China’s e-commerce behemoths Alibaba and JD.com again claimed to have set records during the world’s largest shopping event, Singles’ Day. The figures can often be gamed to paint a rosy picture of perpetual growth, journalists and analysts have long observed, so they are limited metrics for measuring the firms’ performance or Chinese consumers’ purchasing power in times of COVID-19.
Nonetheless, the heavy workload for express couriers is indisputably real and visible.
Starting the second week of November, I noticed parcels beginning to pile up outside my apartment compound in downtown Shenzhen, awaiting their final doorstep delivery. Courier workers dashed in and out of elevators, hurling boxes of items that shoppers bought at discounts or after being tricked by elaborate sales formula into thinking they got good deals.
Singles’ Day will see 2.97 billion packages delivered across China between November 11-16, the period when merchants begin shipping after a pre-sale period, according to a notice from the State Post Bureau. That marks a 28% increase from the year before and doubles the normal daily volume.
It also means that, on average, every person in China is set to get more than two parcels during the shopping spree. They will also receive plenty of e-commerce waste, from cardboard, tape, to wrapping bubble. Both JD.com and Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics arm have rolled out programs aiming to make online shopping more sustainable.
While coronavirus infections continue to climb in many countries, China has had few local transmissions for months. As such the pandemic has had a limited impact on delivery speed during Singles’ Day this year, both JD.com and Alibaba told TechCrunch.
Still, the companies have deployed new rules to ensure safety and speed. JD.com, for instance, claimed that it sanitizes its delivery stations and trucks and requires workers to wear masks and take the temperature on a daily basis, practices that are now standard in the country’s logistics sector. Pre-sale also allowed it to allocate inventory closer to consumers in advance. It said that 93% of the shipment orders fulfilled by its own logistics system was completed under 24 hours.
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‘Virtual ward’ startup Doccla gets Series A injection as it eyes AI tools • TechCrunch
Doccla, a Sweden founded but London-headquartered health tech startup that sells a remote patient monitoring platform to hospitals to run so-called ‘virtual wards’, has closed a £15 million (~$17M) Series A funding round a year after raising a $3.3M seed.
The Series A is led by US VC General Catalyst, with participation from funds managed by healthcare investors KHP Ventures (a collaboration between King’s College London, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust). Existing investors Giant Ventures, who led the seed round, and Speedinvest also backed the Series A — which sees Chris Bischoff, MD at General Catalyst, joining the board.
General Catalyst is an investor in US remote care health tech unicorn Cadence which also sells a remote monitoring service, so could be seen as a potential competitor to Doccla. Although the (currently) different target markets (US vs Europe) and specific product presentation — we understand Cadence is focused on populations with chronic disease, while Doccla talks in terms of building virtual wards/’Hospital at Home’ — are, evidently, distinct enough to convince the VC firm there’s value in backing both for growth.
Doccla’s growth trajectory must certainly have helped: The 2019-founded startup only launched its remote patient monitoring service during the pandemic but says it’s now present in a fifth (20%) of all Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in the UK, with patient intake from 20+ hospitals. In total it says it’s monitored 50,000+ patients to date. (NB: ICS are a feature of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in England — essentially partnerships between relevant organizations and local authorities with the goal of joining up the planning and delivery of health services across their region.)
The startup’s platform allows clinical staff from hospitals to monitor the vital signs of those under treatment remotely (either continuously or intermittently) — freeing up hospital beds for new patients to be admitted by enabling early discharge via at-home monitoring. That’s important because the NHS suffers from a particular low average number of beds per 1,000 people compared to other OECD EU nations, with just 2.4 beds vs the OECD EU average of 4.6 and Germany’s average of 7.9.
It sells an end-to-end remote patient monitoring service which covers provisioning the devices used for monitoring (including pre-configured smartphones with large fonts to improve accessibility for the visually impaired/frail etc; and wearable medical devices to measure a wide range of physiological parameters); and taking care of software integration, logistics and customer service, and tech support for the elderly and non-digital natives — with its pitch being that it differentiates from competitors by significantly reducing the workload on hospital staff.
Doccla says its current clients include a number of NHS trusts across the UK, including Northampton General Hospital, Cambridgeshire Community Services, and Hertfordshire Community Trust.
On the competition front, it name-checks Huma, Current Health, and Docobo as UK rivals — but co-founder Martin Ratz points to three main areas where he argues it’s serving up something “very different”.
“For starters, we are CQC [Care Quality Commission, aka the independent regulatory body for healthcare providers in England] accredited and therefore can take clinical responsibility for patients, reducing the workload for healthcare personnel,” he tells TechCrunch. “We are device agnostic and are not pushing our own device. Finally, our service layer enables us to deliver market leading patient compliance — exceeding 95% across all pathways.”
The Series A funding injection will be ploughed into further developing its tech stack to support the integration of more medical devices into its patient monitoring platform and electronic healthcare record systems; and for data analytics and AI — to “expand clinical capacity and availability” to meet demand for “virtual hospitals that alleviate pressures on healthcare systems”, as it puts it.
Or, put another way, with both beds and doctors in chronically short supply AI-powered efficiencies are the new, transformative tool to enable already stretched-to-breaking point health services to (safely) stretch even further — or that’s the claim.
“In the future, we will be able to cover additional clinical specialties, with an even more advanced level of care as well as logistical improvements of the service delivery,” suggests Ratz.
Asked what Doccla is using AI for, he confirms it’s working on developing predictive alerts that could help clinicians monitor more patients.
“Doccla will use data insights to develop automation and AI for further improvement of service delivery and clinical outcomes,” he tells us. “This will include various support tools for clinicians, such as predictive alerts.”
There are plenty of safety pitfalls here, given — for example — the bias risks around AI if training data is not representative of the patient population, so how Doccla goes about integrating automated alerts and other AI-powered support tools into its platform without compromising patient safety will certainly be one to watch. (Getting regulatory accreditation on such features will also be less straightforward, with more agencies and oversight bodies in play.)
Still, it looks important that Doccla’s investor roster includes a fund with direct links to a number of NHS Trusts.
On the question of scalability, especially around patient support — which may require a lot of patient one-to-one interactions with tired and/or frail people who may not be accustomed to using connected technology — Ratz says: “Doccla places significant value on our service layer, as it’s crucial to building and scaling a virtual hospital. In particular, new models of care, especially at the intersection with behavioural change, require it. Doccla’s virtual patient support teams, as well as our clinical teams, are highly efficient and enjoy economies of scale.”
Also on the slate for the Series A: Expansion to new European markets and segments, per Ratz. But he won’t be drawn on where exactly it’s eyeing for new launches. “Doccla’s current focus is the UK where we serve a range of customers and our European expansion will be shaped by upcoming public tenders, notably those in larger markets,” he says, adding: “I can say that we’re already in dialogue with significant operators in several countries.”
The startup’s platform is able to serve a “very diverse range” of patients, from palliative care to pre- and post-surgery patients, says Ratz — although this type of remote care is clearly not suitable for every type of patient (even if you’re going to start throwing AI into the mix).
“The largest patient groups we work with include COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and heart-related health. The applicability of remote care is exceptional however some patient groups — for example, those who require in-person support such highly acute patients or people with dementia — are less suited for remote monitoring,” he says.
Commenting on the Series A funding in a statement, General Catalyst’s Bischoff added: “The virtualisation of hospital wards is a critical step in efficiently expanding health resources and enabling timely, safe transition of care into the home. Doccla has immense potential and is driving real impact by not only providing a much-needed lifeline for overwhelmed hospitals but also improving patient outcomes through remote monitoring. The founders’ vision to drive more digitally-enabled, decentralised healthcare that combines physical and virtual pathways aligns with General Catalyst’s Health Assurance thesis. Importantly, their partnership approach with NHS Trusts echoes our core values of radical collaboration and responsible innovation — innovation that improves society. At General Catalyst, we support companies that bring about powerful, positive change that endures, and we believe Martin, Dag and the team will do just that.”
Battery-swapping SPAC Gogoro secures $345M loan • TechCrunch
Taiwanese battery-swapping company Gogoro has signed a $345 million five-year credit facility agreement in order to increase liquidity among uncertain economic conditions.
The loan comes from a group of 10 syndicated banks led by Mega International Commercial Bank Co., according to a regulatory filing.
Gogoro will use the funds to pay off an existing facility, secure energy cells for its batteries, support operations in Taiwan and provide working capital as needed, according to a company spokesperson.
The company will have an option to extend the loan for an additional two years and even get a discount if it continues to meet its carbon reduction goals.
The fresh funds come a month after Gogoro released its second-quarter earnings results, which showed a company that is still growing, but is cautious, given market and macroeconomic conditions. Year-over-year Gogoro managed to increase its revenue by 5.3% to $90.7 million; however, the impact of COVID in Taiwan and China caused Gogoro CEO Horace Luke to revise guidance for the full year from $460 million to $500 million down to $380 million to $410 million.
After reaching mid-September highs of $5.55 per share, Gogoro’s stock took a hit last week, which bearish analysts attribute to declining electric scooter sales in Taiwan and disappointing progress in foreign markets. Gogoro is currently trading at $4.10 on Wednesday after market close.
Earlier this month, Gogoro launched its battery-swapping stations and electric scooters in Israel and selected Singapore’s first EV battery swap pilot.
In November last year, the company launched battery-swapping stations in China, operating under the Huan Huan brand, which is a partnership between Gogoro and electric two-wheeler makers Yadea and DCJ. Gogoro also partnered with Hero MotoCorp to launch a battery-swapping network in India, as well as Hero-branded electric two-wheelers based on Gogoro’s technology. Gogoro previously said it plans to launch its first swapping stations in New Delhi by the end of this year, but the company did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for updated guidance.
Gogoro went public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in April. The hype for SPACs is dwindling, with less interest coming from the public markets. Now, a range of EV SPACs are struggling with production issues, inflationary pressures and supply chain bottlenecks that are lowering valuations and throwing up hurdles to liquidity. Recently, Nikola and Lucid Motors, two other EV SPACs, said they’d need to raise more cash to bring their vehicles to market.
Gogoro says the fact it was able to raise its borrowing capacity and secure favorable terms and borrowing rates “in today’s credit-cautious environment” is validation that the company’s partners understand and support Gogoro’s vision and ability to grow.
Hacker breaches Fast Company systems to send offensive Apple News notifications • TechCrunch
In a statement, Fast Company said that a threat actor breached the company’s content management system (CMS) on Tuesday, giving them access to the publication’s Apple News account. The hacker used this access to send two “obscene and racist” push notifications to Apple News subscribers, prompting shocked users to post screenshots on Twitter. It’s not clear how many users received the notifications before they were deleted.
“The messages are vile and are not in line with the content and ethos of Fast Company,” Fast Company said. “We are investigating the situation and have shut down FastCompany.com until the situation has been resolved.”
Apple has also addressed the situation in a tweet, confirming that the website has been hacked and that it has suspended Fast Company’s Apple News account.
Fast Company added that Tuesday’s breach follows an “apparently related hack” of FastCompany.com that occurred on Sunday afternoon, which led to similar language appearing on the site’s homepage and other pages.
“We shut down the site that afternoon and restored it about two hours later,” the company added. “Fast Company regrets that such abhorrent language appeared on our platforms and in Apple News, and we apologize to anyone who saw it before it was taken down.”
Fast Company didn’t share any details about how it was breached and the company wasn’t immediately available to answer our questions. At the time of writing, the Fast Company website loads a “404 Not Found” page.
However, before the website was taken offline, the hacker responsible for the breach, who identifies as “Thrax”, posted an article labeled as sponsored content that detailed how they were able to infiltrate the publication. The message claims that Fast Company had a “ridiculously easy” default password that was used across a number of accounts, including an administrator. This enabled the attacker to access a bunch of sensitive information, including authentication tokens, Apple News API keys, and Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) tokens, allowing the hacker to send emails using any @fastcompany.com email.
The attacker, in a separate message to a popular hacking forum posted on Sunday, announced they were releasing a database containing 6,737 Fast Company employee records containing employees’ email addresses, password hashes for some of them, and unpublished drafts, among other information.
This same forum has been at the center of the recent Optus breach, which saw threat actors access an unspecified number of customer names, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses and identity documents numbers, including driver’s license and passport numbers. So far, the hacker responsible claims to have released 10,200 records.
The Fast Company hacker, who claims to have previously breached photo-sharing website ClickASnap and a self-proclaimed free-speech social network USA Life, said they weren’t able to access customer records as they were likely stored in a separate database.
NASA sings ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’ as DART spacecraft strikes asteroid • TechCrunch
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At TechCrunch, we love being a conduit for everything that happens in the startup ecosystem. This year, there’s been a lot of layoffs, and we got to thinking, how can we help those who are struggling get back into the saddle? Our events team had a great idea: If you got laid off, we are offering a free Expo Pass to TechCrunch Disrupt, no strings attached. Come along, stay on the pulse of what’s happening out in startup land, and say hi to a bunch of the TechCrunch crew to boot. We’ll see you there! — Christine and Haje
The TechCrunch Top 3
- Arma-gettin outta here: NASA successfully smashed a satellite into an asteroid, Darrell reports. Cool, cool. Don’t worry, this is just in case real life tries to imitate “Armageddon” or “Deep Impact.”
- Something else you have to clean: Flatfile estimates that data scientists spend a majority of their work time cleansing data, aka getting it ready for use in predictive analysis. It took in $50 million for its approach to automating this dirty task, Kyle reports.
- Here’s my recruitment link: Ingrid reports that Calendly, the $3 billion+ scheduling startup, is getting into the recruitment game with its acquisition of Prelude, a startup that automates scheduling around job recruitment.
Startups and VC
If you’re reading this, you almost certainly have a complicated relationship with screens. Every year that passes, they become larger and increasingly present in our lives, Brian writes. Meanwhile, we continue to embrace the technology all while complaining about the hold it has on our lives. The Freewrite Alpha boldly asks: Can a small screen be too small?
We last profiled Cake in April when its line of lubricants, condoms, toys and sexual hygiene products made its debut in Target. The company now has five products in store locations as well as Amazon, Thrive Marketplace and UrbanOutfitters.com. Christine reports that the company’s well-lubricated expansion continues this week, with placement in some major retailers, including new space in CVS stores, as it announces $8 million in new Series A funding.
A few more from across the TechCrunch galaxy:
What can the 2000 dot-com crash teach us about the 2022 tech downturn?
Many entrepreneurs have been encouraged to believe that smooth storytelling and good social skills are enough to convince investors that things are moving according to plan. They are mistaken.
Instead of instinctively going into survival mode, M13 partner Anna Barber says founders should ask themselves existential questions like, “Why did you start this business? What are the fundamentals? Who are your customers? What problem are you solving?”
“At a time like this, trust is more important than ever,” she said, adding that she tells entrepreneurs to stay in close touch, “particularly around bad news.”
Before problems arise and between regularly scheduled meetings, entrepreneurs should get comfortable with asking for help and advice. Reaching out to share an update or ask questions sends a strong signal that you’re not waiting for someone to give you direction.
“Tell them what you need. This is what we’re here for: to roll up our sleeves and help problem-solve with you. Nobody expects any of this to be smooth sailing,” said Barber.
Three more from the TC+ team:
Big Tech Inc.
People are unhappy with the state of Instagram these days, and the OG app is out to bring Instagram back to its glory days with features like realigning the feed to the user’s choice and being ad free, Ivan reports.
And we have five more for you:
WhatsApp fixes ‘critical’ security bug that put Android phone data at risk • TechCrunch
WhatsApp has published details of a “critical”-rated security vulnerability affecting its Android app that could allow attackers to remotely plant malware on a victim’s smartphone during a video call.
Details of the flaw, tracked as CVE-2022-36934 with an assigned severity rating of 9.8 out of 10, is described by WhatsApp as an integer overflow bug. This happens when an app tries to perform a computational process but has no space in its allotted memory, causing the data to spill out and overwrite other parts of the system’s memory with potentially malicious code.
WhatsApp didn’t share any further details about the bug. But security research firm Malwarebytes said in its own technical analysis that the bug is found in a WhatsApp app component called “Video Call Handler,” which if triggered would allow an attacker to take complete control of a victim’s app.
When reached for comment, WhatsApp did not immediately say if it has evidence of active exploitation or if the vulnerabilities were discovered in-house.
The critical-rated memory vulnerability is similar to a 2019 bug, which WhatsApp ultimately blamed on Israeli spyware maker NSO Group in 2019 for using to target 1,400 victims’ phones, including journalists, human rights defenders, and other civilians. The attack leveraged a bug in WhatsApp’s audio calling feature that allowed the caller to plant spyware on a victim’s device, regardless of whether the call was answered.
WhatsApp also disclosed this week details of another vulnerability, CVE-2022-27492, rated “high” in severity at 7.8 out of 10, which could allow hackers to run malicious code on a victim’s iOS device after sending a malicious video file.
“The manipulation with an unknown input leads to a memory corruption vulnerability,” said Pieter Arntz, an intelligence researcher at Malwarebytes. “To exploit this vulnerability, attackers would have to drop a crafted video file on the user’s WhatsApp messenger and convince the user to play it.”
Both flaws are patched in the latest versions of WhatsApp. Update today.
Finally, a Roomba that vacuums and mops • TechCrunch
IRobot makes robots that vacuum. IRobot makes robots that mop. Other companies make robots that vacuum and mop. So, why doesn’t iRobot? If you had asked the company that question as recently as a few weeks back, you likely would have gotten a stock answer about not doing something until you can do it right.
Obviously the answer is a bit more nuanced. For one thing, iRobot does make a two-in-one — kind of, sort of, at least. Thing is, it’s A) Only available in Europe and B) Apparently it’s not really up to the company’s own exacting standards when it comes to this sort of thing — something co-founder and CEO Colin Angle admitted in a conversation with TechCrunch last week.
“The customer is very excited about the convenience of a two-in-one robot, so we needed to build one,” the executive says. “But, being iRobot, we needed to actually build one, as opposed to doing it in a way that doesn’t deliver on the promise. Right now, most two-in-one robots are really one-plus-one.” He includes the aforementioned Roomba in that list.
The other interesting wrinkle in all of this is iRobot’s long history with mopping robots. The Scooba line dates back to 2006. The product was essentially a Roomba that swapped the debris bag for clean and dirty water tanks. It was discontinued after a decade, following iRobot’s acquisition of Evolution Robotics. That company’s Mint robot, which used a pad to clean floors, eventually became Braava.
Today, iRobot announced the Roomba Combo j7+, the first Roomba (with that one notable exception) to bring two-in-one mopping and vacuuming to the popular product line. As suggested by the lengthy name, the new offering is based on the same hardware as the standard j7. The “+” refers to the emptying dock, while the “Combo” is a reference to the mopping functionality. Given the naming convention, it seems like the “Combo” feature will be coming to additional entries in the Roomba line, down the road.
The mopping functionality utilizes an arm that lowers a Braava-style pad to the floor and lifts up and lays flush on the top of the robot for safe stowage — and to avoid dragging the mop on the carpet. Among other things, the system’s on-board intelligence is able to distinguish carpeting/rugs from hardwood/tile/linoleum.
The robot’s footprint is a bit larger than the standard j7, in part to afford extra space for the water tank. At the moment, the dock is not able to automatically empty the tank, as it does the vacuum bin, though that appears to be something the company is working on.
As you’ve no-doubt guessed, none of this comes cheap. The Combo j7+ goes up for preorder today, priced at $1,099. It starts shipping October 4, and will also be made available without the bin + bundle.
Here are the industries ripe for innovation under the Inflation Reduction Act • TechCrunch
With a month of hindsight, we’re getting a better picture of what the Inflation Reduction Act will mean for the American economy and the climate tech sector itself.
The new law caught many by surprise, both in the climate tech space and elsewhere. Few had thought sweeping climate legislation was possible. The final bill is not quite as comprehensive as some had hoped, but it has created a series of incentives that promise to bolster innovation and manufacturing throughout the U.S. economy.
While a lot of pixels have been lit over the extension and expansion of electric vehicle tax credits — it’s an important provision! — some of the biggest shifts will likely stem from the myriad incentives the law offers homeowners and property investors to upgrade their buildings.
In my conversations with founders over the last few weeks, nearly all of them have said the IRA, as it’s now confusingly known, has given their businesses significant tailwinds. Part of that optimism and confidence stems from the fact that the IRA approaches electrification and energy efficiency from a variety of angles, giving the market a jolt of supply- and demand-side signals that should support later-stage startups while spurring new founders to get in the game.
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