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Elon buys Twitter, new App Store rules, gambling ads backlash • TechCrunch

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

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has slowed down. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

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 much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters.

Musk buys Twitter

It’s official, Elon Musk now owns Twitter. In typical Musk fashion, the transition has been nothing but chaotic, with the deal closing just ahead of the deadline set by the Delaware Chancery Court — the court where Musk was planning to try to exit the deal by claiming Twitter had misled him about the number of bots on the platform. (He was really looking to get the price down, of course!) In any event, the Telsa and SpaceX exec now has a new toy and everyone is waiting to see what comes next. Earlier, Musk had hinted at layoffs, then later retracted his statements, saying he wouldn’t fire 75% after all. However, he did immediately clear out the C-suite, including CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, General Counsel Sean Edgett and Head of Legal, Trust and Safety Vijaya Gadde — a sign that he’s planning to fill out Twitter’s top ranks with execs who will do his own bidding and not fight for the Twitter of days past.

Still, Musk’s talk about a Twitter that’s more permissive of “free speech” doesn’t quite align with his message to advertisers posted shortly after the deal’s close: He promised marketers that Twitter can’t turn into a “free-for-all hellscape.” That’s clearly a tacit acknowledgment on Musk’s part that advertisers don’t want to post their content next to hate speech-filled tweets. And despite Musk’s plans to grow Twitter’s subscription business, around 90% of Twitter’s revenue today comes from advertising. Given what he had to pay to own Twitter, Musk probably doesn’t want to have to pay to keep it running, too.

App Store Review Guidelines now give Apple a cut of NFTs, in-app advertising

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Along with the launch of iOS 16.1, Apple also introduced new App Store Review Guidelines. Among the major changes were two new rules designed to give Apple a bigger slice of the NFT market and Meta’s core advertising business.

The company said apps will be allowed to list, mint, transfer and let users view their own NFTs, but clarified that owning an NFT could not be a shortcut to unlocking any more features in an app. In other words, the ownership of an NFT shouldn’t be a way to route around Apple’s in-app purchases. In addition, Apple said NFT apps can’t display external links or other calls-to-action to purchase NFTs — that can only take place through Apple’s own in-app purchases system, as well.

This change is not all that surprising. As the web3 market grows, Apple wanted to find a way to stake its claim on the revenue and transactions that are occuring inside these new apps. Plus, it’s a better consumer experience for NFT marketplace apps to not just function as a showcase for users’ purchases, but as a place where users can actually transact.

The other big rule adjustment, however, is a bit more startling. In a bold move, Apple essentially said it deserves a cut of Meta’s ads business as well as any other social app. The new rule around social media apps now states that purchases of “boosts” have to flow through Apple’s in-app purchase system.

This could impact any app that sells the ability to boost a post to a wider audience, like Meta (Facebook, Instagram), TikTok, Twitter, dating apps and others. Meta, of course, took significant issue with this change, saying that Apple’s policy undercuts others in the digital economy after Apple had previously said it wouldn’t take a share of developer ad revenue. While Meta isn’t exactly a sympathetic player here, it’s concerning that Apple has decided it can now tax advertising inside iOS apps at the same time it runs its own expanding ads business. That seems like a move regulators will need to look into asap.

App Store gambling ads backlash

Speaking of Apple’s ads business…The company’s App Store ads platform expanded this week to include new ad slots like the main Today tab and a “You Might Also Like” section at the bottom of individual app listings. The slots are available in all countries as of October 25, except China. The ads have a blue background and an “Ad” label to differentiate them from other listings.

Developers, however, were immediately disturbed by the instant deluge of gambling ads that appeared marketed alongside their own, including against kids’ applications and, in at least one case, a gambling addiction recovery app. This was a poor look for Apple. After all, the gambling category itself is already controversial — many developers would rather not share an app marketplace with these often predatory apps in the first place, much less have them advertised alongside their own.

Apple at least moved quickly to respond to the backlash by “pausing” gambling ads and a few other categories on App Store product pages, but the company didn’t say how long this pause would last or what it planned to do about the situation in the long term.

Spotify accuses Apple of anti-competitive behavior, this time around audiobooks

Just ahead of its Q3 earnings, Spotify published a blog post that again accused Apple of anti-competitive behavior with regard to its launch of audiobooks in the U.S. On an accompanying website, Spotify noted that its app update to include the audiobook expansion was rejected three times without “clear direction” as to what needed to be changed to come into compliance. The site details Spotify’s criticisms of Apple’s platform, explaining how Apple requires audiobook purchases to use Apple’s own in-app purchases — or, if selling elsewhere, prevents Spotify from telling users why, where or how to make those purchases outside of iOS.

Because Spotify wants to avoid the 30% IAP commission, it doesn’t let users buy audiobooks in its app. Instead, users select the book they want to purchase and are emailed a link that points to a website where they can complete the transaction.

“The Audiobooks purchase flow that Apple’s rules force us to provide consumers today is far too complicated and confusing — confusing because they change the rules arbitrarily, making them impossible to interpret,” Spotify’s blog post stated.

The company has regularly battled with Apple over its App Store policies but is sometimes seen as an unsympathetic victim due to its size, revenues and its role in moving the music industry to streaming, which artists say doesn’t pay.

Platforms: Apple

Holding an iPhone 14 running iOS 16.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

  • Apple released iOS 16.1, iPadOS 16.1, macOS Ventura and watchOS 9.1. The updated software delivers new features like iCloud Shared Photo Library, Continuity Camera, Stage Manager for the Mac and iPad, Live Activities, Apple Fitness+ for iPhone and more.
  • Apple expanded its App Store ads platform to include the main Today tab and a “You Might Also Like” section at the bottom of individual app listings in all countries on October 25, except China. The ads have a blue background and an “Ad” label to differentiate them from other listings.
  • SKAdNetwork 4.0, which lets advertisers measure ads’ success, became available in iOS 16.1 and iPadOS 16.1 this week.
  • Apple also released the first betas of macOS Ventura 13.1, iOS 16.2, and iPadOS 16.2 which included the new Freeform app, announced at WWDC. The app is a whiteboard app that lets you create sketches notes, files, documents and more, which can be accessed across devices.
  • Apple reported its Q4 earnings with iPhone revenue up 9.67% YoY to $42.63 billion, Mac up 25.4% to $11.51 billion, but iPad revenue down 13.06% to $7.17 billion. Wall Street was expecting iPhone revenue of $43.21 billion, sending the stock down in late trading. Other products were $9.65 billion (up 9.95%) and the Services division, which includes the App Store, was up 4.98%.

Platforms: Google

  • Google filed a brief opposing Epic and Match’s recent motion to amend and expand their antitrust claims in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the Android maker. In it, Google disputes that its incentive program for developers to publish to the Play Store would prohibit developers from creating competing app stores, as alleged. It also noted the motion from Epic and Match comes too late, after the December 3, 2021 amendment deadline.
  • Google hosted its Android Developer Summit where it announced the first stable release of Compose Material 3, the library that allows developers to build Jetpack Compose UIs with Material Design 3.
  • The company also announced updates across three main areas of Jetpack: architecture libraries and guidance, application performance and user interface libraries and guidance. It noted that 90% of the top 1,000 apps use Android Jetpack.
  • Google introduced a Gradle Bill of Materials (BOM) specifying the stable version of each Compose library. The first BOM release, Compose October 22, contains Material Design 3 components, lazy staggered grids, variable fonts, pull to refresh, snapping in lazy lists, draw text in canvas, URL annotations in text, hyphenation and LookAheadLayout. And it launched the first alpha of Compose for Android TV.
  • Android Studio got updates, too, including updated templates for Wear OS. And Google launched a stable Android R emulator system image for Wear OS.

E-commerce & Food Delivery

  • The FTC sanctioned Uber-owned Drizly, an alcohol delivery service, and its CEO Jason Rellas for data security abuses that saw the personal information of the company’s 2.5 million customers exposed. Drizly will have to implement a security program, destroy unnecessary data, implement new security controls and train employees and cybersecurity.
  • Amazon began letting select U.S. customers pay with Venmo on its website and in its mobile app, with plans to roll out the support to all U.S. customers by Black Friday.

Blockchain

  • Twitter began testing a blockchain-agnostic tool that allows users to display their NFTs in tweets in partnership with Dapper Labs, Magic Eden, Rarible and Jump.trade. The feature is only available to select users at this time.

Fintech

  • PayPal added support for Apple Passkeys on iOS, iPadOS and macOS, with more platforms to come. Passkeys are a new industry standard created by the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium — in partnership with Apple, Google and Microsoft — that are designed to replace passwords.

Social

  • New analysis indicates India’s homegrown TikTok clones, like Moj and Josh, haven’t been able to replicate TikTok’s success in the country following its ban, leaving Instagram and YouTube to take over the short-form video market locally.
  • Meta added Reels to Facebook Groups, noting that most Facebook users are members of at least 15 active groups and that there are 100 million-plus group joins every day.
  • Snap reported its slowest quarterly revenue growth ever in the third quarter. The social app maker missed analyst expectations with $1.13 billion in revenue, versus $1.14 billion expected, leading the stock to drop from $11 to $8 in late trading on the day of the earnings announcement. DAUs, however, were up 19% YoY (up 53 million) to 363 million in Q3. The company said it also plans to close its San Francisco office, which was only lightly used due to remote work policies.
  • The Snapchat app rolled out Director Mode, a feature offering TikTok-like tools including a green screen, quick edit and camera speed features, as well as a BeReal-like dual camera mode.
  • Pinterest reported its Q3 revenue was up 8% YoY to $684.6 million, above estimates of $666.7 million. However, global MAUs remained flat YoY at 445 million, above estimates of 437.4 million. The stock jumped 11% on the news.
  • Meta announced its Q3 earnings with revenue down 4% YoY to $27.7 billion, net income down 52% YoY to $4.4 billion, DAUs across its apps up 4% YoY to 2.93 billion. The stock dropped 25% on the revenue decline as investors voiced concerns about how much Meta is spending on its metaverse ambitions.

Dating

bumble billboard

Image Credits: Bumble

  • Bumble open sourced its AI, Private Detector, which the app uses to detect unsolicited nude images. (Get it?) The app gives the user the choice as to whether or not to open the image when a potentially lewd photo is detected. Now other apps can access the same technology.
  • Match-owned dating app Hinge will add a profile verification feature in November that will ask users to take a video selfie in the app as part of a crackdown on scammers.

Messaging

  • Telegram said it plans to auction usernames via the TON blockchain, a move inspired by an auction for wallet usernames that saw some selling for as high as $200,000. Founder Pavel Durov suggested other elements of the Telegram ecosystem could become a part of this marketplace in the future, including channels, stickers or emoji.
  • Apple’s communication platforms, iMessage and FaceTime, went down on Tuesday afternoon, following an earlier more than two-hour outage from WhatsApp, making it a pretty bad day for trying to text and call.
  • WhatsApp now has 2+ billion DAUs, Meta announced during its Q3 earnings.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Apple

  • Apple raised prices for Apple Music, Apple TV+ and its Apple One bundle in the U.S. Apple TV+, which is getting its first price hike, will increase by $2 monthly and $10 annually. Subscribers will be charged $6.99 per month or $69 per year. Apple Music is getting a price increase of $1 for individual subscribers and $2 for families. The individual plan will now be $10.99 per month and the family plan will be $16.99 per month. And the Apple One bundle will cost $16.95/month, $22.95/month and $32.95/month, respectively, for the individual plan, family plan and Premier plan.
  • YouTube is raising the rates for its Premium Subscription for families across several countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada and Argentina, effective November 21. In the U.S., the price is going up from $17.99 to $22.99. The plan allows up to five family members to watch ad-free videos, download videos for offline access and play videos in the background.
  • Deezer also bumped its monthly premium price to $10.99 in the U.S.
  • Given the competitors’ increases, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek noted on the earnings call that the company is considering a price hike as well. Spotify’s revenue in Q3 was up 21% YoY to €3.04 billion, MAUs were up 20% YoY to 456 million, and Premium subscriptions were up 13% YoY to 195 million. But Spotify’s stock dropped 6% after earnings due to a miss on advertising growth.
  • YouTube’s mobile app on iOS and Android got a makeover that includes a new look, precise seeking, new buttons, ambient mode, darker dark mode and a “pinch to zoom” feature to see more details in a video. Later, the company rolled out an update across platforms that separated long-form, Shorts and Live videos into their own tabs on channel pages.

Gaming

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that more than 20 million people have now streamed games through Xbox Cloud Gaming, up from 10 million in April 2022. The gaming subscription service allows consumers to stream games to their phone via a web browser. This year, Microsoft brought the popular game Fortnite to the platform.
  • TikTok is expanding further into games, according to the FT, which said the app would add a dedicated gaming tab by November 2, which would feature ad-supported mobile games and in-app purchases.

Government & Policy

  • The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority said it plans to investigate Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta’s moves into retail financial services over competition and consumer harm concerns, the FT reported.
  • Turkey’s competition authority fined Meta 346.72 million lira ($18.6 million) for combining user data across Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
  • India’s antitrust watchdog, the Competition Commission of India, fined Google $113 million for abusing the dominant position of its Google Play Store. It ordered the company to let app developers use third-party payments for in-app purchases or for purchasing apps and to drop any anti-steering guidelines. Google has three months to comply.

Security & Privacy

  • Square parent company Block was reported to be selling access to customers’ email addresses used to receive receipts. While not illegal, privacy experts argue this means of selling marketing information is “walking a fine line,” per Protocol’s report.
  • Apple patched a bug in iOS 16.1 and macOS Ventura that could have allowed apps with Bluetooth access to record users’ conversations with Siri without requiring microphone access.
  • TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker offered an inside look into TheTruthSpy, the stalkerware operation that’s spying on thousands of people worldwide, including in the U.S., via Android apps planted by someone with physical access to a person’s device. Leaked data from the operation includes call logs, texts, location data and other personal info.

💰Free banking app Crowded raised $6 million in seed funding led by Garage, with participation from Deel co-founder Philippe Bouaziz, Innoventure Partners’ Michael Marks and a group of former bank executives. The app targets member-based nonprofits, like fraternities, sororities and booster clubs.

💰Onward, an app designed to help co-parents navigate and managed their shared expenses, raised $9.7 million in Series A funding led by Atlanta-based TTV Capital.

💰Joro, an app that helps people track and reduce their carbon footprints, raised a $10 million Series A led by existing investors Sequoia Capital and Amasia. Also participating were Norrsken, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers’ Incite, Jay-Z’s Arrive and Mike Einziger, the lead guitarist of Incubus.

Duolingo Math

Image Credits: Duolingo

Language-learning company Duolingo officially launched its math app to the public this week, following beta trials. The app represents the first expansion beyond language learning and literacy for the company. The app allows users to choose between an elementary version that focuses on basic concepts like multiplication and division and an adult version that’s more optimized for “brain training” exercises that put skills into practice. A future version may even expand into higher-level math, like linear algebra or college-level math. The app is remaining free to use for the time being.

Pixel Pals

Apollo developer Christian Selig thought he’d have a little fun with the new iOS 16 feature, Dynamic Island, so he added a feature to his popular Reddit client called “Pixel Pals” that let users collect and care for small, animated pets that run atop the black bar at the top of the screen. The feature took off as people adopted their pixelated pets, fed them and played with them to earn their love.

Taking a cue from users’ interest, Selig launched a standalone app for Pixel Pals, which now allows pet owners to do more with their animated friends, including pinning them to the Home Screen as transparent widgets, adding them to the Lock Screen as animated widgets and enjoying them through iOS 16’s Live Activities, among other things. If anything, the app works to demonstrate iOS 16’s new features in a clever and entertaining way. Users seem to enjoy the new experience, too — as Selig noted this week, the app hit the top 3 in the Graphics & Design category on the App Store.



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Privilège Ventures launches $20M fund investing in women-led startups • TechCrunch

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Lugano, Switzerland-based venture capital fund Privilège Ventures just launched its fourth fund. The CHF 20 million (just over $20 million) fund is earmarked for women-led early-stage startups across Europe.

“We don’t just want to support women,” Jacqueline Ruedin Rüsch, founding general partner at Privilège Ventures said in an interview with TechCrunch. “The data shows women in the driver’s seat produce better ROI.”

The firm says that its investment thesis is based on the statistical evidence that women perform better than men in leadership roles.

“The numbers are staggering. It’s not just about being ethical and doing good: global GDP would grow 6% if rates of entrepreneurship were equal between men and women,” said Lucian Wagner, Privilège Ventures founding general partner in a press statement.

The firm’s thesis is backed up by research from Boston Consulting Group on investment and revenue data over a five-year period. The study also showed that startups founded and co-founded by women received less than half the average investments made into companies led by men, even though the female led startups generated 10% more revenue over time.

“There are very few funds worldwide dedicated to backing female founders, and despite the rapid growth in the VC industry the percentage of female or gender-diverse-led teams is falling,” said Rüsch. “I started my professional life in the banking sector in Switzerland: this was, and partially still is, a very male-driven sector. I became used to being one of the few females in big conference rooms and I didn’t even pay any more attention to it. But when I got pregnant the first reaction from my senior colleagues was, ‘When will you stop working?’ This was quite shocking, I must admit.”

As Alex reported back in July, PitchBook data suggests that the percentage of venture capital deals that included at least one woman founder fell from 19.4% to 18.2%. In Europe, the numbers are even more dire. Privilège suggests that in Europe, female founders receive barely 1% of total VC investments.

Privilège Ventures’ LPs are mainly high net-worth individuals and family offices, the firm says, and the fund aims to write 15-20 early-stage checks, with initial investments in the $250,000 range.

“I really like to invest in founders at the very beginning of their journey. Often we meet them even before they have incorporated their company and we track them, coach them and see how they take their first steps in the entrepreneurial journey. Given our focus in seed stage, we feel it is key to be as close as possible with our companies and for this reason we have a preference for our local market, Switzerland, and the surrounding European countries,” Rüsch explains. “We are not specialized in a specific sector but we have some preferences, namely in medtech, deep tech and in general for the digital economy. We like to enter as soon as possible, even pre-seed, and are happy to continue investing in the best companies up to Series A.”

The firm says it would love to see more companies trying to solve “real” problems — solutions that can save lives, preserve the planet and products that are not just “nice to have” but are “must-have.”

“Our overall portfolio already counts over 30% of companies with a female co-founder. As we aim to invest only in top-performing teams, we need to guarantee a strong deal flow and for this reason, we will look not only to Switzerland but to Europe as well with a higher focus on certain countries such as Italy, France and Germany, being closer to us,” says Rüsch, explaining why investing specifically in women continues to make sense for the fund. “Some will point to the simple fact that having different viewpoints in the room leads to more thoughtful decision-making — some will point to women having battled through a lot of hassles to get where they are. We see firsthand that women are driven to tackle problems that have been overlooked in tech — but can have a profound impact on the world. We already have startups in our portfolio with female founders or leaders working on using neurotech to improve sleep, fungicides to improve food and biomarkers to continually measure proteins and hormones to prevent and monitor health conditions, just to name a few.”



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Former Googlers raise more than $90M to scale alternative asset fintech startup • TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hellooooo, guess what? It’s November! We guess it was actually November yesterday, too, but we failed to notice, because LOL what even is time, amirite. Anyway, put away your Halloween costumes and start the game of How Long Can You Avoid “Little Drummer Boy”? If you do want to play that game, you’d be well advised to not click this link, although that’s a particularly tolerable version of the song, to be fair.

Onward! — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • And for his next act…: Manish was on a roll again today, covering some cool stories. The first is on some former Googlers rallying around their peer Caesar Sengupta, who raised $90 million to scale Arta Finance, a company that will provide individuals similar access to alternative assets that are usually reserved for the ultrawealthy.
  • Betting on web3: Manish’s second story is on Microsoft, which is backing South Korea–based web3 game developer Wemade.
  • Come together, right now, in the cloud: Though many companies are asking employees to come back into the office, they and others are still figuring out how to keep distributed teams working as one. Former Yext CEO Howard Lerman thinks he has created the best option with Roam, a company that came out of stealth today with $30 million in new funding, Kyle reports.

Startups and VC

New data from more than 200 startups show that CTOs earn higher salaries than their CEO counterparts. Mostly, co-founders make the same, but where there is a difference, the balance typically tips in the favor of the technical co-founder, Haje reports.

Also, we’ve got an eclectic mix of additional news for ya:

Dear Sophie: How can students work or launch a startup while maintaining their immigration status?

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m studying bioinformatics at a university in the U.S.

What options do I have to work before and after graduation on my student visa? Do any of these options allow me to launch my own startup?

— Wanting to Work

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

Elon Musk met with civil rights leaders, and Amanda has all the details on what went down. Many of the leaders were concerned with content moderation, particularly dealing with increases in hate speech and undue influence on the midterm elections. Meanwhile, Natasha M writes that another Twitter executive is reportedly flying the coop.

Meanwhile, Manish continues to follow the Byju’s saga. The latest is that India’s edtech giant is looking at a $1 billion IPO for Aakash, its physical tutor chain.

And we have five more for you:



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Alation bags $123M at a $1.7B valuation for its data-cataloging software • TechCrunch

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There’s been an explosion of enterprise data in recent years, accelerated by pandemic-spurred digital transformations. An IDC report commissioned by Seagate projected companies would collect 42.2% more data by year-end 2022 than in 2020, amounting to multiple petabytes of data in total. While more data is generally a good thing, particularly where it concerns analytics, large volumes can be overwhelming to organize and govern — even for the savviest of organizations.

That’s why Satyen Sangani, a former Oracle VP, co-founded Redwood City–based Alation, a startup that helps crawl a company’s databases in order to build data search catalogs. After growing its customer base to over 450 brands and annual recurring revenue (ARR) to over $100 million, Alation has raised $123 million in a Series E round led by Thoma Bravo, Sanabil Investments, and Costanoa Ventures with participation from Databricks Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Icon Ventures, Queensland Investment Corporation, Riverwood Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures and Union Grove, the company announced today.

The all-equity tranche values Alation at over $1.7 billion — an impressive 15 times higher than the company’s previous valuation in a challenging economic climate. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sangani said the new capital — which brings Alation’s total raised to $340 million — will be put toward investments in product development (including through acquisitions) and expanding Alation’s sales, engineering and marketing teams, with a focus on the public sector and corporations based in Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

“With the capital, we will continue to focus on engagement and adoption, collaboration, governance, lineage, and on APIs and SDKs to enable us to be open and extensible,” Sangani said via email. “We’re going to bring innovation to the market that will increase the number of data assets we cover and the people who will leverage and access Alation.”

With Alation, Sangani and his fellow co-founders — Aaron Kalb, Feng Niu and Venky Ganti — sought to build a service that enables data and analytics teams to capture and understand the full breadth of their data. The way Sangani sees it, most corporate leadership wants to build a “data-driven” culture but is stymied by tech hurdles and a lack of knowledge about what data they have, where it lives, whether it’s trustworthy and how to make the best use of it.

Alation’s platform organizes data across disparate systems. Image Credits: Alation

According to Forrester, somewhere between 60% and 73% of data produced by enterprises goes unused for analytics. And if a recent poll by Oracle is to be believed, 95% of people say they’re overwhelmed by the amount of data available to them in the workplace.

“With the astounding amount of data being produced today, it’s increasingly difficult for companies to collect, structure, and analyze the data they create,” Sangani said. “The modern enterprise relies on data intelligence and data integration solutions to provide access to valuable insights that feed critical business outcomes. Alation is foundational for driving digital transformation.”

Alation uses machine learning to automatically parse and organize data like technical metadata, user permissions and business descriptions from sources like Redshift, Hive, Presto, Spark and Teradata. Customers can visually track the usage of assets like business glossaries, data dictionaries and Wiki articles through the Alation platform’s reporting feature, or they can use Alation’s collaboration tools to create lists, annotations, comments and polls to organize data across different software and systems.

Alation also makes recommendations based on how information is being used and orchestrated. For example, the platform suggests ways customers can centrally manage their data and compliance policies through the use of integrations and data connectors.

“Alation’s machine learning contributes to data search, data stewardship, business glossary, and data lineage,” Sangani said. “More specifically, Alation’s behavioral analysis engine spots behavioral patterns and leverages AI and machine learning to make data more user-friendly. For example, search is simplified by highlighting the most popular assets; stewardship is eased by emphasizing the most active data sets; and governance becomes a part of workflow through flags and suggestions.”

According to IDC, the data integration and intelligence software market is valued at more than $7.9 billion and growing toward $11.6 billion over the next four years. But Alation isn’t the sole vendor. The startup’s competition includes incumbents like Informatica, IBM, SAP and Oracle, as well as newer rivals such as Collibra, Castor, Stemma, Data.World and Ataccama, all of whom offer tools for classifying and curating data at enterprise scale.

One of Alation’s advantages is sheer momentum, no doubt — its customer base includes heavyweights like Cisco, General Mills, Munich Re, Pfizer, Nasdaq and Salesforce, in addition to government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Australia’s Department of Defense. Alation counts more than 25% of the Fortune 100 as clients, touching verticals such as finance, healthcare, pharma, manufacturing, retail, insurance and tech.

In terms of revenue coming in, Sangani claims that Alation — which has more than 700 employees and expects to be at just under 800 by 2023 — is in a healthy position, pegging the firm’s cumulative-cash-burn-to-ARR ratio at around 1.5x. Despite the downturn, he asserts that customer spend is remaining strong as the demand for data catalog software grows; for the past five quarters, Alation’s ARR has increased year over year.

In another win for Alation, the investment from Databricks Ventures is strategic, Sangani says. It’ll see the two companies jointly develop engineering, data science and analytics applications that leverage both Databricks’ and Alations’ platforms.

“The most successful data intelligence platforms will be adopted by everyone. Vendors that are jack-of-all-trades, but masters of none, promise everything and succeed at little. Similarly, point products achieve limited success, but only serve to create data silos that our customers are trying to avoid. The future of data intelligence is about connectedness and integration,” Sangani said. “We know that and will continue to put our money behind our beliefs.”



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Blackbird’s latest $1B AUD fund signals maturation of Australian, New Zealand venture scene • TechCrunch

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The Australian and New Zealand startup community will see a boost in funding this year. Blackbird, a VC fund based in the two south Pacific countries, on Wednesday closed a fund at over AUD $1 billion, which is about USD $640 million, which the firm says is Australia’s largest fund to date.

This is Blackbird’s fifth fund, and it’s double the size of the VC’s last fund which closed in August 2020. Several institutional investors participated, including superannuation funds like AustralianSuper, Hostplus, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, New Zealand’s sovereign wealth funds and New Zealand Growth Capital Partners Elevate fund, which is a government-backed fund.

A decade ago, most Australian and in particular New Zealand institutional investors didn’t want to put their money anywhere near tech startups. Their support today signals a maturation of the Australia/New Zealand venture capital space.

“[Superannuation fund] capital can go anywhere. It can go into the best Silicon Valley VCs,” Sam Wong, a partner at Blackbird, told TechCrunch. “And so the fact that they are choosing to invest their money at this scale with an Aussie and Kiwi fund marks a moment for the ecosystem and shows that we have earned our right on the global stage to manage that capital.”

According to Wong, it makes sense for superannuation funds to back the tech space because they have horizons in the decades and can afford to be patient.

“What they really care about is high returns so people can retire in dignity,” she said. “And when you have that long-term horizon, you can seek higher return assets that don’t have liquidity profiles that, say, public markets do. And that’s exactly what we found in the Australian superannuation system — they love tech because it’s high growth, high return. It’s very long dated, and they don’t mind that it’s locked up for 10 years.”

The fund is also supported by over 270 individual investors, many of whom are tech founders and operators that Blackbird backed through earlier funds, according to the firm. Those founders will support the fund both with their own capital, but also their expertise, knowledge and connections, said Wong.

The total AUD $1 billion consists of three separate vehicles: an AUD $284 million (USD $182 million) core fund for pre-seed and seed stage Aussie companies, an AUD $668 million (USD $472 million) follow-on fund to support Blackbird portfolio companies anywhere from “Series A to the last round at Canva,” and a NZD $75 million (USD $44 million) dedicated New Zealand fund, which is also largely for pre-seed and seed stage companies.

Blackbird prides itself on cutting the earliest checks, which could be anywhere from $25,000 for a small pre-seed to up to $5 million for a seed round, said Wong. The firm’s mandate is to invest in founders with an Aussie or Kiwi connection, which usually means they’re based in those countries, but often ends up extending to those who founded companies abroad. Around 40% of Blackbird’s portfolio companies are actually headquartered in the U.S., said Phoebe Harrop, a principal at Blackbird.

The fund has already made 18 investments into startups in a broad range of industries from AI to manufacturing to e-commerce. Last month, Blackbird invested in Sonder, an employee and student wellbeing company, and Spice AI, a data and AI-driven infrastructure platform.

Blackbird said it predicts tech companies will contribute 20% of Australia’s GDP by 2032, which would be up from 8.5% today, according to the Tech Council of Australia.

“We’re here to change the culture of Australia and New Zealand’s ecosystems, to make a difference at a country level,” said Niki Scevak, partner at Blackbird, in a statement.



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Twitter ad sales head resigned amid turbulent Musk takeover • TechCrunch

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Twitter’s Chief Consumer Officer Sarah Personette has left the company, she wrote in a Twitter thread Tuesday morning.

Personette, who was in charge of Twitter’s ad sales business, said that she resigned on Friday, and her work access was officially cut off by Tuesday. The day before her resignation, Musk fired four key executives immediately after his takeover: CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, General Counsel Sean Edgett and Head of Legal Policy, Trust and Safety Vijaya Gadde.

With Personette out of the picture, the number of remaining pre-Musk executives at Twitter is dwindling, with more key personnel rumored to be leaving as well. Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s head of product, deleted the bio on his Twitter account, which previously denoted his role at the company. The previous head of product, Kayvon Beykpour, was let go by former CEO Agrawal in May.

A former Facebook marketing VP, Personette had worked at Twitter since October 2018, when she joined as a VP of Global Client Solutions, per LinkedIn. She was promoted to Chief Customer Officer in August 2021. That role is crucial to Twitter’s business, since the majority of its revenue comes from ad sales. With Musk expected to make changes to content moderation policies, ad sales could be impacted.

As newly installed “Chief Twit” Elon Musk took over on Thursday, he posted a screenshot of a letter he wrote to Twitter advertisers, vowing that the platform “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape.” Personette quote-tweeted his message, saying that he had a great conversation with the Tesla and SpaceX CEO. She added, “Our continued commitment to brand safety for advertisers remains unchanged. Looking forward to the future!”

But by the following evening, she had resigned.

“It has been the greatest privilege to serve all of you as a leader and a partner,” Personette said. “Many have heard me say this but the most important role I believe I played in the company was championing the requirements of brand safety.”



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Rapyd Ventures backs Indian fintech-as-a-service startup Decentro • TechCrunch

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India’s Decentro, the Y Combinator-backed startup that helps companies enter the fintech market by deploying its APIs, has raised $4.7 million in a Series A round.

The Bengaluru-based startup offers banking and payments APIs that allow development of fintech products such as banking, payment cards, neobanking and collections and payout services in a short period of time. Decentro has partnered with scores of industry players including Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Yes Bank, Visa, RuPay, Quickwork, Equifax, Aadhaar and National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) to offer solutions for prepaid payment instruments, no-code workflows, conversational banking via WhatsApp and enable document verification and KYC process.

“Whenever a fintech startup or a company wants to launch a new product in the market, it takes them a minimum of a few months to launch. And it purely has to do with the bank processes, the way the bank runs the process, as well as the tech of the bank. It’s not so great. That’s essentially the problem we are solving,” said Rohit Taneja, co-founder and CEO, Decentro, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Taneja, who has previously co-founded social payments platform Mypoolin, which was acquired by Cupertino-based financial services company Wibmo, and spent eight years in the fintech market, co-founded Decentro with Pratik Daukhane in 2020 — after personally facing all the problems he wants to address. He considers Cashfree and PineLabs-owned Setu among the key competitors for the startup but believes that it’s differentiating with “solution-driven enterprise customer base” and “superior” product experience.

The startup has already amassed over 250 customers in commerce and fintech sectors. Some of these include Freo, Mobile Premier League, FamPay, CreditWise, Uni Cards and BharatX.

Decentro, which has a headcount of over 40 people, offers products to let companies create virtual, business and escrow accounts, enable payments and provide lending. The available products comply with all the latest regulations in the country, the startup said.

The Series A round of Decentro is led by Rapyd Ventures, the venture arm of the UK fintech-as-a-service giant, along with participation from Leonis VC and Uncorrelated Ventures. Indian angel investors including CRED founder Kunal Shah, Groww co-founder and CEO Lalit Keshre, Gupshup co-founder and CEO Beerud Sheth and former CBO of BharatPe Pratekk Agarwaal also participated in the funding round.

Taneja told TechCrunch that the startup aims to utilize the fresh funding to go deeper into its partnership with banks and enter categories including large enterprises. It also plans to acquire licenses and launch in Singapore to expand beyond India eventually.

“Building their innovation layer in India first gives Decentro a great base to build scalable innovations that can be expanded as other emerging markets modernize their own infrastructure. We’re excited to support Decentro as they scale and expand,” said Joel Yarbrough, MD of Rapyd Ventures and Rapyd’s VP of Asia Pacific, in a prepared statement.

Before the latest funding round, Decentro had raised a total of $1.7 million in seed and angel rounds. The seed round, which closed in October 2020, included investments from Y Combinator and FundersClub.

Since then, the startup claims its valuation has increased by 3.3X and revenues have grown by more than 35X. Taneja, however, did not reveal any specifics about the valuation.

Dcentro’s API transactional volumes have also been growing by 50 to 70% every quarter since early 2021, with an average of 70 million annualized API transactions recorded over the last 12 months, it said. The startup is also profitable, the co-founder said.



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Contraline erects $7.2M for contraceptive implants for men

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The cervix industry has had implants to prevent pregnancy since the late 1960s, but there hasn’t exactly been stiff competition to slow down the fallopian swim team at its source. In fact, Contraline claims it is the first major innovation in this space since the vasectomy was performed on a human some 125 years ago. The company calls its product ADAM, and it just raised a wad of cash to continue its trials.

“The first-in-human male contraceptive implant is a major clinical milestone that opens up new possibilities for men who wish to take contraception into their own hands,” said Kevin Eisenfrats, Co-founder and CEO of Contraline. “The patient demand for the ADAM Study has been tremendous, with the entire trial oversubscribing within three weeks of opening enrollment. We are looking forward to advancing ADAM through clinical development and bringing this product to market to transform how people think about contraception.”

ADAM works by injecting a hydro gel into the vas deferens (the little tubes that carry the sperm). Image Credits: Contraline.

The company just raised $7.2 million in funding led by GV. The goal is to advance its in-human clinical trials of its injectable hydrogel designed to provide long-lasting, non-permanent contraception for men. The product uses a “hydrogel” designed to occlude sperm flow through the vas deferens for a predefined period of time, eventually degrading and thus offering a non-permanent contraceptive option.

The company suggests that the contraceptive is long-lasting but non-permanent, and claims it has no hormonal impact on the patients. The company told TechCrunch that four men were implanted with ADAM at a hospital in Australia, using a minimally invasive, no-scalpel approach, with ADAM being injected using a patent-pending delivery device.

The procedure marks the first patient implanted in “The ADAM Study,” which is being conducted under Human Research Ethics Committee approval. The ADAM Study is assessing the safety of the ADAM Hydrogel, while monitoring the semen parameters of the study subjects over three years.

“Contraline has the potential to fundamentally change the market for contraception,” said Cathy Friedman, executive venture partner at GV. “We look forward to working with the team as they continue developing a long-acting, reversible male contraceptive that empowers more people with more choices over family planning.”

Contraline’s study in Australia continues, and its next, longer-term goal is to run a second study with a larger group of patients in the United States.

Contraline erects $7.2M for contraceptive implants for men by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch



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