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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Peak Design’s Travel Duffel 35L is as simple or as powerful as you need it to be

By Darrell Etherington

A good, solid duffel bag is a mainstay for many travelers — especially those who like packing up a car for a weekend away, or frequent flyers who disdain the thought of checking a bag. Peak Design introduced its own take on the duffel bag this year, with a couple of different twists on the concept. The Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L is the most fundamental of the company’s options, and it delivers a lot of packing space and support for Peak’s packing tools if you want to get real serious about space optimization.

I’m an unabashed fan of Peak Design’s Everyday camera bags, its capture clips and basically its entire ecosystem. This is a company that you can tell things deeply about the problems it’s aiming to solve for its customers — because they’re the problems shared by the company’s founders themselves. The Travel Duffel is actually probably a bit more mainstream and less specialized than most of their offerings, but that only makes it more appealing, not less.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 2

You’ll find the same weatherproof nylon coating in this bag that Peak uses in its other packs, and it’s a very durable material that also looks great both up close and at a distance. If there’s a complaint here, it’s that the black color I prefer tends to pretty easily pick up dust, but it also wipes or washes off just as easily. The heavy-duty nylon canvas shell should also stand up to the elements well, and the zipper is the especially weather sealed kind, plus there’s a waterproof bottom liner in case you’re less than careful about where you drop your pack while en route.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 3

Peak Travel Duffel 35 4

The Duffel includes both hand straps and a longer padded shoulder strap, and the unique connector hardware system means you can reposition the straps in a number of ways to suit your carrying preferences. The hand straps double as shoulder straps for wearing it like a backpack and though this is a bit tight for my larger frame, it’s still a way to quickly alleviate shoulder or hand strain for longer treks with the bag in tow. The connectors here are also super smart — there are no moving parts, they just snap on and off the sewn-in loops placed around the bag — which means added durability and ease of use.

[gallery ids="1872070,1872069,1872068"]

Plenty of pockets inside and out give you lots of divided storage options, and there’s also a security loop feature on the main zipper to make it much harder for someone to quickly yank the bag open and grab what’s inside if they’re targeting a quick theft opportunity. A dedicated ID card holder is a nice touch that tells you exactly who this is ideal for, too.

As I alluded to above, there’s also support for the rest of Peak’s packing tools. I’ve got their small camera cube in the bag width-wise in the photo below, and it should be able to fit up to three of these in this orientation. Peak also offers packing cubes, dop kits and more, and you can use the slide hooks provided with those with internal elastic attachment points if you want to ensure things won’t shift around. But the best part about this bag is that it has everything you need in a straightforward duffel out of the box — the rest of the packing tools are totally optional and don’t take away form its fundamental effectiveness at all.

Peak Travel Duffel 35 6

The 35L carrying capacity of this bag is perfect for a weekend trip, or even a few days longer if you’re an economical packer. At $129.95, it’s actually very reasonable for a high-quality duffel bag, too, and definitely one of the better bargains in the Peak lineup when it comes to value for the money.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

An anonymous hentai porn site exposed over a million users’ emails

By Zack Whittaker

A popular hentai porn site that promises anonymity to its 1.1 million users left a user database exposed without a password, allowing anyone to identify users by their email addresses.

You might not have heard of Luscious.net unless you’re into hentai and manga porn but it’s one of the most popular websites in the U.S., ranking in the top 5,000 sites in traffic, per Alexa data.

Security researchers discovered the security lapse and provided details of the exposed database exclusively to TechCrunch.

But our efforts to reach the site owner over the past week to get the database secured were unsuccessful. We emailed the site’s administrator — whose email address was found in the very first user record — to disclose the security lapse, but we did not hear back after several follow-ups. We sent the administrator a note through the site’s contact form, through Facebook Messenger, over a LinkedIn contact request, and we sent several text messages based off the site’s historical registration data.

We passed on a message to the site’s web host to secure the database which took action to block access to the database, allowing us to publish.

The database contained what appeared to be the site’s entire back-end database, including more than 235,000 albums, 30,000 user blog posts, and 900 videos. The data also contained details of the site’s 19.7 million photos.

The exposed data also included records that connected all of a user’s activity on the site, including their username, blog posts, their followers, and their locations. Those records also contained users’ non-public email addresses. We found that although some accounts signed up with a fake email address, our testing showed that many of the emails were real, allowing us to identify real-world individuals who used the site.

There were no passwords in the database, however.

TechCrunch verified the exposed data by creating an account on the site and searching for the username we had just created in the database. It appeared near-instantly, indicating the database was live updating and was not a static backup file.

The database was exposed since at least August 4, according to data from Shodan, a search engine for exposed devices and databases.

It’s the latest example of an exposed or leaking data — where companies fail to protect their users’ data by protecting their databases with a password or basis security mechanisms. In recent months we’ve seen a cryptocurrency loan site expose credit cards, thousands of exposed medical injury claim reports, and a security lapse at dating app JCrush.

Startup ads are taking over the subway

By Anthony Ha

If you’re a New Yorker, one of the easiest ways to keep up-to-date on the latest consumer products — furniture, beauty products, mobile apps, you name it — is to hop on the subway.

Even before you board, you may find yourself walking through a station filled with colorful startup ads. And once you’re actually on the train, you may find yourself surrounded by even more of those of ads.

It felt very different when I first moved to New York in 2013, back when the only companies that seemed to buy subway ads were local colleges, law firms and sketchy-sounding surgeons. Over the next few years, I noticed that the companies I wrote about in TechCrunch were starting to show up on the subway walls.

These ads are managed by Outfront Media, which has an exclusive contract with the MTA and says it’s worked with more than 150 startups and direct-to-consumer brands since 2018.

“Startups and DTC brands, now more than ever before, are looking for ways to raise awareness and gain market share among a heavy competitor set,” said Outfront’s chief product experience officer Jason Kuperman via email. “For these brands, it is all about testing and learning, and leveraging out-of-home (OOH) [advertising] and advertising on the subway allows them to do just that.”

Kuperman added that when they launch their subway campaigns, many of these startups are unknown, so they “find value in a permanent place to advertise that people pass through every day.”

From out-of-home to in transit

John Laramie, CEO of out-of-home advertising agency Project X, agreed that there’s been a big shift over the past few years.

He and I first spoke in 2011 about startups buying billboard ads alongside Silicon Valley’s main highway, Route 101. More recently, he told me, “Fast forward to the last four years, and who cares about the 101? It’s all about the New York City subway.”

Preclusio uses machine learning to comply with GDPR, other privacy regulations

By Ron Miller

As privacy regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act proliferate, more startups are looking to help companies comply. Enter Preclusio, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2019 class, which has developed a machine learning-fueled solution to help companies adhere to these privacy regulations.

“We have a platform that is deployed on prem in our customer’s environment, and helps them identify what data they’re collecting, how they’re using it, where it’s being stored and how it should be protected. We help companies put together this broad view of their data, and then we continuously monitor their data infrastructure to ensure that this data continues to be protected,” company co-founder and CEO Heather Wade told TechCrunch.

She says that the company made a deliberate decision to keep the solution on-prem.”We really believe in giving our clients control over their data. We don’t want to be just another third-party SaaS vendor that you have to ship your data to,” Wade explained.

That said, customers can run it wherever they wish, whether that’s on prem or in the cloud in Azure or AWS. Regardless of where it’s stored, the idea is to give customers direct control over their own data. “We are really trying to alert our customers to threats or to potential privacy exceptions that are occurring in their environment in real time, and being in their environment is really the best way to facilitate this,” she said.

The product works by getting read-only access to the data, then begins to identify sensitive data in an automated fashion using machine learning. “Our product automatically looks at the schema and samples of the data, and uses machine learning to identify common protected data,” she said. Once that process is completed, a privacy compliance team can review the findings and adjust these classifications as needed.

Wade, who started the company in March, says the idea formed at previous positions where she was responsible for implementing privacy policies and found there weren’t adequate solutions on the market to help. “I had to face the challenges first-hand of dealing with privacy and compliance and seeing how resources were really taken away from our engineering teams and having to allocate these resources to solving these problems internally, especially early on when GDPR was first passed, and there really were not that many tools available in the market,” she said.

Interestingly Wade’s co-founder is her husband, John. She says they deal with the intensity of being married and startup founders by sticking to their areas of expertise. He’s the marketing person and she’s the technical one.

She says they applied to Y Combinator because they wanted to grow quickly, and that timing is important with more privacy laws coming online soon. She has been impressed with the generosity of the community in helping them reach their goals. “It’s almost indescribable how generous and helpful other folks who’ve been through the YC program are to the incoming batches, and they really do have that spirit of paying it forward,” she said.

Monday.com raises $150M more, now at $1.9B valuation, for workplace collaboration tools

By Ingrid Lunden

Workplace collaboration platforms have become a crucial cornerstone of the modern office: workers’ lives are guided by software and what we do on our computers, and collaboration tools provide a way for us to let each other know what we’re working on, and how we’re doing it, in a format that’s (at best) easy to use without too much distraction from the work itself.

Now, Monday.com, one of the faster growing of these platforms, is announcing a $150 million round of equity funding — a whopping raise that points both to its success so far, and the opportunity ahead for the wider collaboration space, specifically around better team communication and team management.

The Series D funding — led by Sapphire Ventures, with Hamilton Lane, HarbourVest Partners, ION Crossover Partners and Vintage Investment Partners also participating — is coming in at what reliable sources tell me is a valuation of $1.9 billion, or nearly four times Monday.com’s valuation when it last raised money a year ago.

The big bump is in part to the company’s rapid expansion: it now has 80,000 organizations as customers, up from a mere 35,000 a year ago, with the number of actual employees within those organizations numbering as high as 4,000 employees, or as little as two, spanning some 200 industry verticals, including a fair number of companies that are non-technical in their nature (but still rely on using software and computers to get their work done). The client list includes Carlsberg, Discovery Channel, Phillips, Hulu and WeWork and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

“We have built flexibility into the platform,” Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, which is one reason he believes why it’s found a lot of stickiness among the wider field of knowledge workers looking for products that work not unlike the apps that they use as average consumers.

All those figures are also helping to put Monday.com on track for an IPO in the near future, said Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman.

“An IPO is something that we are considering for the future, he said in an interview. “We are just at 1% of our potential, and we’re in a position for huge growth.” In terms of when that might happen, he and Zinman would not specify a timeline, but Mann added that this potentially could be the last round before a public listing.

On the other hand, there are some big plans up ahead for the startup, including adding in a free usage tier (to date, the only free on Monday.com is a free trial, all usage tiers have been otherwise paid), expanding geographically and into more languages, and continuing to develop the integration and automation technology that underpins the product. The aim is to have 200 applications working with Monday.com by the end of this year.

While the company is already generating cash and it has just raised a significant round, in the current market, that has definitely not kept venture-backed startups from raising more. (Monday.com, which first started life as Dapulse in 2014, has raised $234.1 million to date.)

Monday.com’s rise and growth are coming at an interesting moment for productivity software. There have been software platforms on the market for years aimed at helping workers communicate with each other, as well as to better track how projects and other activity are progressing. Despite being a relatively late entrant, Slack, the now-public workplace chat platform, has arguably defined the space. (It has even entered the modern work lexicon, where people now Slack each other, as a verb.)

That speaks to the opportunity to build products even when it looks like the market is established, but also — potentially — competition. Mann and Zinman are clear to point out that they definitely do not see Slack as a rival, though. “We even use Slack ourselves in the office,” Zinman noted.

The closer rivals, they note, are the likes of Airtable (now valued at $1.1 billion) and Notion (which we’ve confirmed with the company was raising and has now officially closed a round of $10 million on an equally outsized valuation of $800 million), as well as the wider field of project management tools like Jira, Wrike and Asana — although as Mann playfully pointed out, all of those could also feasibly be integrated into Monday.com and they would work better…

The market is still so nascent for collaboration tools that even with this crowded field, Mann said he believes that there is room for everyone and the differentiations that each platform currently offers: Notion, he noted as an example, feels geared towards more personal workspace management, while Airtable is more about taking on spreadsheets.

Within that, Monday.com hopes to position itself as the ever-powerful and smart go-to place to get an overview of everything that’s happening, with low-chat noise and no need for technical knowledge to gain understanding.

“Monday.com is revolutionizing the workplace software market and we’re delighted to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and the rest of the team in their mission to transform the way people work,” said Rajeev Dham, managing partner at Sapphire Ventures, in a statement. “Monday.com delivers the quality and ease of use typically reserved for consumer products to the enterprise, which we think unlocks significant value for workers and organizations alike.”

Brooklinen, known for high-quality bed sheets, launches its first line of loungewear

By Catherine Shu

Brooklinen, the direct-to-consumer bed sheet brand backed by investors including FirstMark, is entering the apparel space with its first line of loungewear. The company says its designs, including tops, pants, shorts and a dress, are inspired by vintage athletic clothing and made from cotton and modal blended with spandex. Prices range from $28 for a t-shirt to $75 for jogger pants.

2019 021 Brooklinen SarahKehoe SHOT 12 WOMENS COLLECTION PAGE HERO 045x

The startup, whose investors also include NYU Innovation Venture Fund and Dorm Room Fund, has built its reputation around high-quality but affordable linens and is able to offer lower prices by controlling the design, manufacturing and logistics and fulfillment of its sheets, comforters, pillows and towels. It is primarily an e-commerce startup, but has also run pop-up shops. Brooklinen’s last round of funding was a $10 million Series A announced in 2017.

Former Anki engineers will steer Waymo’s self-driving trucks effort

By Kirsten Korosec

More than a dozen engineers, who lost their jobs after consumer robotics startup Anki shut down in April, have found a new home.

The 13 robotics experts, a group that includes Anki’s co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, are heading over to self-driving vehicle company Waymo, to lead engineering in the autonomous trucking division, according to a LinkedIn post. Sofman will report to CTO Dmitri Dolgov.

The group of engineers comprises nearly the entire technical team at Anki, many of whom have roots at Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics program, and includes its former behavior lead Brad Neuman and perception lead Andrew Stein. Anki’s head of hardware Nathan Monson and its former program manager Charlie Hite have also joined Waymo.

Axios was the first to report the move.

Anki built several popular products, starting with Anki Drive in 2013 and later the popular Cozmo robot. The Bay Area-startup had shipped more than 3.5 million devices with annual revenues approaching $100 million, Sofman wrote Thursday in a LinkedIn post.

Anki had raised more than $180 million, according to Crunchbase. The company was apparently prepared to take its robots business beyond entertainment, but it ran out of runway before it was able to activate that plan. “In the end we couldn’t overcome recent hurdles and the complexities of consumer hardware,” Sofman wrote.

Anki was a consumer robots company, which would seem like a bit of a leap over to Waymo. However, Sofman noted that it was autonomous driving that “first sparked” his attraction to the field and was the focus of his thesis at Carnegie Mellon.

“Throughout the last decade, I would look over at what was happening at Waymo and be inspired by the progress they were making, and the inevitable impact their technology would have on everyone’s lives in the years to come,” Sofman wrote.

The trucking team will work out of Waymo’s San Francisco office, a newer development within the company’s structure.

Much of the attention on Waymo has been on its robotaxi ambitions and its Waymo One ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area. However, the company has intentions to apply its full self-driving stack to other commercial applications, including trucks and deliveries.

“The nice thing about all those properties is that while the specialization layer are very different, the core technology, and the hardest problems that you’re trying to solve on research and engineering are exactly the same,” Dolgov said during an interview in March at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech Digital conference.

Pillar launches with $5.5M from Kleiner Perkins and others to tackle your student loan debt

By Sarah Perez

A new startup aims to help you get your student loans under control. Today, an app called Pillar, backed by $5.5 million in seed funding led by Kleiner Perkins, is launching a simpler way for consumers to better understand their student loan debt — and even pay it off early.

To do so, the app connects with your student loan servicer and bank, then makes personalized suggestions based on your loans, your income, and your spending. When it finds a way you can make a bigger dent in your overall student loan debt, it will send an alert to your smartphone.

Pillar co-founder and CEO Michael Bloch, an early DoorDash employee, said he came up with the idea after his wife graduated from law school with around $300,000 worth of student loans.

“We struggled to figure out the right way to pay them back,” he explains. “We read blog posts and articles. We made spreadsheets. We even talked to a financial advisor. But there really was no easy way for us to figure out what was the right thing for us to do. And I realized there are 45 million people with loans, and millions of those people have had the exact same experience as I did.”

Bloch decided then to drop out of Stanford Business School to instead focus on building Pillar along with co-founder and CTO Gilad Kahala.

Above: Michael Bloch (L) and Gilad Kahala (R)

The problem they’re attacking is massive. Student loan debt is the second largest type of consumer debt in the U.S., with 45 million borrowers owing more than $1.5 trillion in student loans. 7 out of 10 students take out loans to pay for college, and the average person graduates with $30,000 in debt which takes 20 years to pay off. For those with $60,000 in debt, it can take more than 30 years to pay off. And nearly 20 percent of borrowers have over $100,000 in debt.

In addition, women are disproportionally affected by this problem, notes Bloch. Women hold two-thirds of student loan debt, he points out. This is because there are more women (around 56%) than men attending college these days, and because of the gender pay gap — which means it takes longer for women to pay back their loans.

At launch, Pillar walks new users through a quick sign-up process where you authenticate with your loan provider and bank account. (The company says it uses security best practices, and doesn’t store any login information or passwords on its own servers.)

As Pillar analyzes your spending and pay schedule, it can figure out when you can start making an extra payment towards your loans. It also calculates what that means in terms of paying off your loan earlier. This is especially useful for those who don’t necessarily receive a steady paycheck, or whose income fluctuates for other reasons — they may have trouble determining how much they can actually afford to chip in.

The company does not offer to refinance loans, to be clear, nor will it point you toward those options. In fact, it expects many of its users wouldn’t be able to take advantage of refinancing options, anyway.

“Companies like SoFi actually turn away around 97 percent of everybody who applies for refinancing, because they’re too high a credit risk — they look at your credit scores, your income, the type of job you have — most people don’t qualify for lower rates on refinancing,” Bloch says.

Instead, Pillar targets the larger majority who make less than $100,000 per year and have fewer options.

“What we found is that these small actions that people can take — where it’s not necessarily a hundred dollars this month. But even making a $5 a week extra payment can make a really big difference to somebody’s financial life in the long run,” he explains.

Users can opt to make these additional payments through Pillar itself, instead of having to go through the sometimes clunky student loan provider’s website.

Pillar works with nearly all major student loan servicers — including Nelnet, Navient, Great Lakes, Fedloan Servicing, and others.

Prior to today, the company had been running a private beta with an undisclosed number of users who are now using Pillar to manage their collective $50 million-plus in loan debt. During this period, the average borrower saved around $6,000 and about four years on repayment, Bloch claims.

What Pillar does not do, at this point, is to help borrowers navigate student loan forgiveness programs. That’s on its roadmap, however. It plans to offer tools and automation to help its users navigate those programs in the future. Longer-term, Pillar wants to do for all consumer debt — including credit cards — what it’s now doing for student loans.

While Pillar is attacking a real problem, it’s not yet a comprehensive solution — or even the best way for a consumer to handle their overall debt.

As Genevieve Dobson, founder and CEO of debt management company Degrees of Success, points out, the interest rates on consumers’ student loans may lower than the high interest rates on their credit cards and other debt that should be paid down first.

Plus, she notes, “it would not be suggested for anyone who qualifies for an income-based repayment or other lower payment option. It’s also not a good option for those who qualify for any of the forgiveness programs. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to tell people to utilize the income-driven repayment options instead, which could end up harming someone rather than helping them.”

In time, hopefully, Pillar will become more comprehensive to address the needs of all borrowers. For now, however, it makes the best sense for those who only hold student loan debt and are looking to pay it down more quickly.

Pillar says it will keep all its advice free, but will charge a low, around $1 per month subscription fee for premium features at some point in the future. The company will also provide (not sell) anonymized loan data to nonprofits and research institutions who are working to advance the national conversation and policy around student loans.

In addition to Kleiner Perkins, other seed round participants include Rainfall Ventures, Great Oaks VC, Financial Venture Studio, Kairos, and Day One Ventures. Individual investors include Adam Nash, the former CEO of Wealthfront and Acorns board member; Noah Weiss, former SVP of Product at Foursquare; Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner, co-founders of Flatiron Health; Misha Esipov, CEO and co-founder of Nova Credit; and Robinhood’s Head of Growth, Patrick Kavanagh, and Head of Finance, Nadia Asoyan.

The Pillar team is currently 10 people in New York, and looking to double the size of the team over the next year with a particular focus on hiring engineers.

Pillar is available on iOS and Android. You will still need to join the waitlist, as people are being allowed into Pillar in stages as it launches.

Upsie nabs $5M to build a direct-to-consumer warranty service

By Ingrid Lunden

Warranties for purchased products is a $40 billion annual market. But in their current form, they are considered by some to be one of the bigger scams in the world of retail because they cost so much and often return too little.

Now there is an alternative emerging. A startup out of Minneapolis, Minn. called Upsie has decided to wage war on the old warranty, with more reasonable pricing (typically 70% lower than what the retailer offers) and a much more modern approach to selling and managing the warranty.

Its bet is that lower prices, and more flexible options for ordering, tracking and claiming against warranties, will drive more users to its service and take some business away from the retailers that largely dominate the market today. Today it’s announcing that it has raised $5 million led by True Ventures to build out that busines in the US. Techstars Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Syndicate Fund, M25, and angel investor Marc Belton also participated.

If you’ve ever purchased an expensive consumer electronics product, you’ll know the problem that Upsie is tackling: warranties can cost a lot, and in many cases you’re not sure what you might even be getting out of it. And if you do find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of needing to claim, you may find the process a little less than efficient but hopefully not as bad as this:

“If you buy a product worth $900 dollars, a warranty might cost an extra $130, but that warranty might cost only $10 from the insurance company,” said Clarence Bethea, the CEO and founder of Upsie.

When an expensive purchase like a consumer electronics product breaks down, the buyer needs to pay out big money for repairs or replacements, and that worry drives many of those customers to pay a big sum for the guarantee that someone else will cover those liabilities.

The operative words in that last paragraph are “big sum”: a warranty can represent peace of mind, and sometimes actually help in those cases where something relatively new does break down, but one of the big issues is the mark-up that providers put on a service that preys on the fear of needing it — in some cases a warranty can cost as much as 900 percent more than the policy would cost if it were purchased directly from an insurance provider.

Bethea used to be a consultant to big box retailers and in the work he did, he realised quickly that the retailers were taking advantage of consumers when they were selling warranties on top of products. “Consumers don’t know what the warranties actually cost,” he said. “That’s what pushed me into this.”

Upsie gives consumers the option to purchase warranties up to 60 days after the sale (or 45 for smartphones). The product itself needs a minimum 90-day warranty from the manufacturers themselves, and the Upsie warranty does not kick in until 30 days after its purchased — the idea being that it picks up right after the manufacturer warranty ends.

The warranties can be purchased online or through an app and they apply currently to around 15 different categories and hundreds of electric goods covering areas like computers, wearables, phones, TVs, small and large appliances and outdoor tools. The Upsie app in itself is like your warranty file in your filing cabinet, except much simpler and lighter and less cluttered: it stores receipts, lets you scan sku’s to register the goods and more to make it easier. Then after a user purchases the warranty, it can be managed and claims can be filed by way of Upsie’s app.

The basic idea behind Upsie is reminiscent of the direct-to-consumer brands that have grown in popularity over the last several years.

Just as these have leveraged the web, mobile apps and more recently social media to build direct relationships with consumers, Upsie is also bypassing retailers and hoping that consumers will consider their cheaper alternatives, which in actuality have been negotiated with the same warranty service providers that the retailers use. It currently works with Centricity, and the plan is to expand it to a wider range over time.

Other companies have built businesses in the area of providing warranty services outside of what retailers offer, such as SquareTrade, which was acquired by AllState, and Asurion. Puneet Agarwal, a partner at True Ventures, believes that it stands out.

“Upsie is the only consumer facing brand in the space whereas everyone else is more of a back end provider,” he said. “Their subscriber growth and engagement are tremendous and the end consumer identifies with them. Because of their direct consumer focus, they also offer a level of pricing, convenience, and customer service the industry has not seen.” He added that the “big ambition” is “to make the idea of ‘upsie-ing’ a product as part of the the everyday lexicon of the consumer.”

Bethea said that one of the big early challenges was convincing insurance companies that D2C was a viable idea — which dissipated as insurance companies, like all brands and B2B2C businesses, began to consider the plethora of ways that people are buying goods today, which increasingly extend well outside the realm of just retailers.

The other challenge that is still one that Upsie will continue to work to surmount as it continues growing is convincing consumers to change their behavior. “Initially it was about convincing the industry that this is a market,” he said. “Today it’s awareness and giving consumers another option. ‘I didn’t know I could leave the register and purchase a plan afterwards’ is what we want people to be thinking.”

So far, the results have been pretty positive. Since exiting beta in 2016, Bethea said that the company has grown 300 percent each year. Services are live only in the US, and while it works towards expanding to international markets, it will also be adding auto warranties to its plans next.

Living outside of Silicon Valley as I do, companies that are outliers from the normal pattern that often list the same litany of credentials (including but not limited to grads from Stanford or MIT, possible stint at YC, office in San Francisco, past history at other tech companies), but are still thriving, do tend to catch my eye. Upsie, with its roots in the Midwest and an African American founder (also not very common at the typical SV startup), and tackling something that is fundamentally broken but not flashy, ticks some of those boxes.

Turns out that True sees and wants to seek out more of this, too.

“Great companies are being built everywhere,” said Agarwal. “More and more of the companies we invest in are outside of the Valley or are building teams outside of the Valley and we encourage it. It can be a tremendous competitive advantage both from a talent and cost perspective. We have had great success investing in places like Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, even recently in Africa, and now in Minnesota with Upsie. I still do see a lot of bias from investors not wanting to invest outside of the Valley. There is no question they will miss out not because of high prices in the Valley but because of the opportunity.”

Consumer Reports knocks Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot feature

By Kirsten Korosec

Consumer Reports is calling the automatic lane-change feature on Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot “far less competent” than a human driver and cautioned it could pose safety risks.

The consumer advocacy organization posted its review Wednesday on the newest version of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system.

Navigate on Autopilot is an active guidance system that is supposed to navigate a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

Tesla pushed out a software update last month to allow for automatic lane changes. Drivers have to enable this feature, which gives the car permission to make its own lane changes. If not enabled, the system asks the driver to confirm the lane change before moving over. Automatic lane changes can be canceled at any time.

The system has been touted as a way to make driving less stressful and improve safety. In practice, the system had startling behavior, Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports told TechCrunch.

“It doesn’t take very long behind the wheel with this feature on to realize it’s not quite ready for prime time,” Fisher said. CR said one of the more troubling concerns were failures of Tesla’s three rearward-facing cameras to detect fast-approaching objects from the rear better than the average driver.

The CR reviewers found Navigate on Autopilot lagged behind human driving skills and engaged in problematic behavior such as cutting off cars and passing on the right. CR drivers often had to take over to prevent the system from making poor decisions.

As a result, the system increases stress and doesn’t improve safety, Fisher said, before asking “So what is the point of this feature?”

The automatic lane change reviewed by Consumer Reports is not the default setting for Autopilot, Tesla notes. It’s an option that requires drivers to remove the default setting. Tesla also argues that drivers using Navigate on Autopilot properly have successfully driven millions of miles and safely made millions of automated lane changes.

While Fisher acknowledged the default setting, he contends that isn’t the issue. He notes the Tesla has many warnings that the driver must be alert and ready to take over at any time.

“Our concern is that if you’re not alert (or ready to take over) you could be put into a tricky situation,” he said.

The bigger concern for all systems like these is the driver will put too much trust into it, Fisher said. The automatic lane-change feature might not be good enough for drivers to let down their guard yet. If Tesla improves this system, even a little bit, the risk of complacency and too much trust rises.

And that’s problematic because drivers still must be ready to take over. “Just watching automation is a harder human task than driving the car,” he said.

CR asserts that an effective driver monitoring system would mitigate this risk. DMS is typically a camera combined with software designed to track a driver’s attention and pick up on cognitive issues that could cause an accident such as drowsiness.

DMS are found in certain BMW models with an ADAS system called DriverAssist Plus, the new 2020 Subaru Outback and Cadillac’s equipped with its Super Cruise system.

This isn’t the first time CR has raised concerns about Autopilot. Last week, the consumer advocacy organization called on Tesla to restrict the use of Autopilot and install a more effective system to verify driver engagement in response to a preliminary report by National Transportation Safety Board on the fatal March 2019 crash of a Tesla Model 3 with a semi-trailer in Delray Beach, Fla.

Last year, CR gave GM’s Super Cruise the top spot in its first-ever ranking of partially automated driving systems because it is the best at striking a balance between technical capabilities and ensuring drivers are paying attention and operating the vehicle safely. Tesla followed in the ranking not because it was less capable, but because of its approach to safety, Fisher noted.

CR evaluated four systems: Super Cruise on the Cadillac CT6, Autopilot on Tesla Model S, X and 3 models, ProPilot Assist on Infiniti QX50 and Nissan Leaf, and Pilot Assist on Volvo XC40 and XC60 vehicles. The organization said it picked these systems because they’re considered the most capable and well-known in the industry.

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