Biden nominates another Big Tech enemy, this time to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division

The Biden administration tripled down on its commitment to reining in powerful tech companies Tuesday, proposing committed Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Kanter is a lawyer with a long track record of representing smaller companies like Yelp in antitrust cases against Google. He currently practices law at his own firm, which specializes in advocacy for state and federal antitrust enforcement.

“Throughout his career, Kanter has also been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy,” the White House press release stated. Progressives celebrated the nomination as a win, though some of Biden’s new antitrust hawks have enjoyed support from both political parties.

The Justice Department already has a major antitrust suit against Google in the works. The lawsuit, filed by Trump’s own Justice Department, accuses the company of “unlawfully maintaining monopolies” through anti-competitive practices in its search and search advertising businesses. If successfully confirmed, Kanter would be positioned to steer the DOJ’s big case against Google.

In a 2016 NYT op-ed, Kanter argued that Google is notorious for relying on an anti-competitive “playbook” to maintain its market dominance. Kanter pointed to Google’s long history of releasing free ad-supported products and eventually restricting competition through “discriminatory and exclusionary practices” in a given corner of the market.

Kanter is just the latest high profile Big Tech critic that’s been elevated to a major regulatory role under Biden. Last month, Biden named fierce Amazon critic Lina Khan as FTC chair upon her confirmation to the agency. In March, Biden named another noted Big Tech critic, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, to the National Economic Council as a special assistant for tech and competition policy.

All signs point to the Biden White House gearing up for a major federal fight with Big Tech. Congress is working on a set of Big Tech bills, but in lieu of — or in tandem with — legislative reform, the White House can flex its own regulatory muscle through the FTC and DOJ.

In new comments to MSNBC, the White House confirmed that it is also “reviewing” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a potent snippet of law that protects platforms from liability for user-generated content.

#amazon, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #chair, #columbia, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #doj, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #joe-biden, #lawyer, #lina-khan, #msnbc, #section-230, #tc, #tim-wu, #white-house, #yelp

How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass

In April, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead with its initial public offering and is now valued at nearly $6.4 billion.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a whole other topic: his path to entrepreneurship as a child raised by a disowned single mother whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so passionate about inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their dreams that he wrote a book about it.

In our discussion, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets to his success (hint: one of them involves lots of listening) and his advice for his young entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TC: As the mother of a teen who is already trying to start his own business, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What finally got you motivated to care about school and how did you manage to graduate in such a short amount of time?

Reffkin: Well, I think your son might just be on the right track! Please give him a word of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to another.

My mom says that a lot of other parents thought she was crazy for letting me launch my DJ business. But starting a successful DJ business in high school helped me learn about myself and my passion for entrepreneurship — and it ultimately helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of both my personal statement and the relationships I built with several members of the admissions team.

I believe the first step is always to dream big. For me, my big dreams for my college future started on a trip to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, but I knew it was going to be hard for me to get in. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that moment, my desire to go to Columbia went from strong to absolute, because suddenly it felt like it was about something larger than myself — not just where I went to school, but about a broader struggle for opportunity for people like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to show that even though I had a C average, I had what it took to keep up at a top school. And thankfully, it paid off. 

In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.

TC: How do you think being raised by a single mother without privilege helped shape you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a person of color impact your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was just me and my mom. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her parents because I was Black. My father abandoned us and died, homeless, when I was young. What shaped me most as an entrepreneur was learning from my mother. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most important principles: every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to bounce back with passion. I saw her face bad relationships, bankruptcy, and the stream of daily rejections that comes from being an agent. And she always bounced back. So when the world told me I couldn’t do something or that I was destined to fail, I was ready for them. Thanks to my mom, I already knew how to bounce back.

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mother, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my entire life. In most classes in Hosch school and college, I was the only Black person. In almost every meeting early in my career, I was the only Black person. When I was raising capital for Compass, I almost never saw someone Black on the other side of the table. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been lucky to get terrific advice along the way from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who is lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a really strong community of people who’ve all supported each other.

TC: You’ve had some impressive mentors over the years. How did those relationships develop? How have they been valuable besides the obvious? 

Growing up, I was hungry for advice. Coming from a single-parent home, I looked for guidance and wisdom on how to create a better life wherever I could find it. My mom connected me to several non-profits when I was in high school that helped open my eyes to how much opportunity and support there was out there in the world. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life, and let them know how it had helped me. That did two two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of whatI was working on.

The other thing my mentors gave me was the sense that even though the world was telling me I couldn’t be successful, I could be. Meeting someone like Vernon Jordan who advised presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound impact on me. He was a father figure to me. I met him when I was 23 years old, and at that time, it wasn’t clear to me that you could be successful in the business world as a Black man. I just hadn’t seen it before. When I started at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the only other Black investment banker there. He was not just a senior partner, he was a legend, widely known for serving on more Fortune 500 boards than anyone in history. He took a strong interest in me, and with his support and advice, he made me feel like I belonged and helped me see a path where I could be as successful as I wanted to be. 

I founded a nonprofit in my twenties called America Needs You that has provided mentorship, career development, and college support to thousands of students. I wrote my new book, No One Succeeds Alone, as a way to pay it forward by making the lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from so many remarkable people available to everyone — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

TC: What advice you would give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the advice I’d give to someone from an underrepresented group who just graduated college and is in their first job:

1) Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even yourself. Whenever anyone tells you to slow down, speed up.

2) Spend the next 10 years learning as much as you can from the smartest people you can. Find mentors in your job and outside that will give you the honest feedback that others won’t. Feedback is a gift. It’ll be hard for you to hear, but it’s actually even harder for them to give it to you. So you may have to ask for it directly and let people know that you can take it.

3) Learn how to turn negativity into positive energy that fuels you. There will always be skeptics, doubters, and haters telling you that you can’t do something or that you don’t belong. 

TC: What next after Compass?

Reffkin: I believe that to be truly successful, you can’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you have to be all-in, and that’s what I am for Compass: 100% dedicated to our 23,000 agents and employees. One of my mentors told me about the “shower test” once — that if you’re not excited enough about your job to think about it in the shower, you’re probably not in the right job. And I’ll tell you: I’m so passionate about the company we’re building that I’m still thinking about Compass in the shower. At Compass, we’ve accomplished much in the past eight years, but we’re truly just getting started. 

#america, #c, #ceo, #columbia, #compass, #diversity, #editor, #entrepreneur, #goldman-sachs, #ken-chenault, #lazard, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #tc

Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

#advisor, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #barack-obama, #ben-horowitz, #biden, #brooklyn, #chicago, #co-founder, #columbia, #columbia-university, #construction, #department-of-energy, #director, #duke-university, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #mitch-kapor, #new-york, #oakland, #president, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #washington, #white-house

From dorm rooms to board rooms: How universities are promoting entrepreneurship

Earlier this year, 15 top U.S. universities joined forces to launch a one-stop shop where corporations and startups can discover and license patents.

Working in concert, Brown, Caltech, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, the University of Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn, Princeton, SUNY Binghamton, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Southern California and Yale formed The University Technology Licensing Program LLC (UTLP)  to create a centralized pool of licensable IP.

The UTLP arrives as more higher education institutions are beefing up their investment in the entrepreneurial pipeline to help more students launch startups after graduation. In some instances, schools serve as accelerators, providing students with resources and helping them connect with VCs to find seed funding.

To get a better look at the new program and more insight into the university-to-startup pipeline, we spoke to:


The UTLP initiative seems to be more focused on licensing IP to existing companies, rather than accelerating university startups.

Orin Herskowitz: The UTLP effort is really much more about licensing to the somewhat broken interface between universities and very large companies in the tech space when it comes to licensing intellectual property. But I know USC and Columbia and many of our peers, especially over the last three to seven years, have pivoted in a massive way to helping our faculty students fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams and launch startups around this exciting university technology.

The word “broken” jumped out at me. Historically, what has the problem been?

Orin Herskowitz: Universities have traditionally been a source of amazing, life-saving and life-improving inventions, for decades. There’s been a ton of new drugs and medical devices, cybersecurity improvements, and search engines, like Google, that have come out of universities over the years, that were federally funded and developed in the labs, and then licensed to either a startup or the industry. And that’s been great. At least over the last couple of decades, that interface has worked really, really well in some fields, but less well in others. So, in the life sciences, in energy, in advanced materials, in those industries, a lot of the time, these innovations that end up having a huge impact on society are based really on one or two or three core eureka moments. There’s like one or two patents that underlie an enormous new cancer drug, for instance.

In the tech space though, it’s a very different dynamic because, a lot of the time, these inventions are incredibly important and they do launch a whole new generation of products and services, but the problem is that a new device, like an iPhone, or a piece of software, might rely on dozens or even hundreds of innovations from across many different universities, as opposed to just one or two.

Obviously not every breakthrough necessitates the launch of a startup. I assume that the vast majority of these things that are coming would make the most sense to work with existing companies.

Jennifer Dyer: We’ve all had this renewed focus on innovation within the university and really helping our students and faculty that want to start companies, launch those companies. If you look at the space, helping educate our students that launching a company in a high-tech space may mean that they have to go out and acquire 100 different licenses, so maybe it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to be doing nonexclusive licensing, and it doesn’t preclude anyone from moving forward with this technology. This is probably the first pool for nonstandard essential patents in the high-tech space, which makes it somewhat unique. Because if you look back, most of the pools have been around standard essential patents.

The question of exclusivity is an interesting one. You wouldn’t grant exclusive rights for the right fee?

#caltech, #columbia, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #ec-news-analysis, #harvard, #intellectual-property, #patents, #private-equity, #startups, #stephen-elop, #tc, #uc-berkeley, #ucla, #venture-capital, #yale

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

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 is as hot as ever, 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, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

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LA’s Kickback is a social shopping app that converts users into marketing channels through cash rewards

Frankie Bernstein, the Venice, Calif.-based serial entrepreneur, knows marketing.

At his last startup, Markett, Bernstein turned college students into brand ambassadors who were paid by the companies they repped for proselytizing about them on campuses.

Now he’s using that knowledge to launch Kickback on iOS and Android. It’s invite-only at this point, but the idea is that it uses company’s marketing budgets to create shopping rewards and incentives for app users. In the same way that Markett turned college students into advocates for apps like Uber and Lyft, Kickback will turn shoppers into brand ambassadors through its app.

In-app referrals and discounts for shopping are nothing new to the e-commerce world. In China, apps like Pinduoduo have turned into billion dollar businesses on the strength of referrals. Indeed, Pinduoduo recently raised $1.1 billion in funding to hit a valuation of nearly $100 billion.

It was only a matter of time before an American company tried to copy its success. Kickback — like most new apps these days — is invite-only.

Once past the waiting list, users get discounts on brands and can earn cash-back rewards when they shop or when they encourage their friends to buy something with the app.

So far brands on the app include Walmart, Sam’s Club, Nike, Alo Yoga, Reebok, Away, Planet Blue, Sonos, Winc, Postmates, Casper, Kate Somerville, Lacoste, Columbia. Users get discounts or cash rewards when they shop and earn “kickbacks” when they invite someone to shop using their discount code. Cash rewards can be withdrawn using PayPal, according to a statement.

“Our mission is to take the billions of dollars brands spend on advertising and put that money directly into the pockets of the people,” said Franky Bernstein, Founder and CEO of Kickback, in a statement. “Brands know the most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. We like to say that people are 100% more likely to go on a first date, watch a movie or, in our case, try a new product or service if a friend tells them about it. People have always loved sharing their favorite products and services with their friends. Now with Kickback, they get paid for it.”

#android, #california, #ceo, #china, #columbia, #digital-marketing, #lacoste, #lyft, #markett, #nike, #paypal, #pinduoduo, #postmates, #reebok, #referral-marketing, #sams-club, #serial-entrepreneur, #sonos, #tc, #uber, #venice, #walmart

Latest COVID-19 projections from Columbia University show mid-May spike if social distancing is relaxed

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has released updated projections of when we can expect U.S. case numbers of COVID-19 infections to peak and decline, based on different levels of social distancing measures. The updated projects, which take into account the most recent information, show that with around a 30 percent decrease in social contact we could be nearing a national peak of new cases for now by the end of April – but that if you decrease social contact by just 20 percent, the picture changes drastically, with a late peak that extends into mid-May and grows the number of new daily cases to as many as 30,000.

The Columbia projections are used to advise the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York City and many other governments across the U.S. These updated projections also note that while we may hit a peak in the coming days, that also means that hospital and ICU capacity will be at their max in the same period. Again, Columbia researchers note, too, that this info doesn’t take into account local variances in when peaks arrive, and that some areas could have different peaks at different times even with a consistent 30 percent social contact reduction.

The model developed by the Columbia research team includes transmission and fatality numbers, movement by populations across city and state lines, and information like the capacity of emergency field hospitals, all info that was not available when the original modelling was done. You can take a look at the interactive graphs and daily estimates resulting from the model yourself here via Columbia’s website.

This is one of a number of recent updated projections from public health experts, epidemiologists and medical researchers that predict the impact of a relaxation of social distancing measures now could have disastrous consequences in terms of prolonging and worsening the spread of COVID-19, and also on taxing healthcare resources (not to mention frontline workers).

MIT also projected a similar impact from the relaxation of measures currently in place, predicting an “exponential explosion” would result. Meanwhile, some states are already implementing such restriction relaxations, despite consensus from informed experts and researchers indicating it’s too early to begin such rollbacks.

#centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #columbia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #medicine, #mit, #new-york-city, #relaxation, #tc, #united-states

Los Angeles-based Frame launches mental health gateway for a pandemic-stricken generation

The story behind Frame, the startup aiming to be the nation’s gateway into the world of therapy and mental wellness, seems like a tailor-made story of American entrepreneurial success.

Its co-founders, Kendall Bird and Sage Grazer, ran their first business in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles years ago, selling out their entire inventory of lemonade to a captive audience of eager parents.

Years later, after Grazer graduated from Columbia and embarked on a career as a therapist, and Bird, a longtime proponent of therapy since her teens, had moved on to a job at the LA-based social media giant, Snap, the two reunited.

Frame was born from their shared belief that therapy was a tool that could be harnessed by every American for self-improvement and self-care, and that providing a window into the breadth of problems that therapy could address would be a way to popularize the process.

Frame aims to do both. Like SonderMind, another startup which raised a pile of cash recently, the company offers services matching therapists with patients on the front-end and providing a billing and telemedicine solution for mental health practitioners on the back-end.

But it also has another component — a recorded “workshop” between a therapist and a patient or a tutorial to illustrate the kinds of services that a patient could receive from therapy or explain what different conditions may be. These discussions and lessons — which the company emphasizes are not therapy sessions — are meant to frame how potential customers could view the types of things they could talk about with their therapists.

The workshops for us are a way for a larger audience to open up their minds and understand the different topics that they can cover,” says Bird.

Scene from a Frame workshop.

The goal is to give a millennial audience a window into how therapy works in an effort to popularize and de-stigmatize the process.

If there’s one thing that Bird knows, it’s how to reach a millennial audience. The former Snap product marketing executive was with the company through its public offering and now serves as one of a small cohort of former Snap employees that are beginning to launch their own companies — building on the success, and wealth that Snap’s public offering afforded them.

“There was no brand that was representing what it means to be a modern therapy goer and that’s why we started Frame,” says Bird. 

The company is launching today with around 12 videos of the pseudo-sessions with therapists and a small pilot matching program for the 100 therapists it counts on its roster of service providers.

Given that the company’s approach to its sessions straddles the line between therapy and entertainment, it was important to find therapists that would work well on camera for its workshops, said Bird.

“We really focused in on therapists that are really passionate about what they do and ones that felt more comfortable being on camera and adapting to this because it’s not therapy,” says Bird.  

Frame, which the two co-founders began building nearly a year ago, was hoping to have a bit more real estate to support its launch, but like other companies including Real, Silver Health, the European startup, Mindler, and even the sexual health focused startups like Hims, the company accelerated its launch in an effort to respond to the mental health needs stemming from the COVID-19 epidemic.

Much of this is predicated on virtual non-therapy sessions that Hims and Hers are calling discussions and that Real calls “Group Salons” and “Group Events”.

For Frame, building its library of recorded non-sessions required pre-recording thirty to forty sessions with volunteers — many pulled from the Snap community, according to Bird.

And the Snap community has also rallied to back the company. Imran Khan, the former Snap executive, is a seed investor along with several others from the company.

Another backer is Founders Capital, the New York-based accelerator that’s backed by Johnson and Johnson and other corporations to find new startups that fit within strategic areas of interest.

“There are over 700,000 behavioral healthcare professionals in the United States, yet 80% of millennials with mental health concerns never expect to receive treatment,” wrote Frame seed investor and founder of Struck Capital, Adam Struck, in an email. “We see an opportunity for Frame to make therapy more approachable for the millions who could benefit from access to high-quality mental health resources, building a valuable business that helps create a healthier society.”

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