The former UK minster of state for what is now the digital and culture department, DCMS, has warned of the looming battle in parliament over the exact shape of incoming online safety legislation.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Ed Vaizey — a former Conservative Party MP, now Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who was head of the culture, comms and creative industries department, as it was then, between 2010 and 2016 — predicted a huge tug-of-war to influence the scope of the Online Safety Bill, warning that parliamentarians everywhere will try to hang their own “hobby horse” on it.
The risk of over regulation or creating a disproportionate burden for startups vs tech giants is also real, Vaizey suggested, setting out several areas that he said would require a cautious approach.
“In theory it’s just going to be the big platforms that will be regulated,” he said of the scope of the Internet Safety Bill, which was published in draft form back in May — and which critics are warning will be catastrophic for free speech.
“Some platforms that should be regulated could potentially not be be regulated. But you’re right that people are concerned that, in effect, there’s a paradox — that it could help the Facebooks of this world because the regulatory hurdles that get going might be too big. And if anyone is capable of being regulated it’s Facebook, as opposed to a startup. So I think that’s something we have to be very careful of.
“Secondly, although I support the principle of legal but harmful content being regulated I have no doubt at all that that is going to be the big battle in parliament. The balance between legal but harmful free speech is going to be a huge battleground. And it will be interesting to see in what form it survives.
“And thirdly — I think, paradoxically — everyone is going to try and hang their own particular hobby horse on this piece of legislation.”
With sweeping goals for the Online Safety (neé Harms) Bill from the get-go — the government is proposing to make online platforms tackle not just illegal but harmful content, which could mean everything from terrorist propaganda and child sexual abuse material to racism, bullying, pro-suicide and pro-eating disorder content to anti-vaxxer views — the draft legislation has attracted plenty of concern and controversy already, and the formal parliamentary debate hasn’t even started yet.
The ‘hobby horse’ risk could mean a vast encrusting of an already wide-ranging proposal for Internet regulation, with MPs trying to barnacle on all sorts of issues and grievances that can be loosely attached to the digital sphere. But it will be UK tech businesses saddled with risk and regulatory red tape at the end of the process, while fundamental British values like freedom of expression could be caught and crushed in the middle.
Signs of MPs’ appetite to shoehorn random pet peeves into what some have dubbed a “kitchen sink bill” are plain to see.
Just last week, concerns were raised that anti-sex work campaigners intend to target the bill to include clauses against “online pimping”, for example. So a “battleground” sounds like a polite way to characterize the looming cacophony of arguments in parliament over what does and doesn’t get stuffed into this Great British Internet rulebook…
Vaizey gave the example of online scams as one likely target for amendments to further extend the scope of the Online Safety Bill. Although provisions to target ad scams are probably one of the less controversial additions that could come.
“I obviously do not support online scams but it’s pretty obvious that people will try to put amendments down to make sure that certain things are caught which are not currently in the scope of the bill. And one has to be careful it doesn’t get weighed down with too many, too much regulation — so there are all sorts of weird contradictions,” he warned. “It could be gutted, it could be fattened up, depending on who prevails in parliament.”
But he also generally welcomed the plan — saying the government deserves praise for drafting what he described as a “pioneering” bill and arguing that Internet regulation is “long overdue”.
“I think it is a pioneering piece of legislation. People will criticize this legislation, of course. My view is you can’t let the best be the enemy of the good. It is not — by no means — going to be perfect when it arrives in parliament. And it will probably not be perfect when it emerges out of parliament. And as it’s implemented by Ofcom in the next few years there will be areas of mistakes,” he said. “But I think that tech regulation of this kind is long overdue.
“Very important countries like Canada and Australia, and indeed the European Union and the US are looking at this and they will look to the UK example and take lessons from it.”
Ofcom chair role
The former minister of state has recently been in the running for a key vacancy atop Ofcom, the UK telecoms and media regulator which is itself in the process of being fattened up for an expanded role overseeing Internet content and social media giants.
The government has said it wants to give Ofcom powers to levy fines of up to 10% of a company’s annual global turnover (or £18M, whichever is higher) if they fail to live up to the bill’s requirements to protect users from illegal or harmful content.
So the regulator is set to have major powers to influence tech giants’ approach to content moderation and online freedom of expression in the coming years.
Vaizey was interviewed for the role of chair of Ofcom and shortlisted by an independent panel. However, earlier this year, the then secretary of state for digital, Olivier Dowden, chose to rerun the competition — rather than pick a candidate from the whittled down shortlist.
Reports have suggested the government was unhappy that the independent panel rejected its preferred candidate, ex-Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre — and that it’s still trying to find a way to parachute the divisive former newspaper editor into the top job overseeing social media platforms’ compliance with legally binding content rules.
Vaizey sidestepped these rumors when asked if he’s still in the running for the Ofcom job — suggesting the government decided to rerun the competition because of a lack of applicants in the first round.
“Clearly the government felt it needed a more competitive field. So it may be that I only got an interview because so few people applied,” he told TechCrunch. “But I really enjoyed the interview and I would love to chairman of Ofcom so I’ll see when they reopen the process whether there’s an opportunity for me to apply.”
“Ofcom is at a point where it’s proven itself as a telecoms regulator, and I think to a certain extent as a media regulator. But it is entering uncharted and very exciting territory in terms of Internet regulation,” he added.
Asked what his priorities would be, were he to get the dream job chairing Ofcom, Vaizey said Internet safety would top his list — on account of how challenging overseeing the digital realm will be.
“That is going to be the biggest challenge for Ofcom; how do you absorb such an enormous role? And also how you communicate to the public or the stakeholders that this will be a work in progress?,” he said, predicting: “It will not emerge fully formed.”
Were he to give a “light critique” of Ofcom, Vaizey said it would be that the regulator needs to dial up its ‘pro-business’ flank.
“You can also be pro-consumer by being pro-business,” he argued. “And I think in a highly competitive area… the job of the regulator is not only to regulate but also to know when not to regulate and to step back and let businesses navigate a very complex and competitive environment.
“So if I was to bring any kind of ‘Vaizey-esque’ approach to Ofcom it would be to make sure that businesses felt they had a regulator that wasn’t too much on their case, and was as much a partner as much as a regulator.”
TechCrunch also asked the former minister of state for his views on the government’s appetite to ‘reform’ data protection rules.
Last month the government announced a consultation on a data reform, suggesting that ‘simplified’ rules in this area would be better for business.
Currently, UK privacy rules are based on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which is considered the ‘gold standard’ for protecting people’s digital information globally. But the UK government’s policy push appears to favor reducing this current high level of protection for UK citizens’ information — without presenting a coherent economic case for why lower domestic privacy standards will be an advantage for digital businesses.
The government has made the simplistic claim that easier access to data will somehow stoke ‘innovation’. However UK startups wanting to access the European market — or indeed US companies subject to rules like California’s CCPA — will continue to need to comply with robust privacy regulations elsewhere.
On data reform, Vaziey suggested there could be room to make the practical implementation of UK data protection rules less “onerous” for UK businesses and organizations without undermining key principles of privacy and protection for personal data.
But on those principles he warned that the UK staying aligned with European Union standards will be vital for the digital economy — saying it would be “disastrous” were the UK to lose the data adequacy agreement with the EU that allows for continued free flows of data from Europe to the UK.
“The UK was very influential in how data protection legislation was drawn up when we were members of the EU so I think it’s slightly odd that we should shy away from that legislation,” Vaizey also told us.
“It is a very EU defining thing — and so I think the biggest watchword for the government when they look at reforming data protection legislation is obviously what’s gone on with the US [which has had two data transfer agreements with the European Commission struck down by Europe’s top court].
“You do not want a position where you make yourself vulnerable to attacks by the EU to say that your data protection regime is not adequate and we can’t therefore have cross-border exchanges of data — that would be disastrous. So whether we like it or not we will have to keep to a certain extent in lock-step with the European Union.”
“I also think it’s the case that the European Union legislation… has become the gold standard of data protection,” he added. “If you look at California adopting data privacy legislation it is based on European legislation and most tech companies will comply with that as their default standard because it just makes their life a hell of a lot easier when they’re trading globally.”
UK must stay open to tech skills
Vaizey has just taken up a new appointment as patron of the digital skills-focused UK industry association ITP, aka the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals.
Discussing the skills challenges facing the country he said there is no room for complacency — given rising global demand and increasingly fierce competition for tech talent around the world.
“I think we are doing really well and we continue to do very well but as with any area you cannot afford complacency and all the tools are there with the right resources to really push forward,” he said, discussing the government’s approach to skills — which now includes a ten-year strategy to boost domestic AI capability.
“One looks at what [president] Macron has done in France and I think it’s fair to say that he took France from a standing start… He’s done a tremendous job of raising the profile of France as a tech-friendly nation. So I think we can’t afford to be complacent. We’ve got a lot going for us but we can move up another gear.”
Vaizey also queried whether the government will take what he said must be a necessarily “open” approach to immigration to ensure UK startups are able to thrive.
“Not only does every country in the world have this problem but every startup in any European country is competing for talent, and any startup in the US is competing for talent,” he said.
“I’m pleased to see that with Tech Nation and so on there are more entrepreneur visas available but I think the government has to be very open to the fact that to get people over with the right tech skills to support startups has to be an absolute priority. And they have to be flexible.
“Because when we had free movement [as part of the EU] one of the great advantages of free movement is that you could take a job and you knew that your partner would also be able to get a job in the UK as well. So that’s something that they really need to lean into.”
Heart to Heart raises $750K to bring sweet, sweet flirtation to your ear-holes – TechCrunch
Radio has long been described as the most intimate of media. Quips about putting radio on the internet aside, the persistent popularity of podcasting and the cockamamie climb of Clubhouse shows that audio-based platforms will continue to echo around the upper echelons of the ecosystem for a while yet. Joining the fray is Heart to Heart, an audio-first dating app aiming to bring back some intimacy to the process of finding the right person for your next foray, whether that’s a saucy encounter or a mate for life.
“I used to act, and from my time in acting, I saw how much voice, and audio experiences drive intimacy between people,” explains Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart. “When it came down to the dating apps, it was never something I could get into. I felt like you needed to come up with a textual one-liner. That was never my way of approaching romantic conversations.”
Heart to Heart is pushing back against the endless swiping and messaging of many of its competitors, offering a contrasting experience to sending the same opening line to dozens of people or typing with your thumbs until deep into the night.
“I believe that the best consumer investments come from people who have unique insights on consumer behavior and ways that new tech products can allow new forms of social interaction,” said Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures, who led the pre-seed investment round. “I have been a big fan of Josh’s TikTok videos for some time and his ability to poke at the tech industry with timely, relevant videos really showcased his creativity and ability to communicate via short-form video. I think the idea around confirming photos, storytelling, and audio will yield a product that really speaks to people’s unmet needs around communication and will create a whole new way for people to connect.”
While Precursor doesn’t particularly focus on audio-first startups, the team has seen a number of opportunities in that space. It was an early investor in Howard Akumiah’s company, Betty Labs (acquired by Spotify), as well as Isa Watson’s company (Squad), Falon Fatemi’s company (Fireside) and several others that are still in stealth.
“I believe that there is a major wave of interesting activity happening around non-music audio and I believe that we are still in the early innings of non-music, audio-driven social experiences,” says Hudson. “The last two companies that I feel really innovated in this category were Tinder and Bumble. I think Josh and his team have a new mechanic that feels differentiated and unique and I think it has the potential to be the foundation for a new way for people to meet and get to know each other in ways that aren’t easily accomplished today.”
The company raised the pre-seed round of $750,000. The round was led by Precursor Ventures, and Bryce Roberts of OATV & Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room partnered on the investment, as well as Marie Rocha at Realist Ventures. In addition, a number of angel investors joined the round, including Chris Bennett (Wonderschool), Andy Weissman (USV) and Gregory Levey (Robinson Huntly).
“The main thing we are trying to accomplish with the $750K, is to focus on building our iOS app, and making LA our first launch market,” says Ogundu. “Dating is such a local experience, and it makes sense to us to build and improve locally, then scaling it up from there.”
“Voice is so intentional and intimate, and that is exactly what we’re building here at Heart to Heart,” says Ogundu, suggesting that the voice mechanic is helpful in a dating context because it helps slow people down. “I think that because it takes more energy to send that voice snippet to someone, you’ll be more intentional with who you even look to strike up conversations with.”
The founding team consists of Joshua Ogundu, who wears the CEO hat. He is joined by Arihant Jain and Komal Shrivastava, who have been heading up the engineering and design efforts. The company hopes to get its product to market by the end of the year.
The return of text is inevitable – TechCrunch
Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.
On Equity this week, we discussed the value of the written word. You can imagine that the resulting argument is inherently biased, considering we are three journalists who have bet our livelihoods on ink; but, I promise, there’s more nuance here beyond how important a lede is.
We recently published a recent deep dive on Automattic, the commercial media company behind the WordPress publishing platform. Founded in 2005, Automattic is one of the few companies that has been able to evolve and expand its way through a graveyard of media sites. Valued at $7.5 billion, it has also convinced investors of the financial promise of its vision.
I was most struck by how text has shaped Automattic’s hiring process: The company offers a purely written interview, where potential new hires never need to reveal their face or voice to anyone through the recruitment funnel. It takes away the inherent bias that comes with a Zoom interview, which, at its core, is just a digital version of a face-to-face interview. Monica Ohara, chief marketing officer of WordPress.com, explained more about her thinking:
“You normally think you’ve got to talk to them; see them on video. With text only, you remove all this bias and focus on the content of what they’re saying, and also test for a style of communication that’s really important in a distributed team.
“In Silicon Valley, everyone is competing for the same people that would add diversity to your pool. Which is great for those people, but what about all the others who don’t have those opportunities because of where they were born or live? For me, I was born in the Philippines and if I hadn’t had the luck to move here, I’d be living a different life.”
Rethinking the value of text, the same way we rethink how many synchronous meetings should be on our calendar, feels like the natural next step for companies figuring out how to scale distributed work. Even in a world seemingly ruled by short-form video, words — and sound — seem to matter in a way that other formats never will.
In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about PayPal’s reported new friend, the Chinese venture capital market and not at all about Facebook’s impending new rebrand.
PayPal picks Pinterest
We rushed to Twitter Spaces this week after rumors came out that PayPal may be buying Pinterest for a reported $45 billion. The fintech giant has been on an acquisition spree of sorts, but scooping up a social, photo-sharing platform may signal its hungry to own the content — not just the customer.
Here’s what to know: This feels nostalgic. PayPal potentially joining forces with a more content-focused e-commerce business comes more than a half-decade after it divorced from eBay. But, as Finix Chief Growth Officer Jareau Wadé pointed out, Pinterest is not a shopping destination like eBay — it’s a place where shopping begins for nearly 450 million users.
In a Substack post, Wadé makes the following argument to describe why PayPal may buy Pinterest:
At its core, Pinterest is more like Google than eBay. It’s a search engine that conducts over 5 billion searches per month for fuzzy, hard-to-describe ideas where pictures, rather than words, are often the best place to start. It also has a growing ads business that produced $613 million last quarter, up 125% YoY. With Pinterest, PayPal would be buying the top of the funnel — the awareness and interest stages — for millions of websites on the internet. PayPal would provide Pinterest with the bottom of the funnel, allowing them to see the purchases that result from shopping that began on Pinterest.
Imagine if PayPal could use their core product and the commerce assets they’ve acquired over the past five years to build a deconstructed sales funnel, not just for one website, but for the whole internet.
Put a pin in it:
China is thriving
Data from CB Insights shows us that, aside from a single outsized 2018 round, China’s third quarter of 2021 was the best three-month period for Chinese startups ever — both in deal value and deal count.
Here’s what to know: We’re surprised, too. On Equity, we discussed how the growth of China’s venture capital market contrasts in sentiment with the region’s government restrictions. It seems that regulatory impact hasn’t stopped all companies from raising, and growing, their businesses there.
TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 is next week! My colleagues have put together an amazing show about the sector that seemingly can’t stop attracting millions from investors. We’ll see what stopped eating the world, how hunger is turning into innovation and definitely hit a few SaaSy notes through panels with experts.
Across the week
Seen on TechCrunch
Seen on TechCrunch+
Decoupling tech supply chains would do more harm than good – TechCrunch
For a technology sector that would much prefer to focus on growth over geopolitics, the push for U.S.-China “decoupling” poses an inescapable threat. The fuzziness of the concept only increases the danger.
U.S. distrust of China, particularly in technology, is nothing new. Indeed, Congress took action to keep Huawei and ZTE out of U.S. telecommunications almost a decade ago, during the Obama administration.
But during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, there was a broad push to engage in dialogue and find common ground between the world’s two biggest economies. As China emerged as a leading global economy and became an increasingly important trading partner to the U.S., (accounting for 2.5% of U.S. imports in 1989 and rising to a peak of 21.6% in 2017), there were moves to incorporate it into the U.S.-led global trading system. In 2005, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick put forward the idea of China as a “Responsible Stakeholder,” under the assumption that embracing China’s entry into the global trading system would ensure that it helped that system continue to function.
Not long before that, the U.S. had agreed to China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization. But while it was seen by many as a turning point, it was really just a waypoint. That year, China’s share of U.S. imports was already 9.0%. Growth in Chinese imports, moreover, reflected a rebalancing of Asian trade more than anything else; from 1989 to 2017, Asia’s share (including China) of U.S. imports grew from 42.3% to just 45.2%. China’s relative growth instead ate into the share of countries like Japan and Malaysia, reflecting a reordering within Asia. The standard system of trade accounting overplayed this shift, as a good that was finished in China and had 10% Chinese value added would count as 100% Chinese for trade statistics.
Regardless of what was labeled as produced where, the bottom line was that a well-developed Asian supply chain incorporated China as a major player. With increased engagement, however, and very different economic systems, the points of economic disagreement between China and the United States accumulated. During the Trump administration, dialogue took a back seat to new trade barriers. The United States applied tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports and China responded with barriers of its own. Although the Trump tariffs were initially cast as temporary measures meant to achieve finite policy objectives, some key policymakers within the Trump administration saw value in diminished interaction between the two countries.
Matthew Pottinger, who served as Deputy National Security Adviser under President Trump, subsequently wrote that “important U.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of ‘engagement,’ an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else.” His solution calls for bold steps “to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in … high-tech industries.” The Biden administration recently announced, after a prolonged review, that it was maintaining the Trump tariffs and Congress has pushed to fund initiatives that would subsidize technological independence. These moves for lessening dependence, particularly in technology, have fallen under the broader rubric of “decoupling.”
Amidst all the newfound enthusiasm for U.S. decoupling from China, one might imagine that the term is well-defined. Yet it takes relatively little probing to discover a lack of clarity. Of course, the above-mentioned tariffs have served to discourage trade between the two countries, but how far is this policy meant to go?
Does decoupling mean the U.S. will turn away from inbound and outbound foreign direct investment? What about portfolio investment, such as the purchase of U.S. Treasuries? Does it mean that the U.S. should avoid importing final goods produced by Chinese firms? What about European firms producing in China? What about U.S. firms producing in China? Or European or U.S. firms producing outside China but incorporating Chinese parts? Or companies selling into the Chinese market and thus, presumably, subject to Chinese influence?
The sheer breadth of economic interactions between the two giant economies illustrates the implausibility of a clean divide between them. Instead, the most likely result of an attempt at exclusion would be another reordering, not China’s disappearance as a supply chain power. This is particularly true when other global economic powers, such as the European Union, do not share even the vague objective of decoupling.
TechCrunch Global Affairs Project
The nebulous nature of the decoupling push poses a particular threat to the tech sector. Over decades, the push to take advantage of scale economies and to drive down production costs has resulted in highly-integrated global tech production. Further, in subsectors that have recently emerged as particularly contentious, such as the production of semiconductors, investments have to be made at large scale and well in advance. That leaves the sector especially vulnerable to rapidly-shifting rule changes, as policymakers struggle to give substance to a problematic concept at a time of difficult supply chain disruptions. Policy responses that shower the sector with subsidies, as some bills in Congress have proposed, seem appealing, but lose their effectiveness when countries such as Japan move to match them.
A world in which the United States provides an extreme answer to the above questions and is absolutist in its separation from China is likely to be one in which the United States cripples itself technologically, denying itself access to globally-competitive sourcing and empowering competitors elsewhere. The only politically viable alternative at the moment, a world in which the United States takes a more moderate stance and struggles to find a middle ground, is likely to be an unpredictable one in which rules are constantly evolving.
In either case, proponents of U.S.-China decoupling will find such a move counterproductive. Far from resolving strategic policy concerns, its primary impact may be to challenge U.S. technology leadership instead.
Software product company Arbisoft on the growing startup market in Pakistan – TechCrunch
“In 2007, I, along with a few other colleagues, founded Arbisoft because we loved solving a variety of computing problems rather than staying close to one particular domain or technology vertical. We felt it was much easier to do that in a software services company than a software product company,” says Yasser Bashir, co-founder of Arbisoft. “In addition to our love for software development, we also had strong ideas on the kind of culture that would likely inspire smart people to do their best in a technology-focused organization. Arbisoft is a manifestation of many of those ideas.”
Over the past two weeks, Anna Heim has interviewed Bashir from Arbisoft as part of our Experts project. They were recommended to us through our survey; we’d love to know which software consultants you’d recommend to other startups. We also had guest columns focused on growth marketing about growth tactics and early-stage comm teams, but more on that below.
Recommended by: Omri Traub, CEO of Popcart
Testimonial: “We were able to create a high-performance dev team that includes dev, QA and DevOps. We had access to top talent and, importantly, elasticity in hiring. If we wanted to add a developer, we could have an incredible one join our team in under one week. It would have taken us weeks and months to recruit and hire a developer in Boston or the U.S.”
Consultant: Solwey Consulting
Recommended by: Paul Shaked, Sandland
Testimonial: “They helped us tremendously — a not so great dev team in Europe built our site with no documentation and lots of sloppy code, but Solwey was able to come in and sort through everything. Not to mention, our e-comm site is built on a headless CMS x Shopify checkout. Solwey was one of the only teams that was able to jump in and really get things to a good place with almost no major delays due to tech debt.”
Recommended by: Ryan Doney, Ad Lunam
Testimonial: “I vetted several different consultancies, and Planetary not only brought technical expertise to the table, but their startup-specific mindset meant that it was incredibly easy to get aligned on our mission, and how to best build it. Josh is a great talent, and he’s built a remarkable team. Their work dramatically cut down our time to market, as well as giving us a ready-made jumping off point to start iterating on our product.”
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “The OpenCubicles team helped us improve our infrastructure utilization, response time and other aspects critical to e-commerce success. We were able to rationalize cloud infrastructure costs due to thorough analysis and optimization. They helped us automate many aspects of operations. Would recommend to those looking for reliable technology services, especially e-commerce development.”
Recommended by: Philip Deng, Grantable
Testimonial: “They are focused on helping startups succeed and they care deeply about the missions of the companies they help. They brought us way forward in terms of our design and also connected us with lots of thoughtful people beyond the company who have helped us move forward.”
Arbisoft co-founder Yasser Bashir on building trust with early-stage startups: Anna and Bashir spoke about how Arbisoft has grown over the past 13 years, how they build trust with their clients and the startup scene in Pakistan. Bashir says, “I have been very involved with the startup and tech ecosystem in the country since its inception. It is indeed taking off like a rocket ship right now, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. This year, startups raised more funding than all of the previous years combined. Arbisoft is excited because many of these startups need technology services, and therefore, we have a new and exhilarating market at our disposal.”
Marketer: Ki from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Ki has been supporting our business for over three years, and every time he finds unique ways to exceed expectations. From launching new products that sell out in days rather than weeks, being able to onboard new members of our team so they can contribute faster, and being someone that can work at a strategic level with our VPs and at the data-driven level with analysts, his range is truly outstanding and I believe he is in the 1% of the 1% of marketers.”
Marketer: Kaveh from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Kaveh is one of the most empathetic and collaborative marketers I have ever worked with. Our team was largely brand marketers and Kaveh did a great job of bridging their world and our profit-optimized media strategy seamlessly (even if it meant an after-hours marketing jam session). Not only that, but you could tell he really cared about the brand, catching small issues with the site and sharing them with the team proactively, etc.”
(TechCrunch+) Smart growth tactics put account-based marketing within reach for startups and SMBs: Jonas van de Poel, head of content marketing at Unmuted, says, “For many startups and SMBs, successfully setting up account-based marketing strategies can feel like a pipe dream. Startups still struggling to find product-market fit wouldn’t dream of being able to identify and map out their ideal customer profile (ICP) clearly enough. At the same time, small and midsize businesses often lack the resources to invest in elaborate multitouch-point content marketing strategies.” Van de Poel shares what account-based marketing is, the importance of mapping a customers journey to marketing content and more.
(TechCrunch+) Hiring is just the first step when building an early-stage comms team: Yousuf Khan, partner at Ridge Ventures, writes about not just the importance of having an early-stage comms team, but the importance of communicating with them. Khan says, “It’s not just important to have relationships between executives and media — you should have solid relationships with your comms people, too. Allow them to get to know you, your likes and dislikes, the environments in which you thrive and where you feel most comfortable.”
SaaS on Oct. 27th – TechCrunch
This year automation hit center stage when robotic process automation (RPA) vendor UiPath went public after raising $2 billion in private investment. Investors who had been a part of that were richly rewarded when it closed above its private valuation. At the same time, established companies like ServiceNow, Microsoft, IBM and others were seeing the value in building automation into their product sets.
We are fortunate to have three people who have been smack dab in the middle of this trend on a panel called “Automation’s Moment Is Now” at TC Sessions: SaaS happening on October 27th. Those panelists include UiPath CEO Daniel Dines; Laela Sturdy, general partner at CapitalG and Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at ServiceNow.
Dines’ company, which went public in April, concentrates mostly on RPA, and is the market leader according to Gartner, but automation has many dimensions beyond RPA, including no-code/low-code tools and workflow automation. As we wrote on in an article on the hot automation market earlier this year:
What we have here is a frothy mix of startups and large companies racing to provide a comprehensive spectrum of workflow automation tools to empower companies to spin up workflows quickly and move work involving both human and machine labor through an organization.
RPA helps companies automate a series of mundane legacy tasks, which can include human intervention or not. Think of pulling information from an insurance claim, adding it to a spreadsheet and emailing a human administrator with the needed information — and doing all of this without a human touching it.
ServiceNow got into RPA in March when it bought Indian startup Intellibot. It also has several tools for low-code and workflow automation, and with the Intellibot purchase, other acquisitions and organic development, has built automation across its entire platform.
Sturdy was an investor in UiPath and serves on its board. Other investments include Stripe, Cloudflare and Credit Karma, which Intuit bought last year for $7.1 billion. She was also the captain of the women’s basketball team while attending Harvard, and participated in the 1998 NCAA basketball tournament, helping defeat No. 1 Stanford in a huge upset.
We’re going to discuss why automation is coming to the fore now, the role of the pandemic in its rising popularity and whether it’s a jobs killer or if it’s actually making life easier for employees.
We hope you’ll join us at TechCrunch Sessions: SaaS on October 27th. We’ll also be talking to Monte Carlo CEO Barr Moses, Microsoft executive Jared Spataro and investor Casey Aylward.
Tech watchdog campaign challenges big tech for hiding behind small business – TechCrunch
Time and time again, tech’s most powerful companies have pushed the narrative that any threat to their own trillion-ish dollar businesses will trickle down, hurting the small companies that rely on their products.
But counter to the warm and fuzzy anecdotes that big tech has rolled out over the years, some business owners struggle with relying so heavily on massive, opaque corporations and often have little recourse if things go wrong.
Those struggles are the kind of thing that tech watchdog group Accountable Tech wants to draw attention to with its new awareness push, “Main Street Against Big Tech.” The six figure campaign includes a full-page ad in San Jose’s daily paper the Mercury News next week, digital ads across social platforms and an ongoing video series highlighting experiences from small business owners that run counter to the PR narratives from tech companies.
The project has received support from the Main Street Alliance, Small Business Rising, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the American Economic Liberties Project.
“The [campaign] really underscores the litany of Big Tech’s harms to which these small business owners are subject – from misleading and unreliable data, to hidden costs and sudden changes to rules or algorithms that can kneecap their entire company without any access to customer service,” Accountable Tech co-founder Jesse Lehrich told TechCrunch. “Each entrepreneur has their own story and reason for speaking out.”
Lehrich calls Facebook’s longstanding PR campaign around standing up for small business “incredibly cynical and opportunistic” — a position that some Facebook employees appear to share. The reality of running a business on big tech platforms isn’t always rosy for small business owners, who are subject to the whims of massively powerful corporations they have only a tenuous relationship with.
“They are completely at the mercy of these giants, with little access to legitimate metrics or customer service,” Lehrich said. “It’s not a partnership; it’s exploitation.”
Public sentiment also seems to be moving into a phase where people widely acknowledge that even free tech platforms extract a cost, whether that’s in the form of privacy sacrifices or the endless streams of user-created content that provide a canvas for advertising.
Small businesses may rely on tools from dominant tech companies, but that doesn’t mean that in theory an upstart competitor couldn’t build something that serves them just as well or better. “This is how monopolies and oligopolies work –– these Big Tech corporations and their services are only ‘essential’ because they’ve engaged in an endless array of anticompetitive behavior to ensure they’re the only game in town,” Lehrich told TechCrunch.
As Congress wrestles with how to update laws designed for an era well before internet businesses even existed, the biggest companies in tech will continue to lean into their market dominance, leaving businesses and users alike stuck with what they’ve got.
“In an effort to avoid regulatory scrutiny, monopolists like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have spent millions of dollars persuading lawmakers and the public that their business products are a lifeline for small businesses when in fact the opposite is true,” Accountable Tech Co-Founder and Executive Director Nicole Gill said. “… But now small business owners are fighting back by sharing their lived experience to expose the real relationship between Big Tech and Main Street.”
Network your way to opportunity at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 – TechCrunch
TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 kicks off in just five days on October 27. Attendees from around the globe will be in the virtual room ready to connect with founders, investors, engineers and journalists. Are you ready to take advantage of every networking opportunity to build a stronger SaaS-based startup?
But first: Buy your pass now to avoid the price increase at the virtual “door.” Take advantage of group savings when you purchase four or more passes ($45 each). Students and recent grads pay just $35.
Whether you’re looking for funding, a startup worthy of investment, a co-founder, media exposure or your first post-grad job, we’re here to help make networking as easy and efficient as possible.
Start with CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered platform. It makes quick work out of finding the people you most want to meet. People whose business goals align with yours. Simply answer a few questions when you register, and you’ll receive an email with everything you need to know to access the platform — including the attendees list.
The CrunchMatch algorithm gets to work, finds suitable connections and, with your permission, sends out meeting invitations. Schedule 1:1 video meetings to pitch your company, offer product demos or conduct interviews with prospective employees.
Pro Tip: The sooner you register, the sooner you’ll have access to the attendees list. Set up meetings through CrunchMatch before TC Sessions: SaaS starts and line up those RSVPs in advance.
If you’re looking for a more casual way to connect, we’ve got you covered with our virtual platform.
“The chat feature made it easy to connect with participants. People got creative using it to promote their business, like posting a LinkedIn profile or offering 15-minute time slots to review business pitches. I even saw a product-naming competition. You could find lots of opportunity rolling through the chat area.” — Ada Lau, Manager of Market Development, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.
TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Check out the event agenda and take advantage of this opportunity to network with the leading minds and makers in SaaS. You never know where one conversation might take you. Buy your pass today and come find out.Find your next investor or new job at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct. 27
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