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.
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Winners from the Facebook outage
When Facebook went down for nearly six hours on Monday, other apps saw an immediate benefit. Telegram, for example, gained a massive influx of 70 million more users, it said. Other firms did a fuller analysis of how the outage played out in the world of mobile apps.
According to Sensor Tower, Snapchat saw the biggest increase on the social media front, with average time spent by existing users climbing by 23% week-over-week. Twitter, which had jokingly tweeted “hello literally everyone,” grew that figure by 11% and TikTok saw a 2% jump. When comparing October 4 to the week-ago day, Snapchat saw a 14% increase in sessions, the report said. Twitter saw 5% session growth week-over-week, but TikTok saw a 1% dip.
But as the outage impacted more than just social networking — Facebook’s communication services, including Messenger and WhatsApp went down, too — rival chat apps also saw some gains. This included a 15% time-spent bump in Signal and an 18% increase in Telegram. In terms of sessions, Signal and Telegram grew by 13% and 9%, respectively, when compared with September 27. In addition, both saw an increase in installs, with Signal seeing nearly 12x the installs from the day before, reaching 881,000 downloads on the day of the outage. Telegram saw 6.3 million installs and Viber gained 137,000.
At Facebook, the declines in time spent were significant. Instagram’s average time spent on Android dropped by 28% week-over-week. Facebook on Android was down 24%; WhatsApp was down 25%; and Messenger was down 20%.
Apple brings back the App Store’s “Report a Problem” feature
Apple made a change to its App Store by returning the “Report a Problem” link to App Store product pages across iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices. The link offers an easy way for users to report issues they’re having with an app, including whether it contains offensive or illegal content, or whether it was attempting to scam consumers out of their money. Apple had removed the consumer-friendly “Report a Problem” button from the App Store years ago, possibly to its detriment. New reports have suggested that many of the top apps are scams costing consumers millions and Apple has even been questioned by Congress over the situation.
The “new” feature is currently available in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and will make its way to other markets over time. However, the feature isn’t technically “new” in the sense that it had never before existed on the App Store — a button like this used to have a prominent position in the App Store’s early days.
When clicked, consumers will be able to select from options like “Report a scam or fraud” and “Report offensive, abusive, or illegal content” at reportaproblem.apple.com. They will also be able to report issues with free apps that don’t include in-app purchases.
The addition arrives after a number of reports about high-profile App Store scams have made headlines. Scams were even brought up in an antitrust hearing Apple attended earlier this year, when senators questioned why it wasn’t doing enough to protect consumers. The return of the button seems to be the closest to an acknowledgment we will get from Apple that fighting fraud effectively may require public input.
Apple’s apps get rated and reviewed
With iOS 15, Apple began to allow consumers to rate and review its own first-party apps on the App Store for the first time. That meant users could now leave reviews for built-in apps like Mail, Music, Stocks, Calculator and others that typically ship with the iPhone. Initially, some of the apps were not faring well as users finally had a chance to offer their feedback. For example, News started off with 2.5 stars as users complained about nags to upgrade to News+, advertising and other elements.
This week, Appfigures analyzed how the apps were doing as of October 5, 2021, to reflect the nearly 33,000 ratings they received over the first couple of weeks. It found that the most disliked apps included Mail, Podcasts, News and Translate. The latter, a newer app in the Apple lineup, fared the worst. Translate was the lowest-rated app, with a 2.42 average star rating globally off of 1,629 total ratings, Appfigures found. News, Mail and Podcasts were rated 2.55 stars, 2.98 stars and 2.44 stars, respectively.
Meanwhile, apps with ratings over 4 stars included Find My, Voice Memos, Compass, Measure, FaceTime, Notes, Fitness and Apple Wallet. A majority of Apple’s apps, however, were in the 3-star range. None received 5 stars or less than 2.42.
In terms of the number of ratings, Music and Maps led with 23% of the 32,953 ratings that came in over the past couple of weeks. Worldwide, music had 4,431 ratings, and Maps had 3,207 ratings. They were also the only apps with 3,000+ total ratings as of the time of publication.
- iOS 15 users noticed they have started to see promotions for Apple’s services in the Settings screen. While Apple has used this spot in the past, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney this week called out Apple for the practice, saying Apple is using the Settings screen as an ad unit its competitors don’t have access to. Apple was seen marketing Apple Music here, for example — but a rival like Spotify would not be able to use this same prime real estate in the same way.
- Apple launched new metrics in App Analytics. The new analytics include redownloads, total downloads, proceeds, preorders and updates. Each metric can be displayed by territory, source type, device and more.
- Apple reminded developers that its updated App Store Guidelines said that all app submissions starting January 31, 2022 will need to offer an account deletion feature if they also offer account creation. The changes were previously announced alongside other, larger updates focused on cutting down on fraud and scams.
- Apple launched iOS 15.1 beta 3, which added a new “Auto Macro” toggle that will allow you to disable the automatic camera switching. It also added ProRes support and fixed some of the issues with Apple Maps’ “Look Around” mode’s image quality. Meanwhile, Apple stopped code signing iOS 14.8 for some older iPhones.
- Apple launched new coding guides for elementary school students. The guides include a new one-hour App Design session and other core coding concepts.
- Google announced its next Pixel event would take place on October 19. The company said it will officially introduce the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, powered by its first custom mobile chip, Tensor.
- Google released the Android 12 source code on Android Open Source Project (AOSP). But unlike in years past, it didn’t also immediately release the new OS to Android devices. Instead, it said that Pixel device owners will still need to wait a few more weeks for some Pixel-first exclusives and features. (Perhaps to be announced at the new event?) Android 12 will also reach other phones later this year, including Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Tecno, Vivo and Xiaomi devices.
- Pinterest rolled out new features for advertisers and brands to promote their products to users on its platform. A new “slideshow for collections” feature pulls products from brands’ catalogs and automatically turns them into a “collections ad,” which helps advertisers produce video-like content. It’s also adding support for “merchant details,” which will allow brands to showcase their values — like “responsibly sourced” and “inclusive” — on their profile. And companies can highlight communities they’re a part of, like “women-owned” or “Black-owned,” for example. The company is also expanding its Verified Merchant Program and is testing a new “Idea Ads with paid partnership” feature that is a joint partnership between creators and advertisers.
- U.S. consumers are expected to spend over 900 million hours on mobile shopping apps during the holiday season, reports App Annie. This figure is up 20% year-over-year in the U.S. but other markets are on track for increases as well. In the U.K., consumers are on track for over 145 million hours in shopping apps, up from 138 million last year.
- Amazon added a new feature to its U.S. shopping app that will allow Prime members to send gifts to anyone using just an email address or phone number. When checkout is complete, the gift recipient will then receive either an email or text that lets them accept the gift by providing Amazon with their preferred delivery address from their own Amazon account.
- Robinhood launched on-demand phone support for all its 31 million users. Users with a question or account issue will now be able to request a call inside the Robinhood app, then receive a call back from a support agent. Previously, users had been pushed toward messaging the company for help.
- Snap introduced a series of new tools, programs and features that will enable creators on its platform to generate revenue. These include the expansion of a Gifting feature to worldwide creators, the expansion of the Creator Marketplace to include Snap Stars (top creators with verified accounts), the launch of a how-to resource called the Creator Hub and a new way for Snapchat creators to be rewarded for making short-form video for its in-app TikTok rival, known as Spotlight. Separately, it launched a new tool to help encourage its young users to run for office.
- Snapchat launched new tools and educational resources aimed at preventing younger users from buying illegal drugs on its platform. The company said the goal of the new tools is to keep its users safe from “the devastating impacts of the fentanyl crisis.” Among the changes, Snap says it improved its proactive detection capabilities to remove drug dealers from its platform before they are able to engage with users. It also worked to improve its in-app reporting tools, and is adding a new educational portal when drug-related terms are searched for in the app.
- Instagram has largely replaced TikTok in India, following the ban, a report from Rest of World found. Instagram itself has 210 million active users there, who are uploading 6 million short videos daily. The largest local alternative is ShareChat’s Moj, with 2.5 million videos uploaded daily.
- Instagram ditched IGTV. The company will no longer refer to its long-form video content as “IGTV” and will instead merge IGTV and Instagram Feed videos into a new format called simply “Instagram Video.” It’s also rebranding the IGTV app as Instagram Video, which will include everything but Reels (short-form) as well as Live videos.
- Twitter is testing a new prompt that will warn you when a conversation has “bad vibes.” The company said the idea is to give people a heads-up if they’re about to join a conversation that’s “heated or intense,” and hopes this will promote healthier conversations.
- Twitter is shutting down Scroll, the distraction-free reading service it acquired. It says the feature will become a part of its premium Twitter Blue subscription in the future. Scroll had partnered with publishers to offer fast-loading, ad-free articles.
- Google Photos app on Android has added the ability to edit and add metadata on photos and videos, something users have requested for a long time. The functionality was already available on iOS.
- WhatsApp’s iOS beta added E2E encryption for backups. The feature is only available to select beta testers on TestFlight for the time being. The company announced last month it was preparing to bring E2E to chat backups on iCloud and Google Drive.
- Telegram says it gained a record 70 million new users during Facebook’s six-hour outage on Monday. The company said the growth may have led to some slower than normal speeds in the Americas during that time.
Streaming & Entertainment
- Netflix brought its Shuffle Mode feature, “Play Something,” to Android devices worldwide. The option will play another movie or show Netflix believes you may like, based on your interests and your prior viewing behavior. These selections may include a movie or show you’re already watching but haven’t completed, a movie or show on your watch list or a brand-new series or film that Netflix’s personalization algorithms suggest. The feature will later come to iOS.
- Netflix also snagged the top spot on the App Store this week, thanks to the popularity of its new hit series “Squid Game.” The app hasn’t been No. 1 since at least 2014.
- YouTube is investing in podcasts. The company is hiring an an executive to oversee its podcasting business — a new position, Bloomberg said. The platform already hosts a number of podcasts, including top shows like Joe Rogan and those from popular YouTubers, like Logan Paul.
- Spotify’s Anchor app, which provides podcasters with publishing tools, joined the Spotify Audience Network. The new audio ad marketplace puts Anchor’s creators in the reach of more advertisers and campaigns.
- Viral hit game High Heels has topped 100 million downloads in less than a year, App Annie said. Zynga acquired the title when it purchased hyper-casual game maker Rollic in April. Launched in December 2020, the game was the No. 3 most downloaded hyper-casual game worldwide during H1 2021, and No. 6 among all games.
- Tinder will offer users in-app currency for keeping their profile active, according to Bloomberg. The virtual currency is rolling out in Australia first, before heading to other markets, like the U.S. It can be used to buy premium features like Super Likes and Boost.
Auto & Transportation
- Apple is said to be working on an expansion of CarPlay that would allow it to more directly interoperate with vehicle features, like the AC, seat adjustments and more, said Bloomberg.
- Google Maps launched eco-friendly routing in the U.S. The feature, which gives drivers the choice between the fastest and most fuel-efficient route, is now live for iOS and Android users in the U.S., with support in Europe launching in 2022.
- 🍿 Paddle, a solutions provider for subscription-based businesses, announced a new in-app purchasing (IAP) system aimed at iOS developers that’s designed to be a drop-in replacement for Apple’s own IAP. Paddle says its system will provide developers with access to customer data throughout their lifecycle; will offer a combination of direct subscription management and tools to pause subscriptions; and will support other payment mechanisms, like PayPal. It will also allow developers to manage their own refunds. Plus, its fees would be 10% on transactions under $10 and 5% on transactions over $10 — less than Apple. But Paddle’s entire product hinges on its belief that the court’s ruling in the Epic v. Apple lawsuit will be held up upon appeal, and that the way Apple will interpret the ruling will allow payment system alternatives such as Paddle’s to operate. That’s not something Paddle at this point could definitively know.
- Amazon added a new speech setting to the Alexa app on iOS and Android that will force Alexa to wait for a longer period of time for a person to finish speaking. The feature is opt-in and could make the app useful to those with a speech impairment.
- Firefox Focus, the privacy-centric browser, was updated this week with a brand-new look, shortcuts and more privacy controls. The browser now has new colors, a new logo and a dark theme, as well. Users can now also create and add a new password that can be saved directly in the browser, then used across mobile and desktop.
- Universe, a mobile website builder app, added advanced creative controls, enhanced themes, block features and more to its grid-based web builder.
Government & Policy
- Dutch antitrust authority found that Apple’s rule requiring developers to use its in-app payments system is anticompetitive, Reuters reported. The investigation began in 2019, following complaints from Match, which said Apple hindered it from direct communications with developers.
- The U.K.’s comms, broadcast and, now, internet regulator, Ofcom, said video-sharing platforms in the U.K. will have to comply with new regulations designed to protect those under the age of 18 from harmful content. This includes hate speech, videos or ads likely to incite violence in protected groups, terrorist content, child sex abuse material, racism and xenophobia. In addition to larger video platforms like TikTok, Vimeo, Twitch, Snap, Triller and more, the regulations also apply to services like OnlyFans, Recast, BitChute and others.
💰 Mark Cuban-backed fintech Otto raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by Uncommon Capital. The app lets users tap into their vehicle’s equity for access to credit, allowing them to borrow at rates similar to a standard credit card. Title loans are typically predatory, and Otto is offering a slightly improved alternative, but by structuring this as credit, not a loan, users who make timely payments will be able to build or improve their credit, even if they were not qualified for other credit cards.
🤝 Twitter sold mobile ad platform MoPub to marketing software maker AppLovin for $1.05 billion in cash. MoPub helped Twitter generate $188 million in revenue in 2020, but Twitter is now more focused on developing its own owned and operated ad product instead, in addition to the revenue generation it has planned from its other new features like live audio rooms, subscriptions, creator tools and more.
💰 Facemoji, which makes a plug-and-play tech platform for adding avatar systems to mobile apps, raised $3 million in seed funding, led by Play Ventures. Twitter, which more rarely makes corporate investments, and Roosh Ventures also participated.
💰 German digital insurance tech firm Getsafe raised $93 million in Series B funding for its app that allows customers to buy, manage and change their insurance policies and file claims. The app offers liability and contents insurance, car insurance, legal insurance and newly added dental insurance. Investors include Abacon Capital, Earlybird, CommerzVentures and Swiss Re.
💰 Copper Banking raised $9 million in seed funding for its digital banking service aimed at teens, which incorporates financial educations into its product offering. Investors include PSL Ventures, an arm of Pioneer Square Labs, as well as Clocktower Ventures, Index Ventures Scout Fund, Launchpad Capital, Financial Venture Studio, Maven Ventures, Fiat Ventures and Arnold Ventures.
💰 Singapore-based Grab raised its stake in the Indonesian mobile wallet provider Ovo to around 90%, up from 39%, by acquiring stakes that were owned by PT Tokopedia and Lippo Group, a filing indicated.
💰 Matter raised a $7 million Series A led by GV to build a better reading app for the era of alternative media, newsletters and audio consumption of news and information. The app aims to compete with services like Instapaper and Pocket by offering a modern alternative.
💰 Indonesian stock-trading app Ajaib raised $153 million in Series B funding led by DST Global, the same firm that backed Robinhood. Founded by Stanford MBA classmates, the app — now a unicorn — targets young, retail investors who are starting to trade online for the first time. Other investors in the round include Ribbit Capital, IVP, ICONIQ Capital, Insignia Ventures, Alpha JWC Ventures, SoftBank Ventures and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures.
💰 Upmesh, a service created to help automate checkout from Facebook Live streams, including on mobile, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Leo Capital. The company is preparing to build its own app that will allow users to discover new live commerce sellers across social media platforms.
💰 Ladder, a life insurance startup that works via an app, raised $100 million in a new round of funding co-led by Thomvest Ventures and OMERS Growth Equity. The company is on track to issue $30 billion worth of coverage by the end of 2021, and saw its revenue grow 4.5x over the past year.
A new app called Matter is offering a better reading app that works with how people today consume news and information. Instead of just marking articles to save later, only to never get read, Matter spruces up the reading list experience by offering other features to keep users more engaged with what they’re reading — like private and public highlighting, support for commenting, a curated public feed and editors picks, support for importing newsletters, audio playback of articles in a less-robotic sounding voice than rivals, and more. Users can find and follow others on Matter, which curates its content based on tweets from top thinkers as well as what its community publicly shares. The app is currently iOS only, but is developing a web and Android version in the future.
A new startup called Fireside launched this week with what it hopes will be a more compelling set of tools for content creation, distribution, measurement and monetization. The service offers a platform for live and interactive shows, which had earlier drawn Clubhouse comparisons. But Fireside offers live and on-demand programming as well as the ability to export and simulcast to other platforms. The app had been making waves during its beta period thanks to financial backing by Mark Cuban, who has also taken the rare step of naming himself as co-founder. He’s joined by former Googler, YouTuber and Node co-founder Falon Fatemi, who sold her last company to SugarCRM, and early Yammer employee Mike Ihbe. The platform is now exiting its beta period, where it was tested with more than 500 creators whose collective audience reach has topped 100 million, the company says. Fireside is available on the web and iOS to start. (Read the full review here on TechCrunch.)
When you’re exploring a city — whether one you’re visiting on your travels or your own — there are a number of tools that can help you find out where to go, what to see and what to do, like Google Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor and others. But a startup called Welcome thinks that today’s set of tools could be smarter and more personalized to the individuals who use them. Its new app instead uses “real-time” technologies to make recommendations that take into account a user’s preferences as well as other details about their current context — like the weather, season, traffic and the popularity of the place at the current time of day — in order to provide a better-curated set of recommendations. The end result is a city guide that functions more like a personal concierge. (Read the full review here on TechCrunch.)
Halide 2.5 (Update)
With the iPhone 13 Pro, users can now take photos close up — less than an inch away from their subject — thanks to its support for macro photography. But now, there’s an option for everyone else, too. Halide’s popular camera app updated this week with a new feature that brings support for macro photography to all iPhone models from the iPhone 8 and up. While the ultra-wide camera will still automatically focus on very-close subjects, the company says, a separate mode unlocks powerful tools and processing specific to macro. To get started, you’ll tap the “AF” button to switch from auto focus to manual focus. To then enter Macro Mode, you’ll tap the flower icon — the universal symbol for macro. Halide will examine your available cameras and switch to whichever one has the shortest minimum focus distance. It then locks focus at that nearest point. You can tap anywhere on-screen to adjust focus or adjust it manually. To make the feature work, it trained a neural network to upscale images in a way that produces “much sharper, smoother results” than what you typically get in an editor, the company said.
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
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
How newcomer River plans to fill a gap in India’s competitive EV two-wheeler market – TechCrunch
Two wheelers have long been a cornerstone of life in India — their smaller size and affordability making these traditionally gas and diesel-powered vehicles a go-to means of navigating the traffic-jammed streets of the country’s most populous cities.
Now, a new startup called River has come out of stealth with an electric two-wheeler scooter — and accompanying subscription services — designed to appeal to modern-day consumers looking for an affordable, yet stylish vehicle that can be used for work, play and every task in between.
River, founded in late 2020 by Aravind Mani and Vipin George with $2 million in backing from Maniv Mobility and TrucksVC, has grown to 42 people in its short life. Its small and growing team, who hail from companies like Ather, Arai, Bosch, Honda, Ultraviolette and Vespa, have developed a prototype vehicle that will be unveiled to consumers later this year.
Both founders also have experience in two-wheeled transport. Mani, an engineer who once worked in the petrochemicals industry before switching to electrified transportation, was most recently vice president of business strategy at Ultraviolette before he left to form River. George worked at Honda R&D in India for eight years, including as head designer, and most recently was design lead at Ultraviolette.
The pair wanted a two-wheeler robust enough to be used as a tool for work or any other task while amping up the performance and style to make it useful and fun for all of the other hours in the day.
“A parallel would be the truck culture in the United States; if you’re carpenter or shop owner you have a truck, which you use to carry stuff and it’s also your primary mode of commute,” Mani said. “We don’t have anything similar on the two-wheeler space in India, and that’s what we want to create.”
At the same time, Mani noted the vehicle also had to have personality because “in India it is still a status purchase that you want to show off to your friends; it is a first symbol that you have arrived in life for many people owning a two wheeler.”
What they came up with is a “multi-utility” two-wheeled electric scooter codenamed the RX-1 that is available in several battery pack sizes that can travel between 100 km (62 miles) and 180 km (112 miles) on a single charge.
The vehicle can accelerate from zero to 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph) in 4 seconds and has a top speed of 80 kmph (50 mph). And because its main focus is as a multi-utility vehicle, it has a payload of 200 kilograms, enough for a rider to carry packages.
The price, which depends on the battery pack, ranges between 80,000 INR ($1,070) and 100,000 INR ($1,337).
River’s launch comes at a fruitful yet fiercely competitive moment in India.
India’s government, keen to accelerate the adoption of EVs in an effort to get away from polluting gas and diesel powered vehicles, have increased subsidies for electric two-wheelers made in the country. India’s Department of Heavy Industries now offers incentives that provides Rs 15,000 ($200) per kilowatt-hour. The cap on subsidies has also doubled to 40% of the price of the vehicle.
At the same time, there is also an effort by e-commerce and delivery companies, including Flipkart, Swiggy and Zomato to electrify fleets. Zomato to have EV-only fleets by the end of the decade. Startup Swiggy announced in August it would cover 800,000 kilometers (497,000 miles) every day via electric vehicles by 2025. In February, Walmart-owned Flipkart said it would deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030.
“About 60% to 70% of the country is self employed and two wheelers are a basic part of the Indian livelihood,” co-founder Aravind Mani said in an interview, adding that e-commerce has driven growth with an estimated 14 million fleet delivery riders in India today. “COVID has actually accelerated this trend, and on demand services are continuously increasing.”
These opportunities have fueled the launch of hundreds of EV startups. There are more than 470 EV companies registered in India, according to March 2021 research note from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
“The gold rush to capture this emerging opportunity has commenced,” the report from managing director and senior analyst Venugopal Garre said. “A few will get acquired, several will perish, some will remain low scale niche OEMs, but we think a few will scale up materially.”
River is going up against bigger and better funded competitors like Ola Electric, Bounce and Aether Energy as well as dozens of smaller outfits. But River’s co-founders contend their new vehicle and business model fills a gap in the market.
River plans to sell directly to consumers and offer a suite of subscription services and an array of accessories that lets owners customize their scooters and remove them there needs change throughout the day. Sales are expected to begin in the second half of 2022.
The company plans to offer charging, battery packs that will range in size, maintenance and connectivity packages offered through subscriptions. River is not going to take on the costly task of building out charging infrastructure. Instead, the company plans to operate a charging franchise system. Mani said the company is already working set of small businesses that might buy the vehicles and chargers and open up the chargers for public use.
River wants to sell its scooters directly to businesses like restaurants as well as to fleet operators and even larger ecommerce companies that can sell to consumers.
The startup will assemble the scooters at what Mani described as “small scale manufacturing facilities” that can turnout around 3,000 vehicles a month. If successful, River wants to create a number of these facilities throughout India. Mani said River has reached initial agreements with several suppliers, including for the co-development and assembly of its battery packs.
All Things Must Pass – TechCrunch
It’s been several weeks now, and Clubhouse still hasn’t enabled record/replay. Neither has Twitter Spaces. Facebook just announced a live audio entry too, but no record. With all the drama about Facebook, I’m not expecting much soon, but c’mon guys, let’s get it done.
I’m loving Youtube TV, which lets me cherry pick hours of cable news repetition and cut to the chase. The collapse of one of the two major political parties puts new pressure on the other one to get things done. This edition of the Gang surfaces the oft-referenced collapse of journalism. Cable news takes a complex struggle like the two infrastructure bills and turns it into a horse race. Is it Manchin’s fault or Sinema’s rudeness to the press? Are the Progressives overreaching with not enough strength where it counts, at the ballot box? As Biden’s poll numbers decline, the chances of a Republican takeover of the House in the midterms improve. C’mon guys.
The Beatles continue to amaze, as evidenced by the latest remix extravaganza of the ill-fated Let It Be sessions. Coming as they did in the wake of the fractious White Album, Paul McCartney’s self-appointed leadership of the group spurred a struggle between rehearsals at Twickenham Studios and reconstituted recordings at a makeshift studio in the basement of the group’s Apple headquarters on Saville Row. The later sessions were topped off with a live 42-minute performance on the building’s roof.
51 years later (with a year tacked on thanks to the pandemic) the Let It Be release is deconstructed into book, remixed expansions of the eventual release of the material, and a 3-part 6-hour documentary of the project helmed by director Peter Jackson. As with earlier versions of Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles (White Album), and Abbey Road, the expansions prove over and over again how the Beatles and their producer George Martin seized control of the top of the charts and never surrendered it. Even the steady stream of failures of the Let It Be project illustrated how the band moved to blend the individual personalities of its members and their almost biochemical skills as writers to achieve what is now fairly uniformly perceived as the greatest creative force of the pop, rock, and pre-social worlds.
No small credit goes to the precision and command of the recording process by the engineers of the EMI Studios, which were renamed Abbey Road in the wake of the triumphant album recorded just after the sessions of Let It Be. The studio was fundamentally a laboratory where engineers wore white lab coats and followed a hierarchical structure that constrained climbing the ranks based on seniority and not innovation. It took the Beatles many years to subvert the process, but their global success gave them bargaining power to generate their own material, which then led to expanding recording hours from a single 9 to 5 session for their first record to all night odysseys that burned out engineers and broke open an avenue for young emergent talent.
So it was that 19-year old Geoff Emerick arrived just in time as the Beatles’ decision to end touring and precipitated the experiments that began with Revolver and blossomed with Sgt. Pepper and later Abbey Road. While EMI was slow to adopt the wave of studio innovations driven by the American studios, the careful use of mixing down 3 of the common 4 available tracks produced a composite feel of live and complex stacking of instruments, vocals, and orchestral arrangements. Th4 advent of digital recording and mixing gave today’s engineers led by George Martin’s son Giles the tools to pull apart the interim recordings and produce remixes that went beyond even what the original recordings seemed to capture.
Disney has just released a 4-minute trailer of the enhanced Get Back filming, whetting our appetite for the Thanksgiving special on Disney+. The Beatles’ film career started off smashingly with Hard Days Night, floated off in a marijuana haze with Help, and collapsed miserably with a self-produced TV special Magical Mystery Tour. But the Get Back trailer restores not only the struggles and fighting of the sick-of-each-other prisoners of Beatlemania, but also the magic of the group’s camaraderie and humor. My favorite scene of Help features the Fab Four walking up to identical doors on a London street, and entering into a common apartment on the other side of the wall. The trailer reopens that door for another minute, where the band’s self-prophetic references spurred the shared myth of the Beatles into a reality greater than the sum of its parts.
the latest Gillmor Gang Newsletter
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, September 24, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
What I learned after running my startup while traveling for a year – TechCrunch
The life of a startup founder is not typically relaxing. Long hours are a given and days off are few. Your startup is your baby, and it needs care and feeding 24/7.
So what happens when a pandemic forces office shutdowns and a move to remote work for everyone? Great things, as it turns out.
For several years, my partner and I — normally based in Paris — discussed living a more nomadic life, spending a few months in one city and then moving on to another. When we started talking about it, we both worked in jobs (customer support and software development, respectively) that could in theory be done from anywhere. Then I co-founded my company, and we put our plans for a nomadic life on hold.
We already had a small number of employees working remotely. But when we shut our Paris office and went fully remote in March 2020, some of our staff were in a bit of a panic.
But a funny thing happened on the way to our home offices: Productivity didn’t change at all.
Inbound sales requests skyrocketed — within just a couple of weeks of the pandemic being declared, our leads had increased by 10x. We were signing clients left and right. We even made dozens of new hires while completely remote, doubling the size of the company — we now have people working from 17 countries.
Once things stabilized — albeit at a new, faster pace — my partner broached the topic again. If we’re remote anyway, what’s the difference between being remote from down the street or in another country? She had a point. Either way, we’re not in the office. It’s not as if I would be the only person working remotely — we all were.
We worked together to come up with some criteria. First, any location we chose had to be no more than a time zone or two outside of Paris, to make communication with the office smoother. Second, any apartment we rented had to have reliable, high-speed internet and two separate workspaces or nearby space, like a café or coworking space, since we’d both be working remotely. Third, I would need to travel back to Paris every four to six weeks, primarily to reduce my anxiety about being away.
We started off with a one-month trip to Iceland, where we worked from an Airbnb with a beautiful view of the mountains. We kept the same hours as we did before and did meetings via video conferences, the same way we did in Paris.
The only difference is when we were able to take a break from work, we used our time to explore and have new experiences. I remember speaking to one of our investors from Iceland, and he remarked on the view in my background — he didn’t realize I wasn’t in Paris and didn’t mind at all. He said that as long as the company was growing — and it was — he didn’t care where my desk was located.
The trip went so well that we decided to do this for a year. After a quick reset in Paris, we moved on to Barcelona for two months and then Greece. As I write this, I’m in Paris for a week and then we leave for Amsterdam. Next on our itinerary are trips to Scotland, Sweden and Norway.
We don’t consider ourselves on vacation — both my partner and I are still working fairly intense hours. We make the most of our off time but are primarily focused on work.
Here’s my advice if you decide to do this yourself:
Consider staying in a similar time zone to your usual office to make your travel less disruptive for others. You don’t want everyone to have to reschedule regular calls and video meetings, for instance.
Check and double-check the internet quality of every destination. We have stayed primarily at Airbnbs — I not only asked hosts about internet quality but also had them send me screenshots of speed tests. I also scout local coworking spaces in advance in case there is a problem with the internet, so I can get resettled quickly if needed.
Dress each morning as if you are going to work. This helps you not fall into vacation mode and stay in a work mindset.
Keep the same hours and routine as you did at home. Wake up at the same time, have your tea or coffee at the same time, and head to your desk.
Curate your remote work kit. Initially, I traveled with much more than I actually needed. Now I’m down to a laptop, a foldable laptop stand, a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and a noise-canceling headset and mic. Have as few wires as possible. Initially, I had a mini router in case of emergencies, but I’ve learned that using my phone as a hotspot works just as well, and even that I’ve needed sparingly.
Very few people (at least in tech) work 9 to 5 — we are all connected, all the time. Often, we’re working with customers, colleagues and investors in different countries. Asynchronous communications have become the norm. Even before the pandemic, there were Livestorm employees and investors based in other countries whom I’d never met in person.
Over the past year as we’ve almost fully remote, we’ve doubled our headcount and nearly doubled revenue. We also closed a $30 million funding round, completely via email and video conferencing.
Our Paris office has reopened, but in a different format — it’s now organized as more of a co-working space, with room for 30 (our total head count is more than 150). Staff who want to come in can make a reservation, and we have more meeting and hangout space than we used to, since most people who come in are there to collaborate with others.
The weeks I’m in Paris, I go in for meetings most days — but often can still be found working from a Paris apartment, which could be anywhere.
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