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Today — June 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

LinkedIn introduces new retargeting tools

By Anthony Ha

LinkedIn is announcing some new features for advertisers — retargeting capabilities tied on video ads and lead generation forms, as well as new brand safety integrations for the LinkedIn Audience Network.

Abhishek Shrivastava, the senior director of product for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, told me that his team has been shifting its product plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes introducing new features focused on virtual engagement — such as live video events — as the pandemic has “accelerated that need of the market.”

Shrivastava suggested that today’s announcements are similar, because “these things matter in terms of driving your [marketing] investment further.”

On the retargeting side, that means advertisers can now create and target ads specifically to users who watched 25, 50, 75 or 100% of their video ads. They can also target ads at users who opened or submitted a Lead Gen Form.

LinkedIn ad

Image Credits: LinkedIn

Shrivastava noted that LinkedIn advertisers are generally focused on business-to-business marketing, which means that there’s usually a longer process of turning prospects into sales, so these capabilities make it easier for marketers to create a tailored “journey to carry your target audiences through.”

LinkedIn has already been testing these capabilities with a few advertisers, including TOPdesk, which says it’s increased conversions by 20% while lowering the cost per conversion by 24%.

The video retargeting capabilities also extend to the LinkedIn Audience Network, which the company launched in 2017 as a way for marketers to extend their LinkedIn ad campaigns beyond LinkedIn itself.

LinkedIn says the network now includes publishers like Flipboard, Microsoft News and MSN.com (Microsoft owns LinkedIn), and that it can now extend the reach of a Sponsored Content campaign by 25%, while adding 9x more monthly touchpoints with some LinkedIn members.

To help ensure the safety and quality of those impressions, LinkedIn says it’s integrating with Integral Ad Science as “an additional layer of brand protection and contextual brand safety for all ads,” and with Pixalate to “score and filter all publishers based on invalid traffic.”

Yesterday — June 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

Equity Monday: Tech’s stance on change, two funding rounds and fintech layoffs

By Alex Wilhelm

Good morning and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a brief jumpstart for your week.

A big thanks to start to the whole Equity crew for doing a stellar job last week with the show while I was on vacation, especially to Danny for taking on this particular installment of the podcast. Equity Monday is still pretty new, frankly, so him stepping up and into the role was a huge boon. Thanks, Danny.

Right, so, what did we talk about today?

  • In the face of outrageous police action and systemic racism, most of tech — both public and private, alike — said something or did something in the last few days. We go over some of the latest statements and pledges from the VC and startup world in the episode, but do take a look for yourself and decide if what’s been done and said is enough.
  • For more, read this.
  • Coming up this week: Zoom earnings. Zoom’s earnings report matters a bit more than a regular digest of three-months’ worth of corporate performance. The company is a key plank in the group of companies are have been buoyed by COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that investors that have made similar bets will have their eyes on the videochatting giant’s results. And, SaaS and cloud stocks are trading at all-time highs. If Zoom can turn in good numbers, that run might be able to continue.
  • Tia Health put together nearly $25 million for women-centric telehealth.
  • Beam, a micromobility startup headquartered in Singapore, raised $26 million.
  • And, finally, fintech layoffs. I was off last week but was a bit surprised at the number of fintech companies that were cutting staff. Why? Well, we have a guess or two on that count. (You can read more here, and here, from our own Natasha Mascarenhas for background).

Equity will be back Friday morning with more. Welcome to the week, and please help others as much as you can.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Africa Roundup: DHL invests in MallforAfrica, Zipline launches in US, Novastar raises $200M

By Jake Bright

Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.

Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.

DHL acquired a minority stake in Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce company that grew out of MallforAfrica.com — a Nigerian digital-retail startup.

Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.

Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.

Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.

With MallforAfrica, Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.

The e-commerce site went on to onboard more than 250 global retailers, and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the U.K.

Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business.

“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.

Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the nonprofit’s medical center in Huntersville — where front-line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: The capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Image Credits: Novant Health

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which supported (and studied) the startup’s African operations back to 2016.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo, respectively — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.

The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.

With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .

On-demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from mini-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The compensation and staff reductions of 135 bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs.

Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.

There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch  

African tech around the ‘net

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

As wildfire season approaches, AI could pinpoint risky regions using satellite imagery

By Devin Coldewey

The U.S. has suffered from devastating wildfires over the last few years as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change, making the otherwise natural phenomenon especially unpredictable and severe. To help out, Stanford researchers have found a way to track and predict dry, at-risk areas using machine learning and satellite imagery.

Currently the way forests and scrublands are tested for susceptibility to wildfires is by manually collecting branches and foliage and testing their water content. It’s accurate and reliable, but obviously also quite labor intensive and difficult to scale.

Fortunately, other sources of data have recently become available. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel and Landsat satellites have amassed a trove of imagery of the Earth’s surface that, when carefully analyzed, could provide a secondary source for assessing wildfire risk — and one no one has to risk getting splinters for.

This isn’t the first attempt to make this kind of observation from orbital imagery, but previous efforts relied heavily on visual measurements that are “extremely site-specific,” meaning the analysis method differs greatly depending on the location. No splinters, but still hard to scale. The advance leveraged by the Stanford team is the Sentinel satellites’ “synthetic aperture radar,” which can pierce the forest canopy and image the surface below.

“One of our big breakthroughs was to look at a newer set of satellites that are using much longer wavelengths, which allows the observations to be sensitive to water much deeper into the forest canopy and be directly representative of the fuel moisture content,” said senior author of the paper, Stanford ecoydrologist Alexandra Konings, in a news release.

The team fed this new imagery, collected regularly since 2016, to a machine learning model along with the manual measurements made by the U.S. Forest Service. This lets the model “learn” what particular features of the imagery correlate with the ground-truth measurements.

They then tested the resulting AI agent (the term is employed loosely) by having it make predictions based on old data for which they already knew the answers. It was accurate, but most so in scrublands, one of the most common biomes of the American west and also one of the most susceptible to wildfires.

You can see the results of the project in this interactive map showing the model’s prediction of dryness at different periods all over the western part of the country. That’s not so much for firefighters as a validation of the approach — but the same model, given up to date data, can make predictions about the upcoming wildfire season that could help the authorities make more informed decisions about controlled burns, danger areas, and safety warnings.

The researchers’ work was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

Jeremy Conrad left his own VC firm to start a company, and investors like what he’s building

By Connie Loizos

When this editor first met Jeremy Conrad, it was in 2014, at the 8,000-square-foot former fish factory that was home to Lemnos, a hardware-focused venture firm that Conrad had cofounded three years earlier.

Conrad —  who as a mechanical engineering undergrad at MIT worked on self driving cars, drones and satellites — was still excited about investing in hardware startups, having just closed a small new fund even while hardware was very unfashionable. One investment his team had made around that time was in Airware, a company that made subscription-based software for drones and attracted meaningful buzz and $118 million in venture funding before abruptly shutting down in 2018.

For his part, Conrad had already moved on, deciding in late 2017 that one of the many nascent teams that was camping out at Lemnos was on to a big idea relating the future of construction. Conrad didn’t have a background in real estate per se or even an earlier interest in the industry. But the “more I learned about it — not dissimilar to when I started Lemnos — It felt like there was a gap in the market, an opportunity that people were missing,” says Conrad from his home in San Francisco, where he has hunkered down throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Enter Quartz, Conrad’s now 1.5-year-old, 14-person company, which quietly announced $7.75 million in Series A funding earlier this month, led by Baseline Ventures, with Felicis Ventures, Lemnos and Bloomberg Beta also participating.

What it’s selling to real estate developers, project managers and construction supervisors is really two things, which is safety and information. Using off-the-shelf hardware components that are reassembled in San Francisco and hardened (meaning secured to reduce vulnerabilities), the company incorporates its machine-learning software into this camera-based platform, then mounts the system onto cranes a construction sites. From there, the system streams 4K live feeds of what’s happening on the ground, while also making sense of the action.

Say dozens of concrete pouring trucks are expected on a construction site. The cameras, with their persistent view, can convey through a dashboard system whether and when the trucks have arrived and how many, says Conrad. It can determine how many people on are on a job site, and whether other deliveries have been made, even if not with a high degree of specificity. “We can’t say [to project managers] that 1,000 screws were delivered, but we can let them know whether the boxes they were expecting were delivered and where they were left,” he explains.

It’s an especially appealing proposition in the age of coronavirus, as the technology can help convey information that’s happening at a site that’s been shut down, or even how closely employees are gathered. Conrad says the technology also saves on time by providing information to those who might not otherwise be able to access it. Think of the developer who is on the 50th floor of the skyscraper he or she is building, or even the crane operator who is perhaps moving a two-ton object and has to rely on someone on the ground to deliver directions but can enjoy far more visibility with the aid of a multi-camera set-up.

Quartz, which today operates in California but is embarking on a nationwide rollout, was largely inspired by what Conrad was seeing in the world of self-driving. From sensors to self-perception systems, he knew the technologies would be even easier to deploy at construction sites, and he believed it could make them safer, too. Indeed, like cars, construction sites are astonishingly dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, of the worker fatalities in private industry in 2018, more than 20% were in construction.

Conrad also saw an opportunity to take on established companies like Trimble, a 42-year-old, publicly traded, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company that sells a portfolio of tools to the construction industry and charges top dollar for them, too. (Quartz is currently charging $2,000 per month per construction site for its series of cameras, their installation, a livestream and “lookback” data, though this may well rise at its adds additional features.)

It’s a big enough opportunity in fact, that Quartz is not alone in chasing it. Last summer, for example, Versatile, an Israeli-based startup with offices in San Francisco and New York City, raised $5.5 million in seed funding from Germany’s Robert Bosch Venture Capital and several other investors for a very similar platform,  though it uses sensors mounted under the hook of a crane to provide information about what’s happening. Construction Dive, a media property that’s dedicated to the industry, highlights many other, similar and competitive startups in the space, too.

Still, Quartz has Conrad, who isn’t just any founding CEO. Not only does he have that background in engineering, but having founded a venture firm and spent years as an investor may serve him well, too. He thinks a lot about the payback period on its hardware, for example.

Unlike a lot of founders, he also says he loves the fundraising process. “I get the highest quality feedback from some of the smartest people I know, which really helps focus your vision,” says Conrad, who says that Quartz, which operates in California today, is now embarking on a nationwide rollout.

“When you talk with great VCs, they ask great questions. For me, it’s best free consulting you can get.”

TinyML is giving hardware new life

By Walter Thompson
Adam Benzion Contributor
A serial entrepreneur, writer, and tech investor, Adam Benzion is the co-founder of Hackster.io, the world's largest community for hardware developers.

Aluminum and iconography are no longer enough for a product to get noticed in the marketplace. Today, great products need to be useful and deliver an almost magical experience, something that becomes an extension of life. Tiny Machine Learning (TinyML) is the latest embedded software technology that moves hardware into that almost magical realm, where machines can automatically learn and grow through use, like a primitive human brain.

Until now building machine learning (ML) algorithms for hardware meant complex mathematical modes based on sample data, known as “training data,” in order to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. And if this sounds complex and expensive to build, it is. On top of that, traditionally ML-related tasks were translated to the cloud, creating latency, consuming scarce power and putting machines at the mercy of connection speeds. Combined, these constraints made computing at the edge slower, more expensive and less predictable.

But thanks to recent advances, companies are turning to TinyML as the latest trend in building product intelligence. Arduino, the company best known for open-source hardware is making TinyML available for millions of developers. Together with Edge Impulse, they are turning the ubiquitous Arduino board into a powerful embedded ML platform, like the Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense and other 32-bit boards. With this partnership you can run powerful learning models based on artificial neural networks (ANN) reaching and sampling tiny sensors along with low-powered microcontrollers.

Over the past year great strides were made in making deep learning models smaller, faster and runnable on embedded hardware through projects like TensorFlow Lite for Microcontrollers, uTensor and Arm’s CMSIS-NN. But building a quality dataset, extracting the right features, training and deploying these models is still complicated. TinyML was the missing link between edge hardware and device intelligence now coming to fruition.

Tiny devices with not-so-tiny brains

Trump, Twitter, and the Failed Politics of Appeasement

By Steven Levy
Plus: The origins of Section 230, the future of cities, and the tipping point for rats.

Everyone's Ordering Delivery, but Apps Aren't Making Money

By Aarian Marshall
With dining rooms closed, more people are using Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash. But the services face a challenge to satisfy both consumers and restaurants.

Tech talent is flocking to smaller cities, but investors aren’t

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week’s show took a break from regularly scheduled programming. Our co-host Alex Wilhelm, who usually leads us through the show, was on some much-deserved vacation, so Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas took the reigns and invited Floodgate Capital’s Iris Choi to join in on the fun. It’s Choi’s fourth time being on the podcast, which officially makes her our most tenured guest yet (in case the accomplished investor needs another bullet point on her bio page).

This week’s docket features scrappiness, a seed round and a Startup Battlefield alumnus.

Here’s what we chewed through:

  • LeverEdge raised seed funding to get you and your friends a volume discount on student loans. Fintech has been booming for years now, and startups often crop up around the painful world of student loans. Yet this startup still caught our eye, and it has a little something to do with its choice to use collective bargaining power as its modus operandi.
  • Stackin’ raises $12.6 million Series B for a text-messaging service that connects millennials to money tips, and eventually other fintech apps. According to CEO Scott Grimes, Stackin’ wants to be the “pipes that port people around fintech.” We get into if the world needs a fintech app marketplace and how it targets younger users.
  • D-ID, a Startup Battlefield alumnus, digitally de-identifies faces in videos and still images and just raised $13.5 million. We’re all worried about our privacy concerns, so the funding news was a refreshing change of pace from the usual headlines we see around surveillance. Now the company just needs to find a successful use case beyond the goodness in people’s hearts.
  • ByteDance, the Chinese parent company that owns TikTok, hit $3 Billion in net profit last year, reports Bloomberg. TikTok also recently snagged former Disney executive Kevin Mayer for its CEO. This one, as you can expect, made for an interesting conversation around privacy and bandwidth. We even asked Choi to weigh in on Donald J. Trump’s recent tweet threatening to regulate social media companies, since Floodgate was an early angel investor in Twitter.
  • We ended with a round table of sorts on how the future of work will look and feel in our new world, from college campuses to offices. We get into the vulnerability that comes with being on Zoom, the ever-increasing stupidity of “manels”, and how tech talent might be flocking to smaller cities but investors aren’t just yet.

And that was the show! Thanks to our producer Chris Gates for helping us put to this together, thanks to you all for listening in on this quirky episode, and thanks to Iris Choi for always bringing a fresh, candid perspective. Talk next week.

Belvo scores $10M from Founders Fund and Kaszek to scale its API for financial services

By Anna Escher

Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.

The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts. 

If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.

Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.  

The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona. 

Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends. 

The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million. 

The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia. 

Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.

 

Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.

Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.  

3 bearish takes on the current edtech boom

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Edtech is booming, but a short while ago, many companies in the category were struggling to break through as mainstream offerings. Now, it seems like everyone is clamoring to get into the next seed-stage startup that has the phrase “remote learning” on its About page.

And so begins the normal cycle that occurs when a sector gets overheated — boom, bust and a reckoning. While we’re still in the early days of edtech’s revitalization, it isn’t a gold mine all around the world. Today, in the spirit of balance and history, I’ll present three bearish takes I’ve heard on edtech’s future.

Quizlet’s CEO Matthew Glotzbach says that when students go back to school, the technology that “sticks” during this time of massive experimentation might not be bountiful.

“I think the dividing line there will be there are companies that have been around, that are a little more entrenched, and have good financial runway and can probably survive this cycle,” he said. “They have credibility and will probably get picked [by schools].” The newer companies, he said, might get stuck with adoption because they are at a high degree of risk, and might be giving out free licenses beyond their financial runway right now.

Join us June 3 for a contact-tracing and exposure-notification app development and deployment forum

By Darrell Etherington

Exposure notification and contact tracing are two related but distinct measures many public health authorities are either considering or already implementing.

Contact tracing is a practice almost as old as epidemiology itself, but today’s technology means the way that we go about tracking the spread of a contagious illness within and between communities is changing very quickly. This presents an opportunity for learning more about the opportunities and challenges presented in extending contact tracing and exposure notification via digital means.

To that end, we’re happy to be working with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, Betaworks Studios and Hangar. We’ll be playing host on TC to their live-streamed discussion around contact tracing and exposure notification applications, including demonstrations of some of the cutting-edge products that will be available in the U.S. to tackle these challenging, but crucial, tasks. The day’s events will include a roundtable discussion followed by a series of product demos, and will take place starting at 11 AM EDT (8 AM PDT) on Wednesday, June 3.

Below, we’ve included an agenda of the confirmed speakers and demonstrations for the day so far. Note that this is work in progress, and that more speakers and demos will be added to the day’s slate as we get closer to Wednesday. To RSVP for this free event, check out this link.

11am-1pm EDT: Roundtable Discussion – Hear from researchers, healthcare professionals, and technologists, including:

  • Andrew McLaughlin is helping lead the Task Force’s contact tracing/exposure notification initiative. Andrew is the Chairman of Access Now, the former Deputy U.S. CTO for the White House, and the former Director of Global Public Policy at Google.
  • Daniel Burka is heading up the COVID-19 response efforts for New York State through Resolve to Save Lives, the not-for-profit organization led by former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
  • Harper Reed is helping lead the Task Force’s contact tracing/exposure notification initiative. Harper is a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, and was the CTO of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
  • Jonathan Jackson is the Founder and CEO at Dimagi, a social enterprise that develops innovative technology solutions for frontline workforces and underserved populations. They have an extensive background in global health and are a leader in mobile health data collection.
  • Jonathan Zittrain is a professor of law and computer science, and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Jonathan’s work focuses on topics including control of digital property, privacy frameworks, and the roles of intermediaries in Internet architecture.
  • Randall Thomas is assisting Resolve to Save Lives and other stakeholders with the New York State response to COVID-19. Randall is the CTO of Geometer, a technology incubator.
  • Mona Sloane is an NYU-based sociologist working on inequality in the context of AI design and policy. At NYU, she helps form NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and is Co-Principal Investigator on the COVID-19 Tech Project. Mona also leads the project Terra Incognita: Mapping NYC’s New Digital Public Spaces in the COVID-19 Outbreak.

1pm-2pm EDT: Contact Tracing/Exposure Notification Product Demos – Leading organizations developing applications to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, primarily through contact tracing and exposure notification, will each demo their product. Teams include:

We’ll have a live stream available on June 3 so you can follow along, as mentioned, but you can also RSVP here to register your interest. It should be a day full of interesting, expert discussion of why there’s a need to extend contact tracing and exposure notification through connected and digital means, as well as the privacy, public health and policy implications such extension necessarily carries with it.

BeeHero smartens up hives to provide ‘pollination as a service’ with $4M seed round

By Devin Coldewey

Vast monoculture farms outstripped the ability of bee populations to pollinate them naturally long ago, but the techniques that have arisen to fill that gap are neither precise nor modern. Israeli startup BeeHero aims to change that by treating hives both as living things and IoT devices, tracking health and pollination progress practically in real time. It just raised a $4 million seed round that should help expand its operations into U.S. agriculture.

Honeybees are used around the world to pollinate crops, and there has been growing demand for beekeepers who can provide lots of hives on short notice and move them wherever they need to be. But the process has been hamstrung by the threat of colony collapse, an increasingly common end to hives, often as the result of mite infestation.

Hives must be deployed and checked manually and regularly, entailing a great deal of labor by the beekeepers — it’s not something just anyone can do. They can only cover so much land over a given period, meaning a hive may go weeks between inspections — during which time it could have succumbed to colony collapse, perhaps dooming the acres it was intended to pollinate to a poor yield. It’s costly, time-consuming, and decidedly last-century.

So what’s the solution? As in so many other industries, it’s the so-called Internet of Things. But the way CEO and founder Omer Davidi explains it, it makes a lot of sense.

“This is a math game, a probabilistic game,” he said. “We’ve modeled the problem, and the main factors that affect it are, one, how do you get more efficient bees into the field, and two, what is the most efficient way to deploy them?”

Normally this would be determined ahead of time and monitored with the aforementioned manual checks. But off-the-shelf sensors can provide a window into the behavior and condition of a hive, monitoring both health and efficiency. You might say it puts the API in apiculture.

“We collect temperature, humidity, sound, there’s an accelerometer. For pollination, we use pollen traps and computer vision to check the amount of pollen brought to the colony,” he said. “We combine this with microclimate stuff and other info, and the behaviors and patterns we see inside the hives correlate with other things. The stress level of the queen, for instance. We’ve tested this on thousands of hives; it’s almost like the bees are telling us, ‘we have a queen problem.’ ”

All this information goes straight to an online dashboard where trends can be assessed, dangerous conditions identified early and plans made for things like replacing or shifting less or more efficient hives.

The company claims that its readings are within a few percentage points of ground truth measurements made by beekeepers, but of course it can be done instantly and from home, saving everyone a lot of time, hassle and cost.

The results of better hive deployment and monitoring can be quite remarkable, though Davidi was quick to add that his company is building on a growing foundation of work in this increasingly important domain.

“We didn’t invent this process, it’s been researched for years by people much smarter than us. But we’ve seen increases in yield of 30-35% in soybeans, 70-100% in apples and cashews in South America,” he said. It may boggle the mind that such immense improvements can come from just better bee management, but the case studies they’ve run have borne it out. Even “self-pollinating” (i.e. by the wind or other measures) crops that don’t need pollinators show serious improvements.

The platform is more than a growth aid and labor saver. Colony collapse is killing honeybees at enormous rates, but if it can be detected early, it can be mitigated and the hive potentially saved. That’s hard to do when time from infection to collapse is a matter of days and you’re inspecting biweekly. BeeHero’s metrics can give early warning of mite infestations, giving beekeepers a head start on keeping their hives alive.

“We’ve seen cases where you can lower mortality by 20-25%,” said Davidi. “It’s good for the farmer to improve pollination, and it’s good for the beekeeper to lose less hives.”

That’s part of the company’s aim to provide value up and down the chain, not just a tool for beekeepers to check the temperatures of their hives. “Helping the bees is good, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem. You want to help whole operations,” Davidi said. The aim is “to provide insights rather than raw data: whether the queen is in danger, if the quality of the pollination is different.”

Other startups have similar ideas, but Davidi noted that they’re generally working on a smaller scale, some focused on hobbyists who want to monitor honey production, or small businesses looking to monitor a few dozen hives versus his company’s nearly 20,000. BeeHero aims for scale both with robust but off-the-shelf hardware to keep costs low, and by focusing on an increasingly tech-savvy agriculture sector here in the States.

“The reason we’re focused on the U.S. is the adoption of precision agriculture is very high in this market, and I must say it’s a huge market,” Davidi said. “Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, so you have a small area where you can have a big impact.”

The $4 million seed round’s investors include Rabo Food and Agri Innovation Fund, UpWest, iAngels, Plug and Play, and J-Ventures.

BeeHero is still very much also working on R&D, exploring other crops, improved metrics and partnerships with universities to use the hive data in academic studies. Expect to hear more as the market grows and the need for smart bee management starts sounding a little less weird and a lot more like a necessity for modern agriculture.

Truthset raises $4.75M to help marketers score their data

By Anthony Ha

Data, the cliche goes, is the new oil of the digital economy. But Truth{set} co-founder and CEO Scott McKinley wants to know: “Why does no one care about the quality of that fuel?”

That’s an issue McKinley saw in his seven years as an executive at Nielsen, where he said he realized that marketing data products are “all built on massive error.” As evidence, he pointed to recent studies showing that bad data leads marketers to waste 21 cents of every dollar, and that in many cases, consumer data is “similar to or even worse than what you’d get if you used random chance to create a target list.

McKinley argued, “You wouldn’t drive a car to a gas station where there’s no octane rating on the pump.” He created Truth{set} to provide that octane rating to marketers, and to “shine the light on that whole ecosystem.”

More specifically, the company scores the consumer data that marketers are buying on accuracy, on a scale between 0.00 and 1.00. To create these scores, Truth{set} checks the data against independent data sources, as well as first-party data and panels.

“In order for us to do this, we had to develop a perspective on what is truthful and what is not,” McKinley said. “And so instead of building our own data sets, we said, ‘Let’s be smarter than that, let’s verify everybody else’s data with these independent sources of truth.'”

Truthset screenshot

Image Credits: Truthset

In addition to coming out of stealth, Truth{set} is also announcing that it has raised $4.75 million in seed funding from startup studio super{set}, WTI, Ulu Ventures, and strategic angel investors.

The company says it’s compatible with demand-side platforms, data management platforms and customer platforms. It also integrates with the leading data providers including Facebook, LiveRamp and The Trade Desk.

McKinley added that the platform can even “suppress” consumer IDs that don’t meet a marketer’s standards, so that they’re not used in targeting.

Throughout our conversation, he emphasized the idea of independence, arguing that in order to provide trustworthy scores, “You cannot have a conflict of interest.” At the same time, Truthset is working closely with the data providers to score their data and to help them improve their accuracy. The goal is to create an expectation among marketers that if data is accurate, it will come with a score from Truth{set}.

“There’s a FOMO thing here — if you’re not being measured, what are you hiding?” McKinley said.

Win a Wild Card to compete in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020

By Marquise Foster

Ready to take advantage of every opportunity to keep your startup on track and moving forward? Yes, yes you are. Exhibiting in Startup Alley during Disrupt SF 2020 is nothing but opportunity. It offers founders beaucoup benefits, but there’s one more whopper waiting for two standout startups. We’re talking about the Wild Card entry to compete in Startup Battlefield.

Yup, buy yourself a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and you’ll have a shot at joining Disrupt SF 2020’s elite Startup Battlefield cohort. The winner of this epic pitch competition takes home the coveted Disrupt Cup and $100,000. And who couldn’t use that kind of equity-free cash infusion right about now?

Here’s how it all works. Exhibit in Startup Alley, where you’ll demo your tech products, platforms or services to potential investors, customers, engineers, media outlets and, well, the list goes on. This is no time to take your foot off the gas, and Startup Alley offers a prime opportunity to network one-on-one and build relationships with the people who can help keep your startup moving forward.

Now, about that Wild Card. The discerning TechCrunch editorial team will review all exhibiting startups and — talk about a tough task — select only two companies to compete in Startup Battlefield.

If you’re chosen, you’ll join the other Battlefield competitors and deliver a 6-minute pitch and demo to a panel of judges — top-name VCs and technologists. You’ll also answer a Q&A after your pitch. If you make it through to round two, you’ll do it all again to a fresh set of experts.

Does it sound a bit far-fetched — going from mild-mannered exhibitor to Battlefield Champion — hoisting the Disrupt Cup and hauling $100K back home? Okay, it’s longshot, but it’s not unprecedented! The folks at RecordGram pulled it off, why not you?

Even if you don’t win the competition, you’ll launch in front of the global startup community, be on the receiving end of intense media and investor interest and join the ranks of the Startup Battlefield Alumni community — more than 900 companies (including the likes of Dropbox, Mint, Yammer and Vurb) that have collectively raised $9 billion and produced 115 exits.

Don’t miss your double dose of opportunity. Exhibit in Startup Alley at Disrupt SF 2020, drive your dream to the next level and take a shot at winning a Wild Card. Who knows? You might just be the next Startup Battlefield champ.

TechCrunch is mindful of the COVID-19 issue and its impact on live events. You can follow updates here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Researchers use biometrics, including data from the Oura Ring, to predict COVID-19 symptoms in advance

By Darrell Etherington

A team of researchers from the West Virginia University (WVU) Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI), along with WVU’s Medicine department and staff from Oura Health have developed a platform they say can be used to anticipate the onset of COVID-19 symptoms in otherwise healthy people up to three days in advance. This can help with screening of pre-symptomatic individuals, the researchers suggest, enabling earlier testing and potentially reducing the exposure risk among frontline healthcare and essential workers.

The sudsy involved using biometric data gathered by the Oura Ring, a consumer wearable that looks like a normal metallic ring, but that includes sensors to monitor a number of physiological metrics, including body temperature, sleep patterns, activity, heart rate and more. RNI and WVU Medical researchers combined this data with physiological, cognitive and behaviroral biometric info from around 600 healthcare workers and first responders.

Participants in the study wore the Oura Ring, and provided additional data that was then used to develop AI-based models to anticipate the onset of symptoms before they physically manifested. While these are early results from a phase one study, and yet to be peer-reviewed, the researchers say that their results showed a 90 percent accuracy rate on predicting the occurrence of symptoms including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue and more, all of which could indicate that someone has contracted COVID-19. While that doesn’t mean that individuals have the disease, a flag from the platform could mean they seek testing up to three days before symptoms appear, which in turn would mean three fewer days potentially exposing others around them to infection.

Next up, the study hopes to expand to cover as many as 10,000 participants across a number of different institutions in multiple states, with other academic partners on board to support the expansion. The study was fully funded by the RNI and their supporters, with Oura joining strictly in a facilitating capacity and to assist with hardware for deployment.

Many projects have been undertaken to see whether predictive models could help anticipate COVID-19 onset prior to the expression of symptoms, or in individuals who present as mostly or entirely asymptomatic based on general observation. This early result from RNI suggests that it is indeed possible, and that hardware already available to the general public could play an important role in making it possible.

Tia Health gets over $24 million to build a network of holistic health clinics and virtual services for women

By Jonathan Shieber

Tia Health, the developer of a network of digital wellness apps, clinics and telehealth services designed to treat women’s health holistically, has raised $24.275 million in a new round of funding.

The company said the financing would support the expansion of its telehealth and clinical services to new markets, although co-founder and chief executive Carolyn Witte would not disclose, where, exactly those locations would be.

Co-founded initially as a text-based tool for women to communicate and receive advice on sexual health and wellness, Witte and her co-founder Felicity Yost always had bigger ambitions for their business.

Last year, Tia launched its first physical clinic in New York and now boasts a team of 15 physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, therapists and other treatment providers. The support staff is what helps keeps cost down, according to Witte.

“We reduce the cost of care by 40% [and] we do that through collaborative care staffing. [That] leverages mid-level providers like nurse practitioners to deliver higher-touch care at lower cost,” she said. 

Tia closed its most recent round before shelter-in-place went into effect in New York on March 17, and since then worked hard to port its practices over to telehealth and virtual medicine, Witte said.

Two days later, Tia went live with telehealth services and the company’s membership of 3,000 women responded. Witte said roughly half of the company’s patients have used the company’s telehealth platform. Since Tia began as an app first before moving into physical care services, the progression was natural, said Witte. The COVID-19 epidemic just accelerated the timeline. “In the last 90 days close to 50% of Tia’s 3,000 members have engaged in chat or video,” Witte said. 

The move to telehealth also allowed Tia to take in more money for its services. With changes to regulation around what kinds of care delivery are covered, telehealth is one new way to make a lot of money that’s covered by insurance and not an elective decision for patients.

“That has allowed us to give our patients the ability to use their insurance for that virtual care and bill for those services,” Witte said of the regulatory changes. 

The staff at Tia consists not just of doctors and nurse practitioners (there are two of each), but also licensed clinical therapists that provide mental health services for Tia’s patient population too.

“Before COVID we surveyed our 3,000 patients in NY about what they want and mental health was the most requested service,” said Witte. “We saw a 400% increase in mental health-related messages on my platform. We rolled out this behavioral health and clinical program paired with our primary care.”

As Tia continues to expand the services it offers to its patients, the next piece of the puzzle to provide a complete offering for women’s health is pregnancy planning and fertility, according to Witte.

The company sees itself as part of a movement to repackage a healthcare industry that has concentrated on treating specific illnesses rather than patient populations that have unique profiles and care needs.

Rather than focusing on a condition or medical specialization like cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology or endocrinology, the new healthcare system treats cohorts or groups of people — those over 65, adult men and women, as groups with their own specific needs that cross these specializations and require different types of care.

We are really focused on collecting longitudinal data to better understand and treat women’s health,” said Witte. “A stepping stone in that regard is expanding our service line to support the pregnancy journey.” 

Tia’s latest round was led by new investor Threshold Ventures, with participation from Acme Ventures (also a new backer) and previous investors, including Define Homebrew, Compound and John Doerr, the longtime managing partner at KPCB.

When the company launched, its stated mission was to use women’s data to improve women’s health.

“We believe reproductive-aged women deserve a similar focus, and a new model of care designed end-to-end, just for us,” the company said in a statement

As Tia continues to stress, women have been “under-researched and underserved by a healthcare system that continues to treat us as ‘small men with different parts’ — all-too-often neglecting the complex interplay of hormones, gene regulation, metabolism and other sex-specific differences that make female health fundamentally distinct from male health. It’s time for that to change.”

But Tia won’t be changing anything on the research front anytime soon. The company is not pursuing any clinical trials or publishing any research around how the ways in which women’s menstrual cycles may affect outcomes or influence other systems, according to Witte. Rather the company is using that information in its treatment of individual patients, she said.

The company did just hire a head of research — an expert in reproductive genomics, which Witte said was to start to understand how the company can build out proof points around how Tia’s care model can improve outcomes. 

Tia will reopen its brick-and-mortar clinic in New York on June 1 and will be expanding to new locations over the course of the year. That expansion may involve partnerships with corporations or existing healthcare providers, the company said.

“By partnering with leading health systems, employers, and provider networks to scale our Connected Care Platform, and open new physical and digital Tia doors, we can make ‘the Tia Way’ the new standard of care for women and providers everywhere,” Tia said in a statement.

As it does so, the company said it will continue to emphasize its holistic approach to women’s health.

As the company’s founders write:

Being a healthy woman is all-too-often reduced to not having an STD or an abnormal Pap, but we know that the leading cause of death for women in America is cardiovascular disease. We also know that women are diagnosed with anxiety and depression at twice the rate of men, and that endocrine and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. In pregnancy, c-section and preterm birth rates continue to go up instead of down, as does maternal mortality, with the U.S. reporting more maternal deaths than any developed country in the world.

We believe that the solution is a preventive “whole women’s health” model…

2020 Lotus Evora GT Review: A thrilling, analog weekend racer

By Matt Burns

Why’s this on TechCrunch? We hear that occasionally when posting things outside of our general programming. Generally, there’s a tech hook; there isn’t here with this $100,000 2020 Lotus Evora GT.

The Lotus Evora GT is supersized go-kart with nary an advanced technical feature. And I love it. While most cars are coming equipped with supercomputers, the lack of technical wizardry makes the 2020 Evora GT interesting, and that’s why it’s on TechCrunch.

A modest v6 rests behind the driver. The stats are hardly notable. 416 BHP and 317 lb-ft. It’s supercharged with an Edelbrock screw providing 8.7 psi of boost. In all, it’s not much considering rivals often sport twice the power and torque. The Lotus Evora GT doesn’t care. The engine provides intense thrills and driving dynamics. This car proves that even today, when 1,000 hp is obtainable and F1-inspired hybrid systems are hitting cars, over-the-top horsepower and exotic power plants are not needed. Not really, at least.

This Lotus follows a timeless analog formula. Throw a good engine in a little car, give the driver control over the transmission, and fun ensues.

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Review

I never turned on the radio. The howl of the engine was enough for me as I took this Lotus around Michigan’s deserted backroads.

The engine wails with power. A distinct whine is caused by the supercharger that’s quickly followed up by a roar from the exhaust. The combination creates a harmony missing in most modern sports cars. Now in days, automakers take grain pain in isolating drivers from the violent explosions powering their vehicles, and in a vehicle the size of this Lotus, that’s not possible.

The Lotus Evora GT is small. This isn’t a car for commuting. The creature comforts of power seats, and cup holders are missing. There’s no room for golf clubs. The tiny storage compartment between the rear-mounted engine and the bumper has a warning not to exceed 50kg. There’s a back seat, but don’t expect anyone to sit in it; it’s too small for even a child. This is a car for whipping around a track or empty roads and enjoying every second of it.

Power is instructed through a six-speed manual transmission. The throws are lovely and spaced perfectly. It’s the Goldilocks of standards. Not too long, not too short. Not too hard, not too soft. Just right. This transmission is part of the Lotus Evora GT’s appeal.

In most modern sports cars, the driver is often a conductor, sending instructions to various orchestra members. The result is beautiful music, and the crowd cheers as the conductor take a bow. But he didn’t do anything. He just told the musicians what to do.

In cars like this Lotus, the driver is more akin to a one-person band. Sure, the music or driving might not be as technically beautiful as an orchestra, but that one man, controlling and playing all the instruments, simultaneously produced magic.

Save the manuals.

With immense power to weight ratio, the Lotus is primed for excitement. In traffic, it’s like driving a Hot Wheels toy car next to a giant Tonka Truck. Wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 XLs seem to provide enough grip to allow the Evora GT to climb a wall. I had a smile every time there was a sharp highway ramp.

There are a handful of competitors around the Evora GT’s $100,000 price tag. For perspective buyers, they should be considered. For nearly the same price, one can opt for the stellar Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, which offers similar driving characteristics with a lot more creature comforts. Likewise, the base model Porsche 911 starts at $100,000 and can be configured for weekend fun and daily commuting.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, I’m unable to provide a report from a track. Everything is closed here in late May as the country struggles to reopen.

This Lotus Evora GT is a quarantine buster. I live outside of a small city in the middle of Michigan. Make a right when leaving my house to go to town. Take a left, and I have access to endless roads lined with cornfields. That’s where I spent most of my time with this Lotus.

It’s a thrilling ride, racing through country roads. Uphills and down. Around meandering country lines and fields and animal pastures. I’ve taken many cars through this area, and the open stretches of the road never get old. This Lotus feels at home on these back roads.

Cars like the Evora GT are a dying example of motoring. Electric sports cars can provide more thrills, and yet they lack the mechanical wonder caused by gas-powered cars. The Lotus Evora GT is a new car with an old soul. It doesn’t want to live a life of commuting. It wants to drive for the hell of it.

Stackin’ raises $12.6M Series B to help millennials navigate the crowded fintech space

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Fintech’s funding boom for the past decade has led to a flurry of new consumer startups tackling a wide range of money-related issues, from saving apps to investing platforms.

Should you download Robinhood, Stash, Public, Acorns, or Truebill? The fintech craze creates confusion for consumers when it comes to figuring out which startup is the best to handle your money.

That clutter has created room for Venice-based Stackin’, a curated marketplace for fintech apps that today raised $12.6 million in a Series B funding round led by Octopus Ventures. According to CEO Scott Grimes, Stackin’ “wants to be the simplest entry point into finance” for millennials. Today’s raise brings the company’s total known funding to $19.6 million. Other investors in the company include Experian Ventures, Cherry Tree Investments, Dig Ventures, Mucker Capital, Unlock Venture Partners, TechStars and Wavemaker Partners.

How it works

Stackin’ uses text messaging to give money tips to young consumers, which it meets by advertising on platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. Think of Stackin’ as a more friendly and less nerdy “robo-advisor” that sends you advice on how to save, and from time to time, recommends you an app that you might enjoy in the fintech space.

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You can start an emergency fund with $25 👊

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“Sometimes you’ll get some education, sometimes we’ll send you something funny via text,” said Grimes. “So the text messages themselves are not always built for response. They’re built to keep you engaged. They’re built to teach you something.” Tips look like how to manage a stimulus check, or how to save $500 on your couch.

The texts for the first 30 to 60 days are tailored to how someone finds Stackin’. If users come in from a TikTok around investing, the first two months are around investing tips. After that time period, the knowledge becomes more general.

When Stackin’ has enough information on a user to see that they might be interested in opening an investment account, for example, they present three options to the user of platforms they can use.

Stackin’ added one million active users in a little over a year, up 500,000 active users from when it raised last July. It has sent over 100 million text messages to date.

The easiest way to understand how Stackin’ makes money is to think of it as an advertising agent for other fintech brands. It’s yet another channel that Robinhood or Chime can use to market itself, and Stackin’ drives leads to younger customers. Stackin’ makes money when users either click into one of their product recommendations or download an app, depending on the contract. The company’s base rate is determined on a contract-by-contract basis.

Grimes said that the text messaging service, built atop Twilio, incurs “a lot of costs” for the company, which is not yet profitable. But he hopes that as the company captures more users, their recommendations will get better and revenue will increase.

Many fintech startups have a financial literacy component similar to Stackin’, but their education is only effective after a consumer decides to download their app in the first place. Stackin’s competitive edge is that it brings in potential customers to fintech before they are in the “download a robo-adviser” stage of their financial journey. Grimes describes them as the “pipes that port people around fintech.”

Success (and a shutter)

With the new financing and COVID-19, Stackin’ is doubling down on its text-messaging business and stripping the company of its other plays in the product field. In the fall, Stackin’ launched a new investment feature similar to Acorns to encourage users to invest. In June, it launched a no-fee, checking and savings account feature in partnership with Radius Bank. The company recently ended its partnership with Radius Bank and will continue its small investing operations, an “unraveling” move that the CEO says was so “Stackin did not look like it competes with its customers.”

“As a referral product, we don’t even want the appearance that we’re trying to compete with the neo-banking space,” Grimes said. “Our core focus as we move forward is going to be 100 percent built around how we can be the most efficient company on the planet and use data to refer people into the products they need when they need them.”

Stackin’ has 18 employees, and will use the new funding to expand its messaging service, user growth, and marketplace to the United Kingdom later this year.

Remote Work Has Its Perks, Until You Want a Promotion

By Tom Simonite
Companies like Facebook and Twitter expect many employees to work far from headquarters after the pandemic. That calls for a change in corporate cultures.
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