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Daily Crunch: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

By Anthony Ha

We review each of Apple’s new M1-powered Macs, Twitter launches its new Stories-like format and Amazon launches a pharmacy service. This is your Daily Crunch for November 17, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

We’ve got three big hardware reviews today, each one highlighting a new Mac with Apple’s M1 chipset.

First up, there’s the MacBook Air, which Brian Heater says offers strong performance gains and is probably the right Apple Mac for most consumers. Then there’s the new Mac mini desktop, which Matt Burns writes is also a winner.

Lastly, there’s the MacBook Pro, where Matthew Panzarino was most impressed by the battery life:

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum.

The tech giants

Twitter’s new Stories feature ‘Fleets’ is struggling under the load — Many Twitter users are reporting Fleets are lagging and moving slowly.

Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medications — Customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions and choose payment options all through Amazon’s service.

Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving modeGoogle is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to resources from local governments.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docks with the International Space Station for first operational missionSpaceX’s astronaut-ferrying Crew Dragon spacecraft is now docked to the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit.

Hover secures $60M for 3D imaging to assess and fix properties — Hover has built a platform that uses eight basic smartphone photos to patch together a 3D image of your home that can then be used by contractors, insurance companies and others.

Trust & Will raises $15M as digital estate planning hits mainstream — Estate planning is a growth business in 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry — Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper.

Why some VCs prefer to work with first-time founders — It all depends on the type of venture capitalist you ask.

Five questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing — The company’s S-1 detailed an expanding travel giant with billions in annual revenue that was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Conan O’Brien will launch a weekly variety show on HBO Max — “In 1993 Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: ‘As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.’ ”

Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups and more characters — Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year, and now it’s following up with additional sets.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Jam raises $3.5 million to Figma-tize product collaboration

By Lucas Matney

The web of collaboration apps invading remote work toolkits have led to plenty of messy workflows for teams that communicate in a language of desktop screenshots and DMs. Tracing a suggestion or flagging a bug in a company’s website forces engineers or designers to make sense of the mess themselves.  While task management software has given teams a funnel for the clutter, the folks at Jam question why this functionality isn’t just built straight into the product.

Jam co-founders Dani Grant and Mohd Irtefa tell TechCrunch they’ve closed on $3.5 million in seed funding and are ready to launch a public beta of their collaboration platform which builds chat, comments and task management directly onto a website, allowing developers and designers to track issues and make suggestions quickly and simply

The seed round was led by Union Square Ventures, where co-founder Dani Grant previously worked as an analyst. Version One Ventures, BoxGroup and Village Global also participated alongside some noteworthy angels including GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia, and former Robinhood VP Josh Elman.

Like most modern productivity suites, Jam is heavy on integrations so users aren’t forced to upend their toolkits just to add one more product into the mix. The platform supports Slack, Jira, GitHub, Asana, Loom and Figma, with a few more in the immediate pipeline. Data syncs from one platform to the other bidirectionally so information is always fresh, Grant says. It’s all built into a tidy sidebar.

Grant and Irtefa met as product managers at Cloudflare, where they started brainstorming better ways to communicate feedback in a way that felt like “leaving digital sticky notes all over a product,” Grant says. That thinking ultimately pushed the duo to leave their jobs this past May and start building Jam.

The startup, like so many conceived during this period, has a remote founding story. Grant and Irtefa have only spent four days together in-person since the company was started, they raised their seed round remotely and most of the employees have never met each other in-person.

The remote team hopes their software can help other remote teams declutter their workflows and focus on what they’re building.

“On a product team, the product is the first tab everyone opens and closes,” Grant says. “So we’re on top of your product instead of on some other platform”

Jam’s interface

FloorFound is bringing online return and resale to direct to consumer furniture businesses

By Jonathan Shieber

Over the next five years consumers will return an estimated 40 million to 50 million pieces of furniture that more than likely will end up in landfills, creating tons of unnecessary waste, according to Chris Richter, the founder of a new Austin-based furniture startup, FloorFound.

To reduce that waste, and give retailers another option for their used goods, Richter has launched FloorFound. The company is designed to manage furniture returns and resale for online merchants. So far, companies like Floyd Home, Inside Weather, Outer and Feather (the furniture rental company) are using FloorFound’s services.

“We have a very large pipeline and we’ve been operating since April first,” said Richter. “We can pick up in any major metro locally and inspect it locally. We have a platform layer where we can run inspections against those items.”

As consumers look to reduce their environmental footprint, an easy place to start is by buying used items, Richter said, and he expects that most brands will start to incorporate used and new products in their virtual and real showrooms. “Every brand will commingle new items with resale items,” he said. “We are trying to put retailers in the resale business with their own return inventory.” To prove his point, Richter pointed to companies like REI and The Gap, which have partnered with ThredUp to sell used clothes.

To complement its returns business and give online sellers a way to work more seamlessly with local vendors, the company has logistics partnerships with providers including Pilot Freight Services, Metropolitan Warehouse and Delivery and J.B. Hunt Transport.

Working with co-founder Ryan Matthews, the former director of technology for the Austin-based high-end retailer Kendra Scott, Richter has set up a business that can tap into both the demand for better customer service for the return of large items and the growing call for greater sustainability in the furniture industry.

It was an attractive enough proposition to attract a pre-seed investment from Schematic Ventures, a venture fund focused exclusively on technological innovations for supply chain management.

“The broken experience of oversized e-commerce has kept a multi-billion-dollar category offline. It’s not a simple problem: oversized items require coordination of a hyper-fragmented micro carrier network, complex physical processing, and then re-injection into an e-commerce channel that aligns with the brand,” said Julian Counihan, a general partner at Schematic Ventures. “UPS and FedEx just aren’t going to cut it. FloorFound is tackling this challenge with a team tailor-made for the task: Chris Richter, Ryan Matthews and Shannon Hardt have backgrounds spanning supply chain, delivery, e-commerce and enterprise software. FloorFound will be the final push that moves the remaining offline categories, online.” 

Here’s the curtain raise on the Sight Tech Global agenda

By Ned Desmond

The goal of Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event on December 2-3, 2020, is to gather the world’s top experts who are applying advanced technologies, notably AI, to the future of accessibility and assistive tech for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Today we’re excited to roll out most of the agenda. There are another half-dozen sessions and breakouts still to come, notably sessions on AI bias and civil rights. What we’ve discovered over the many weeks of research and conversation is a consistent, strong interest on the part of researchers, technologists and product and design thinkers to convene and talk over the future — its promises, challenges and even threats.

We’re delighted to have top-level talent from virtually every leading technology company, many research universities and some startups ready for fireside chats and small panel discussions with expert moderators. Some sessions will take questions from our audience as well.

When the event dates are closer, we will add dates and times to each of these sessions as well as announce additional speakers. Register today to get a free pass and please browse the first edition of the Sight Tech Global agenda below.

Seeing AI: Where does Microsoft’s blockbuster app go from here?

With ever more powerful computer and data resources available in the cloud, Microsoft’s Seeing AI mobile app is destined to become a steadily better ally for anyone with vision challenges. Co-founder Saqib Shaikh leads the engineering team that’s charting the app’s cloud-enabled future.

Saqib Shaikh, co-founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

The future according to OrCam

As AI-based computer vision, voice recognition and natural language processing race ahead, the engineering challenge is to design devices that can perceive the physical world and communicate that information in a timely manner. Amnon Shashua’s OrCam MyEye is the most sophisticated effort yet to merge those technologies in a seamless experience on a dedicated device.

Amnon Shashua, co-founder of OrCam and Mobileye
Moderator: Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

Accessibility from the wheels up: The Waymo self-driving taxi

If people who are blind or visually impaired find Uber and Lyft liberating, imagine how they will feel summoning a self-driving ride from an app on their mobile phones. But wait, how exactly will they locate the cars and what happens when they climb in? Presenter Clem Wright is responsible for the self-driving taxi’s accessibility, and he will be joined by leadership from two organizations closely involved in that effort: The Lighthouse for the Blind SF and the Foundation for Blind Children.

Clem Wright, Accessibility product manager, Waymo
/> Marc Ashton, CEO, Foundation for Blind Children
Bryan Bashin, CEO, Lighthouse for the Blind
Moderator: Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Our AI future is already here

Whether it’s Alexa, Tesla or Facebook, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. Few understand that better than Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist who developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, led Google in China and held senior roles at Microsoft and Apple. Today, Dr. Lee runs Sinovation Ventures, a $2 billion fund based in China, is president of the Sinovation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and has 50 million followers on social media.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO, Sinovation Ventures
/> Moderator: Ned Desmond, Sight Tech Global

The future of AT devices and the companies that make them

Dedicated devices versus accessible platforms? Victor Reader Stream versus iPhones and Alexa? How will AT companies take advantage of a world with cloud data and edge computational power, AI algorithms and more demanding customers than ever? Humanware, eSight and APH are already looking far into that future.

Gilles Pepin, CEO, Humanware
Greg Stilson, head of Global Innovation, APH
Charles Lim, CTO, eSight
Moderator: Betsy Beaumon, CEO, Benetech

If the Jetsons had screen readers, would they be using keyboard commands?

The screen reader is arguably the most consequential digital technology ever for people who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time, screen readers depend on a dizzying array of keyboard commands, and — when it comes to reading websites in a browser — they struggle with the ugly reality of poor website accessibility. New technologies may lead the way to better outcomes.

Glen Gordon, Software fellow, Vispero; architect, JAWS
James Teh, Accessibility engineer, Mozilla; co-founder, NVDA
Léonie Watson, director, TetraLogical
Moderator: Matt King, Accessibility technical program manager, Facebook

Alexa, what is your future?

When Alexa launched six years ago, no one imagined that the voice assistant would reach into millions of daily lives and become a huge convenience for people who are blind or visually impaired. This fall, Alexa introduced personalization and conversational capabilities that are a step-change toward more human-like home companionship. Amazon’s Josh Miele and Anne Toth will discuss the impact on accessibility as Alexa becomes more capable.

Anne Toth, director, Alexa Trust at Amazon
Josh Miele, principal accessibility researcher, Lab126 at Amazon
/> Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

Augmented reality and perception: What’s the best way to get the message across?

It’s one thing for an AI-based system to “know” when it’s time to turn left, who came through the door or how far away the couch is: It’s quite another to convey that information in a timely fashion with minimal distraction. Researchers are making use of haptics, visual augmented reality (AR), sound and language to figure out the right solutions.

Amos Miller, Product strategist, Microsoft AI and Research
Ashley Tuan, VP Medical Devices, Mojo Vision
Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor, Performing Arts Technology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine

Wayfinding: Finding the mark

Map apps on mobile phones are miraculous tools accessible via voice output, but mainstream apps don’t announce the detailed location information (which people who are blind or visually impaired really want), especially inside buildings and in public transportation settings. Efforts in the U.S. and U.K. are improving accessible navigation.

Tim Murdoch, founder and CEO, Waymap
Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Moderator: Mike May, chief evangelist, GoodMaps

Computer vision, AI and accessibility: What’s missing from this picture?

For an AI to interpret the visual world on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired, the AI needs to know what it’s looking at, and no less important, that it’s looking at the right thing. Mainstream computer vision databases don’t do that well — yet.

Danna Gurari, assistant professor and director of the Image and Video Computing Group, University of Texas
Patrick Clary, product manager, AI and accessibility, Google
/> Moderator: Roberto Manduchi, professor CS and Engineering, UC Santa Cruz

Keep an out for more sessions and breakouts later this month. In the meantime, registration is open. Get your pass today!

Sight Tech Global is eager to hear from potential sponsors. We’re grateful to current sponsors Amazon, Ford, Google, Microsoft, Mojo Vision, Waymo, Wells Fargo and Humanware. All sponsorship revenues go to the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years.

Special thanks to the Sight Tech Global advisors — Tech Matters Jim Fruchterman, UC Santa Cruz’s Roberto Manduchi, Verizon Media’s Larry Goldberg, Facebook’s Matt King and Be My Eyes’ Will Butler — who are playing an invaluable role on this project.

The art of pivoting with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins and Jessica Matthews

By Megan Rose Dickey

Building and growing a startup is hard, but pivoting said startup into something new and then achieving that same growth is even harder. But it’s not impossible.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, founder and CEO of PromisePay, and Jessica Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, both have experiences doing this. At TechCrunch Disrupt, they shed some light on their respective, yet somewhat similar, paths.

PromisePay, formerly known as Promise, got its start as a bail reform startup that aimed to reduce the number of people held behind bars simply because they can’t pay bail. Now, it’s focused on helping people make payments for parking and traffic tickets, court fees and child support.

“We actually had this huge existential crisis,” Ellis-Lamkins said. “We at Promise are focused on ending mass incarceration and on decreasing the number of people in jails. So we started to be very successful and we sold very well. And what we realized fundamentally is when we created efficiency, it made the systems more efficient at incarcerating people. It didn’t make them more efficient at what our wrong assumption had been, which is if the system is more efficient, it would decrease the number of people in the system. And so we made a decision that growth was not consistent with who we were as a company. So I went back to our investors, which is hard when you’re making money and said, this is not the path because I don’t think this is a long-term path.”

She told investors there are already people who sell their tech to law enforcement, but what Promise wants to do is liberate people. It became clear to her that she was selling to the wrong people when she was talking to a client who said the difference between them and her was that she cares about people in the criminal justice system and they don’t. Ellis-Lamkins told investors she was going to stop selling to prisons and jails, and offered to give investors their money back.

Instead, she started looking at why people are ending up incarcerated.

“And luckily, that spurred growth, but I’m just not going to be a company that grows on the backs of poor people and Black and brown people, because there is a better way,” she said. “But it was frightening in the moment to abandon a market in which we’re making money.”

Thankfully, she said, not one of her investors had a problem with her decision.

Matthews said she had a relatively similar experience with her company, Uncharted Power, which got its start as Uncharted Play. Her company’s first product was an energy-harnessing soccer ball that could power a lamp after just a few hours of playing with it. She later integrated that tech intro strollers to power cell phones.

But after raising her Series A round for Uncharted Play, Matthews realized that her company needed to go all-in on infrastructure. She thought about the ultimate goal of her company, which is to get people the infrastructure they need in their lives. She just didn’t see a way of doing that with soccer balls.

“So we got good at making these things and pushing them and scaling them out, but when you have this balance of not just profit and impact but impact because you know that you’re a member of the group you’re trying to serve. For me, it was sitting down and saying is this actually solving the problem even if it’s successful.”

Matthews said she realized it wasn’t. So that meant walking away from the products that were bringing in millions and had 64% gross profit margins, Matthews said.

But it all paid off. Last year, Uncharted Power raised additional funding from an investor that validated her thesis for the future of power infrastructure.

“That moment was huge for us,” she said.

Matthews and Ellis-Lamkins also had some other gems worth sharing about imposter syndrome and measuring success. Here are some more highlights from the conversation.

On imposter syndrome and representation 

Ellis-Lamkins:

It feels like tech has failed so significantly in investing in people they don’t know and missed out in growing companies because of that. So I think our obligation is to help make sure that we are not the only ones.

Matthews:

It’s not imposter syndrome, it’s representation syndrome because I feel the exact same way. When we raised our Series A, the immediate thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man. I can not lose these people’s money.’ This is huge and if we don’t work, it’s not even about us, it’s about every other person who looks like me.

On measuring success

Ellis-Lamkins:

I think part of what we should measure is how does technology improve our society in general, a measurement of success. I do think that if we measure success, it should not just be, I could make a billion dollars or have a company that valued at a billion dollars if the consequences are greater than the actual benefit and so I think that’s really important.

Matthews:

Let’s get rid of the term “social enterprise.” It’s bullshit. Enterprise is an enterprise. A problem’s a problem. Let’s create a value system based on the problems. There are some problems that are more important than others. And knowing that means we need to back and support the founders who get that more than others, and then beyond that.

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