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Gillmor Gang: Leave Quietly – TechCrunch

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It turns out the most important decision made was not the vote to choose (and remove) in the election but Twitter’s permanent banning of the former President from the social network. Suddenly the temperature cooled, the new administration engaged with the details of vaccine rollout, and the second impeachment trial ended with an expected outcome. Twitter’s move was bipartisan if the trial was not.

Twitter’s other big move was the acquisition of Revue, a Substack competitor we’re moving to in production of the Gillmor Gang newsletter. It features tools to drag and drop articles from Twitter, Feedly, and other newsletters, but crucially the ability to reorganize these chunks as the writing develops. It’s my bet that the newsletter container will absorb blogs, podcasts, and streaming into a reorganized media platform available to creators small and large.

This kind of organic process development meshes well with the newsletter model. It encourages more timely releases, and an editorial feel that prizes quality over quantity. As newsletters proliferate, an evaluation of time over volume becomes most significant. It’s less an eyeballs pattern than a prioritization of what is not chosen and then what is, consumed or annotated with social recommendations. As with the Gang’s Frank Radice Nuzzel newsletter, the focus becomes less flow and more authority or resonance.

Daily Commentary

I have made the decision to cover the media exclusively in “The Radice Files” There are plenty of general news aggregators out there, and I for one, am just tired of those stories. I hope you’ll stay with me.

Instead of non-stop Trump, the only political story in the revamped Radice File is about how Fox News cut away from House manager video testimony to a commentary on the futility of covering the violence given the lack of votes for conviction. This shadow dance happens not just on Fox but the other centrist or left networks like CNN and MSNBC. The slant is not what’s interesting; the networks’ business model and the subtle effect on media programming is.

No wonder that streaming’s impact is being felt in the latest unicorn from Silicon Valley, Clubhouse. The audio streaming podcast disruptor is marketed as a FOMO inside hallway conversation, with a Twitter social cloud viral onboard mechanism that digs deep into your contact list and never lets go. Big ticket items such as a keynote-like conversation with Elon Musk are overbooked from the first minute. I tried unsuccessfully to join this week’s follow up with Marc Andreessen and his VC partner Ben Horowitz but it was sold out at 5000 after 30 minutes.

But there is definitely something tugging at me as I get notifications of people joining and creating rooms on various glitzy Valley topics. The live feeling of serendipity and catch it as you can promises the possibility of lightning in a bottle, the sensation of history being made, not just observed. Probably just an illusion, but it’s reminiscent of the feeling we used to get when putting a record on the turntable and daring the artist(s) to succeed. I still get that every time Miles’ Kind of Blue resumes, the awe with which time is reorganized at the atomic level.

People say a Clubhouse can go easily from 1 to 5 hours. I think RSS was killed by the red unread marks indicator. Size matters? Probably, if my college research suggests. But more important than length is ROI, and that’s where the Clubhouse effect dovetails with the newsletter moment. The ingredients of both are intuition, choice, the organic breadcrumb trail, and the payload.

Intuition

Does this notification fit in with what pattern I’m trying to discern this moment. I love movies like Citizen Kane and North By Northwest for the mirage that they project of a universe fated by a biologically innate DNA. Sometimes we call it fate, other times dumb luck, but always that dumbest of phrases: It is what it is. Only this time the conceit is: It is what it’s about to be is. And if something happens, yes, I knew it. Not specifically, but given the mood the planet is in, it figures this could happen.

In a newsletter: the game is not to read everything, but only what and when and in what order. The prize is the analytics, which reward the reader with more stuff, and the publisher with validation of the impact of the combination of choice (citations) and context (writing.) In Clubhouse, it’s being in the room and what — knowing when to bail? For me it’s escaping the inevitability of the point being made in a podcast, or the filter of the business model of what I’m going to do next. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Maybe…

Choice

There’s a bunch of choice: Choice of room, people, time invested, moment of throwing good money after bad. Choice of what I’m playing hookey on — work, cable news, family fun, sleep. Clubhouse lets you publicly eavesdrop, a broadcast @mention that doesn’t give you the option of lurking. But you can do the closest thing to multitasking: doing the dishes, playing with the dog, monitoring. cable news with the sound off, DJ-ing for a private room, driving, etc. It is the new radio, pandemic be damned. Wherever you go, there you still are.

Newsletters? People, time reading, research replacement, subscription development, form of payment (money, authority, trust), influence or eyeballs. The game is trading current media for future rebundling, where the new publishers, studios, and artists are grown.

Breadcrumb trail

These choices create the breadcrumb trail, plowing under the old and furrowing the new. Newsletters are the leading edge of this refactoring, tilling the memes, models, and markets for the trends that become viral. The analytics of opens, email vs. web clicks, and notification triage are implicit for the most part in their signal. Harvesting these breadcrumbs requires the impact of new content created in response to the earlier data. Once you’ve identified a valuable consumer, your real work has just begun.

First, you look for the signature of exultation, the embedded essence of the experience that a certain combination of intuition and action rewards the detective. For that is what this new media is: an information thriller that taps into deep reading, listening, and sharing. Every catch phrase — round up the usual suspects, or we are not the droids you are looking for — represent uber themes we crave to navigate a terrifying treacherous world. We are the droids we’re looking for, and these new medias represent possible parallel worlds where we can not just survive but honor values of our choosing.

In the movies, it’s called the plotline. Clubhouse presumes there’s a story worth waiting for, the moments where we gain power by sharing and decorating reactions with clues as to what part of the same elephant we are investigating. We know intuitively that we’re not going to learn business secrets, but there is gold to be retrieved from the participants as they share their sense of humor or lack of it, their rhythm of when they join, raise their hand, are successful at being invited on stage, when they leave, whether they boomerang, and only a little what they actually say. The price for this is your breadcrumbs.

The Payload

As much as I’m intrigued by Clubhouse, I’ve only actually joined or started a room twice. Once was by accident, as I realized by clicking on a link to see who was there. Me, I found out. Another was a conversation about a Techmeme podcast by the podcaster and Chris Messina of hashtag fame. I never could get into the big A16Z attractions. Like Frank Radice’s newsletter pivot, I was primarily interested in the atmospherics surrounding Andreessen Horowitz’s media strategy. But that doesn’t obviate the steady feeling that something substantial is going on here.

Media generally is swallowing its pride in the wake of the political nightmare we’ve been living through. Notice I say media, not mainstream media or social media. Smarter people than me can debate the distinction, but I think the difference between the two is overstated, and more importantly, not that indicative of what the value of these new media surges will turn out to embody. More and more, the substantial writing that filters in on Twitter, RSS (through Feedly), and aggregators like Nuzzel and Medium is significant in its approach to the central issues we’re struggling with. That includes traditional players like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Information, and the tech journals, as they combine newsletter techniques with their substantial resources.

We’re seeing a merger of the medias, with the consensus around value and weight being measured by new metrics. In television, it’s the NewFronts combining digital and linear TV; in music it’s at the song level, not the album. Streaming has shaken the old networks to their core, with a horse race between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, and ABC, NBC, and the old CBS. M&A has swallowed Fox, Time Warner, FX, and even an old studio, Paramount. And radio? You could say the usual suspects Apple, Google, Amazon, and Spotify, but Clubhouse? Like Zoom, I think so. Twitter and Facebook have bigger fish to fry, but Apple Car and Glasses are the key platforms Clubhouse will play in as we move into the autonomous work from anywhere reality. The payload is value, time management, and notifications at the core of the move to digital.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, February 19, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.



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Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round – TechCrunch

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Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”



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I get it, Elizabeth Holmes – TechCrunch

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Elizabeth Holmes’ raspy, deep voice helped her raise more than $700 million for her now-defunct company, Theranos. When I step into any boardroom for a pitch, I can hear her croaking her favorite line: “I hope that less people will have to say goodbye too soon to people that they love.”

Sitting across from a venture partner, I wonder if they might feel more compelled by my words if I cut my hair short (really short), or grew a beard, or removed my pregnant belly. Would they take out their checkbook if I were more aggressive in what I promised? Would they be more interested in getting to know my business and me better if I passionately slammed the table?

Actually, very likely.

Holmes adopted a ridiculously low voice to get her startup off the ground in a world full of men. She promised impossible pinprick tests to detect hundreds of diseases and collected influential investors like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Mattis and Betsy DeVos. She wore a Steve Jobs uniform — including the Issey Miyake turtleneck — and built a team of 800 brilliant people. Did she go overboard with her lies? Yes. But she’s not the only one. The Silicon Valley and venture landscape only exacerbated whatever beliefs she already had in her company and inclinations to promise the moon.

Last week at a virtual hearing, she pushed to keep a huge database of information protected from the government. Before that, she claimed to have made $100 million in revenue in 2014, when it was really $100,000. These things, among others, are hands-down inexcusable. But I still believe that she thought she was doing the right thing taking the universal advice of Silicon Valley: “Fake it till you make it.”

She once said, borrowing from previous thought leaders: “This is what happens when you work to change things, and first they think you’re crazy, then they fight you and then all of a sudden you change the world.” I wonder if she just thinks she’s now on part two.

Raising money to start a company is about two things: having connections and making an appearance. Connections are difficult to make when you’re a woman: “Only about 12% of decision-makers at VC firms are women, and most firms still don’t have a single female partner.”

And even if you have connections, building relationships can be a bit weird: My cofounders end up being text buddies with our investors, while I hear news of things in passing. We hit a peak of 2.8% of funding going to women-led startups in 2019, but in 2020, that dropped again to 2.3%, possibly because investors reverted to their standard habits of keeping their cards close during uncertain times. Furthermore, investors generally have expectations that are aligned with male tendencies. For example, identical slides and scripts that are read by men and women are judged very differently, with men overwhelmingly rated higher. Holmes’ deep voice, although off-putting, probably made her more convincing.

It’s not easy to replicate the fundraising success that Holmes had, though. If other women tried to emulate this, they’d likely be penalized: In general, forward men are viewed positively as assertive, while forward women are viewed as emotionally unstable. This is confusing because, inversely, if women retreat to stereotypically feminine behaviors, they are viewed as weak. Hillary Clinton got stuck in this during her presidential race — criticized for being aggressive and cold when stereotypically masculine traits and pegged as weak when showing stereotypically feminine traits.

To make matters worse, it turns out that in pitches, women are asked more preventative questions about potential loss and risk, while men are asked more promotional questions about upside and gains. Women can work around this by answering any preventative question in the positive. Holmes knew this deep down and played into it. That was the only way for her to win.

I am absolutely no “holmie,” but I do understand firsthand her need to role-play. I’ve been overlooked; hell, I’ve even been told to change my product line (bras) because venture capitalists won’t get it. And they didn’t. I gave in.

I don’t want to defend her, and I can’t. It’s so easy to drop a line at a party or a board meeting about how obnoxious she was in her venture, but what irks me is that we focus on her specifically as the problem, completely bypassing the environment that created her. I remember soaking up John Carreyrou’s tantalizing book thinking, “Wow, I’ll never do that,” as I started my company. But as I have seen the pressures and the biases, I can see how the system shaped Holmes.

Why don’t we judge the biased system we created as much as we judge the person it destroyed? She sticks out like a sore thumb because, well, how many Elizabeth Holmeses are there out there? These problems are so ingrained in the system itself, though, that as David Foster Wallace alluded to in the water speech, we can’t see them and we probably aren’t ready to repair them.

The next time someone jokes at a cocktail party about Holmes’ baritone voice, just remind them how dumb is it that we give more money to people with deep voices.

Former TechCrunch COO Ned Desmond is now Senior Operating Partner at SOSV, which has invested in unspun.



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Sproutl is an online marketplace for gardeners founded by former Farfetch executives – TechCrunch

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Meet Sproutl, a marketplace for gardeners living in the U.K. The startup founded by former Farfetch executives has raised a $9 million seed round. It wants to make gardening more accessible by providing a curated list of items, relevant advice as well as inspiration.

Index Ventures is leading the round in the startup with Ada Ventures and several business angels also participating. The funding round originally closed in April of this year.

“A few years ago, we bought a flat in London with a tiny little garden. We were both working full time in quite intense jobs with young kids. I went online assuming that I would be able to sort out this garden space. And I didn’t know a lot about gardening. And I just didn’t find anything that spoke to me as a new gardener. It felt like what was available was more for more knowledgeable people,” co-founder and CEO Anni Noel-Johnson told me.

If you’ve ever tried to search for gardening videos on YouTube, you may have end up on long-winded videos with instructions that don’t make any sense to you. Similarly, there are not a lot of e-commerce websites focused on gardening specifically.

And yet, the market opportunity is quite big. There are millions of gardeners in the U.K. There are also quite a few independent garden centers, nurseries and shops with a turnover of several millions of pounds per year. More importantly, they generate the vast majority of their sales in store. Some of them have never sold anything online.

Sproutl is teaming up with those businesses so that they can find new customers across the U.K. Those third-party sellers list their items on Sproutl while the startup takes care of logistics, packaging sourcing and delivery.

On the marketplace, customers can buy indoor and outdoor plants, pots, gardening essentials and outdoor living products. Partners currently include Rosebourne, Polhill, Millbrook, Middleton, Bellr, Fertile Fibre and Horticus.

Anni Noel-Johnson, the CEO of the company, was the VP of Trading and Strategy at Farfetch. Sproutl CTO Andy Done also worked at Farfetch at some point as Director of Data Engineering.

Hollie Newton is also going to be a key team member at Sproutl. She previously wrote a best-selling gardening book called ‘How to Grow’. She’s now the Chief Creative Officer at Sproutl.

This is key to understanding Sproutl’s growth strategy. The company plans to provide a ton of content on all things related to your garden — the startup has already released a jargon buster. You might end up on Sproutl the next time you’re looking for gardening advice on Google.

And it’s also going to differentiate the platform from all-encompassing e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon. Other e-commerce companies focused on one vertical in particular, such as ManoMano, have been quite successful. With the right focus, Sproutl could quickly build a loyal customer base as well.



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Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years – TechCrunch

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China’s e-commerce and industrial ecosystem is as different from the Western world as its culture. The country took decades to earn its reputation as the Factory of the World, but it now boasts a supply chain and manufacturing ability that few countries can match.

Creative use of the country’s networked manufacturing and logistics hubs make mass production both cheap and easy. Clothing, electronics, toys, automobiles, musical instruments, furniture — you name it and you’ll find a manufacturer in China who can turn your intangible concept into mass-manufacturable reality in mere days. And they’ll do it for cheaper than anywhere else in the world.

It was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

China is also home to one of the world’s largest e-commerce and tech ecosystems. Hundreds of startups dot the landscape, and the amount of money being raised and spent on innovating around the country’s industrial heft is mind-boggling.

So it was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The tech revolution hasn’t yet affected the bottled beverage industry quite as much as it has others. Incumbent giants therefore could lose a sizable chunk of market share if a company could just manage to weave together China’s manufacturing proficiency and agility with the modern tech startup philosophy of “moving fast and breaking stuff.”

Genki Forest, a Chinese direct-to-consumer (D2C) bottled beverage startup, is one such contender. A philosophy centered around iteration informed by data, quick turnarounds and a laser focus on taking advantage of China’s huge e-commerce ecosystem has helped this company’s revenues rise rapidly since it started five years ago. Its sugar-free sodas, milk teas and energy drinks sell in 40 countries and generated revenue of about $450 million in 2020. The company aims to reach $1.2 billion this year.

If anything, Genki Forest’s valuation has shot up even faster. It recently completed its fourth VC round that values it at a whopping $6 billion, triple the price it fetched a year earlier, and it has so far raised at least half a billion dollars.

It’s striking how closely Genki Forest’s operations resemble that of a tech startup. So we thought we should take a closer look and see what this company’s graph can tell us about the new wave of Chinese D2C entrepreneurship looking to take over the globe.

Finding a bigger wave to ride

The bottled beverage industry wasn’t what Genki Forest’s founder, Binsen Tang, initially set out to tackle. His first startup was a successful casual, mostly mobile gaming outfit known as ELEX Technology. It was nowhere near record-breaking, though — some 50 million users logged on to a few popular games in over 40 countries worldwide, including one of the first versions of Happy Farm, a predecessor to Zynga’s Farmville. But Tang wasn’t satisfied and eventually sold ELEX Technology to a publicly listed company for about $400 million in 2014.

Tang would walk away with a few important lessons. He’d learned by now that Chinese products were already competitive globally, whether people realized it or not, and that and geographic arbitrage was real, Happy Farm being the perfect example of this. Lastly, he now knew that it was far more important to choose the right “racetrack” (as Chinese investors and entrepreneurs like to put it) than to have a great product.

Picking the right race to win was perhaps the most important takeaway. It’s also an idea that sets Chinese entrepreneurs apart from their Western counterparts — the most worthwhile endeavors are in identifying the largest and most rewarding market at hand, regardless of one’s previous expertise. It was what led Zhang Yiming to create ByteDance, and Lei Jun to found Xiaomi.

That very philosophy led Tang to build Genki Forest. After selling ELEX Technology, Tang didn’t go back to the business that netted him his first pot of gold. As much as he had benefited from the rise of the mobile internet, he thought there was a far bigger opportunity building a consumer brand and applying the lessons he learned from programming to the manufacture of tangible products.

He soon set up his own investment fund, Challenjers Capital, convinced that the next big tech opportunity in China was in tech’s application to everyday consumer products. He soon began to invest in everything from ramen and hotpots to bottled beverages.

China’s quickly expanding e-commerce ecosystem and the plethora of D2C businesses flourishing on Alibaba and JD.com would also influence his decision to sell directly to his target audience rather than take the traditional route. But to truly understand his motivations, we need to take a look at the extremely unique D2C environment in China and how it has changed over the years.

What’s different about Chinese D2C?

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in an internal email in 2015, “but it does need good products.” Tang was talking about how the age of building infrastructure for e-commerce in China was largely over; it was now time to create brands that could take advantage of the advanced distribution network that had been laid out.

Other investors noticed as well. Albus Yu, principal at China Growth Capital, told me that his fund had stopped making investments in independent consumer-facing platforms or marketplaces for a while. “2014 might have been the last year it was economically feasible to start such a business due to the soaring cost of acquiring customers and the strength of incumbents,” he said.

Indeed, 2015 was the year when CACs began to exceed or at least rival ARPUs for Alibaba and JD.com.

In China, that distribution network was present across the digital and physical worlds. Online, there was immense market power concentrated in the hands of just two players: Alibaba and JD.com, which used to have, and still maintain, 80% or above in market share.

In fact, the dominance of Alibaba, in particular, was so overwhelming that for years, VCs invested not in D2C, but in “Taobao brands,” since that was the only channel one needed to conquer in order to make it.

Customer acquisition was therefore straightforward — throw everything into advertising on Alibaba’s Tmall platform, especially during its annual flagship shopping festival, Singles’ Day. Even today, garnering a top spot in one of the category leaderboards remains a surefire way to build brand awareness, investor interest, as well as sales records.

Physically, the Chinese market also differs greatly from much of the developed West. Years of heavy investment in logistics by the private sector, accelerated by government support and infrastructure buildout, means that delivery costs have come down significantly over the years, even dipping below $0.40 per package wholesale as of this year. Innovations such as return insurance have also sped up customer adoption.

By 2016, China was shipping 30 billion packages a year, already accounting for 44% of global shipments. That number has been doubling every three years and is expected to exceed 100 billion this year. And the low cost of delivery is one of the biggest reasons for China’s outsized e-commerce market — the largest globally and estimated to reach $2.8 trillion in 2021, more than triple that of the No. 2, the U.S.

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival. Image Credits: VCG

Present-day China also presents another edge: Proximity to an advanced, flexible manufacturing network and supply chain for the vast majority of consumer products, and the ability to outsource almost everything to them.

The original equipment manufacturers of years past have long since evolved into original design manufacturers. An expected consequence of being “the Factory of the World” for so many years, making goods for some of the best brands in the world, is that some of the knowledge was bound to transfer.

It may be difficult for outsiders to understand just how strong China’s networked manufacturing hubs are these days. What used to take weeks now takes mere days, the lead times shortened drastically by software, robots and other advancements. For example, Chinese cross-border ultra-fast-fashion company Shein has compressed design-to-ship timelines to as little as seven days.

And it’s definitely not just for making crop tops. The turnaround can be astonishingly fast even when manufacturing completely unfamiliar goods, such as when electric vehicle maker BYD turned its factory into the world’s largest face mask plant in just two weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

Companies leverage this manufacturing flexibility and agility for more than just speed. Chinese cosmetics upstart Perfect Diary uses it to launch twice as many SKUs as foreign competitors. In addition, the quick turnaround allows agile brands to take advantage of that most ephemeral of IP, memes.

It’s not to say that the Chinese supply chain is inaccessible to foreign entrepreneurs. Best-selling mattress maker Zinus, for example, is founded by a South Korean, but its products are manufactured in China and sold mostly on Amazon to U.S. customers.

It’s just that very few non-Chinese companies have figured out how to tap as deeply into the supply chain as this new crop of Chinese D2C brands, which can require years of working not just alongside but physically inside the factories, building trust and know-how. Shein, for example, watches carefully what other brands are making by staying close to the factories.

The China opportunity

Before global sensations such as TikTok weakened the mantra, “copy to China” used to be a dominant characterization of Chinese startups. In December 2015, when Tang registered the Genki Forest trademark, that was still very much a relevant strategy.



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Should we be worried about insurtech valuations? – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by what the weekday Exchange column digs into, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Hello everyone, I hope you had a lovely week. I turned 32 after experiencing sleep-destroying heartburn. So, a little good and a little bad. But that didn’t stop the markets. Nope. Not a bit. Which means we have a lot to talk about, including falling insurtech stocks and what the situation might mean for startups, and a raft of IPOs. This will be fun!

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of our chats with newly public companies Kaltura, Couchbase and Enovix, let’s talk insurtech.

In the last year or so we’ve seen a number of insurtech startups go public, including Root (auto insurance), Metromile (car insurance), and Lemonade (rental insurance). Here’s a quick digest of how their performance looks today:

  • Root: $7.72 per share, 71.4% down from its $27 per share IPO price.
  • Metromile: $7.26 per share, down 64.4% from its post-combination highs.
  • Lemonade: $86.97 per share, up 199.9% from its IPO price of $29 per share.

Recall that Root and Metromile began to trade after Lemonade, so their declines are not over a longer time horizon, but a shorter interval. Which makes the situation all the more interesting.

What’s going on? Well, two of the three insurtech public offerings (SPACs, IPOs, etc.) are sharply underwater. That doesn’t bode incredibly well for Hippo, which is pursuing its own SPAC-led combination that should be wrapping up in short order. The huge declines don’t seem bullish for insurtech startups, who will have to answer private-market investor doubts concerning their value.

Does Lemonade’s strong post-IPO performance allay concerns? It’s tricky. The company has been busy expanding into new markets, including auto insurance. The company did take a somewhat material hit from the Texas freeze earlier this year — per its most recent earnings report — but past those two data points it’s not entirely clear what the company is doing that the other two are not. But investors are stoked about Lemonade, and not Root and Metromile. Figuring out why that’s the case, and why their startup is more Lemonade than the other two, is going to be key for the many insurtech startups still scaling toward their own IPOs.

It’s IPO season

The Exchange has been busy on the phones these last two weeks, talking to CEOs of companies going public to try and learn from their recent experiences. So, what follows are notes from calls with folks at Kaltura, Couchbase and Enovix. Enjoy!

Kaltura

  • Reminder: Online-video-focused Kaltura filed to go public earlier this year before delaying its IPO and taking another run at the funding event.
  • The Exchange spoke with Kaltura CEO Ron Yekutiel, who said that the company’s IPO’s timing was impacted by the early-2021 public market turmoil. That was not a surprise, but it was good to get confirmation regardless.
  • That freeze was partially caused by the Archegos implosion, per Yekutiel. That makes sense, but was news to us.
  • Yekutiel said that his company wasn’t thrilled about the delay — going public is the only fundraise that you pre-announce, he noted — but added that investors his company had already spoken to the first-time around were still enthused about Kaltura on its second run at an IPO.
  • Per the CEO, Kaltura’s preliminary Q2 results showed investors that what it was talking about earlier in the year was coming true. He also stressed uptake in new products as key to the company’s continued growth.
  • The CEO was happy with how his company priced and traded during its first day, snagging a flat 20% uptick in value upon trading. He noted that more would have been excessive, and less would have been un-good.
  • Regarding the lower valuation that Kaltura priced at compared to its March-era IPO price range, Yekutiel said that you don’t get a third chance to make a first impression and that his company wanted to get the offering done. So they did. Points for not getting lost in their own head.
  • Kaltura is up 17.5% from its $10 per-share IPO price as of the time of writing.

One anecdote, if I may. Kaltura won an early TechCrunch40 — the precursor to the TechCrunch50 event, itself a predecessor to today’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference series — thanks to a single vote cast via physical token. Yekutiel still has that token, and showed it to us during our chat. Neat!

Couchbase

  • The Exchange spoke with noSQL database company Couchbase’s CEO Matt Cain. Couchbase priced at $24 per share, above its $20 to $23 per-share IPO price range.
  • Today it’s worth $33.20, rising 9.2% in today’s trading as of the time of writing.
  • Cain was talking from a pretty strict script — a pretty standard situation amongst newly public CEOs worried about fucking up and going to jail — so we didn’t get the precise answers we were looking for. But we still managed to learn a few things, including that Couchbase was yet another company that found the meeting density made possible by remote roadshows to be accretive.
  • The CEO was focused on discussing the scale of the opportunity ahead of Couchbase, namely the world of operational databases. It’s hard to find a bigger market, he argued, which made investors excited about what his company might be able to accomplish. Our read here is that there’s probably plenty of surface area for startups in the database world, if the market is as big as Cain reckons it is.
  • We wanted to learn a bit more about how public-market investors view open-source powered companies, but didn’t get too much from him on the matter. Still, the company’s IPO is a pretty damn strong one, implying that being OSS-built isn’t exactly a detriment to a company hoping to exit.

Enovix

  • The Exchange wanted to chat with newly public company Enovix because it debuted via a SPAC. Why does that matter? Because there are other battery-focused companies looking to go public via SPACs. So, the chat was good background for later work.
  • And we love talking to public companies. Who doesn’t?
  • Asked if combination-and-trade-under-new-ticker-symbol day was like an IPO to his firm, Rust said that it was. Fair enough.
  • The company’s combination date for its SPAC slipped from Q2 to Q3, we noticed. Why was that? Some SEC changes regarding accounting, in short. Not a big deal was our impression from the chat, but one that did cause a slight delay to Enovix’s trading date.
  • Why go public via a SPAC? Cash, but also the particular sponsor of their combination, which Rust said was a key resource in terms of operational knowledge. The company has also hired from its SPAC sponsor’s network, which felt notable. (Hey look, actual investor value-add!)
  • Asked why his company is worth less than the impending SES SPAC, another battery company that has yet to generate revenue, Rust said that the value of his company in its SPAC deal was a negotiation, and that if the company is successful, whether it was valued at $1.1 billion or $1.4 billion wouldn’t really matter.
  • What’s fun about Enovix is that it is not starting with its impending battery tech aimed at EVs. Instead, it’s targeting high-end electronics. Why? Quick cycles to get batteries into hardware and possible pricing power. It does intend to get into EVs in time, however.
  • The company is worth $17.33 per share, giving it what Yahoo Finance describes as a $2.5 billion valuation. That’s a good markup from what it expected and could bode well for SES’s own, future debut.

Yo, that was a lot. Thanks for sticking with me. And thanks for reading The Exchange’s little newsletter. You can catch up on all our work here if you want some long-form reads on the global venture capital market, edtech and other topics. Stay cool!

Your friend,

Alex



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The DL on CockroachDB – TechCrunch

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As college students at Berkeley, Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis created a successful open-source graphics program, GIMP, which got the attention of Google. The duo ultimately joined Google, and even personally got kudos from Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Kimball and Mattis quickly rose to prominence within the company, and then chose to leave it all behind to start what would eventually become CockroachDB. Years later, Cockroach Labs has over 250 employees and has received investments from the likes of Benchmark, GV, Index Ventures and Redpoint totaling more than $350 million, according to Crunchbase. The company is now on route to what some think is an “inevitable IPO.”

The story of CockroachDB, from its origin to its future, was told in a four-part series in our latest EC-1: 

I’m biased, but it’s a must-read that gets into tensions that any startup founder can relate to: from navigating heavyweight competitors, to growing past free tiers, to maintaining your users’ attention. It’s the eighth EC-1 we’ve published to date, which my colleague and TC Managing Editor Danny Crichton estimates puts us at 90,000 words all about startup beginnings, product development, marketing and more.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into that WeWork book, bite-sized entrepreneurship and some SPACs. Follow me on Twitter @nmasc_. Or don’t, it’s your choice!

The Cult of We

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017. Image Credits: TechCrunch

This week on Equity, Alex and I interviewed Eliot Brown, who wrote “The Cult of We” along with Maureen Farrell. Our conversation riffed on some of the book’s eyebrow-raising details and anecdotes, but mainly focused on what WeWork’s rise and fall did to the state of startups and tech journalism more broadly.

Here’s what to know: Not much has changed. Jokes aside, Brown shared his notes on how the current boom in startup financings has a worrisome air of frenzy and fluff. He also chatted about how sometimes the most illuminating question can be a simple one: What makes you a tech company?

More money, more problems?

TikTok what again?

tiktok glitch

Image Credits: TechCrunch

TikTok kept popping up throughout the week. Index Ventures, for example, noted how the firm’s TikTok account has amassed an impressive following and is a channel to talk to the younger generations. Nothing like some short-form videos to stay hip and relatable while raising $3 billion in one go. 

Here’s what to know: While TikTok has certainly changed the world, I worry when I see the allure of bite-sized content get edtech’d. Bite-sized content can be a nifty way to spread content, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Duolingo, which priced its IPO this week, still struggles to show meaningful learning outcomes and optimizes more for motivation than comprehension. This tension is a key note for companies like Numerade and Sololearn, which both raised this week, to not overly TikTok learning materials.

Other edtech content for your eyes:

So, SPACs

hands signing check 1

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

It’s been awhile since I’ve used that acronym in Startups Weekly. That said, special purpose acquisition vehicles are still very much a thing and are still very much worth paying attention to.

Here’s what to know: Lucid Motors’ SPAC merger was just approved. Reporter Aria Alamalhodaei  writes that the move came after executives extended the deadline to vote to merge by one day after not enough investors showed up. “The issue is unusual but could become more common as more companies eschew the traditional IPO path to public markets and instead merge with SPACs,” she writes.

Also special:

Around TC

If you haven’t already, please fill out TC’s ongoing growth marketing survey. We’re using these recommendations of top-tier growth marketers around the world to shape our editorial coverage and to build out TechCrunch Experts.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

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Same time, same place next week? Bring a friend!

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Clubhouse opens up, Twitter talks bitcoin, Snap sees record quarter – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

This Week in Apps will finally be a newsletter! It will launch on August 7. Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

This Week in Apps took a little vacation this month, so we’re back this week with a big round-up of all the news we missed — and then some. And a super-sized section of apps getting funded, too! Let’s play some catch-up…

Platforms: Apple

ATT isn’t killing mobile game performance. An Apptopia report found that Apple’s launch of App Tracking Transparency has so far had no clear impact on mobile game download performance or monetization performance. The firm says this could be the result of any number of factors, including publishers using fingerprinting techniques (despite not being permitted), increased ad budgets on large networks like Facebook, increased spend on user acquisition, use of IDFV (vendor identifier) by larger publishers or higher than expected opt-in rates than was predicted.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Image Credits: Apptopia

iOS 14.7 launched, adding support for Apple Card Family with combined credit limits, a Home app with support for multiple timers on HomePod, support for the MagSafe Battery Pack, Podcast app enhancements and more. iPadOS 14.7 also became available, offering bug fixes, security updates, as well as the same Apple Card Family and HomePod support.

Meanwhile, the iOS 15 beta 3 added the ability to update your device using Software Update even if less than 500 MB of storage is available. This could be a big deal for getting users onto the most recent version of iOS, which has in the past been more difficult when users’ phone storage is nearly full.

Apple added the ability to assign tax categories to apps and in-app purchases on App Store Connect. The categories are based on the app’s content — like videos, books, news, etc. — and allow Apple to administer taxes at the specific rates that apply to that type of application or purchase.

Apple expanded Ultra Wideband functionality in the Apple Watch Series 6, iPhone 11 and 12 to more countries, including Argentina, Pakistan, Paraguay and the Solomon Islands. Some countries don’t allow the technology still, and it must be disabled, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Apple asked Judge Gonzalez Rogers to consider three other antitrust cases that have since been decided since the start of Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit, which is now being deliberated. The cases include a recent decision by the courts to throw out the FTC lawsuit against Facebook.

Platforms: Google

Android beta 3 came out. The new release dropped a month after beta 2, and includes features like scrolling screenshots, face detect auto-rotate, more Material You theme options and new icons, the ability to disable Assistant corner swipe activation, tweaks to features like one-handed mode and internet toggles and changes to the camera, Chrome, toggles, launcher and more.

Android phones’ backup system was upgraded to “Backup by Google One,” an improvement that now backs up photos, videos and MMS messages with more granular control, in addition to the app data, SMS messages, call logs and device preferences the old system covered.

Google won’t enforce the original September 30, 2021 deadline that would have required all Play Store apps to switch over to the Play Billing IAP system. The company will now allow developers to request an extension for adopting the new policy, in the wake of the big antitrust lawsuit filed by AGs across 36 U.S. states and D.C.

Epic Games filed an update in its antitrust lawsuit against Google over its Play Store policies, but most of the information it contains has been redacted. From the visible tidbits, Epic discusses Google’s relationship with Apple and its agreement to pay between $8 and $12 billion to be the default search provider; as well as Epic’s plans to launch Fortnite on the Samsung Galaxy Store.

Verizon joined AT&T and T-Mobile in preloading the Android Message app as the default texting app on all Android phones it sells, meaning that now all three major U.S. carriers support RCS — the next-gen standard to replace SMS — as the default Android experience.

E-commerce

Amazon got the recently launched app Fakespot pulled from the App Store. An extension of the fake review-spotting website, Fakespot app was taken down because it was wrapping the Amazon website without permission, which Amazon successfully argued could be exploited to steal customer data. Amazon also said Fakespot injected code into its website, which opened up an attack vector. Apple said it gave Fakespot time to correct its issues before the takedown.

Augmented Reality

✨ Snap called out its AR advances during its Q2 earnings where the company posted record revenue and the largest user growth in four years. The company’s Cartoon 3D Style Lens went viral in the quarter on other social networks, including TikTok, generating 2.8 billion impressions on Snapchat alone. Snap also partnered with Disney on location-based Lenses for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. The company is now working on shopping features that could potentially allow users to try on clothes using AR.

Fintech

Popular investment app Robinhood is targeting its IPO valuation up to $35 billion in a filing released on the 19th. The company first filed to go public in early July after raising billions earlier in the year. The fintech giant expects to debut between $38 and $42 per share.

Fintech giant Revolut launched a travel booking feature called Stays, which allows users to book hotels and other accommodations in its app, in a move to become more of a “super app” that offers multiple services through one interface.

Venmo removed the app’s global, public feed as part of its major redesign. The public feed put user privacy at risk, and follows a number of complaints about Venmo’s oversharing throughout the years. Recently, Venmo’s privacy leaks led BuzzFeed News to uncover President Biden’s Venmo account.

✨ Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said bitcoin will be a “big part” of Twitter’s future. On the company’s earnings call, the exec spoke for the first time about how he envisions bitcoin can integrate with Twitter’s products, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows. The company posted the fastest revenue growth since 2014 in a pandemic rebound, but user growth slightly declined.

Social

Instagram confirmed it’s testing a new feature called Limits that would allow users to lock down their accounts in a moment of crisis. Found in privacy settings, users could quickly toggle on options to limit the ability for new followers or accounts who don’t follow you to comment or message you. The Limits could be applied for a set period of time you specify, in terms of days or even weeks.

Facebook launched a new tool available to U.S. Facebook Groups that allows users to ask for prayers. The prayer request tool could help drive engagement on the platform by turning into a product something users were already doing. Facebook’s head of faith partnerships told Reuters COVID gave new urgency to the building of the feature.

TikTok ads get more tools and upgrades. TikTok partnered with Vimeo to integrate the latter’s video tools with the TikTok platform. The deal gives SMBs the tools they need to create effective video ads via Vimeo’s AI-driven production tool, Vimeo Create, and the ability to publish ads directly into TikTok’s Ad Manager. The companies also collaborated on custom video templates optimized for TikTok. The video app also launched Spark Ads, which allow brands to use existing posts from influencers in their ad campaigns.

Instagram added new controls that allow users to limit “sensitive” content in the app’s Explore tab. The feature appears in the settings menu and lets users choose to allow or limit content that could be “upsetting or offensive,” or “limit even more.”

Instagram also began testing a new “collab” feature in India and the U.K. that lets users invite another account as a collaborator on posts or Reels. If the other person accepts, both accounts will appear in the header of the post or Reel.

Twitter is killing Fleets, its misguided effort to offer its own version of “Stories” in an app where content flows so quickly it effectively already feels “ephemeral,” even if the posts don’t auto-delete. Twitter hoped Stories would give hesitant users a place they felt comfortable posting, but that didn’t happen. The feature will be removed on August 3.

Tumblr’s community lashed out at the company’s new subscription feature, now in beta, that would allow bloggers to get paid for their content. The system, called Post+, offers the ability to paywall content, which subscribers can pay for at price points of $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month. But some angry Tumblr users didn’t like the idea of paying, or at least, not being able to pay the blogger directly without the company taking a cut. They harassed and even sent death threats to one early tester. (Perhaps it’s time to move to Substack?)

Messaging

WhatsApp is testing multi device support that works without the phone. The company recently rolled out a limited public beta that will allow users to use the service on up to four non-phone devices without having the registered phone switched on or otherwise connected to the internet.

Facebook Messenger introduced “soundmojis,” which are, as you’d expect, emojis that include sound. The sounds include laughter and applause as well as those sourced from pop culture — like snippets from Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” movies like “F9,” and various musicians. It also later added a search bar for emoji reactions, and a recently used emojis section.

Streaming & Entertainment

✨ Clubhouse opens to all. The pandemic’s favorite audio chat app Clubhouse this week exited beta and become publicly available to everyone. That means users no longer need to know someone with an invite in order to sign up. The app continues to grow thanks to its Android release. In June, the app was installed 7.7 million times across iOS and Android. It also just launched an in-app messaging feature called Backchannel to allow users to chat both one-on-one and in groups as they host or listen.

Apple Music updated its Android app to add support for Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio. The Dolby Atmos-powered Spatial Audio feature requires a compatible phone, however, and even some Pixel devices don’t qualify.

TikTok found to drive music discovery. A recent study of around 1,500 TikTok users found that 75% discovered artists on the video app, and 63% said TikTok was a source for music they hadn’t heard before.

Spotify partnered with Facebook-owned Giphy to connect users to artists’ music through GIFs. The new GIFs will allow users to click a button to hear the artist’s songs on Spotify directly. The GIFs can be found in the Giphy mobile app or on the web.

Triller, the one-time TikTok rival that has since expanded into PPV events, has now moved into long-form video, including both prerecorded and live shows. As part of this effort, Triller livestreamed the Essence Festival of Culture on its app.

YouTube added the ability for users to directly pay creators for their videos through a new feature called Super Thanks. This is YouTube’s fourth Paid Digital Good alongside Super Chat, Super Stickers and channel subscriptions, and is the first that lets fans tip creators for uploads instead of just livestreams.

HBO Max partnered with Snap to allow Snapchat users to stream a selection of free episodes inside the Snapchat app with their friends. That means users can both stream and chat with others as they watch, and even react with Bitmoji.

Gaming

Top gaming title and award winner Genshin Impact released its 2.0 update on Android devices. This update brings cross-save functionality for all platforms, a brand-new region called Inazuma and the new Thunder Sojourn event, as well as new characters, stories and weapons.

Facebook bypassed building a native iOS app for its cloud gaming service and instead launched to the web at fb.gg. The company did not want to go the App Store route due to Apple’s restrictions on apps that offer app stores of sorts and its commissions on in-app purchases.

Health & Fitness

A poll suggests around 20% of U.K. adults have now deleted the NHS COVID app, most because they want to avoid orders that would have them self-isolate. Among younger users ages 18 to 34, more than one-third had removed the app.

Edtech

Duolingo said it aims to be valued as much as $3.41 billion in its U.S. IPO, with 5.1 million shares that will be offered between $85 and $95 each, raising more than $485 million at the top end of the range.

Reading

Amazon’s Kindle app launched a serialized fiction store called Kindle Vella, which will allow readers to unlock episodic, self-published stories via in-app purchases that range from $2 for 200 tokens to up to $15 for 1,700 tokens. The Wattpad-like feature is only available on the Kindle iOS app for the time being.

Utilities

Chrome for iOS lets you lock your private tabs. The new version rolled out support for using either Face ID or Touch ID to lock incognito tabs, along with other features, like full-page screenshots, and more.

Google’s iOS search app now lets you choose an option to delete your last 15 minutes of search history — perfect for those times when you forgot to launch an incognito tab.

Government & Policy

China has given 145 apps until July 26 to take corrective measures over what authorities said was their illegal collection of user information by misleading customers or by requesting excessive permissions. Apps from Amazon, ByteDance, NetEase, Tencent and others are among those being called out by Beijing in the crackdown.

China’s most popular fitness app, Keep, backed by SoftBank and Tencent, pulled its U.S. IPO after Chinese regulators announced an investigation into data security concerns at ride-hailing app Didi. The move indicates that China’s probe is having larger impact on the stock market, as China’s biggest podcasting platform, Ximalaya, also recently canceled its U.S. IPO.

Facebook escaped an EU ban on its use of WhatsApp customer data but will face an investigation of its new terms of service that sparked customer outrage. The European Data Protection Board said the new practices must be examined in a “swift” fashion by the EU privacy watchdog.

Security & Privacy

A Catholic priest was outed by way of his phone’s location data found in a data set from a data vendor. This data is commonly aggregated and sold by data vendors, and can then be analyzed for timestamped location data. The signals collected on the priest’s phone were gathered from Grindr, and tracked to his home and other bars and clubs.

Reports found that military-grade spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO Group and licensed to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals was used to hack the phones of journalists, activists, politicians and other business executives, whose phones appeared on a list of 50,000 numbers. Amnesty International has now provided a toolkit that can help people identify if their phones had been among those targeted.

💰 Voice-based social app Zebra raised $1.1 million in a pre-seed round for its messaging app that pairs photos with voice chat. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s early-stage venture firm Seven Seven Six led the round.

💰 Sololearn raised $24 million led by Drive Capital for its Duolingo-like coding education app. The app delivers short bursts of bite-sized content and offers a community of helpers and influencers, not formal teachers.

💰 Belarus-based video editing app VOCHI raised $2.4 million in a late-seed round after growing its app to over 500,000 MAUs and achieving a $4 million+ annual run rate in a year’s time. The company now has 20,000 paid subscribers for its advanced filters and video effects, but makes 60% of its effects catalog available for free.

💰 Instant grocery delivery app Gopuff is raising $750 million at a $13.5 billion valuation, according to an SEC filing, but sources say the fundraise is higher — $1 billion at a $15 billion valuation.

💰 Investment app Titan raised $58 million in Series B funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), valuing the business at $50 million. The Robinhood rival has 30,000 users and is also backed by General Catalyst, BoxGroup, Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and a group of professional athletes and celebrities including Odell Beckham Jr., Kevin Durant, Jared Leto and Will Smith.

💰 Fitness app HealthifyMe raised $75 million in Series C funding from LeapFrog and Khosla Ventures to grow its user base in India, Southeast Asia and North America. The app has around 1,500 trainers and coaches on the platform, with plans to add 1,000 more to support its expansion.

💰 Free-to-play games publisher Tilting Point raised $235 million to fund its business of acquiring users for partnered games, or what the company refers to as its “progressive publishing model.” The company borrows from its line of credit to fuel advertising for games that show promise, allowing them to grow users and revenues, and then shares in the growth that it achieves.

💰 Virtual and in-person care app Carbon Health raised $350 million at a valuation of $3.3 billion in a round led by Blackstone’s Horizon platform. The company has 80 clinics across the U.S.

💰 Yoobic raised $50 million in Series C funding for its chat and communications app aimed at frontline service workers. Highland Europe led the round. The startup works with 300 brands across 80 countries.

💰 Travel rewards app Miles raised $12.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Scrum Ventures that included Japan Airlines, Translink Capital and others. The app aims to offer travel rewards, with a focus on clean transportation.

🤝  Salesforce’s deal to acquire workplace communication app Slack officially closed. The $27.7 billion deal was first announced in December 2020.

🤝  Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker Epic Games bought New York-based Sketchfab, a 3D model sharing platform.

💰 Fintech app M1 Finance raised $150 million in a SoftBank-led Series E, valuing the business at $1.45 billion. The app offers automated investing, borrowing and banking/spending accounts, and has grown to $4.5 million assets under management.

💰 Mobile.dev raised $3 million in seed funding from Cowboy Ventures and others for its service that aims to catch bugs and errors in apps before they launch. The two-person team includes a former Uber engineer and has already bagged Reddit as a client.

💰 On-demand coworking space app Deskimo gets Y Combinator backing for its app currently available in Singapore and Hong Kong that helps remote workers find alternative spaces to work at times, like the occasional meeting.

💰 London-based financial “super app” Revolut raised $800 million in Series E funding co-led by Softbank Vision Fund 2 and Tiger Global, valuing the business at $33 billion. This makes Revolut the most valuable fintech in the U.K.

💰 Indian startup Inshorts, maker of a news aggregator app and a social media app called Public, raised $60 million in a new round led by Vy Capital, valuing the business at $550 million.

💰 Miami’s Play2Pay raised $13 million in Series A funding led by Telesoft Partners to convert mobile user engagement into bill payments. The company offers a way for consumers to lower their bills by playing mobile games, watching videos and competing in challenges and surveys.

💰 South Korea’s largest travel app Yanolja Co. raised $1.7 billion in funding from SoftBank. The app began as a hotel booking service and has since expanded to include transportation and leisure activities.

💰 Venezuela-based delivery app Yummy raised $4 million to expand its delivery operations across Latin America. Backers included Y Combinator, Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, Canary, Hustle Fund, Necessary Ventures and the co-founders of TaskUs. The company has connected with over 1,200 merchants and completed over 600,000 deliveries. It now plans to move into ridesharing.

🤝 Tumblr and WordPress.com owner Automattic acquired the popular podcast app Pocket Casts, which had sold to a combined group comprised of WNYC, NPR, WBEZ and This American Life back in 2018. The app went up for sale in January, after NPR reportedly lost $800,000 on it the year prior.

💰 Israeli AI-driven health app Sweetch raised $20 million in Series A round led by Entreé Capital. The app encourages users to change their behaviors using AI smarts, after learning about your lifestyle through mobile sensors. The app is distributed through health organization partners, not the App Store.

Skate City: Tokyo

Apple Arcade has added a handful of reimagined classic games in recent days, including an updated version of Alto’s Odyssey, called Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City, which adds a new locale and other features. This week, Apple Arcade added a new version of Snowman’s popular game, Skate City. The expansion coincides with the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and includes 21 new challenges, 30 new goals, new soundtracks and more. Another classic, Tetris Beat, is on the way soon.

HalloApp

Image Credits: HalloApp

Two early WhatsApp employees have launched a private social networking app called HalloApp on both iOS and Android. The ad-free app is somewhat similar to WhatsApp as it also allows for encrypted, private chats with friends and family, including group chats. The app also features a Home feed with posts from friends. The company plans to eventually monetize via subscriptions if it gains traction.

Anyone

Image Credits: Anyone

Audio app Anyone launched its “marketplace for advice” app on iOS and Android after previously operating in a closed beta. The app allows users to pay for access to busy people whose advice they’d like to seek out, but limits calls to just five minutes. (Advice givers can opt to donate the money to charity, if they don’t want to profit from the help they’re giving.) The company claims to vet advisors before they’re allowed to offer calls, in order to keep the advice on the platform high-quality.

Streamlabs’ Crossclip

Image Credits: Streamlabs

Streamlabs, a maker of livestreaming software, launched a new iOS app that allows creators to easily turn their Twitch clips into a format that works on TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and Facebook. The app works by allowing streamers to enter the URL of a clip, selecting the output format (landscape, vertical or square) and choosing a pre-loaded layout. You can also crop the clip, blur the background and select from different layouts depending on which frames you want to feature. The app is free with a subscription of $4.99/mo or $49.99/yr to remove the watermark and add more features, including higher-quality exports.




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