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Twitter expands Spaces to anyone with 600+ followers, details plans for tickets, reminders and more

By Sarah Perez

Twitter Spaces, the company’s new live audio rooms feature, is opening up more broadly. The company announced today it’s making Twitter Spaces available to any account with 600 followers or more, including both iOS and Android users. It also officially unveiled some of the features it’s preparing to launch, like Ticketed Spaces, scheduling features, reminders, support for co-hosting, accessibility improvements, and more.

Along with the expansion, Twitter is making Spaces more visible on its platform, too. The company notes it has begun testing the ability to find and join a Space from a purple bubble around someone’s profile picture right from the Home timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter says it decided on the 600 follower figure as being the minimum to gain access to Twitter Spaces based on its earlier testing. Accounts with 600 or more followers tend to have “a good experience” hosting live conversations because they have a larger existing audience who can tune in. However, Twitter says it’s still planning to bring Spaces to all users in the future.

In the meantime, it’s speeding ahead with new features and developments. Twitter has been building Spaces in public, taking into consideration user feedback as it prioritizes features and updates. Already, it has built out an expanded set of audience management controls, as users requested, introduced a way for hosts to mute all speakers at once, and added the laughing emoji to its set of reactions, after users requested it.

Now, its focus is turning towards creators. Twitter Spaces will soon support multiple co-hosts, and creators will be able to better market and even charge for access to their live events on Twitter Spaces. One feature, arriving in the next few weeks, will allow users to schedule and set reminders about Spaces they don’t want to miss. This can also help creators who are marketing their event in advance, as part of the RSVP process could involve pushing users to “set a reminder” about the upcoming show.

Twitter Spaces’ rival, Clubhouse, also just announced a reminders feature during its Townhall event on Sunday as well at the start of its external Android testing. The two platforms, it seems, could soon be neck-and-neck in terms of feature set.

Image Credits: Twitter

But while Clubhouse recently launched in-app donations feature as a means of supporting favorite creators, Twitter will soon introduce a more traditional means of generating revenue from live events: selling tickets. The company says it’s working on a feature that will allow hosts to set ticket prices and how many are available to a given event, in order to give them a way of earning revenue from their Twitter Spaces.

A limited group of testers will gain access to Ticketed Spaces in the coming months, Twitter says. Unlike Clubhouse, which has yet to tap into creator revenue streams, Twitter will take a small cut from these ticket sales. However, it notes that the “majority” of the revenue will go to the creators themselves.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter also noted that it’s improving its accessibility feature, live captions, so they can be paused and customized, and is working to make them more accurate.

The company will be hosting a Twitter Space of its own today around 1 PM PT to further discuss these announcements in more detail.

Clubhouse begins externally testing its Android app

By Sarah Perez

Clubhouse, the voice-based networking app that’s now being knocked off by every major tech platform, is bringing its service to Android. The company announced during its weekly Townhall event that its Android version has entered beta testing with a handful of non-employees who will provide the company with early feedback ahead of a public launch.

In its release notes, Clubhouse referred to this test as involving a “rough beta version” that’s in the process of being rolled out to a group of “friendly testers.” That means there’s not a way for the broader public to sign up for the Android app just yet.

The lack of an Android client combined with its invite system initially gave Clubhouse an aura of exclusivity. You had to know someone to get in, and then you would need an iOS device to participate. But the delay to provide access to Android users also gave larger competitors time to catch up with Clubhouse and court users who were being left behind. One of the largest of the rivals, Facebook, recently challenged Clubhouse across all its platforms and services, in fact.

Facebook announced a full audio strategy that included a range of new products, from short-form audio snippets to a direct Clubhouse clone that works across Facebook and Messenger. It also announced a way for Instagram Live users to turn off their video and mute their mics, similar to Clubhouse. Even Facebook’s R&D division tested a Clubhouse alternative, Hotline, which offers a sort of mashup between the popular audio app and Instagram Live, with more of a Q&A focus.

Meanwhile, Twitter is continuing to expand its audio rooms feature, Twitter Spaces, and there are Clubhouse alternatives from Reddit, LinkedIn, Spotify, Discord, Telegram, and others, in the works, too.

For Clubhouse, that means the time has come to push for growth — especially as there are already some signs its initial hype is wearing off. According to app store intelligence firm Apptopia, Clubhouse has seen an estimated 13.5 million downloads on iOS to date, but the number of daily downloads has been falling, mirroring a decline in the number of daily active users.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia’s data shows that Clubhouse’s daily active users are down 68% from a high in February 2021, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that Clubhouse is over — it’s just becoming less of a daily habit. However, if the company is able to build out its creator community and establish a number of popular shows, which it’s aiming to do via its accelerator, it could still see users tuning in on a weekly and monthly basis. And those sessions would be longer in comparison with some other social apps, as Clubhouse users often tune into shows that run over an hour — even leaving the app open as they do other tasks.

Plus, Clubhouse is taking aim at the challenges around re-engaging people whose usage may have dwindled in recent days. Also during its Townhall, the company announced it would introduce a bell icon for events that will allow users to be notified about the events they’ve RSVP’d to. This will be important for creators who are advertising their events, as well.

Clubhouse didn’t give a specific timeframe as to when its Android app would reach more testers or the wider public, only noting that it’s looking forward to welcoming more Android users in the “coming weeks.” In March, Clubhouse had said the Android launch would take a couple of months.

 

Analytics as a service: Why more enterprises should consider outsourcing

By Ram Iyer
Joey Lei Contributor
Joey Lei is director of service management at Synoptek. With more than 14 years of experience in engineering and product management, Lei is responsible for the development and growth of the Synoptek service portfolio and solution development with strategic technology alliance partners.
Debbie Zelten Contributor
Debbie Zelten (SAFe(R) 4 Agilist, SAFe Scrum Master, CSM, LSSGB, PMI-ACP) is the director of application development and business intelligence at Synoptek. She has over 20 years of experience in implementing software and data analytics solutions for companies of all sizes.

With an increasing number of enterprise systems, growing teams, a rising proliferation of the web and multiple digital initiatives, companies of all sizes are creating loads of data every day. This data contains excellent business insights and immense opportunities, but it has become impossible for companies to derive actionable insights from this data consistently due to its sheer volume.

According to Verified Market Research, the analytics-as-a-service (AaaS) market is expected to grow to $101.29 billion by 2026. Organizations that have not started on their analytics journey or are spending scarce data engineer resources to resolve issues with analytics implementations are not identifying actionable data insights. Through AaaS, managed services providers (MSPs) can help organizations get started on their analytics journey immediately without extravagant capital investment.

MSPs can take ownership of the company’s immediate data analytics needs, resolve ongoing challenges and integrate new data sources to manage dashboard visualizations, reporting and predictive modeling — enabling companies to make data-driven decisions every day.

AaaS could come bundled with multiple business-intelligence-related services. Primarily, the service includes (1) services for data warehouses; (2) services for visualizations and reports; and (3) services for predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). When a company partners with an MSP for analytics as a service, organizations are able to tap into business intelligence easily, instantly and at a lower cost of ownership than doing it in-house. This empowers the enterprise to focus on delivering better customer experiences, be unencumbered with decision-making and build data-driven strategies.

Organizations that have not started on their analytics journey or are spending scarce data engineer resources to resolve issues with analytics implementations are not identifying actionable data insights.

In today’s world, where customers value experiences over transactions, AaaS helps businesses dig deeper into their psyche and tap insights to build long-term winning strategies. It also enables enterprises to forecast and predict business trends by looking at their data and allows employees at every level to make informed decisions.

Instagram Live takes on Clubhouse with options to mute and turn off the video

By Sarah Perez

In addition to Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor built within Messenger Rooms and its experiments with a Clubhouse-like Q&A platform on the web, the company is now leveraging yet another of its largest products to take on the Clubhouse threat: Instagram Live. Today, Instagram announced it’s adding new features that will allow users to mute their microphones and even turn their video off while using Instagram Live.

Instagram explains these new features will give hosts more flexibility during their livestream experiences, as they can decrease the pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live. While that may be true, the reality is that Facebook is simply taking another page from Clubhouse’s playbook by enabling a “video off” experience that encourages more serendipitous conversations.

When people don’t have to worry about how they look, they’ll often be more amenable to jumping into a voice chat. In addition, being audio-only allows creators to engage with their community while multitasking — perhaps they’re doing chores or moving around, and can’t sit and stare right at the camera. To date, this has been one of the advantages about using Clubhouse versus live video chat. You could participate in Clubhouse’s voice chat rooms without always having to give the conversation your full attention or worrying about background noise.

For the time being, hosts will not be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in the livestream, but Instagram tells us it’s working on offering more of these types of capabilities to the broadcaster, and expects to roll them out soon.

Instagram notes it tested the new features publicly earlier this week during an Instagram Live between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri.

This isn’t the first feature Instagram has added in recent weeks to lure the creator community to its platform instead of Clubhouse or other competitors. In March, Instagram rolled out the option for creators to host Live Rooms that allow up to four people to broadcast at the same time. The Rooms were meant to appeal to creators who wanted to host live talk shows, expanded Q&As and more — all experiences that are often found on Clubhouse. It also added the ability for fans to buy badges to support the hosts, to cater to the needs of professional creators looking to monetize their reach.

Although Instagram parent company Facebook already has a more direct Clubhouse clone in development with Live Audio Rooms on Facebook and Messenger, the company said it doesn’t expect it to launch into testing until this summer. And it will first be available to Groups and public figures, not the broader public.

Instagram Live’s new features, meanwhile, are rolling out to Instagram’s global audience on both iOS and Android starting today.

Facebook introduces a new miniplayer that streams Spotify within the Facebook app

By Sarah Perez

Facebook announced last week an expanded partnership with streaming music service Spotify that would bring a new way to listen to music or podcasts directly within Facebook’s app, which it called Project Boombox. Today, the companies are rolling out this integration via a new “miniplayer” experience that will allow Facebook users to stream from Spotify through the Facebook app on iOS or Android. The feature will be available to both free Spotify users and Premium subscribers.

The miniplayer itself is an extension of the social sharing option already supported within Spotify’s app. Now, when Spotify users are listening to content they want to share to Facebook, they’ll be able to tap the existing “Share” menu (the three dot-menu at the upper right of the screen) and then tap either “Facebook” or “Facebook News Feed.”

When a user posts an individual track or podcast episode to Facebook through this sharing feature, the post will now display in a new miniplayer that allows other people who come across their post to also play the content as they continue to scroll, or reshare it. (Cue MySpace vibes!)

Spotify’s paid subscribers will be able to access full playback, the company says. Free users, meanwhile, will be able to hear the full shared track, not a clip . But afterwards, they’ll continue to listen to ad-supported content on Shuffle mode, just as they would in Spotify’s own app.

One important thing to note here about all this works is that the integration allows the music or podcast content to actually play from within the Spotify app. When a user presses play on the miniplayer, an app switch takes place so the user can log into Spotify. The miniplayer activates and controls the launch and playback in the Spotify app — which is how the playback is able continue even as the user scrolls on Facebook or if they minimize the Facebook app altogether.

This setup means users will need to have the Spotify mobile app installed on their phone and a Spotify account for the miniplayer to work. For first-time Spotify users, they’ll have to sign up for a free account in order to listen to the music shared via the miniplayer.

Spotify notes that it’s not possible to sign up for a paid account through the mini-player experience itself, so there’s no revenue share with Facebook on new subscriptions. (Users have to download the Spotify app and sign up for Paid accounts from there if they want to upgrade.)

The partnership allows Spotify to leverage Facebook’s reach to gain distribution and to drive both sign-ups and repeat usage of its app just as the Covid bump to subscriber growth may be wearing off. However, it’s still responsible for the royalties paid on streams, just as it was before, the company told TechCrunch, because its app is the one actually doing the streaming. It’s also fully in charge of the music catalog and audio ads that play alongside the content.

For Facebook, this deal means it now has a valuable tool to keep users spending time on its site — a metric that has been declining over the years, reports have indicated.

Spotify and Facebook have a long history of working together on music efforts. Facebook back in 2011 had been planning an update that would allow music subscription users to engage with music directly on Facebook, much like this. But those plans were later dialed back, possibly over music rights’ or technical issues. Spotify had also been one of the first media partners on Facebook’s ticker, which would show you in real-time what friends were up to on Facebook and other services. And Spotify had once offered Facebook Login as the default for its mobile app. Today, as it has for years, Spotify users on the desktop can see what their Facebook friends are streaming on its app, thanks to social networking integrations.

The timing for this renewed and extended partnership is interesting. Now, both Facebook and Spotify have a mutual enemy with Apple, whose privacy-focused changes are impacting Facebook’s ad business and whose investments in Apple Music and Podcasts are a threat to Spotify. As Facebook’s own music efforts in more recent years have shifted towards partnership efforts — like music video integrations enabled by music label agreements — it makes sense that it would turn to a partner like Spotify to power a new streaming feature that supports Facebook’s broader efforts around monetizable tools and services aimed at the creator economy.

The miniplayer feature had been tested in non-U.S. markets, Mexico and Thailand, ahead of its broader global launch today.

In addition to the U.S., the integration is fully rolling out to users in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay.

5 emerging use cases for productivity infrastructure in 2021

By Ram Iyer
Gleb Polyakov Contributor
Gleb Polyakov is co-founder and CEO of Nylas, which provides productivity infrastructure solutions for modern software. Gleb studied Physics at Georgia Tech and enjoys chess, motorcycles and space. Previously, he worked in finance and founded an IoT coffee company.

When the world flipped upside down last year, nearly every company in every industry was forced to implement a remote workforce in just a matter of days — they had to scramble to ensure employees had the right tools in place and customers felt little to no impact. While companies initially adopted solutions for employee safety, rapid response and short-term air cover, they are now shifting their focus to long-term, strategic investments that empower growth and streamline operations.

As a result, categories that make up productivity infrastructure — cloud communications services, API platforms, low-code development tools, business process automation and AI software development kits — grew exponentially in 2020. This growth was boosted by an increasing number of companies prioritizing tools that support communication, collaboration, transparency and a seamless end-to-end workflow.

Productivity infrastructure is on the rise and will continue to be front and center as companies evaluate what their future of work entails and how to maintain productivity, rapid software development and innovation with distributed teams.

According to McKinsey & Company, the pandemic accelerated the share of digitally enabled products by seven years, and “the digitization of customer and supply-chain interactions and of internal operations by three to four years.” As demand continues to grow, companies are taking advantage of the benefits productivity infrastructure brings to their organization both internally and externally, especially as many determine the future of their work.

Automate workflows and mitigate risk

Developers rely on platforms throughout the software development process to connect data, process it, increase their go-to-market velocity and stay ahead of the competition with new and existing products. They have enormous amounts of end-user data on hand, and productivity infrastructure can remove barriers to access, integrate and leverage this data to automate the workflow.

Access to rich interaction data combined with pre-trained ML models, automated workflows and configurable front-end components enables developers to drastically shorten development cycles. Through enhanced data protection and compliance, productivity infrastructure safeguards critical data and mitigates risk while reducing time to ROI.

As the post-pandemic workplace begins to take shape, how can productivity infrastructure support enterprises where they are now and where they need to go next?

As UiPath closes above its final private valuation, CFO Ashim Gupta discusses his company’s path to market

By Alex Wilhelm

After an upward revision, UiPath priced its IPO last night at $56 per share, a few dollars above its raised target range. The above-range price meant that the unicorn put more capital into its books through its public offering.

For a company in a market as competitive as robotic process automation (RPA), the funds are welcome. In fact, RPA has been top of mind for startups and established companies alike over the last year or so. In that time frame, enterprise stalwarts like SAP, Microsoft, IBM and ServiceNow have been buying smaller RPA startups and building their own, all in an effort to muscle into an increasingly lucrative market.

In June 2019, Gartner reported that RPA was the fastest-growing area in enterprise software, and while the growth has slowed down since, the sector is still attracting attention. UIPath, which Gartner found was the market leader, has been riding that wave, and today’s capital influx should help the company maintain its market position.

It’s worth noting that when the company had its last private funding round in February, it brought home $750 million at an impressive valuation of $35 billion. But as TechCrunch noted over the course of its pivot to the public markets, that round valued the company above its final IPO price. As a result, this week’s $56-per-share public offer wound up being something of a modest down-round IPO to UiPath’s final private valuation.

Then, a broader set of public traders got hold of its stock and bid its shares higher. The former unicorn’s shares closed their first day’s trading at precisely $69, above the per-share price at which the company closed its final private round.

So despite a somewhat circuitous route, UiPath closed its first day as a public company worth more than it was in its Series F round — when it sold 12,043,202 shares sold at $62.27576 apiece, per SEC filings. More simply, UiPath closed today worth more per-share than it was in February.

How you might value the company, whether you prefer a simple or fully-diluted share count, is somewhat immaterial at this juncture. UiPath had a good day.

While it’s hard to know what the company might do with the proceeds, chances are it will continue to try to expand its platform beyond pure RPA, which could become market-limited over time as companies look at other, more modern approaches to automation. By adding additional automation capabilities — organically or via acquisitions — the company can begin covering broader parts of its market.

TechCrunch spoke with UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta today, curious about the company’s choice of a traditional IPO, its general avoidance of adjusted metrics in its SEC filings, and the IPO market’s current temperature. The final question was on our minds, as some companies have pulled their public listings in the wake of a market described as “challenging”.

Why did UiPath not direct list after its huge February raise?

Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

By Ram Iyer
Peter Wang Contributor
Peter Wang is CEO and co-founder of data science platform Anaconda. He’s also a co-creator of the PyData community and conferences, and a member of the board at the Center for Humane Technology.

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. (For perspective, one exabyte of storage could hold 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.) It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, rather than the numbers alone. As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Yet this can be an area where data scientists struggle. In Anaconda’s 2020 State of Data Science survey of more than 2,300 data scientists, nearly a quarter of respondents said that their data science or machine learning (ML) teams lacked communication skills. This may be one reason why roughly 40% of respondents said they were able to effectively demonstrate business impact “only sometimes” or “almost never.”

The best data practitioners must be as skilled in storytelling as they are in coding and deploying models — and yes, this extends beyond creating visualizations to accompany reports. Here are some recommendations for how data scientists can situate their results within larger contextual narratives.

Make the abstract more tangible

Ever-growing datasets help machine learning models better understand the scope of a problem space, but more data does not necessarily help with human comprehension. Even for the most left-brain of thinkers, it’s not in our nature to understand large abstract numbers or things like marginal improvements in accuracy. This is why it’s important to include points of reference in your storytelling that make data tangible.

For example, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with countless statistics around case counts, death rates, positivity rates, and more. While all of this data is important, tools like interactive maps and conversations around reproduction numbers are more effective than massive data dumps in terms of providing context, conveying risk, and, consequently, helping change behaviors as needed. In working with numbers, data practitioners have a responsibility to provide the necessary structure so that the data can be understood by the intended audience.

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

By Annie Siebert
Dharmesh Thakker Contributor
Dharmesh Thakker is a general partner at Battery Ventures and a former managing director at Intel Capital.

More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.

Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.

More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.

Graphic showing market cap at IPO and market cap today of various companies.

Image Credits: Battery Ventures via FactSet. Note that market data is current as of April 3, 2021.

In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.

Deepfake video app Avatarify, which processes on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

By Mike Butcher

Making deepfake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deepfake videos directly on their phone rather than in the cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.

However, the problem with many deepfake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.

Run out of Moscow but with a U.S. HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life and Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an angel round.

Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run rate with a team of less than 10 people.

It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the app for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.

The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.

Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture they want to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.

The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.

Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.

Co-founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent two hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.

They posted the code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.

Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1 million in revenue (Source: AppMagic).

However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deepfake videos remain, such as using these apps to make nonconsensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.

PlexTrac raises $10M Series A round for its collaboration-centric security platform

By Frederic Lardinois

PlexTrac, a Boise, ID-based security service that aims to provide a unified workflow automation platform for red and blue teams, today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Noro-Moseley Partners and Madrona Venture Group. StageDot0 ventures also participated in this round, which the company plans to use to build out its team and grow its platform.

With this new round, the company, which was founded in 2018, has now raised a total of $11 million, with StageDot0 leading its 2019 seed round.

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss

“I have been on both sides of the fence, the specialist who comes in and does the assessment, produces that 300-page report and then comes back a year later to find that some of the critical issues had not been addressed at all.  And not because the organization didn’t want to but because it was lost in that report,” PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss said. “These are some of the most critical findings for an entity from a risk perspective. By making it collaborative, both red and blue teams are united on the same goal we all share, to protect the network and assets.”

With an extensive career in security that included time as a penetration tester for Veracode and the Mayo Clinic, as well as senior information security advisor for Anthem, among other roles, DeCloss has quite a bit of first-hand experience that led him to found PlexTrac. Specifically, he believes that it’s important to break down the wall between offense-focused red teams and defense-centric blue teams.

Image Credits: PlexTrac

 

 

“Historically there has been more of the cloak and dagger relationship but those walls are breaking down– and rightfully so, there isn’t that much of that mentality today– people recognize they are on the same mission whether they are internal security team or an external team,” he said. “With the PlexTrac platform the red and blue teams have a better view into the other teams’ tactics and techniques – and it makes the whole process into an educational exercise for everyone.”

At its core, PlexTrac makes it easier for security teams to produce their reports — and hence free them up to actually focus on ‘real’ security work. To do so, the service integrates with most of the popular scanners like Qualys, and Veracode, but also tools like ServiceNow and Jira in order to help teams coordinate their workflows. All the data flows into real-time reports that then help teams monitor their security posture. The service also features a dedicated tool, WriteupsDB, for managing reusable write-ups to help teams deliver consistent reports for a variety of audiences.

“Current tools for planning, executing, and reporting on security testing workflows are either nonexistent (manual reporting, spreadsheets, documents, etc…) or exist as largely incomplete features of legacy platforms,” Madrona’s S. Somasegar and Chris Picardo write in today’s announcement. “The pain point for security teams is real and PlexTrac is able to streamline their workflows, save time, and greatly improve output quality. These teams are on the leading edge of attempting to find and exploit vulnerabilities (red teams) and defend and/or eliminate threats (blue teams).”

 

5 questions about Grab’s epic SPAC investor deck

By Alex Wilhelm

As expected, Southeast Asian super-app Grab is going public via a SPAC, or blank check company.

The combination, which TechCrunch discussed over the weekend, will value Grab on an equity basis at $39.6 billion and will provide around $4.5 billion in cash, $4.0 billion of which will come in the form of a private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Altimeter Capital is putting up $750 million in the PIPE — fitting, as Grab is merging with one of Alitmeter’s SPACs.

Grab, which provides ride-hailing, payments and food delivery, will trade under the ticker symbol “GRAB” on Nasdaq when the deal closes. The announcement comes a day after Uber told its investors it was seeing recovery in certain transactions, including ride-hailing and delivery.

Uber also told the investing public that it’s still on track to reach adjusted EBITDA profitability in Q4 2021. The American ride-hailing giant did a surprising amount of work clearing brush for the Grab deal. Extra Crunch examined Uber’s ramp towards profitability yesterday.

This morning, let’s talk through several key points from Grab’s SPAC investor deck. We’ll discuss growth, segment profitability, aggregate costs and COVID-19, among other factors. You can read along in the presentation here.

How harshly did COVID-19 impact the business?

The impact on Grab’s operations from COVID-19 resembles what happened to Uber in that the company’s deliveries business had a stellar 2020, while its ride-hailing business did not.

From a high level, Grab’s gross merchandise volume (GMV) was essentially flat from 2019 to 2020, rising from $12.2 billion to $12.5 billion. However, the company did manage to greatly boost its adjusted net revenue over the same period, which rose from $1.0 billion to $1.6 billion.

From pickup basketball to market domination: My wild ride with Coupang

By Ram Iyer
Ben Sun Contributor
Ben Sun is co-founder and general partner at Primary Venture Partners, a seed-stage VC firm based in NYC.

A month ago, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce giant — buoyed by $12 billion in 2020 revenue — raised $4.55 billion in its IPO and hit a valuation as high as $109 billion. It is the biggest U.S. IPO of the year so far, and the largest from an Asian company since Alibaba’s.

But long before founder Bom Kim rang the bell, I knew him as a fellow founder on the hunt for a good idea. We stayed in touch as he formed his vision for what would become Coupang, and I built it alongside him as an investor and board member.

As a board member, I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition offer from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously learned what he didn’t know, made a daring pivot even after becoming a billion-dollar company, and iteratively built a vision for end-to-end market dominance.

Why I like talking to founders early

In 2008, I met Bom while playing a weekend game of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance through my recently-sold startup, Community Connect Inc. He told me about the magazine he had sold and his search for a next move. So we agreed to meet up for lunch and go over some of his ideas.

To be honest, I don’t remember any of those early ideas, probably because they weren’t very good. But I really liked Bom. Even as I was crapping on his ideas, I could tell he was sharp from how he processed my feedback. It was obvious he was super smart and definitely worth keeping in touch with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.

I soon began investing in and incubating businesses, starting mostly with my own capital. When I got a call from an executive recruiter working for a company in Chicago called Groupon — who told me they were at a $50 million run rate in only a few months — I became fascinated with their model and started talking to some of the investors, former employees, and merchants.

Inspired, and as a new parent, I decided to launch a similar daily-deal business for families: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we offered deals on kids’ music classes and birthday party venues. While I was working on this idea, John Ason, an angel investor in Diapers.com, said I should meet with the founder and CEO Marc Lore. By the end of the meeting, Marc and I etched a partnership to launch DoodleDeals.com co-branded with Diapers.com. The first deal did over $70,000 — great start.

I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

All that time, I kept in touch with Bom. In February 2010, we were catching up over lunch at the Union Square Ippudo, and he asked if I had heard of Buywithme, a Boston-based Groupon clone. He hadn’t yet heard about Groupon, so I explained the business model and shared the numbers. He thought something similar might transfer well to South Korea, where he was born and his parents still lived.

This kind of conversation is exactly why I love working with founders early, even before the idea forms: You learn a lot about them as they explore, wrestle with uncertainty, and eventually build conviction on a business they plan to spend the next decade-plus building. Ultimately, success comes down to founders’ belief in themselves; when you develop the same belief in them as an investor, it is pretty magical. I was starting to really believe in Bom.

The idea gets real — and moves fast

I'm not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online.

I’m not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online. Image Credits: Ben Sun

I told Bom he should drop out of business school and do this. He said, “You don’t think I can wait until I graduate?” I responded, “No way! It will be over by then!”

First-mover advantage is real in a business like this, and it didn’t take Bom long to see that. He raised a small $1.3 million seed round. I invested, joined the board. Because of my knowledge of the deals market and my entrepreneurial experience, Bom asked me to get hands-on in Korea — not at all typical for an investor or even a board member, but I think of myself as a builder and not just a backer, and this is how I wanted to operate as an investor.

Once he realized time was of the essence, Bom was heads down. For context, he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, who also went to Harvard undergrad and was a successful lawyer. Imagine telling your fiancée, “Honey, I am dropping out of business school, moving to Korea to start a company. I will be back for the wedding. Not sure if I will ever be coming back to the U.S.”

I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — honestly as a friend. Enjoy your wedding. It is a real blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a site a few weeks before the wedding is going to be way too distracting and she won’t feel like your heart is in it. Launching a few weeks later is not going to make or break this business. Trust me.”

Bom didn’t listen. He launched Coupang in August 2010, two weeks before the wedding. He flew back to Boston, got married, and — running on basically no sleep — sneaked out for a 20-minute nap in the middle of his reception. Right after the wedding, he flew back to Seoul. Nancy has to be one of the most supportive and understanding partners I have ever seen. They are now married and have two kids.

Jumping on new distribution, turning down an acquisition offer

Twitter said to have held acquisition talks with Clubhouse on potential $4B deal

By Darrell Etherington

Twitter held talks with Clubhouse around a potential acquisition of the live drop-in audio networking platform, with a deal value somewhere around $4 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg. TechCrunch has also confirmed the discussions took place from a source familiar with the conversations.

While the talks occurred over the past several months, they’re no longer taking place, though the reason they ended isn’t known according to the report. It’s also worth noting that just a few days ago, Bloomberg reported that Clubhouse was seeking to raise a new round of funding at a valuation of around $4 billion, but the report detailing the potential acquisition talks indicate that the discussions with Twitter collapsed first, leading to a change in strategy to pursue securing additional capital in exchange for equity investment.

Twitter has its own product very similar to Clubhouse — Spaces, a drop-in audio chatroom feature that it has been rolling out gradually to its user base over the past few months. Clubhouse, meanwhile, just launched the first of its monetization efforts, Clubhouse Payments, which lets users send direct payments to other creators on the platform, provided that person has enabled receipt of said payments.

Interestingly, the monetization effort from Clubhouse actually doesn’t provide them with any money; instead, it’s monetization for recipient users who get 100% of the funds directed their way, minus a small cut for processing that goes directly to Stripe, the payment provider Clubhouse is using to enable the virtual tips.

While we aren’t privy to the specifics of these talks between Twitter and Clubhouse, it does seem like an awfully high price tag for the social network to pay for the audio app, especially given its own progress with Spaces. Clubhouse’s early traction has been undeniable, but there are a lot of questions still remaining about its longevity, and it’s also being cloned left and right by other platforms, begging the age-old startup question of whether it’s a feature or a product on its own.

Whatever went down, the timing of this revelation seems likely to prime the pump for Clubhouse’s conversation with potential investors at its target valuation for the round it’s looking to raise. Regardless, it’s exciting to have this kind of activity, buzz and attention paid to a consumer software play after many years of what one could argue has been a relatively lacklustre period for the category.

How Jamaica failed to handle its JamCOVID scandal

By Zack Whittaker

As governments scrambled to lock down their populations after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last March, some countries had plans underway to reopen. By June, Jamaica became one of the first countries to open its borders.

Tourism represents about one-fifth of Jamaica’s economy. In 2019 alone, four million travelers visited Jamaica, bringing thousands of jobs to its three million residents. But as COVID-19 stretched into the summer, Jamaica’s economy was in free fall, and tourism was its only way back — even if that meant at the expense of public health.

The Jamaican government contracted with Amber Group, a technology company headquartered in Kingston, to build a border entry system allowing residents and travelers back onto the island. The system was named JamCOVID and was rolled out as an app and a website to allow visitors to get screened before they arrive. To cross the border, travelers had to upload a negative COVID-19 test result to JamCOVID before boarding their flight from high-risk countries, including the United States.

Amber Group’s CEO Dushyant Savadia boasted that his company developed JamCOVID in “three days” and that it effectively donated the system to the Jamaican government, which in turn pays Amber Group for additional features and customizations. The rollout appeared to be a success, and Amber Group later secured contracts to roll out its border entry system to at least four other Caribbean islands.

But last month TechCrunch revealed that JamCOVID exposed immigration documents, passport numbers, and COVID-19 lab test results on close to half a million travelers — including many Americans — who visited the island over the past year. Amber Group had set the access to the JamCOVID cloud server to public, allowing anyone to access its data from their web browser.

Whether the data exposure was caused by human error or negligence, it was an embarrassing mistake for a technology company — and, by extension, the Jamaican government — to make.

And that might have been the end of it. Instead, the government’s response became the story.

A trio of security lapses

By the end of the first wave of coronavirus, contact tracing apps were still in their infancy and few governments had plans in place to screen travelers as they arrived at their borders. It was a scramble for governments to build or acquire technology to understand the spread of the virus.

Jamaica was one of a handful of countries using location data to monitor travelers, prompting rights groups to raise concerns about privacy and data protection.

As part of an investigation into a broad range of these COVID-19 apps and services, TechCrunch found that JamCOVID was storing data on an exposed, passwordless server.

This wasn’t the first time TechCrunch found security flaws or exposed data through our reporting. It also was not the first pandemic-related security scare. Israeli spyware maker NSO Group left real location data on an unprotected server that it used for demonstrating its new contact tracing system. Norway was one of the first countries with a contact tracing app, but pulled it after the country’s privacy authority found the continuous tracking of citizens’ location was a privacy risk.

Just as we have with any other story, we contacted who we thought was the server’s owner. We alerted Jamaica’s Ministry of Health to the data exposure on the weekend of February 13. But after we provided specific details of the exposure to ministry spokesperson Stephen Davidson, we did not hear back. Two days later, the data was still exposed.

After we spoke to two American travelers whose data was spilling from the server, we narrowed down the owner of the server to Amber Group. We contacted its chief executive Savadia on February 16, who acknowledged the email but did not comment, and the server was secured about an hour later.

We ran our story that afternoon. After we published, the Jamaican government issued a statement claiming the lapse was “discovered on February 16” and was “immediately rectified,” neither of which were true.

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Instead, the government responded by launching a criminal investigation into whether there was any “unauthorized” access to the unprotected data that led to our first story, which we perceived to be a thinly veiled threat directed at this publication. The government said it had contacted its overseas law enforcement partners.

When reached, a spokesperson for the FBI declined to say whether the Jamaican government had contacted the agency.

Things didn’t get much better for JamCOVID. In the days that followed the first story, the government engaged a cloud and cybersecurity consultant, Escala 24×7, to assess JamCOVID’s security. The results were not disclosed, but the company said it was confident there was “no current vulnerability” in JamCOVID. Amber Group also said that the lapse was a “completely isolated occurrence.”

A week went by and TechCrunch alerted Amber Group to two more security lapses. After the attention from the first report, a security researcher who saw the news of the first lapse found exposed private keys and passwords for JamCOVID’s servers and databases hidden on its website, and a third lapse that spilled quarantine orders for more than half a million travelers.

Amber Group and the government claimed it faced “cyberattacks, hacking and mischievous players.” In reality, the app was just not that secure.

Politically inconvenient

The security lapses come at a politically inconvenient time for the Jamaican government, as it attempts to launch a national identification system, or NIDS, for the second time. NIDS will store biographic data on Jamaican nationals, including their biometrics, such as their fingerprints.

The repeat effort comes two years after the government’s first law was struck down by Jamaica’s High Court as unconstitutional.

Critics have cited the JamCOVID security lapses as a reason to drop the proposed national database. A coalition of privacy and rights groups cited the recent issues with JamCOVID for why a national database is “potentially dangerous for Jamaicans’ privacy and security.” A spokesperson for Jamaica’s opposition party told local media that there “wasn’t much confidence in NIDS in the first place.”

It’s been more than a month since we published the first story and there are many unanswered questions, including how Amber Group secured the contract to build and run JamCOVID, how the cloud server became exposed, and if security testing was conducted before its launch.

TechCrunch emailed both the Jamaican prime minister’s office and Jamaica’s national security minister Matthew Samuda to ask how much, if anything, the government donated or paid to Amber Group to run JamCOVID and what security requirements, if any, were agreed upon for JamCOVID. We did not get a response.

Amber Group also has not said how much it has earned from its government contracts. Amber Group’s Savadia declined to disclose the value of the contracts to one local newspaper. Savadia did not respond to our emails with questions about its contracts.

Following the second security lapse, Jamaica’s opposition party demanded that the prime minister release the contracts that govern the agreement between the government and Amber Group. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said at a press conference that the public “should know” about government contracts but warned “legal hurdles” may prevent disclosure, such as for national security reasons or when “sensitive trade and commercial information” might be disclosed.

That came days after local newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner had a request to obtain contracts revealing the salaries state officials denied by the government under a legal clause that prevents the disclosure of an individual’s private affairs. Critics argue that taxpayers have a right to know how much government officials are paid from public funds.

Jamaica’s opposition party also asked what was done to notify victims.

Government minister Samuda initially downplayed the security lapse, claiming just 700 people were affected. We scoured social media for proof but found nothing. To date, we’ve found no evidence that the Jamaican government ever informed travelers of the security incident — either the hundreds of thousands of affected travelers whose information was exposed, or the 700 people that the government claimed it notified but has not publicly released.

TechCrunch emailed the minister to request a copy of the notice that the government allegedly sent to victims, but we did not receive a response. We also asked Amber Group and Jamaica’s prime minister’s office for comment. We did not hear back.

Many of the victims of the security lapse are from the United States. Neither of the two Americans we spoke to in our first report were notified of the breach.

Spokespeople for the attorneys general of New York and Florida, whose residents’ information was exposed, told TechCrunch that they had not heard from either the Jamaican government or the contractor, despite state laws requiring data breaches to be disclosed.

The reopening of Jamaica’s borders came at a cost. The island saw over a hundred new cases of COVID-19 in the month that followed, the majority arriving from the United States. From June to August, the number of new coronavirus cases went from tens to dozens to hundreds each day.

To date, Jamaica has reported over 39,500 cases and 600 deaths caused by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Holness reflected on the decision to reopen its borders last month in parliament to announce the country’s annual budget. He said the country’s economic decline last was “driven by a massive 70% contraction in our tourist industry.” More than 525,000 travelers — both residents and tourists — have arrived in Jamaica since the borders opened, Holness said, a figure slightly more than the number of travelers’ records found on the exposed JamCOVID server in February.

Holness defended reopening the country’s borders.

“Had we not done this the fall out in tourism revenues would have been 100% instead of 75%, there would be no recovery in employment, our balance of payment deficit would have worsened, overall government revenues would have been threatened, and there would be no argument to be made about spending more,” he said.

Both the Jamaican government and Amber Group benefited from opening the country’s borders. The government wanted to revive its falling economy, and Amber Group enriched its business with fresh government contracts. But neither paid enough attention to cybersecurity, and victims of their negligence deserve to know why.


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RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

By Ron Miller

When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $35 billion when it raised $750 million in its latest round.

RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.

While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.

As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.

We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.

Meet the vendors

UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.

Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.

Instagram officially launches Remix on Reels, a TikTok Duets-like feature

By Sarah Perez

Instagram today is officially launching a new feature called Remix, which offers a way to record your Reels video alongside a video from another user. The option is similar to TikTok’s existing Duets feature, which also lets users to react to or interact with another person’s video content while creating their own. Instagram’s new feature has been in public testing before today, so some Instagram users may have already gained access.

We recently reported on Instagram’s plans with Remix, when noting that Snapchat was developing a Remix feature of its own. In fact, Snapchat is also using the name “Remix” for its TikTok Duets rival that’s currently in development.

On TikTok, Duets are a key part to making the app feel more like a social network and less of just a passive video-watching experience. Users take advantage of Duets to sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video. They will do things like cook someone else’s recipe, record a reaction video, or even just watch a video from a smaller creator to give them a boost.

Meanwhile, TikTok competitors — like Instagram Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight or YouTube’s Shorts, for example — have launched their short-form video experiences without a full set of engagement or editing features like TikTok has, making their apps feel like pale knock-offs of the original. Remix on Reels is a first step towards changing that perception, by giving users at least one important option to engage and collaborate with their fellow creatives.

Re-re-re-remix 🤩

Now you can use the Remix feature in Reels to create your own reel next to one that already exists 🎭

Whether you’re capturing your reaction, responding to friends or bringing your own magic to trends, Remix is another way to collab on Instagram ✨pic.twitter.com/eU8x74Q3yf

— Instagram (@instagram) March 31, 2021

To use the new Remix feature, you’ll first tap on the three-dot menu on a Reel and select the new “Remix this Reel” option. The screen will then split into the original Reel and your own new one, where you can begin to record side-by-side with the original. When you’ve finished, you can tweak other aspects of the recording like the volume of the original video or your audio and you can optionally add a voiceover. After applying these or any other edits, you can publish the Remix.

The feature will only be available on newly uploaded Reels — so unfortunately, if you want your older Reels to be duetted, you either need to reupload them or go back to your old Reel and specifically enable Remix.

Image Credits: Instagram

Your Remixes will appear alongside any other Reels you’ve recorded on the Reels tab on your Instagram profile, and you’ll be able to track who has remixed your content through Instagram’s Activity tab.

The feature is rolling out, starting today, says Instagram. It will be enabled by default on all new Reels published from a public account.

Consumers spent $32B on apps in Q1 2021, the biggest quarter on record

By Sarah Perez

The pandemic’s remarkable impact on the app industry has not slowed down in 2021. In fact, consumer spending in apps has hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, a new report from App Annie indicates. The firm says consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, App Annie also notes.

Last year saw both app downloads and consumer spend increase, as people rapidly adopted apps under coronavirus lockdowns — including apps for work, school, shopping, fitness, entertainment, gaming and more. App Annie previously reported a record 218 billion in global downloads and record consumer spend of $143 billion for the year.

Image Credits: App Annie

These trends have continued into 2021, it seems, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020. Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion vs. $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%.

But the types of apps driving spending were slightly different from store to store.

On Google Play, Games, Social and Entertainment apps saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in terms of consumer spending, while Games, Photo & Video, and Entertainment apps accounted for the strongest growth on iOS.

By downloads, the categories were different between the stores, as well.

On Google Play, Social, Tools, and Fiance saw the biggest download growth in Q1, while Games, Finance and Social Networking drove download growth for iOS. Also on Google Play, other top categories included Weather (40%) and Dating (35%), while iOS saw Health and Fitness app downloads grow by a notable 25% — likely a perfect storm as New Year’s Resolutions combined with continued stay-at-measures that encouraged users to find new ways to stay fit without going to a gym.

Image Credits: App Annie

The top apps in the quarter remained fairly consistent, however. TikTok beat Facebook, in terms of downloads, and was followed by Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and Zoom. But the short-form video app only made it to No. 2 in terms of consumer spend, with YouTube snagging the top spot. Tinder, Disney+, Tencent Video, and others followed. (Netflix has dropped off this chart as it now directs new users to sign up directly, rather than through in-app purchases).

Image Credits: App Annie

Though Facebook’s apps have fallen behind TikTok by downloads, its apps — including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — still led the market in terms monthly active users (MAUs) in the quarter. TikTok, meanwhile, ranked No. 8 by this metric.

Up-and-comers in the quarter included privacy-focused messaging app Signal, which saw the strongest growth in the quarter by both downloads and MAUs — a calculation that App Annie calls “breakout apps.”  Telegram closely followed, as users bailed from mainstream social after the Capitol riot. Another “breakout” app was MX TakaTak, which is filling the hole in the market for short-form video that resulted from India’s ban  of TikTok.

Image Credits: App Annie

Gaming, meanwhile, drove a majority of the quarter’s spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%). Gamers downloaded about a billion titles per week, up 15% year-over-year from 2020.

Among Us! dropped to No. 2 in the quarter by downloads, replaced by Join Clash 3D, while DOP 2: Delete One Part jumped 308 places to reach No. 3.

Image Credits: App Annie

Roblox led by consumer spend, followed by Genshin Impact, Coin Master, Pokemon Go and others. And although Among Us! dropped on the charts by downloads, it remained No. 1 by monthly active users in the quarter, followed by PUBG Mobile, Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and others.

App Annie notes that the pandemic also accelerated the mobile gaming market, with game downloads outpacing overall downloads by 2.5x in 2020. It predicts that mobile gaming will reach  $120 billion in consumer spending this year, or 1.5x all other gaming formats combined.

Duo goes passwordless

By Frederic Lardinois

Duo, the authentication service Cisco acquired for $2.35 billion in 2018, today announced its plans to launch a passwordless authentication service that will allow users to log in to their Duo-protected services through security keys or platform biometrics like Apple’s Face ID or Microsoft’s Windows Hello. The infrastructure-agnostic service will go into public preview in the summer.

“Cisco has strived to develop passwordless authentication that meets the needs of a diverse and evolving workforce and allows the broadest set of enterprises to securely progress towards a passwordless future, regardless of their IT stack,” said Gee Rittenhouse, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security Business Group. “It’s not an overstatement to say that passwordless authentication will have the most meaningful global impact on how users access data by making the easiest path the most secure.”

If you’re using Duo or a similar product today, chances are that you are using both passwords and a second factor to log into your work applications. But users are notoriously bad about their password hygiene — and to the despair of any IT department, they also keep forgetting them.

In the standard two-factor authentication scheme, the second factor is basically an extra moat around your password. Passwordless is essentially another form of two-factor authentication, but it instead of passwords, it relies on cryptographic key pairs, be that with the help of a hardware security key or biometric authentication.

Duo’s passwordless service relies on the Web Authentication standard which ensures that your data is stored locally and not on a centralized server, too.

According to Duo’s own data, we have now reached a point where the hardware is ready for passwordless, with 80 percent of mobile devices now offering support for biometrics.

“Passwordless is a journey requiring incremental changes in users and IT environments alike, not something enterprises can enable overnight,” said Wolfgang Goerlich, Advisory Chief Information Security Officer, Duo Security at Cisco. “Duo can help enterprises transition their environments and workforces securely and minimize user friction while simultaneously increasing trust in every authentication.”

Our favorite companies from Y Combinator’s W21 Demo Day: Part 2

By Devin Coldewey

We’ve reached the end of Y Combinator’s biggest Demo Day, which saw more than 300 companies pitching back-to-back over eight hours.

Earlier, we highlighted some of the companies that caught our eye in the first half of the day. Now we’re back with our favorite companies from the second half. From a marketplace to help you resell formalwear to a startup that offers self-driving street cleaners, it’s quite the mix.

If you’d like to browse all of the companies from this batch YC has a catalog of publicly-launched W21 companies here.

Terra

Heading into this particular demo day, I had my eyes peeled for startups focused on delivering services via an API instead of offering managed software. Happily, there have been a number to dig into, including Pitbit.ai, Bimaplan, Enode and Terra.

Terra stood out to me because it solves a problem I care deeply about, namely fitness data siloization. My running data is stuck in one app, biking data in another, and my weight-lifting data is stuck in my head, though I doubt Terra has an API for that interface quite yet.

What Terra does is permit fitness app developers to better connect their services, which permits the sharing of data back and forth. Presenters likened their startup to Plaid — a popular thing to do in recent quarters — saying that what the fintech startup did for banking data, Terra would do for fitness and health information.

Getting developers to sign on will be tricky, as I presume all of the apps I use in an exercise context would prefer to be my main workout home. But I don’t want that, so here’s hoping Terra realizes its vision.

— Alex

AgendaPro

Calling itself “Shopify for beauty and wellness” in Latin America, AgendaPro wants to help small businesses in the region book customers online and collect payments. 

The company’s idea isn’t as radical as some companies that we heard from today — Carbon capture! Faster drug discovery! — but the company did share several metrics that made us sit up. First, AgendaPro has reached $152,000 in MRR, or just over $1.8 million in ARR. And representatives shared that its gross margins are 89%. As far as software margins goes, that’s pretty damn good.

The startup has more than 3,000 merchants using its service at the moment, and it claims that there are more than four million businesses that it could service. If AgendaPro can get software and payments revenues from even a respectable fraction of those companies, it will be a big, big business. And who doesn’t love vertical SaaS?

— Alex

Atom Bioworks

One of the holy grails of biochemistry is a programmable DNA machine. These tools can essentially “code” a molecule so that it reliably sticks to a specific substance or cell type, which allows a variety of follow-up actions to be taken.

For instance, a DNA machine could lock onto COVID-19 viruses and then release a chemical signal indicating infection before killing the virus. The same principle applies to a cancer cell. Or a bacterium. You get the picture — and it looks like Atom Bioworks has something a lot like this.

❌