smart TV systems. That, combined with the day-and-date global markets, should be a clear indicator that Disney wants its service to be available to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Through Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, customers will be able to subscribe via in-app purchase. Disney+ will also be fully integrated with Apple’s TV app, which is getting an update in iOS 13 in hopes of becoming even more useful as a central hub for all a user’s video content. The one notable exception on the list of supported devices and platforms is Amazon’s Fire TV, which could change closer to launch depending on negotiations.

In terms of pricing, the service will run $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year in Canada, and €6.99 per month (or €69.99 per year) in the Netherlands. In Australia, it’ll be $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year, and in New Zealand, it’ll be $9.99 and $99.99 per year. All prices are in local currency.

That compares pretty well with the $6.99 per month (or $69.99 yearly) asking price in the U.S., and undercuts the Netflix pricing in those markets, too. This is just the Disney+ service on its own, however, not the combined bundle that includes ESPN Plus and Hulu for $12.99 per month, which is probably more comparable to Netflix in terms of breadth of content offering.

 

Sonos Bluetooth-enabled, battery-powered speaker leaks ahead of official launch

By Darrell Etherington

Sonos has an event coming up at the end of the month to reveal something new, but leaks have pretty much given away what’s likely to be the highlight announcement at the event: A new, Bluetooth-enabled speaker that has a built-in battery for portable power.

The speaker originally leaked earlier this month, with Dave Zatz showing off a very official-looking image, and The Verge reporting some additional details, including a toggle switch for moving between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modes, and a USB-C port for charging, along with rough dimensions that peg it as a little bit bigger than the existing Sonos One.

Now, another leak from Win Future has revealed yet more official-looking images, including a photo of the device with its apparent dock, which provides contact charging. The site also says the new speaker will be called the Sonos Move, which makes a lot of sense, given it’ll be the only one that can actually move around and still maintain functionality while portable.

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Here’s the TL;DR of what we know so far, across all the existing leaks:

  • Can stream via Wi-Fi (works with your Sonos network like other Sonos speakers) and Bluetooth (direct pairing with devices), with Bluetooth LE included for easier setup
  • USB-C port for power and Ethernet port for connectivity
  • Similar design to Sonos One, with more rounded corners, but wider and taller (likely to allow room for integrated battery)
  • Built-in handle in the back for easier carrying
  • Contacts on bottom for docked charging (as alternative to USB-C)
  • Supports Alexa and Google Assistant and has integrated mic (neither available via Bluetooth mode, however)
  • Suports AirPlay 2
  • Offer Auto Trueplay, which automatically tunes speaker sound to your place using onboard mic

No word yet on official availability or pricing, but it’s reasonable to expect that it’ll arrive sometime this fall, following that late August announcement.

Roku launches a Kids & Family section on The Roku Channel, plus parental controls

By Sarah Perez

Roku’s home entertainment hub, The Roku Channel, is expanding into programming for children. The company this morning announced plans to aggregate kids and family movies and TV alongside the channel’s other content, including its free, ad-supported movies and television, live TV and subscriptions. In addition to the launch of the new “Kids & Family” section on The Roku Channel, Roku is also rolling out Parental Control features to give parents more control over what their kids can watch when accessing the channel.

The latter — while useful for families who don’t want the kids stumbling upon their HBO or Cinemax subscriptions — will also be a hindrance when the parents go to watch their own shows in The Roku Channel, due to Roku’s current lack of user profiles.

Meanwhile, the new kids section is not home to original content, but rather takes advantage of Roku’s ability to aggregate the streaming content on its own platform — including both free content from other channels and digital creators, as well as kid-friendly content from the family’s paid subscriptions.

At launch, the Kids & Family section will offer 7,000 free, ad-supported TV episodes and movies from 20 partners, including Allspark (a Hasbro company), DHX Media, Happy Kids TV, Lionsgate, Mattel, Moonbug, pocket.watch and others. This will bring a mix of classic franchises and favorite characters to the channel, like Care Bears, The Cat in the Hat, Leapfrog, Little Baby Bum, My Little Pony, Rev & Roll, Super Mario Brothers, Thomas & Friends and more. 

This content will be mixed in with live, linear streams from Moonbug, pocket.watch and XUMO-powered partners Ameba, BatteryPop and KidGenius. There also will be five exclusive episodes of Ryan’s World by pocket.watch available.

In addition, the new section can pull in premium content for kids from services like Blue Ant Media’s ZooMoo, CONtv, Dove Channel, HBO, Hopster, NOGGIN, Starz or Up Faith.

That allows access to more well-known kids’ brands, like Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig and family-friendly movies, including Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand, Muppets Take Manhattan and more.

In total, there are nearly 30 partners participating in the Kids & Family section. Notably absent, however, are top sources for kids’ shows, like Netflix and Hulu. These larger streaming services want to own the user experience end-to-end and collect their own data.

Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 9.12.49 AMRoku says it will collect “non-user level data” from the new section, in order to see, in aggregate, which programs are popular. But it will not use data to personalize the experience for kids, target kids with ads, or make recommendations.

Instead, the content in the Kids & Family section is organized by age range, character and theme in an interface that resembles Netflix’s Kids’ profile layout.

The ad load is also lighter than elsewhere on The Roku Channel, the company says.

“For The Roku Channel overall, we have on average, approximately half of the advertising time of traditional ad-supported linear TV. So it’s a really light ad load. And we think that something’s really resonated with users. When we look at a Kids & Family viewing experience, we want to even further reduce that advertising time. So we’re taking it down to 40% of the advertising time on traditional linear,” says Roku’s VP of Programming Rob Holmes.

He adds that the advertisers are kid-appropriate, and are vetted and served internally by Roku.

Ad revenue is the only way the new section will be monetized. Roku tells us the premium content for kids will only be displayed to existing subscribers, as it’s not in the business of trying to upsell to children.

The launch follows several other recent developments for The Roku Channel, now one of Roku’s top five channels and a big selling point for Roku devices and TVs.

Since its 2017 launch, which focused on aggregating free movies, the company has expanded into newssports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks, as well as paid subscriptions from networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX and more.

Roku closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and revenue up 59% year-over-year, to $250.1 million. The company’s platform business is now the primary revenue driver, up 86% year-over-year to reach $167.7 million in the quarter. Users streamed 9.4 billion hours of content on Roku in Q2.

Media companies have been heavily investing in kids’ programming, especially in the cord-cutting era, which gives Roku a large library to tap into. However, the biggest names in kids’ streaming — like Netflix and soon, Disney (with Disney+) — will not participate in aggregated sections like this, which ultimately limits their ability to become a true one-stop-shop for everything you want to stream.

The Roku Channel is rolling out in the U.S. today, on Roku devices, the web, the Roku mobile app and select Samsung smart TVs.

Voyage’s driverless future, ghost work, B2B growth strategies, and Black Hat takeaways

By Danny Crichton

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

In the autonomous vehicle space, startups have taken radically different strategies to building our AV future. Some companies like Waymo have driven all across different types of environments in order to rack up the datasets that they believe will be needed to effectively maneuver without a human driver.

That’s the opposite strategy of Voyage, where CEO and founder Oliver Cameron and his team have focused on driving safety in the incredibly constrained context of two retirement communities.

Our transportation editor Kirsten Korosec talked with the company and analyzes their approach in a new profile for Extra Crunch, and also drops some news about a partnership the company has brewing with a major automotive manufacturer.

Cameron, who shies away from discussing timelines, describes the company as inching toward driverless service.

Its self-driving software has now reached maturation in the communities it is testing in, and Voyage is now focusing on validation, according to Cameron.

Voyage has developed a few systems that will help push it closer to a commercial driverless service while maintaining safety, such as a collision mitigation system that it calls Rango, an internal nickname inspired by the 2011 computer-animated Western action-comedy about a chameleon.

This collision mitigation system is designed to be extremely fast-reacting, like a reptile — hence the Rango name. Rango, which has an independent power source and compute system and uses a different approach to perception than the main self-driving system, is designed to react quickly. If needed, it will engage the full force of the brakes.

Startup ads are taking over the subway

Public transit is just swimming in startup ads. From complete Brex takeovers of the San Francisco Caltrain station to the sleep puzzles posted by Casper across the New York City subway, startups have been taking advantage of this unique out-of-home advertising space. What’s the full story though? Our reporter Anthony Ha takes a look at how the subway ad market came to be in the past few years, and what the future holds for other marketers.

SoftBank reportedly plans to lend employees as much as $20 billion to invest in its VC fund

By Darrell Etherington

SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool.

SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment.

The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors.

Cloudflare says cutting off customers like 8chan is an IPO ‘risk factor’

By Zack Whittaker

Networking and web security giant Cloudflare says the recent 8chan controversy may be an ongoing “risk factor” for its business on the back of its upcoming initial public offering.

The San Francisco-based company and former Battlefield finalist, which filed its IPO paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, earlier this month took the rare step of pulling the plug on one of its customers, 8chan, an anonymous message board linked to recent domestic terrorist attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, which killed 31 people. The site is also linked to the shootings in New Zealand, which killed 50 people.

8chan became the second customer to have its service cut off by Cloudflare in the aftermath of the attacks. The first and other time Cloudflare booted one of its customers was neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer in 2017, after it claimed the networking giant was secretly supportive of the website.

Cloudflare, which provides web security and denial-of-service protection for websites, recognizes those customer cut-offs as a risk factor for investors buying shares in the company’s common stock.

“Activities of our paying and free customers or the content of their websites and other Internet properties could cause us to experience significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences with customers, employees, suppliers, government entities, and other third parties,” the filing said. “Even if we comply with legal obligations to remove or disable customer content, we may maintain relationships with customers that others find hostile, offensive, or inappropriate.”

Cloudflare had long taken a stance of not policing who it provides service to, citing freedom of speech. In a 2015 interview with ZDNet, chief executive Matthew Prince said he didn’t ever want to be in a position where he was making “moral judgments on what’s good and bad,” and would instead defer to the courts.

“If a final court order comes down and says we can’t do something… governments have tanks and guns,” he said.

But since Prince changed his stance on both The Daily Stormer and 8chan, the company recognized it “experienced significant negative publicity” in the aftermath.

“We are aware of some potential customers that have indicated their decision to not subscribe to our products was impacted, at least in part, by the actions of certain of our paying and free customers,” said the filing. “We may also experience other adverse political, business and reputational consequences with prospective and current customers, employees, suppliers, and others related to the activities of our paying and free customers, especially if such hostile, offensive, or inappropriate use is high profile.”

Cloudflare has also come under fire in recent months for allegedly supplying web protection services to sites that promote and support terrorism, including al-Shabab and the Taliban, both of which are covered under U.S. Treasury sanctions.

In response, the company said it tries “to be neutral,” but wouldn’t comment specifically on the matter.

Cloudflare files for initial public offering

By Jonathan Shieber

After much speculation and no small amount of controversy, Cloudflare, one of the companies that ensures that websites run smoothly on the internet, has filed for its initial public offering.

The company, which made its debut on TechCrunch’s Battlefield stage back in 2010, has put a placeholder value of the offering at $100 million, but it will likely be worth billions when it finally trades on the market.

Cloudflare is one of a clutch of businesses whose job it is to make web sites run better, faster and with little to no downtime.

Recently the company has been at the center of political debates around some of the customers and company it keeps, including social media networks like 8Chan and racist media companies like the Daily Stormer.

Indeed, the company went so far as to cite 8Chan as a risk factor in its public offering documents.

As far as money goes, Cloudflare is — like other early-stage technology companies — losing money. But it’s not losing that much money, and its growth is impressive.

As the company notes in its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

We have experienced significant growth, with our revenue increasing from $84.8 million in 2016 to $134.9 million in 2017 and to $192.7 million in 2018, increases of 59% and 43%, respectively. As we continue to invest in our business, we have incurred net losses of $17.3 million, $10.7 million, and $87.2 million for 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. For the six months ended June 30, 2018 and 2019, our revenue increased from $87.1 million to $129.2 million, an increase of 48%, and we incurred net losses of $32.5 million and $36.8 million, respectively.

Cloudflare sits at the intersection of government policy and private company operations and its potential risk factors include a discussion about what that could mean for its business.

The company isn’t the first network infrastructure service provider to hit the market. That distinction belongs to Fastly, whose shares likely have not performed as well as investors would have liked.

Screen Shot 2019 08 15 at 10.10.17 AM

Cloudflare has raised roughly $332 million to date from investors, including Franklin Templeton Investments, Fidelity, Union Square Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Pelion Venture Partners and Venrock. Business Insider reported that the company’s last investment gave Cloudflare a valuation of $3.2 billion.

The company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “NET.” Underwriters on the company’s public offering include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Jefferies, Wells Fargo Securities and RBC Capital Markets.

Instagram says growth hackers are behind spate of fake Stories views

By Natasha Lomas

If you use Instagram and have noticed a bunch of strangers watching your Stories in recent months — accounts that don’t follow you and seem to be Russian — well, you’re not alone.

Nor are you being primed for a Russian disinformation campaign. At least, probably not. But you’re right to smell a fake.

TechCrunch’s very own director of events, Leslie Hitchcock, flagged the issue to us — complaining of “eerie” views on her Instagram Stories in the last couple of months from random Russian accounts, some seemingly genuine (such as artists with several thousand followers) and others simply “weird” looking.

A thread on Reddit also poses the existential question: “Why do Russian Models (that don’t follow me) keep watching my Instagram stories?” (The answer to which is: Not for the reason you hope.)

Instagram told us it is aware of the issue and is working on a fix.

It also said this inauthentic activity is not related to misinformation campaigns but is rather a new growth hacking tactic — which involves accounts paying third parties to try to boost their profile via the medium of fake likes, followers and comments (in this case by generating inauthentic activity by watching the Instagram Stories of people they have no real interest in in the hopes that’ll help them pass off as real and net them more followers).

Eerie is spot on. Some of these growth hackers probably have banks of phones set up where Instagram Stories are ‘watched’ without being watched. (Which obviously isn’t going to please any advertisers paying to inject ads into Stories… )

A UK social media agency called Hydrogen also noticed the issue back in June — blogging then that: “Mass viewing of Instagram Stories is the new buying followers of 2019”, i.e. as a consequence of the Facebook-owned social network cracking down on bots and paid-for followers on the platform.

So, tl;dr, squashing fakes is a perpetual game of whack-a-mole. Let’s call it Zuckerberg’s bane.

“Our research has found that several small social media agencies are using this as a technique to seem like they are interacting with the public,” Hydrogen also wrote, before going on to offer sage advice that: “This is not a good way to build a community, and we believe that Instagram will begin cracking down on this soon.”

Instagram confirmed to us it is attempting to crack down — saying it’s working to try to get rid of this latest eyeball-faking flavor of inauthentic activity. (We paraphrase.)

It also said that, in the coming months, it will introduce new measures to reduce such activity — specifically from Stories — but without saying exactly what these will be.

We also asked about the Russian element but Instagram was unable to provide any intelligence on why a big proportion of the fake Stories views seem to be coming from Russia (without any love). So that remains a bit of a mystery.

What can you do right now to prevent your Instagram Stories from being repurposed as a virtue-less signalling machine for sucking up naive eyeballs?

Switching your profile to private is the only way to thwart the growth hackers, for now.

Albeit, that means you’re limiting who you can reach on the Instagram platform as well as who can reach you.

When we suggested to Hitchcock she switch her account to private she responded with a shrug, saying: “I like to engage with brands.”

YC-backed Eden Farm wants to cut out the middlemen between farmers and restaurants in Indonesia

By Catherine Shu

Eden Farm is a startup with the ambitious goal of building a food distribution network for Indonesia, where many restaurants currently rely on markets for fresh ingredients.

But this means high markups and unreliable supplies for restaurant owners and lower profits for farmers, co-founder and CEO David Gunawan tells TechCrunch. The company, part of Y Combinator’s current batch, wants to help both by simplifying the supply chain, ensuring stable pricing and reducing food waste. Eden Farm currently focuses on fresh produce and non-perishable items, but plans to expand its product line to meat and seafood, too.

The company launched in 2017 and now supplies produce from 60 farmers to more than 200 restaurants in six major cities: Jakarta, Tangerang, South Tangerang, Bekasi, Depok and Bogor. Eden Farm is currently raising an oversubscribed seed round. Gunawan says the target was originally intended to be $1 million, but has now increased to $1.75 million. Investors include Y Combinator and Everhaus.

Eden Farm started as a farm, but while talking to other farmers and researching the agricultural market, its founders realized there were many problems with food distribution in Indonesia.

“Every restaurant in Indonesia faces a huge problem with supply, stability and extreme price volatility,” Gunawan says. “Fruit and vegetable prices can go up and down around 30% to 50% every day. In peak season, for certain commodities, prices can go up ten times, like chilis in the summer.”

Eden Farm tackles the problem of supply and demand with a mobile app that gives demand forecasts to farmers so they can plan their next harvests. Traditionally, farmers don’t sell produce directly to restaurants, Gunawan says. Instead, their harvest goes through several layers of middlemen before arriving at markets.

Eden Farm

Eden Farm working with farmers in Indonesia

Eden Farm is able to ensure price stability and also allow farmers to make more profit by purchasing produce wholesale from them. On the demand side, Eden Farm’s value proposition includes quality control. Before produce is delivered to restaurants, it is inspected and washed. Gunawan says restaurants typically have to dispose around 30% of the produce they purchase from markets, but Eden Farm has a 100% guarantee and will refund the price of any produce that is unusable. It also partners with two large markets in Jakarta to help supply large quantities of vegetables and ensure there are enough supplies during peak season. Gunawan says Eden Farm’s quality control can help save restaurants up to 50%.

Eden Farm wants to build a network similar to Sysco, the American food distribution giant, but it has to solve several problems unique to Indonesia.

“We are serving a very traditional industry. Farmers already have their own way of planting and their own culture, which has lasted for generations, and we’re trying to change that,” says Gunawan. “At first we didn’t know how to talk to them, how to convince them, but we learned a lot about how to pay respect to farmers. Every time we go to a village, for example, we know how to present, who to pay respects to, like the elders there. We have to do that before the elders will introduce us to the farmers in the area.”

The company currently handles about half of its deliveries in-house and uses third-party logistics providers for the rest. Most produce is sourced from farms close to where it is sold so it can be delivered in less than 24 hours, but Eden Farms goes further for some vegetables. For example, potatoes are purchased from farms in Central Java, while carrots come from North Sumatra.

Eden Farm works mostly with small, traditional farms, but it also carries produce like lettuce and kale from hydroponic farms. After finishing Y Combinator, Gunawan says the startup will begin focusing on expanding into five new cities: Bandung, Surabaya, Bali, Medan and Malang. As its order volumes increase, the company will begin focusing on smaller markets and once it hits 25,000 restaurants, expand into meat and seafood.

Y Combinator-backed Trella brings transparency to Egypt’s trucking and shipping industry

By Jonathan Shieber

Y Combinator has become one of the key ways that startups from emerging markets get the attention of American investors. And arguably no clutch of companies has benefitted more from Y Combinator’s attention than startups from emerging markets tackling the the logistics market.

On the heels of the success the accelerator had seen with Flexport, which is now valued at over $1 billion — and the investment in the billion-dollar Latin American on-demand delivery company, Rappi, several startups from the Northern and Southern Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia have gone through the program to get in front of Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms. These are companies like Kobo360, NowPorts, and, most recently, Trella.

The Egyptian company founded by Omar Hagrass, Mohammed el Garem, and Pierre Saad already has 20 shippers using its service and is monitoring and managing the shipment of 1,500 loads per month.

“The best way we would like to think of ourselves is that we would like to bring more transparency to the industry,” says Hagrass.

Like other logistics management services, Trella is trying to consolidate a fragmented industry around its app that provides price transparency and increases efficiency by giving carriers and shippers better price transparency and a way to see how cargo is moving around the country.

If the model sounds similar to what Kobo360 and Lori Systems are trying to do in Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, it’s because Hagrass knows the founders of both companies.

Technology ecosystems in these emerging markets are increasingly connected. For instance, Hagrass worked with Kobo360 founder Obi Ozor at Uber before launching Trella. And through Trella’s existing investors (the company has raised $600,000 in financing from Algebra Ventures) Hagrass was introduced to Josh Sandler the chief executive of Lori Systems.

The three executives often compare notes on their startups and the logistics industry in Northern and Southern Africa, Hagrass says.

While each company has unique challenges, they’re all trying to solve an incredibly difficult problem and one that has huge implications for the broader economies of the countries in which they operate.

For Hagrass, who participated in the Tahrir Square protests, launching Trella was a way to provide help directly to everyday Egyptians without having to worry about the government.

“It’s three times more expensive to transport goods in Egypt than in the U.S.,” says Hagrass. “Through this platform I can do something good for the country.”

Kobalt, Apple and smartwatches, Hadoop, customer support, and social work and AI

By Danny Crichton

The Kobalt EC-1: How a Swedish saxophonist built Kobalt, the world’s next music unicorn

My favorite pieces we host on Extra Crunch are our EC-1 series of in-depth profiles and analyses of high-flying, fascinating startups. We launched Extra Crunch with a multi-part series on Patreon, and then we covered augmented reality and Pokémon Go creator Niantic and gaming platform Roblox.

This week, Extra Crunch media columnist Eric Peckham launched the first part of his three-part EC-1 series looking at music “operating system” startup Kobalt. Kobalt is not perhaps a popular household name like Roblox, but it’s influence is heard pretty much every single time you listen to music. Kobalt is upending the traditional infrastructure to track music plays to capture royalties for artists, an industry that today still involves people literally walking into bars and writing down what’s playing. From that base, Kobalt wants to expand into services to empower the next-generation of stars and mid-market talent.

What I loved about this story is that not only is Kobalt completely rebuilding an otherwise stagnant industry, but its founder and CEO is also such a dynamic individual. Willard Ahdritz was a former saxophonist whose band was essentially abandoned by their music label — even while that label wouldn’t give up the economics that would allow the band to continue (some founders may have similar experiences with their venture investors). Ahdritz would eventually start his own music label called Telegram, and a bit later started Kobalt to solve the problems he kept running into on the music publishing side.

It’s been almost two decades, but today, Kobalt offers a suite of technologies and services and has its crosshairs on the big three labels — Universal, Sony, and Warner. It’s also raised a boatload of venture capital and is closing in on a unicorn valuation. Read the full story, learn more about this analytically fascinating business, and get ready for parts two and three coming soon.

Refer a friend to Extra Crunch

Adobe’s Amit Ahuja will be talking customer experience at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

By Ron Miller

As companies collect increasingly large amounts of data about customers, the end game is about improving the customer experience. It’s a term we’re hearing a lot of these days, and we are going to be discussing that very topic with Amit Ahuja, Adobe’s vice president of ecosystem development, next month at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco. Grab your early-bird tickets right now – $100 savings ends today!

Customer experience covers a broad array of enterprise software and includes data collection, analytics and software. Adobe deals with all of this including the Adobe Experience Platform for data collection, Adobe Analytics for visualization and understanding and Adobe Experience Cloud for building applications.

The idea is to begin to build an understanding of your customers through the various interactions you have with them, and then build applications to give them a positive experience. There is lots of talk about “delighting” customers, but it’s really about using the digital realm to help them achieve what they want as efficiently as possible, whatever that means to your business.

Ahuja will be joining TechCrunch’s editors along with Qualtrics chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green and Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to discuss the finer points of what it means to build a customer experience, and how software can help drive that.

Ahuja has been with Adobe since 2005 when he joined as part of the $3.4 billion Macromedia acquisition. His primary role today involves building and managing strategic partnerships and initiatives. Prior to this, he was the Head of Emerging businesses and the GM of Adobe’s Data Management Platform business, which focuses on advertisers. He also spent 7 years in Adobe’s Corporate Development Group where he helped complete the acquisitions of Omniture, Scene7, Efficient Frontier, Demdex and Auditude.

Amit will be joining us on Sept 5 in San Francisco along with some of the biggest influencers in enterprise including Bill McDermott from SAP, Scott Farquhar from Atlassian, Aparna Sinha from Google, Wendy Nather from Duo Security, Aaron Levie from Box and Andrew Ng from Landing AI.

Early-bird savings end today, August 9. Book your tickets today and you’ll save $100 before prices go up.

Bringing a group? Book our 4+ group tickets and you’ll save 20% on the early-bird rate. Bring the whole squad here.

Startups seek sperm… and venture capital backing

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were helmed by Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm, but those of you who love the show having guests on, don’t despair. As we explain at the top, there’s a lot of folks coming on the show soon, many of whom you know by name.

But that’s to come, and we had a lot to chat through this week. Including, right from the jump, the latest gyrations in the stock market. Earlier this week tech stocks, and especially cloud and SaaS stocks, took a nosedive. Sentiment swung around later in the week when markets caught their breath and Lyft’s earnings went well. But the movement in highly valued SaaS companies caught our eye. Perhaps if the market finally does correct, we’ll see growth stakes take the worst of it.

But it wasn’t all bad news on the show; a new app that raised $5 million caught Kate’s attention. It’s called Squad and it’s now backed by First Round Capital, the seed fund behind the likes of Uber . You can read Kate’s interview with the founder, Esther Crawford, here.

Next, we turned to two startups that are focused on male reproductive health. While we’ve covered startups focused on fertility, this is the first time we’ve delved into male-focused services that are designed to help men take part in conception. The news here is Dadi has raised another $5 million in venture capital funding. Legacy, the other male fertility company we discussed, is taking part in Y Combinator’s summer batch right now.

On the IPO-ish beat, we talked about Postmates, which has a new stadium partnership, and, more importantly, permission to use cute robots to deliver things in San Francisco. After hearing for years about how small, rolling robots will handle last-mile deliveries, we’re excited for them to actually make it to market. In our view, technology of this sort won’t eliminate the need for human workers at on-demand shops, though they may replace some routine runs. Bring on the burrito robots.

We closed on Airbnb’s purchase of Urbandoor, yet another acquisition from the popular home-sharing company that will eventually go public. It has to, right? Perhaps Urbandoor will help unlock new revenues in the corporate travel space before we see an S-1. After all, Airbnb wants to debut with plenty of growth under its belt to help it meet valuation expectations. Adding revenue to its core business could be a good way to ensure that there’s new top-line to report.

More to come, including something special next week!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Only 24 hours left to save $100 on TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019

By Emma Comeau

Heads up all you enterprising enterprise software startuppers. You have only 24 hours before the price goes up on tickets to TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019. Save $100 and join us in San Francisco on September 5 — along with some of the industry’s top founders, CEOs, investors and technologists. Buy your early-bird ticket before 11:59 p.m. (PT) on August 9.

Enterprise is, without doubt, Silicon Valley’s 800-pound gorilla. No other startup category is as large, rich or competitive. In this day-long conference, we tackle the big topics and separate hype from reality. Artificial intelligence? Check. Cloud, Kubernetes, security and privacy, marketing automation, quantum? Yes. Investors, founders, and acquisition-hungry big enterprise companies? Tons of opportunity to network efficiently via CrunchMatch? Yeah, all that and more in 20 main-stage sessions — plus separate speaker Q&As and breakout sessions. Check out the day’s agenda.

Here’s a quick example of the type of programming you can expect.

Does the recent Capital One data breach have you up nights worried about the cost and consequences of cyberattacks? Don’t miss TechCrunch editor Zack Whittaker’s interview with Martin Casado (Andreessen Horowitz), Emily Heath (United Airlines) and Wendy Nather (Duo Security) in a session called, Keeping the Enterprise Secure.

Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CISO and how to move fast… without breaking things.

Looking for more ways to save or boost your ROI? Look no further. Buy four or more tickets at once and save 20% with the group discount. And, with every ticket you buy to TC Sessions: Enterprise, you’ll score a free Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

TC Sessions: Enterprise takes place on September 5, and if you want to save $100, you have just 24 hours left to act. The $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play until 11:59 p.m. (PT) on August 9. Buy your ticket now and save.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Sperm storage startups are raising millions

By Kate Clark

A number of startups are bringing technology and innovation to the fertility industry, with a growing few focused specifically on male fertility.

“Society at large doesn’t understand the subject of fertility,” Tom Smith, the co-founder and chief executive officer of men’s sperm storage startup Dadi tells TechCrunch. “People see it as a female issue.”

Dadi has raised a $5 million seed extension led by The Chernin Group, a private equity fund that typically invests in media, with existing investors including London seed-fund Firstminute Capital and New York’s Third Kind Venture Capital also participating. The company, which sends at-home fertility tests and sperm storage kits, closed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.

Dadi’s funding event comes shortly after another men’s fertility business, Legacy, raised a $1.5 million round for its sperm testing and freezing service. Both companies hope to leverage venture capital funding to become the dominant men’s fertility brand.

Bain Capital Ventures -backed Legacy, which won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield competition at Disrupt Berlin 2018, allows men to get their sperm tested and frozen without visiting a clinic or meeting with a doctor. Founder and chief executive officer Khaled Kteily said the company, which is based out of the Harvard Innovation Labs in Boston, planned to use the capital to expand its sperm analysis and cryogenic storage services.

040319 AG WaPo Legacy Sperm Freezing 0016

Sarah Steinle, head of marketing, Khaled Kteily, founder and CEO, and Daniel Madero, head of clinic partnerships at Legacy .

Like many startups today, Dadi and Legacy are capitalizing on the direct-to-consumer business model to educate men about their fertility. Customers of both Dadi and Legacy simply order a DIY sperm collection kit online, collect a sperm sample and send it back to the company for a full fertility report. Both companies offer sperm storage services too. Dadi charges a total of $199.98 for its sperm testing kit and one year of sperm storage, while Legacy asks for $350 for clinical fertility analysis and lifestyle recommendations. To store your sperm in Legacy’s cryogenic storage facilities, it’s an additional $20 per month.

One in six couples struggles to get pregnant after one year of trying. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, one-third of the infertility cases amongst those couples are caused by fertility problems in men, another one-third of issues are connected to women and the remaining cases are a result of a combination of male and female fertility issues. By making sperm storage more accessible, startups hope to encourage a conversation around family planning and fertility among young men.

“Men also have a biological clock,” Smith said. “From your late 20s and onward, your overall sperm count absolutely declines and, more importantly, the number of mutations that can be passed on to that potential child grows.”

Dadi, a New York-based company, plans to use its latest bout of funding to continue developing a number of yet-to-be-announced products, as well as offer new support services to customers who’ve taken Dadi’s fertility tests: “If we are going to live up to our overall objective of being this encompassing business helping men through the fertility stack, the next step for us is investing in next-step support,” Smith explains.

Dadi’s founding team lacks experience in the healthcare sector, which is likely to pose problems as the company expands and forges partnerships in the greater healthcare field. Smith previously led a custom emoji business, Imoji, which was acquired by Giphy in 2017. Dadi co-founder Mackey Saturday, for his part, was previously a graphic designer responsible for creating Instagram’s logo.

Aiming to make up for its lack of expertise, Dadi has formed a Science and Technology Advisory Board with participation from Dr. Michael Eisenberg, associate professor of urology at Stanford’s Medical Center, and Dr. Jacques Cohen, the laboratory director at ART Institute of Washington at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Legacy’s Kteily previously worked as a consultant focused on health & life sciences before serving as a senior manager at the World Economic Forum. Daniel Madero and Sarah Steinle, also Legacy co-founders, previously worked at Medifertil, a Colombian fertility clinic, and Extend Fertility, respectively.

In addition to Dadi and Legacy, other companies close to the space have recently secured notable investments including Hims, the provider of direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction (ED) and hair loss medication, which raised a $100 million this year. Another seller of ED meds, Ro, has raised a total of $91 million. And Manual, an educational portal and treatment platform for men’s issues, raised a £5 million seed round in January from Felix Capital, Cherry Ventures and Cassius Capital.

Daily Crunch: Disney reveals streaming bundle

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Disney will bundle Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ for a monthly price of $12.99

Disney’s streaming services just became even more appealing, since you’ll be able to get the full bundle for the same price as Netflix’s standard U.S. plan.

On its own, Disney+ will cost $6.99 per month, and it will include a big chunk of the Disney-Fox content library, as well as new shows set in the Star Wars and Marvel universes.

2. Twitter ‘fesses up to more adtech leaks

Twitter may have shared user data with advertising partners, even when a user had expressly told it not to.

3. Trump attacks Google and Sundar Pichai in morning tweets

Frankly, just copy-pasting that headline made me feel tired, but these kinds of comments could have a real impact on Google’s plans.

Amazon Fulfilment Center In Sosnowiec

4. FedEx ends ground-delivery contract with Amazon

This means FedEx will not be providing any last-mile delivery service for Amazon, which is expanding its own shipping capabilities considerably.

5. In a 130-page court filing, Kik claims the SEC’s lawsuit ‘twists’ the facts about its online token

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit claiming that Kik’s $100 million token sale was illegal. Now the company filed a 130-page response, asking for an early trial date and dismissal of the complaint, while also alleging that the SEC is “twisting” the facts about its token, called Kin.

6. What tech gets right about healthcare

Why is tech still aiming for the healthcare industry? It seems full of endless regulatory hurdles, not to mention stories of misguided founders with no knowledge of the space. But sometimes, startups figure it out. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise to discuss customer experience management

As part of a panel that includes Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green and Adobe’s Amit Ahuja, Reinhardt will discuss the difficulties companies face in collecting data to build a picture of the customer, then using it to deliver more meaningful experiences.

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