Yes, the media f’ing gorged on the Quibi story yesterday. We did, they did, everyone did. And really, truly, how could anyone not? Nearly $2 billion came in (with $350 million heading back), a star-studded lineup of executives and production teams, an absolutely massive advertising campaign, and a PR strategy that all but begged the sun to melt Icarus’ wings.
Our collective exhalation on the complete clusterfuck that was Quibi though leads to a legitimate and interesting question: are we obnoxiously attacking a good-faith failure? Wasn’t Quibi a bet just like every other startup, a bet that just happened to fail? A16Z’s general partner Andrew Chen put it vividly on Twitter, saying “It’s gross” and lauding the entrepreneurial challenge of building a startup:
all the people rushing to their keyboards to type in their "i told you so" hot takes on Quibi:
It's gross. Building a company is hard, why celebrate a fail?
Go build something instead of using your energy to let twitter know how smart you are the say the consensus thing.
I understand this view, deeply. In fact, all of us at TechCrunch understand this. One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is respecting the hustle. We know how hard it is to launch a startup. As a team, we collectively talk to thousands of founders every year, and we hear the heartbreaking stories and the downright trauma at times that comes with building a company. Occasionally (and yes, we focus most of our reporting here), we hear about the wins and successes too.
Let’s be honest: most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. And when success happens, we like to talk about it, report on, and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.
But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.
Chen makes an important point that many obvious ideas in tech started as dumb ideas. That’s true! In fact, the history of technology is littered with examples of ideas that investors and the press thought were either dumb or impossible to build (which is a more polite way to say “dumb”).
for everyone who “obviously” knows when they see a bad idea in tech – everyone citing Quibi today – here’s a thread for you. https://t.co/QpXXKG16Vm
— Andrew Chen (@andrewchen) October 22, 2020
Why do supposedly dumb ideas turn out to be smart? Part of the reason is that what starts out as dumb slowly iterates into something that is very smart. Facebook was just a “facebook” for checking out your classmates on college campuses. If it had ended there and withered away like many other social networks before it, we might well have put it in the waste bin of history. But Zuckerberg and his crew iterated — adding features like photos, a feed, messaging and more with an extreme focus on growth that made the product so much more than when it started.
We’ve seen this pattern again and again throughout time. Founders get feedback from users, they iterate, they pivot, they try new things, and slowly but surely they start to migrate from what might have been a very raw concept to something much more ready to compete in the ferocious marketplace of business and consumer attention today.
This was never the story with Quibi. There was never an iteration of the product, or a long-range plan to assiduously cultivate users and talent as the company found traction while carefully husbanding its capital for the inevitable tough moments in the growth of any company.
Yes, we in the commentariat do make mistakes, but analysts weren’t dumb in pointing out all of Quibi’s glaring, red-alert flaws. Those analysts were smart. They were right. They might not be right next time, of course — no analyst should get too overconfident in their predictions. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just collectively throw up our hands and declare every idea that comes our way a brilliant gift from the heavens. Most ideas are dumb, and we and everyone else have every right to point that out.
So respect the hustle. Don’t kick a hardworking entrepreneur down who is just trying to get their project out there and show it the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call out stupid when you see it. The best entrepreneurs know that — even at its most vituperative — critical feedback is the necessary ingredient to startup success. Lauding everyone lauds no one.
A Dutch security researcher says he accessed President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter account last week by guessing his password: “maga2020!”.
Victor Gevers, a security researcher at the GDI Foundation and chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure, which finds and reports security vulnerabilities, told TechCrunch he guessed the president’s account password and was successful on the fifth attempt.
The account was not protected by two-factor authentication, granting Gevers access to the president’s account.
After logging in, he emailed US-CERT, a division of Homeland Security’s cyber unit Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to disclose the security lapse, which TechCrunch has seen. Gevers said the president’s Twitter password was changed shortly after.
A screenshot from inside Trump’s Twitter account. (Image: Victor Gevers)
It’s the second time Gevers has gained access to Trump’s Twitter account.
The first time was in 2016, when Gevers and two others extracted and cracked Trump’s password from the 2012 LinkedIn breach. The researchers took his password — “yourefired” — his catchphrase from the television show “The Apprentice” — and found it let them into his Twitter account. Gevers reported the breach to local authorities in the Netherlands, with suggestions on how Trump could improve his password security. One of the passwords he suggested at the time was “maga2020!” he said. Gevers said he “did not expect” the password to work years later.
Dutch news outlet Vrij Nederland first reported the story.
In a statement, Twitter spokesperson Ian Plunkett said: “We’ve seen no evidence to corroborate this claim, including from the article published in the Netherlands today. We proactively implemented account security measures for a designated group of high-profile, election-related Twitter accounts in the United States, including federal branches of government.”
Twitter said last month that it would tighten the security on the accounts of political candidates and government accounts, including encouraging but not mandating the use of two-factor authentication.
Trump’s account is said to be locked down with extra protections after he became president, though Twitter has not said publicly what those protections entail. His account was untouched by hackers who broke into Twitter’s network in July in order to abuse an “admin tool” to hijack high-profile accounts and spread a cryptocurrency scam.
A spokesperson for the White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately comment, but White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere reportedly said the story is “absolutely not true,” but declined to comment on the president’s social media security. A spokesperson for CISA did not immediately confirm the report.
“It’s unbelievable that a man that can cause international incidence and crash stock markets with his Tweets has such a simple password and no two-factor authentication,” said Alan Woodward, a professor at the University of Surrey. “Bearing in mind his account was hacked in 2016 and he was saying only a couple of days ago that no one is hacked the irony is vintage 2020.”
Updated with Twitter comment, and corrected the name of publication which first published the news.
In an overcrowded market of online fashion brands, consumers are spoilt for choice on what site to visit. They are generally forced to visit each brand one by one, manually filtering down to what they like. Most of the experience is not that great, and past purchase history and cookies aren’t much to go on to tailor user experience. If someone has bought an army-green military jacket, the e-commerce site is on a hiding to nothing if all it suggests is more army-green military jackets…
Instead, Psycke ( it’s brand name is ‘PSYKHE’) is an e-commerce startup that uses AI and psychology to make product recommendations based both on the user’s personality profile and the ‘personality’ of the products. Admittedly, a number of startups have come and gone claiming this, but it claims to have taken a unique approach to make the process of buying fashion easier by acting as an aggregator that pulls products from all leading fashion retailers. Each user sees a different storefront that, says the company, becomes increasingly personalized.
It has now raised $1.7 million in seed funding from a range of investors and is announcing new plans to scale its technology to other consumer verticals in the future in the B2B space.
The investors are Carmen Busquets – the largest founding investor in Net-a-Porter; SLS Journey – the new investment arm of the MadaLuxe Group, the North American distributor of luxury fashion; John Skipper – DAZN Chairman and former Co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of ESPN; and Lara Vanjak – Chief Operating Officer at Aser Ventures, formerly at MP & Silva and FC Inter-Milan.
So what does it do? As a B2C aggregator, it pools inventory from leading retailers. The platform then applies machine learning and personality-trait science, and tailors product recommendations to users based on a personality test taken on sign-up. The company says it has international patents pending and has secured affiliate partnerships with leading retailers that include Moda Operandi, MyTheresa, LVMH’s platform 24S, and 11 Honoré.
The business model is based around an affiliate partnership model, where it makes between 5-25% of each sale. It also plans to expand into B2B for other consumer verticals in the future, providing a plug-in product that allows users to sort items by their personality.
How does this personality test help? Well, Psykhe has assigned an overall psychological profile to the actual products themselves: over 1 million products from commerce partners, using machine learning (based on training data).
So for example, if a leather boot had metal studs on it (thus looking more ‘rebellious’), it would get a moderate-low rating on the trait of ‘Agreeableness’. A pink floral dress would get a higher score on that trait. A conservative tweed blazer would get a lower score tag on the trait of ‘Openness’, as tweed blazers tend to indicate a more conservative style and thus nature.
It’s competitors include The Yes and Lyst. However, Psykhe’s main point of differentiation is this personality scoring. Furthermore, The Yes is app-only, US-only, and only partners with monobrands, while Lyst is an aggregator with 1,000s of brands, but used as more of a search platform.
Psykhe is in a good position to take advantage of the ongoing effects of COVID-19, which continue to give a major boost to global ecommerce as people flood online amid lockdowns.
The startup is the brainchild of Anabel Maldonado, CEO & founder, (along with founding team CTO Will Palmer and Lead Data Scientist, Rene-Jean Corneille, pictured above), who studied psychology in her hometown of Toronto, but ended up working at in the UK’s NHS in a specialist team that made developmental diagnoses for children under 5.
She made a pivot into fashion after winning a competition for an editorial mentorship at British Marie Claire. She later went to the press department of Christian Louboutin, followed by internships at the Mail on Sunday and Marie Claire, then spending several years in magazine publishing before moving into e-commerce at CoutureLab. Going freelance, she worked with a number of luxury brands and platforms as an editorial consultant. As a fashion journalist, she’s contributed industry op-eds to publications such as The Business of Fashion, T The New York Times Style, and Marie Claire.
As part of the fashion industry for 10 years, she says she became frustrated with the narratives which “made fashion seem more frivolous than it really is. I thought, this is a trillion-dollar industry, we all have such emotional, visceral reactions to an aesthetic based on who we are, but all we keep talking about is the ‘hot new color for fall and so-called blanket “must-haves’.”
But, she says, “there was no inquiry into individual differences. This world was really missing the level of depth it deserved, and I sought to demonstrate that we’re all sensitive to aesthetic in one way or another and that our clothing choices have a great psychological pay-off effect on us, based on our unique internal needs.” So she set about creating a startup to address this ‘fashion psychology’ – or, as she says “why we wear what we wear”.
Three months on since the former founders of SoundCloud launched their e-bike subscription service, Dance they are today announcing the close of a $17.7 million (€15 million) Series A funding round led by one of the larger European VCs, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures.
Founded by Eric Quidenus-Wahlforss (ex-Soundcloud), Alexander Ljung (ex-Soundcloud) and Christian Springub (ex-Jimdo), Dance has ambitions to offer its all-inclusive service subscription package into expanded markets across Europe and eventually the US. Dance is currently operating the invite-only pilot of its e-bike subscription in Berlin, with plans for a broader launch, expanded accessibility and availability and new cities next year.
Rainer Märkle, general partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures said in a statement: “The mobility market is seeing a huge shift towards bikes, strongly fueled by the paradigm shift of vehicles going electric. Unfortunately, the majority of e-bikes on the market today have some combination of poor design, high upfront costs, and cumbersome maintenance. We analyzed the overall mobility market, evaluated all means of transport, and crunched the numbers on all types of business models for a few years before we found what we were looking for. Dance is by the far the most viable future of biking, bridging the gap between e-bike ownership and more ‘joyful’ accessibility to go places.”
E-bikes tend to be notoriously expensive to purchase and a hassle to repair. That said, startups like VanMoof and Cowboy have brought an Apple -esque business model to the market which is fast bringing the cost of full ownership down.
Most commuters are put off cycling the average 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) commute but e-bikes make this distance a breeze. Dance sits in that half-way house between owning an expensive bike and having to hunt down a rentable ebike or electric scooter close to your location.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought individual, socially distanced, transport into sharp relief. UK sales of e-bikes have boomed, seeing a 230% surge in demand over the summer. This has happened at the same time as EU governments have put in more than 2300km of bike lanes, with the UK alone pledging £250 million in investment.
Quidenus-Wahlforss said the startup has been “inundated with positive responses from around the world since we announced our invite-only pilot program.”
Dance’s subscription model includes a fully assembled e-bike delivered to a subscriber’s door within 24 hours. This comes with maintenance, theft replacement insurance, a dedicated smartphone app, concierge services, GPS location tracking and unlocking capabilities.
European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.
In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).
According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.
As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.
But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.
This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.
Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.
But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.
Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.
The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.
Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.
These are the investors we interviewed:
Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.
What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.
Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.
Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.
Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.
How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.
Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.
What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.
The new languages are Java, Kotlin, Scala, C/C++, Objective C, C#, Go, Typescript, HTML/CSS and Less. Kite works in most popular development environments, including the likes of VS Code, JupyterLab, Vim, Sublime and Atom, as well as all Jetbrains IntelliJ-based IDEs, including Android Studio.
This will make Kite a far more attractive solution for a lot of developers. Currently, the company says, it saves its most active developers from writing about 175 “words” of code every day. One thing that always made Kite stand out is that it ranks its suggestions by relevance — not alphabetically as some of its non-AI driven competitors do. To build its models, Kite fed its algorithms code from GitHub .
The service is available as a free download for Windows users and as a server-powered paid enterprise version with a larger deep learning model that consequently offers more AI smarts, as well as the ability to create custom models. The paid version also includes support for multi-line code completion, while the free version only supports line-of-code completions.
Kite notes that in addition to adding new languages, Kite also spent the last year focusing on the user experience, which should now be less distracting and, of course, offer more relevant completions.
Descript, the latest startup from Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason, made a splash in the world of audio last year with a platform for easy audio editing based on how you edit written documents, adding features like an AI-based tool that uses a recording of you to let you create audio of any written text in your own voice.
Today the startup is moving into the next phase of its growth. It is launching Descript Video, with a set of tools to take screen recordings or videos and then create titles, transitions, images, video overlays or edits on them with no more effort than it takes to edit a Word document. It also features live collaboration links so that multiple people can work on a file at the same time — similar to a Google Doc — by way of links that you can share with others to the file itself.
You work with video on Descript in the same way you do audio: you upload the raw material onto the Descript platform, which then turns it into text. Then you add new features, or remove sections, or add in new parts, by adding in widgets or cutting out or adding in written words.
The video tools are launching today as part of Descript’s freemium service, with basic price tiers of free, $12 and $24 per month depending on which features you take.
Descript’s launch comes at a key moment in the world of tech. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, video was already king of the content hill, thanks to advances in streaming, broadband speeds, processors on devices, a proliferation of services, and society’s inclination to lean back and watch things in their leisure time.
Yes, some people still read. And podcasts, recorded books, and other formats have definitely led to a kind of renaissance for audio. But video cuts through all of that when it comes to time spent online and consumer engagement. Like cats, it seems we’re just attracted by moving objects.
Now we have another added twist. The pandemic has become the age of video in the worlds of work, learning and play, with platforms like Zoom, Meet, Teams and WebEx taking on the role of conference room, quick coffee, dinner party, pub, and whatever other place you might have chosen to meet people before Covid-19 came along.
“We are increasingly living in a video-first world,” Mason said the other week from his house in the Bay Area, over a Zoom call. All of that means not just a ton of video, but a ton of video creators, counting not just the 50 million or so making content for Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest, but also any one of us that is snapping a moving picture and posting it somewhere either for fun or for pay.
Video was always on the cards for Descript, Mason added, but it made sense first to focus on audio tools. That was in part because Descript itself was a spin-off from Detour (a detour from Detour, as it happens), an audio-guide business that was sold to Bose, and so sound was the focus.
“There is so much to build, so we wanted to start with some version of the product, and then add features in concentric circles of addressable markets,” said Mason.
And that essentially is how the company sees the opportunity for selling a video editing product as an extension of an audio-editing tool. People who produce content for podcasts also often produce videos, and those who got their start on a platform like YouTube are now expanding their footprints with recorded word. Sometimes there is distinct material created for one platform or the other, but oftentimes there are excerpts repurposes, or full versions of audio from video turned into podcasts.
YouTubers or podcasters, meanwhile, have something in common with the average person: everyone is using technology now to produce content, but not everyone knows how to work with it on a technical level if you need to cut, edit or manipulate it in any way.
Descript’s aimed at professionals and prosumers, but actually it also follows in the vein of tools that let people build websites without needing to know HTML or have special design experience; or use any piece of software without having to build the functionality before using it. With all of the advances in actual tech, that idea has come a long way in modern times.
“Before I got into tech I was a music major. I got a degree in music tech and worked in a recording studio. I’ve been using these tools since I was a kid and know them super well,” Mason said. “But our approach has been to think of us like Airtable. We want to be part of that modern class of SaaS products that don’t mean you need to make a tradeoff between power and ease of use.”
Tools in this first build of the video include not just the ability to import video from anywhere that you can edit, but also a screen recorder that you can use to record excerpts from other places, or indeed your whole screen, which then can either be edited as standalone items, or as part of larger works. Things like this seem particularly aimed at the new class of “video producers” that are actually knowledge workers creating material to share with colleagues or customers.
While Overdub — the feature that uses natural language processing to let you create a “deepfake” of your own voice to overlay new audio into a recording by typing something out — work very smoothly on an audio recording, where you would be hard-pressed to notice where the changes have been made, on video cuts work out as small jumps, and Overdubs simply come out as added audio in the video. While audio and video jumps are pretty commonplace these days in videos these days, I imagine that the company is likely working on a way to smooth that out to mirror the audio experience as it is today.
Descript today is used by a number of big-name content publishers, including NPR, Pushkin Industries, VICE, The Washington Post and The New York Times, although Mason declined to disclose how many users it has in total.
At some point, however, numbers will tell another kind of story: just how much traction Descript is getting among the masses of competition in the field. Platforms like Zoom and Google’s are also adding in more editing tools, and there are a plethora of others building easy to use software to better work with audio and video, from Otter.ai through to Scribe, Vimeo, Adobe, Biteable and more.
In the meantime, Descript has caught the eye of some important backers, raising some $20 million to date from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint.
Milk substitutes are a $1 trillion category and Perfect Day is angling to be the leader in the market. Iger’s ascension to a director position at the company just affirms that Perfect Day is a big business in the big business of making milk replacements.
Unlike almond milk or soy milk companies, Perfect Day is angling to be a direct replacement for bovine dairy using a protein cultivated from mushrooms.
The move comes as Perfect Day ramps up its development of consumer products on its own and through investments in startups like the Urgent Company. That’s the consumer food company Perfect Day backed to commercialize technologies and create more sustainable food brands.
For Iger, the Perfect Day board represents the first new board seat the longtime entertainment powerbroker has taken since he left Apple.
“Innovation and leadership are both key to world changing ideas,” said Iger, in a statement. “Perfect Day has established both innovation in its use of technology and novel approach to fighting climate change, and clear leadership in building a category with a multi-year head start in the industry they’re helping to build. I’m thrilled to join at this pivotal moment and support the company’s swift growth into new categories and markets.”
Iger joins Perfect Day’s co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, and representatives from the company’s international backers and lead investors, Aftab Mathur, from Temasek Holdings, and Patrick Zhang, of Horizons Ventures.
Until yesterday, Perfect Day was the most well-capitalized protein fermentation company focused on dairy in the world. That’s when Impossible Foods, the alternative meat manufacturer which has raised $1.5 billion from investors, unveiled that it, too, was working on a dairy product.
Perfect Day, by contrast, has raised $360 million in total funding to-date.
“We’re thrilled to have Bob Iger join our team, and are confident his tenured operational expertise and visionary leadership style will further help us scale our ambitions,” said Ryan Pandya, the chief executive and co-founder of Perfect Day, in a statement. “We’re focused on rapid commercialization in the U.S. and globally. But we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re excited and humbled to have a proven leader like Bob to help us thoughtfully transform our purpose-driven aspirations into tangible and sustainable impact.”
As companies manufacturer goods, human inspectors review them for defects. Think of a scratch on smartphone glass or a weakness in raw steel that could have an impact downstream when it gets turned into something else. Landing AI, the company started by former Google and Baidu AI guru Andrew Ng, wants to use AI technology to identify these defects, and today the company launched a new visual inspection platform called LandingLens.
“We’re announcing LandingLens, which is an end-to-end visual inspection platform to help manufacturers build and deploy visual inspection systems [using AI],” Ng told TechCrunch.
He says that company’s goal is to bring AI to manufacturing companies, but he couldn’t simply repackage what he he had learned at Google and Baidu, partly because it involved a different set of consumer use cases, and partly because there is just much less data to work with in a manufacturing setting.
Adding to the degree of difficulty here, each setting is unique, and there is no standard playbook you can necessarily apply across each vertical. This meant Landing AI had to come up with a general tool kit that each company could use for the unique requirements of their manufacturing process.
Ng says to put this advanced technology into the hands of these customers and apply AI to visual inspection, his company has created a visual interface where companies can work through a defined process to train models to understand each customer’s inspection needs.
The way it works is you take pictures of what a good finished product looks like, and what a defective product could look like. It’s not as easy as it might sound because human experts can disagree over what constitutes a defect.
The manufacturer creates what’s called a defect book where the inspector experts work together to determine what that defect looks like via a picture, and resolve disagreements when they happen. All this is done through the LandingLens interface.
Once inspectors have agreed upon a set of labels, they can begin iterating on a model in the Model Iteration Module where the company can train and run models to get to a state of agreed upon success where the AI is picking up the defects on a regular basis. As customers run these experiments, the software generates a report on the state of the model, and customers can refine the models as needed based on the information in the report.
Ng says that his company is trying to bring in sophisticated software to help solve a big problem for manufacturing customers. “The bottleneck [for them] is building the deep learning algorithm, really the machine learning software. They can take the picture and render judgment as to whether this part is okay, or whether it is defective, and that’s what our platform helps with,” he said.
He thinks this technology could ultimately help recast how goods are manufactured in the future. “I think deep learning is poised to transform how inspection is done, which is really the key step. Inspection is really the last line of defense against quality defects in manufacturing. So I’m excited to release this platform to help manufacturers do inspections more accurately,” he said.
Ideally, mental wellness should be considered part of a healthy daily routine, like exercise. But even exercise is difficult to turn into a regular habit. Peloton addressed physical fitness by combining smart stationary bikes with live classes and community features to create an engaging experience. Now a new startup, MindLabs, is taking a similar approach to mental wellness.
Based in London, MindLabs announced today it has raised £1.4 million (about USD $1.82 million) in pre-seed investment led by Passion Capital, with participation from SeedCamp, as well as several founders of British consumer tech startups: Alex Chesterman (Cazoo and Zoopla); Neil Hutchinson (Forward Internet Group); Steve Pankhurst (FriendsReunited); James Hind (Carwow); and Jack Tang (Urban).
MindLabs was founded earlier this year by Adnan Ebrahim and Gabor Szedlak, who previously launched and ran Car Throttle, an online media and community startup that was acquired by Dennis Publishing last year. Ebrahim told TechCrunch that MindLabs’ goal is to “make taking care of your mental health as normal as going to the gym.”
Its platform will launch next year, first with a mobile app that combines live videos from mental health professionals who lead meditation and mindfulness sessions, and features to help users track their stress levels. The full platform will also include an EEG headband, called “Halo,” that measures signals, like heart and respiration rates, that can help show users how effective their sessions are.
Going from CarThrottle, sometimes described as “a BuzzFeed for cars” to mental wellness might seem like a big leap, but Ebrahim said their experience “running a media company in a tough market with a young, millennial workforce” inspired him and Szedlak to think more about the issue.
“We witnessed firsthand how there was a complete lack of investment in helping this generation with their mental health in a way that they’re used to: a community product that is mobile-first and video-led,” Ebrahim said.
“Alongside that, we had to find ways to deal with managing our own mental health given the stresses that can come when running a fast-paced, venture-backed company. And when we saw the alarming statistics in young adult suicide rates and depression, we realized that finding a solution for our own problems would help millions of others, too.”
The two left Dennis Publishing to begin work on MindLabs at the end of January. During the next few months, including time spent in COVID-19 lockdown, they began researching and developing initial concepts for the platform.
“It’s fair to say that the pandemic did end up altering the course of MindLabs,” Ebrahim said. “For example, we built more real-time community features into the app as a result of the isolation and loneliness we are all now facing as a result of lockdown. We really want to make sufferers feel less alone during the hard times, but with the added convenience now of being able to watch our videos at home.
“This has already become the new normal when it comes to physical fitness, with companies like Peloton exploding in growth, and we see the same trend happening with mental wellness, too,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also been described as a mental health crisis, and downloads of meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace and Relax: Master Your Destiny, have grown as people try to deal with anxiety, isolation and depression at home.
Two of the main ways MindLabs’ platform differentiates from other mental wellness apps is the combination of its video classes and EEG headband. The videos will initially range in length from 10 to 40 minutes and, like Peloton’s classes, will be available on livestream or in pre-recorded, on-demand sessions.
Instead of categorizing videos by technique (for example, meditation, breathing or visualization), MindLabs decided to sort them into issues that users want to cope with, like anxiety, relationships, motivation or addiction. For example, meditation classes may include ones focused on “Overcoming COVID-19 Anxiety” or “Coping With Stress At Work.”
Community features will be linked to the classes: the number of concurrent users in a class will be displayed, along with a live feed showing subscriber achievements, like streaks or number of minutes spent in a “calm state,” that other people can react to for positive reinforcement.
Halo was developed with a hardware specialist that Ebrahim said has seven years of building and distributing medical grade wearables.
“Most importantly our headset will be going through the rigor of ISO 13485 so we can ensure the product is of the highest quality and the data we gather is the most accurate,” he added. “We want to make this technology accessible, so we expect the price of the Halo to be comparable to, say, an Apple Watch.”
Other EEG headbands, including products from Muse and Emotiv, have been on the market for a while. In MindLabs’ case, its headband will help users visualize data before, during and after their classes, including information about their brain waves, heart rates and muscle tension, and saved in the app so they can track their progress.
One of the biggest challenges that all mental wellness apps need to address is user engagement. It can be hard staying motivated to use a self-directed mental health app when someone is already stressed, depressed or very busy. On the other hand, when they feel better, they might stop checking in.
Ebrahim sees this as a major opportunity for MindLabs, and its EEG headband and data visualization features will play a major role. “Even though there was been a proliferation of mental health apps, retention has proven difficult. But we think that is because these apps truly don’t understand their users,” he said.
“With the data we’re able to show, not just through the Halo but through syncing with Apple HealthKit, we can show our subscribers a positive progression of their mental health, similar to how you can see your weight change on a scale, or improvement in heart rate variability in an app. This helps build a powerful habit because we can finally help to close the loop when it comes to improving mental fitness.”
Participating in live classes provides accountability, too, he added. “The act of scheduling a class and tuning in with thousands of others is a powerful force, similar to having a personal trainer in the gym making sure you turn up and workout.”
MindLabs also plans to build communities around its instructors. During livestreams, instructors will welcome new subscribers and mention user achievements. After each workout, users will get a results screen they can share, similar to screenshots from fitness apps like Strava or Nike Training Club.
In terms of protecting personal privacy, Ebrahim said MindLabs is “firmly against any form of data commercialization.” Instead, it will monetize through monthly or yearly subscriptions, and user data collected through Halo or the app will only be used to make personalized content recommendations.
In a statement about Passion Capital’s investment in MindLabs, partner Eileen Burbidge said, “We’re incredibly excited to be working with MindLabs as they transform the way we look after our minds. Mindfulness is more important now than ever and we know that Adnan and Gabor’s commitment to best in class content, quality production and unparalleled user experience means they’re the best to bring this platform to market.”
We are about seven months into a pandemic and just two weeks from a presidential election. At this point, surprises are a dime a dozen. So it should feel very 2020 that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to stream Among Us, the hit game of 2020, on Twitch alongside mega-streamer pokimane and political analyst HasanAbi.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she was looking for people to play the popular game with in an effort to get out the vote, noting that she’s never played before but that it looks fun.
Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote? (I’ve never played but it looks like a lot of fun)
Streamer pokimane, who has 6 million followers on Twitch and whose YouTube videos regularly see more than 1 million views each, responded to the tweet with a figurative raised hand.
Let’s do it! I’ll set up and account and get some streaming equipment today
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020
HasanAbi, a very popular political commentator on Twitch, who has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, also chimed in to the conversation saying that they’re already making a lobby. It wasn’t long before Rep. Ilhan Omar raised her hand, too.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 19, 2020
A good game of Among Us (imagine that someone mixed a fairly basic multiplayer video game with a murder mystery party) usually requires 10 players, so the other six players are still TBD. But the Verge reports that a handful of other streamers (such as DrLupo, Felicia Day, Greg Miller, James Charles, and Neekolul) also lined up to play with AOC.
According to Ocasio-Cortez, the stream is all about getting out the vote. And this isn’t the first time that she’s used video games to connect with her followers. AOC opened up her DMs to all 6.8 million of her followers back in May to let them send her an invite to their island, and she visited them.
Millennial voters (and Gen Z) skew toward backing the Biden / Harris ticket, and AOC is coming to them by getting on Twitch and streaming one of the rocket ship games of this year.
The stream starts at 9pm ET/6pm PT and can be found here.
And you can check if you’re registered to vote here.
Microsoft today announced its plans to launch a new data center region in Austria, its first in the country. With nearby Azure regions in Switzerland, Germany, France and a planned new region in northern Italy, this part of Europe now has its fair share of Azure coverage. Microsoft also noted that it plans to launch a new ‘Center of Digital Excellence’ to Austria to “to modernize Austria’s IT infrastructure, public governmental services and industry innovation.”
In total, Azure now features 65 cloud regions — though that number includes some that aren’t online yet. As its competitors like to point out, not all of them feature multiple availability zones yet, but the company plans to change that. Until then, the fact that there’s usually another nearby region can often make up for that.
Talking about availability zones, in addition to announcing this new data center region, Microsoft also today announced plans to expand its cloud in Brazil, with new availability zones to enable high-availability workloads launching in the existing Brazil South region in 2021. Currently, this region only supports Azure workloads but will add support for Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform over the course of the next few months.
This announcement is part of a large commitment to building out its presence in Brazil. Microsoft is also partnering with the Ministry of Economy “to help job matching for up to 25 million workers and is offering free digital skilling with the capacity to train up to 5.5 million people” and to use its AI to protect the rainforest. That last part may sound a bit naive, but the specific plan here is to use AI to predict likely deforestation zones based on data from satellite images.
In the suit, the Justice Department is expected to argue that Google used anticompetitive practices to safeguard its monopoly position as the dominant force in search and search-advertising, which sit at the foundation of the company’s extensive advertising, data mining, video distribution, and information services conglomerate.
It would be the first significant legal challenge that Google has faced from U.S. regulators despite years of investigations into the company’s practices.
A 2012 attempt to bring the company to the courts to answer for anti-competitive practices was ultimately scuttled because regulators at the time weren’t sure they could make the case stick. Since that time Alphabet’s value has skyrocketed to reach over $1 trillion (as of today’s share price).
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, holds a commanding lead in both search and video. The company dominates the search market — with roughly 90% of the world’s internet searches conducted on its platform — and roughly three quarters of American adults turn to YouTube for video, as the Journal reported.
In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice will say that Alphabet’s Google subsidiary uses a web of exclusionary business agreements to shut out competitors. The billions of dollars that the search giant collects wind up paying mobile phone companies, carriers and browsers to make the Google search engine a preset default. That blocks competitors from being able to access the kinds of queries and traffic they’d need to refine their own search engine.
It will be those relationships — alongside Google’s insistence that its search engine come pre-loaded (and un-deletable) on phones using the Android operating system and that other search engines specifically not be pre-loaded — that form part of the government’s case, according to Justice Department officials cited by the Journal.
The antitrust suit comes on the heels of a number of other regulatory actions involving Google, which is not only the dominant online search provider, but also a leader in online advertising and in mobile technology by way of Android, as well as a strong player in a web of other interconnected services like mapping, online productivity software, cloud computing and more.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, UNITED STATES – 2020/02/23: American multinational technology company Google logo seen at Google campus. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A report last Friday in Politico noted that Democrat Attorneys General would not be signing the suit. That report said those AGs have instead been working on a bipartisan, state-led approach covering a wider number of issues beyond search — the idea being also that more suits gives government potentially a stronger bargaining position against the tech giant.
A third suit is being put together by the state of Texas, although that has faced its own issues.
While a number of tech leviathans are facing increasing scrutiny from Washington, with the US now just two weeks from Election Day, it’s unlikely that we are going to see many developments around this and other cases before then. And in the case of this specific Google suit, in the event that Trump doesn’t get re-elected, there will also be a larger personnel shift at the DoJ that could also change the profile and timescale of the case.
In any event, fighting these regulatory cases is always a long, drawn-out process. In Europe, Google has faced a series of fines over antitrust violations stretching back several years, including a $2.7 billion fine over Google shopping; a $5 billion fine over Android dominance; and a $1.7 billion fine over search ad brokering. While Goolge slowly works through appeals, there are also more cases ongoing against the company in Europe and elsewhere.
Google is not the only one catching the attention of Washington. Earlier in October, the House Judiciary Committee released a report of more than 400 pages in which it outlined how tech giants Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook were abusing their power, covering everything from the areas in which they dominate, through to suggestions for how to fix the situation (including curtailing their acquisitions strategy).
That seemed mainly to be an exercise in laying out the state of things, which could in turn be used to inform further actions, although in itself, unlike the DoJ suit, the House report lacks teeth in terms of enforcement or remedies.
The Pocket 2 is the kind of device that makes me wish I got out a bit more. I’ve been testing it out for a few days, and, while it’s done a reasonably good job making my life look a bit more interesting, there’s only so much such a little device can do during this lockdown. That’s no fault of DJI’s of course. There’s only so much that can be done — and at the end of the day, a camera can only really work with the content you give it.
Even so, I’ve enjoyed my time with the product. As I did with its predecessor, the DJI Osmo Pocket. The device returns this week with a truncated name and a handful of improvements. Nothing on board is particularly revolutionary, but the original device was such a cool and innovative product when it first arrived roughly two years ago, the company can be forgiven for mostly focusing on refinement.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The line builds on DJI’s know-how, developed with years of drone imaging and gimbal expertise. Unlike, say the Ronin or Osmo Mobile lines, however, the product works as a standalone, with a small built-in display that records directly onto a microSD card. But as with the original, the whole getup works a heck of a lot better when you’ve got an Android or iOS handset to work with. The Pocket still does the majority of the heavy imaging lifting, but your phone just works as a much better preview screen and control center than the measly one built into the device.
The system ships with a pair of connectors: USB-C and Lightning, depending on your device. It’s a solid setup, best controlled with two hands. I didn’t have any issues, but I don’t entirely trust the integrity of a connector enough to hold it with one. Better yet, there are wireless accessories that allow for you to control the system remotely via phone. And speaking of accessories, I highly recommend getting a mini tripod or splurging for the bonus pack that includes one. It can be tricky propping the system up correctly for those modes that require minutes-long record times. More than once a video ended when the device fell over due to a strong gust.
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The underlying imaging hardware has been improved throughout. The camera now sports a larger sensor (64-megapixels) and wider lens, shooting better videos and stills than the original. The device can zoom up to 8x — though I’d recommend sticking with the 4x lossless optical, so as to not degrade those shots you’re taking. (HDR, incidentally, is coming at a later date.)
The mics, too, have been upgraded. There are four in total on board. Definitely use that optional wind noise reduction. For even better quality, the combo pack also includes a wireless microphone with windscreen, so that, too, may be worth investigating depending on what and where you plan to shoot. The three-axis gimbal does a good job keep things steady — and moves smoothly for a variety of different image and video capturing tasks. As with the last version, I found the battery to be lacking — that’s doubly the case for the gimbal charging up an attached phone by default.
As usual, the shooting modes are the real secret sauce. In particular, I’m really smitten with timelapse and hyperlapse. The former offers a sped-up image, using the gimbal to stabilize the shot as you move:
Image Credits: Brian Heater
Hyperlapse takes it a step further, mechanically moving the gimbal from left to right in slow increments that give a sweeping shot of a space over time:
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The system also borrows subject tracking from the drone line. Draw a rectangular around an object on the smartphone display and the gimbal will move along with it. The tracking proved to be pretty accurate, though I ran into some issues in the shadows and in situations when there’s a lot of divergent movement happening — like when I attempted to capture the runner in a softball game. On the whole however, it does a pretty solid job with people and animals alike.
The gimbal is also great for stitching together panorama shots — something that can be a pain on a standard smartphone. It can either do together a standard ultra wide 180-degree shot or create a highly detailed 3×3 image by essentially stitching together nine images in one:
Image Credits: Brian Heater
The Pocket 2 occupies a strange territory. It’s essentially a $349 add-on designed to augment smartphone photography. It’s an easy shortcut for grabbing some really cool shots, but pros are going to be much more interested in shooting with, say, a Ronin and an SLR. That leaves hobbyists with cash to spend on something that will, say, really wow their friends on social media. It’s a way to capture some drone-style shots without ever having to leave the ground.
It’s been nearly two years since DJI released the original Osmo Pocket. Honestly, the little gimbal is one of the most delightful products from a company that makes a lot of them. As — at best — an amateur smartphone photographer, I enjoyed my time with the product and am pretty psyched to get a little hands-on time with the sequel.
The new product streamlines the name a bit, dropping the “Osmo” to become, simply, the DJI Pocket 2. Like its predecessor, it works as both a standalone camera, or a smartphone accessory, using a handset and a large display to preview shots in real time. The three-axis gimbal can record 4K video at 60 frames a second. HDR video is now on board, as is a 8x hybrid zoom (or 4x optical). A four-mic system has been added to improve sound recording.
As ever with DJI, the software is a big piece. I was really impressed with the way the company was able to bring some of its drones’ more advanced shooting modes to the product, allowing for polished, cinematic shots on a pocket-sized device. The new version has a half-dozen or so different modes. Per DJI:
- Pro Mode: Control advanced camera settings such as ISO, shutter speed, EV, and focus mode.
- ActiveTrack 3.0: Select a subject and let DJI Pocket 2 keep it in the frame automatically.
- Slow Motion: Capture the fast-moving world in slow motion with a max speed and resolution of 8x at 1080p.
- Timelapse, Hyperlapse, Motionlapse: Speed up the world around you with the varying effects of three different time-lapse operations. Hyperlapse automatically integrates Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) for added smoothness. Users have the ability to save individual images separately, record in RAW format, and use ActiveTrack 3.0.
- 180° Pano: Captures four photos for sweeping landscape images.
- 3×3 Pano: Merges nine images for a wide and detailed view.
- Livestreaming: Livestream directly to Facebook, YouTube, or RTMP.
- Story Mode: Preset camera movements, color profiles, and music make it easier to choose a template, record the moment, and share to social media instantly
The hardware’s been redesigned a bit this time out, with a removable baseplate for attaching a bunch of new accessories, including an additional microphone, charging case and wireless housing. There’s a wireless module as well, which lets it connect to a smartphone without having to plug it in directly.
Image Credits: DJI
It’s a pricey little deal, as far as mobile gimbals go, owing to all of the hardware on board. It retains the original’s $349 starting price, which includes a control stick and tripod mount. The $499 Creator Combo adds a wide-angle lens, wireless mic with windscreen and a mini tripod. Both are available through DJI’s site starting November 1.
At its MAX conference, Adobe today announced the launch of the latest version of Lightroom, its popular photo management and editing tool. The highlights of today’s release are the introduction of a new color grading tool that’s more akin to what you’d find in a video editor like Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve, auto versioning that’s saved in the cloud (and hence not available in Lightroom Classic) and graphical watermarks, in addition to a number of other small feature updates across the application.
Adobe had already teased the launch of the new color grading feature last month, which was probably a good idea given how much of a change this is for photographers who have used Lightroom before. Adjusting color is, after all, one of the main features of Lightroom and this is a major change.
At its core, the new color wheels replace the existing ‘split toning’ controls in Lightroom.
“Color Grading is an extension of Split Toning — it can do everything Split Toning did, plus much more,” Adobe’s Max Wendt explains in today’s announcement. “Your existing images with Split Toning settings will look exactly the same as they did before, your old Split Toning presets will also still look the same when you apply them, and you can still get the same results if you had a familiar starting point when doing Split Toning manually.”
My guess is that it’ll take a while for many Lightroom users to get a hang of these new color wheels. Overall, though, I think this new system is more intuitive than the current split toning feature that a lot of users regularly ignored.
The new color grading feature will be available across platforms and in Lightroom Classic, as well as Camera Raw.
The other new feature Adobe is highlighting with this release is graphical watermarks (available on Windows, Mac, iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS), that augments the existing text-based watermarking in Lightroom. This does exactly what the name implies and the watermarks are automatically applied when you share or export and image.
The most important overall quality of life feature the team is adding is auto versions (also available on Windows, Mac, iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS). This makes it far easier to save different versions of an image — and these versions are synced across platforms. That way, you can easily go back and forth between different edits and revert those as necessary, too.
With its new ‘best photos’ feature, Adobe is now also using its Ai smarts to find the best photos you’ve taken, but only on iOS, iPadOS, and Android, Chrome OS and the web. It’ll look at the technical aspects of your photo, as well as whether your subjects have their eyes open and face forward, for example, and the overall framing of the image. Users can decide how many of their images make the cut by toggling a threshold slider.
Another nifty new feature for Canon shooters who use Lightroom Classic is the addition of a tethered live view for Canon – with support for other cameras coming soon. With this, you get a real-time feed from your camera, making it easier to collaborate with others in real time.