Taking consumer subscription software to the great outdoors

The pandemic has been extremely painful for many. But as lockdowns lifted and people began resuming their outdoor hobbies, mobile-first businesses have seen growth accelerate as consumers turned to digital tools to improve their time outdoors.

The Dyrt, for example, is the top camping app on the Apple and Google Play App Stores. The app sits at the confluence of two trends: An increased interest in outdoor recreation and travel, and an explosion in consumer subscription software (CSS).

The Dyrt launched its premium offering in 2019, The Dyrt PRO, in time to take advantage of the rising number of Americans making the great outdoors part of their lifestyle. A year later, it had a new subscriber every two minutes paying for features like offline maps and detailed camping information.

CSS businesses at the forefront of outdoor activities have closed major deals in recent years such as hunting app OnX (Summit Partners), hiking app Alltrails (Spectrum Equity), Surfline (The Chernin Group) and mountain bike leader Pinkbike (Outside Media). Companies like Netflix and Spotify have trained consumers to pay monthly or annual fees for software that enhances their lives, creating a business model investors view as reliable and poised for growth.

I think of different outdoor activities almost like individual genres on Netflix. Dominating camping or surfing might be like capturing the streaming market for comedy or horror.

Fitness and the outdoor passion space is one of the most exciting CSS categories in a growing landscape that includes everything from family planning/management services to entertainment and education. I believe CSS is still in the early stages of its growth — perhaps where B2B SaaS was a decade ago.

So what sets apart the great CSS businesses from the good ones?

Passion equals profits on the CSS flywheel

The beauty of the CSS model is the complete alignment between the business and its customers. CSS companies don’t have to please advertisers, and they can design purely for their users.

This dynamic is particularly powerful for CSS companies in the outdoors space, which make your favorite outdoor activity better with performance analytics and enhanced information such as maps, reviews, air quality reports and fire warnings. Consumers are happy to spend money on the activities and hobbies they enjoy, and CSS companies are able to make pleasing those consumers their top priority.

The result is what I call the CSS flywheel, in which a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users. Those users contribute their data through posts, photos and reviews, which creates a better product that further attracts new users, and so on.

The CSS flywheel shows the cycle that results when a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users.

The CSS flywheel shows the cycle that results when a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users. Image Credits: GP Bullhound

When companies get this flywheel right, it’s incredibly appealing to investors, because of the advantages of scale in CSS. Each niche will probably be dominated by one or two players, and a given niche can have tens of millions of consumers.

#alltrails, #column, #css, #duolingo, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-market-map, #fantastic, #netflix, #saas, #smartphones, #spectrum-equity, #spotify, #startups, #summit-partners, #venture-capital

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

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

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

? Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

? Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

?  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

? YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

? London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

? Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides?….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

? Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

? London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

? Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

China roundup: Games are opium, algorithms need scrutiny

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The question for the tech news cycle in China these days has become: Who is Beijing’s next target? Regulatory clampdowns are common in China’s tech industry but the breadth of the recent moves has been unprecedented. No major tech giant is exempted and everyone is being attacked from a slightly different angle, but Beijing’s message is clear: Tech businesses are to align themselves with the interests and objectives of Beijing.

Education curbs hit tech giants

The government’s motivation isn’t always ideological. It could lead to policies that rein in the unruly private tutoring sector in the hope of easing pressure on students and parents. Recent orders from Beijing have strictly limited after-school tutoring, though they also sparked a wave of sympathy for public school teachers who work at lucrative tutoring centers to compensate for their meager salaries.

The effects of the education crackdown are also trickling down to internet companies. For the past few years, ByteDance had been aggressively building an online education business through a hiring and acquisition spree in part to diversify an ad-based video business. Its plan seems to be in shambles as it reportedly plans to lay off staff in its education department following recent the clampdown.

The restraints are also hitting American companies. Duolingo, the language learning app, was removed from several app stores in China. While it’s not immediately clear whether the action was the result of any policy change, the government recently, along with its restraints on extra-curriculum, barred foreign curricula in schools from K-9.

Games are opium

It could be tricky to read the top leaders’ minds because their messages could come through various government departments or state-affiliated media outlets, carrying different weights.

This week, Tencent is in the authorities’ crosshairs. About $60 billion of its market cap was wiped after the Economic Information Daily, an economic paper supervised by China’s major state news agency Xinhua, published an article (which was taken down shortly) describing video games as “spiritual opium” and cited the major role Tencent plays in the industry. Shares of Tencent’s smaller rival NetEase were also battered.

This certainly isn’t the first time Tencent and the gaming industry overall were slammed by the government for their impact on underage players. Tencent has been working to appease the authorities by introducing protections for young players, for instance, by tightening age checks several times.

Tencent, which has a sprawling online empire of social networks, payments and music on top of games, has also promised to “do [more social] good” through its products. And following the recent op-ed from the state paper, Tencent further restricted the amount of time and money children can spend inside games. But after all, the company still depends largely on addictive game mechanics that lure players to open loot boxes.

Tencent share prices over the past six months. Image Credits: Google Finance

Fix the algorithms

The other camp of tech companies feeling the heat is those dependent on machine learning algorithms to distribute content. The Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, the country’s watchdog of public expressions, along with several other government organs, issued an advisory to “strengthen the study and guidance of online algorithms and carry out oversight over algorithmic recommendations.”

The government’s goal is to assert more control over how algorithmic black boxes affect what information people receive. Shares of Kuaishou, TikTok’s archrival in China, tanked on the news. Since its blockbuster initial public offering in February, Kuaishou’s stock price has tumbled as much as 70%. Meanwhile, the Beijing-based short video firm is shuttering one of its overseas apps called Zynn, which has caused controversy over plagiarism. But its overseas user base is also rapidly growing, crystalizing in one billion monthly users worldwide recently.

End of “two-choose-one”

The week hasn’t ended. On Friday morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that the country’s antitrust regulator is preparing to fine Meituan, China’s major food delivery platform, $1 billion for allegedly abusing its market dominance. In 2020, Meituan earned 114.8 billion yuan or $17.7 billion in revenue.

Until recently, forcing suppliers to pick sides had been a common practice in China’s e-commerce world. Alibaba did so by forbidding sellers to list on rivaling platforms, a practice that resulted in a $2.75 billion antitrust penalty in April. We will see where the government will act next as it continues to curb the power of its tech darlings.

#alibaba, #asia, #beijing, #china, #china-roundup, #chinese-communist-party, #department-of-education, #duolingo, #gaming, #government, #kuaishou, #netease, #online-education, #tc, #tencent

Duolingo is working on a math app for kids

Duolingo, best known for its whimsical owl and language-learning app, is working on a new product to add to its growing suite: a math app, according to CEO Luis von Ahn. The co-founder mentioned the app during an interview last week, the same day that Duolingo officially listed in the stock market.

After the interview, TechCrunch reached out to Duolingo to get more information about the app, but the company declined to provide more detail because it is “still very early” in the development process. It did say that users may learn more about it later this month at Duocon, Duolingo’s annual free conference. A May job posting shows that Duolingo has been looking for a learning scientist with a PhD in mathematics to help build out a new math app alongside a “small cross-functional team.”

The listing hints that the app will be focused on serving younger learners. It mentions that Duolingo wants candidates to have classroom experience and knowledge about teaching K-12 level math, especially with younger students between 3rd and 8th grade.

Duolingo’s current users feel mixed about the idea of Duolingo getting into math.

In an interview on IPO day, CEO Luis von Ahn said that users may see Duolingo accelerate its math app and that the company plans to expand beyond language learning through upcoming acquisitions. That may calm some qualms around Duolingo needing to put a ton of resources toward an entirely new piece of software or curriculum.

“If there are other subjects where we think somebody is doing a pretty good job and they have a similar mission to us, and they have a similar company culture,” Duolingo may consider acquiring the company, von Ahn said in the interview.

Math-focused edtech companies include Khan Academy, Brilliant.org, Photomath, Numerade and the recently acquired Symbolab.

For Duolingo, the math app is another chapter in its history of experimentation. The company has churned through hundreds of ideas in its decade of existence, which have had varying degrees of success.

Over the past few years, it built a product suite beyond its core app, which includes Duolingo ABC, a literacy app for kids and the Duolingo English Test. Meanwhile, Duolingo’s “graveyard” of failed ideas includes a few retired monetization strategies and AI-powered chatbots. Popular features like leaderboards sputtered before they succeeded. And math, interestingly, has always been in the back of von Ahn’s head.

As mentioned in the Duolingo EC-1, von Ahn has always said that he and his co-founder, Severin Hacker, were thinking about making Duolingo a math app before they eventually decided on language learning.

“I love math, but if you learn math, math itself can’t make you any money,” von Ahn said in a previous interview. “You learn math to learn physics to become an engineer, whereas knowledge of English directly improves your income potential in most countries of the world.”

One user wrote that “[math] is such a key skill to learn…[and] hopefully this may provide better resources especially to those with such limited access, while being inspirational and equally engaging to those of us with more opportunities.”

Others seemed to want Duolingo to invest inwardly on its language-learning service before moving outward to other areas. “It’s odd that Duo should consider branching into Maths when its coverage of the majority of languages (with the notable exception of French and Spanish) leaves a great deal to be desired,” one user wrote.

The company can only teach from a beginner to a low-intermediate level of language fluency according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). About 30% to 40% of Duolingo courses are in some stage of CEFR alignment, per the company’s last pull of metrics from May.

It may be too soon to assume how Duolingo’s math app would look, what it would offer or even if it will be monetized. Regardless, it will be Duolingo’s first formal foray into an area of education beyond language.

The company will need to find not only the product, but the philosophical overlap between the two subjects. Language learning is a skill that is benefited by cultural context and nuance, while math revolves around the goal of getting to the one right answer. However, both areas of education require methodical thinking and the ability to apply functions to get to answers. Ultimately, both rely on what Duolingo often argues is its biggest product: motivation to open up an app, and pay attention to what’s happening on the screen.

#apps, #duolingo, #edtech, #education, #luis-von-ahn, #math, #severin-hacker, #tc

Extra Crunch roundup: Square buys Afterpay, paid search basics, career advice for devs

Square paid around a quarter of its present-day value for Afterpay, Alex Wilhelm notes in The Exchange. That seems like a lot. But was it too much?

“Afterpay brings global revenues, global users and a more diverse merchant network to Square,” Alex notes. “It would have had to spend to derive those assets over time. Square is willing to pay up to snag them now.”

Dana Stalder, a partner at Matrix Partners and Afterpay’s only institutional investor, describes the deal as part of a recurring “critical innovation cycle” in fintech that “determines the winners and losers” for decades to come.

“I’ve never seen a combination that has such potential to deliver extraordinary value to consumers and merchants,” says Stalder. “Even more so than eBay + PayPal.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

The best way to grow your career? Treat it like an app

Decision making: Wooden figurine thinking about the path to take to reach the target

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Developers may delight in solving complex technical problems, but the problem of a career path is one many don’t think much about, Juniper Networks CTO Raj Yavatkar writes in a guest column.

He offers a solution that should appeal to developers and engineers: “​​Treat career advancement as you would a software project.”

Design expert Scott Tong outlines 4 concepts founders should consider when designing products

Scott Tong

Image Credits: Scott Tong

At Early Stage 2021, design expert Scott Tong shared some ways founders should think about design and branding.

If you can link your brand with your company’s reputation, I think it’s a really great place to start when you’re having conversations about brands. What is the first impression? What are the consistent behaviors that your brand hopes to repeat over and over? What are the memorable moments that stand out and make your brand, your reputation memorable?

You can’t afford to make poor decisions about incentive stock options

Image of a piggy bank, clock, and calculator on blue and yellow background to represent financial advice.

Image Credits: Nora Carol Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

If you’re fortunate enough to be considering cashing in on vested stock options, this guest column is worth a read.

“Most companies admit they need to be better at explaining how ISOs work in general, but they can’t legally work one-on-one with employees to help them exercise and sell shares the right way,” Wealthramp’s Pam Krueger and John Chapman write.

“That’s why, when the time is right, many employees actively look for help from a qualified fiduciary financial adviser who can walk these could-be ‘options millionaires’ through various cash-in scenarios.”

Demand Curve: Questions you need to answer in your paid search ads

Retail and technology. Retail as a Service.

Image Credits: metamorworks (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

At some point, almost every early-stage startup will use paid search ads to connect with customers and throw down the gauntlet with their competitors.

Most of these initial attempts at paid search are unsuccessful. There’s a steep learning curve when it comes to transforming passive searchers into paying customers, and almost no one gets it right the first time.

In a comprehensive guest post, growth marketing expert Stewart Hillhouse identified “14 questions your paid search should answer to ensure you’re only paying for the highest-intent shoppers.”

Question 1? “What’s in it for me?”

5 lessons from Duolingo’s bellwether edtech IPO of the year

Image Credits: Duolingo

Duolingo’s debut last week was a bright spot, Alex Wilhelm and Natasha Mascarenhas write, with the language learning app’s stock price landing above a raised IPO range.

Alex and Natasha detail five lessons to take from Duolingo’s flotation:

  1. The IPO event will bring “more sophistication” to Duolingo’s core service.
  2. Roadshow investors didn’t view Duolingo as an edtech company.
  3. China’s edtech crackdown will have a “neutral” impact on Duolingo.
  4. In certain cases, post-COVID growth declines aren’t lethal.
  5. Growth can still absolve rising losses.

Can your startup support a research-based workflow?

Artificial Intelligence Brain

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In the U.S. alone, yearly spending on AI R&D is expected to reach $100 billion by 2025.

But can your humble startup attract and retain users while it conducts research and product development?

“For obvious reasons, companies want to make things that matter to their customers, investors and stakeholders. Ideally, there’s a way to do both,” says João Graça, CTO and co-founder of Unbabel, an AI-powered language operations platform.

Kodiak Robotics’ founder says tight focus on autonomous trucks is working

don-burnette-founder-kodiak

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

As part of an ongoing series with transportation startup founders, Rebecca Bellan interviews Kodiak Robotics CEO and co-founder Don Burnette about why the autonomous trucking company remains private when so many of its rivals have gone public.

“I think there’s also lots of opportunity within the VCs and the private markets,” said Burnette.

“Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.”

How public markets can help address venture capital’s limitations

After interviewing Draper Esprit co-founder Stuart Chapman, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim took a look at the trend of European VCs floating themselves.

Traditional VC models “can foist artificial time constraints on investors and force them to focus their deal flow into particular stages for fund-construction reasons,” Alex and Anna write for The Exchange.

“As we found out researching this piece, the public venture model highlights some of these limitations — and may be able to alleviate them in part.”

Robinhood’s CFO says it was ready to go public

After Robinhood failed to burn up the stock charts, Alex Wilhelm wondered why, exactly, the investing and trading app’s IPO didn’t live up to expectations.

He spoke to Robinhood CFO Jason Warnick, who shared a few reasons why it was time for the company to float:

… Warnick indicated that there were a few factors at play, including that Robinhood had built out its leadership team and its internal processes, and that it had worked on user-safety-related tasks and expanded the site’s use cases. All of that is true.

#afterpay, #don-burnette, #draper-esprit, #duolingo, #ec-roundup, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #growth-marketing, #jason-warnick, #kodiak-robotics, #robinhood, #scott-tong, #startups, #stuart-chapman, #tc, #transportation, #unbabel, #venture-capital, #verified-experts

The tale of two edtech IPOs

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Last week, Natasha and Alex jumped on Twitter Spaces to discuss the tale of two edtech IPOs: Duolingo, the consumer language learning company, and Powerschool, the enterprise K-12 software platform. It was a rare moment in the sun for the recently-revitalized sector, which saw two companies list on the NASDAQ on the same dang day.

Special shout out to our producer Chris Gates for handling this impromptu live chat, tech difficulties and all, and bringing it to your ears on this lovely Monday. Don’t forget that Equity is largely on break this week!

Here’s what we got into, featuring some edtech entrepreneurs nice enough to drop on by:

  • China’s edtech crackdown and how it is impacting startups both internationally and domestically. The regulations, one of which will force for-profit tutoring companies to turn into non-profits, are also getting the cold shoulder from U.S. edtech VCs, it seems.
  •  As Lightspeed Ventures investor Mercedes Bent so aptly put it, the news is somewhat ironic: “[T]he US edtech IPO market is on fire (after being dormant for so long) and the China edtech market is crumbling (after being on fire for so long).”
  • Evidence of that can be found in the Duolingo IPO pricing arc. The company first posted a strong estimate of its worth, raised its range, priced above that raised interval, and still managed to trade higher. The company is still up more than $30 from its IPO price.
  • Powerschool was a bit different. It priced at $18 per share, the low-end of its $18 to $20 range. The company is up from its IPO price, albeit a much more modest two, or three percent in today’s early trading.

In the second half of the show, we brought on the following host of edtech founders to share their hot takes about the current state of edtech:

Before we go, Equity is on a “break” this week, as we do some soul searching and refresh before our next run of shows. Obviously we still had to shaare this episode, and um, are recording another episode this week too, but you, my dear friend, will hear from us again next Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#duolingo, #edtech, #education, #equity, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #powerschool, #startups, #tc

5 lessons from Duolingo’s bellwether edtech IPO of the year

Duolingo landed onto the public markets this week, rallying excitement and attention for the edtech sector and its founder cohort. The language learning business’ stock price soared when it began to trade, even after the unicorn raised its IPO price range, and priced above the raised interval.

Duolingo’s IPO proves that public market investors can see the long-term value in a mission-driven, technology-powered education concern; the company’s IPO carries extra weight considering the historically few edtech companies that have listed.

Duolingo’s IPO proves that public market investors can see the long-term value in a mission-driven, technology-powered education concern; the company’s IPO carries extra weight considering the historically few edtech companies that have listed.

For those that want the entire story of Duolingo, from origin to messy monetization to historical IPO, check out our EC-1. It has dozens of interviews from executives, investors, linguists and competitors.

For today, though, we have fresh additions. We sat down with Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn earlier in the week to discuss not only his company’s IPO, but also what impact the listing may have on startups. Duolingo’s IPO can be looked at as a case study into consumer startups, mission-driven companies that monetize a small base of users, or education companies that recently hit scale. Paraphrasing from von Ahn, Duolingo doesn’t see itself as just an edtech company with fresh branding. Instead, it believes its growth comes from being an engineering-first startup.

Selling motivation, it seems, versus selling the fluency in a language is a proposition that international consumers are willing to pay for, and an idea that investors think can continue to scale to software-like margins.

1. The IPO event will bring “more sophistication” to Duolingo’s core service

Duolingo has gone through three distinct phases: Growth, in which it prioritized getting as many users as it could to its app; monetization, in which it introduced a subscription tier for survival; and now, education, in which it is focusing on tacking on more sophisticated, smarter technology to its service.

#china, #duolingo, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

Extra Crunch roundup: Livestream e-commerce, growth marketing interviews, CEO for a day

This year, livestream viewers in China are projected to spend more than $60 billion on digital shopping experiences that let them interact with influencers in real time.

Promoting everything from cosmetics to food, social media stars use Taobao, TikTok and other platforms to livestream products and take questions from the audience.

On Taobao’s Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival in 2020, livestreams racked up $6 billion in sales, twice as much revenue as the year prior.

Sensing a trend, Western startups are getting in on the action, with companies like Whatnot and PopShop.Live raising rounds to build out their infrastructure. Looking forward, Alanna Gregory, senior global director at Afterpay, says she foresees four major trends:

  • Networks
  • SaaS streaming tools
  • Host discovery and outreach tools
  • Host marketplaces and agencies

“For brands, SaaS streaming tools will be the most impactful way to take advantage of livestream commerce trends,” Gregory writes in an Extra Crunch guest post. “All of this will be incredibly transformative.”


To help entrepreneurs take on the most fundamental challenge facing early-stage startups, our team is speaking to growth marketers to learn more about the advice they’re offering clients these days.

This week, Miranda Halpern and Anna Heim interviewed experts on growth marketing:

Growth is an existential issue, so these stories are free to read and share. If you’ve worked with an individual or an agency who helped your startup find and keep new users, please let us know.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson

Senior Editor, TechCrunch

@yourprotagonist

Why Latin American venture capital is breaking records this year

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim’s global exploration of Q2 venture capital data wrapped up this week with an in-depth look at Latin America.

One investor told them that today’s LatAm startup market “is a story about talent, not about capital.”

“The union of talent and money is what startup markets need to thrive,” they write. “But there are other reasons why Latin American startups are so frequently in the news today, including structural factors, such as strong digital penetration and quick e-commerce growth.”

Dear Sophie: Should we sponsor international hires for H-1B transfers and green cards?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My startup is desperately recruiting, and we see a lot of engineering candidates on H-1Bs.

They’re looking for H-1B transfers and green cards. What should we do?

— Baffled in the Bay Area

Why I make everyone in my company be the CEO for a day

Vincit runs a CEO of the Day program once a month

Image Credits: Blake Little (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In the reality TV series “Undercover Boss,” high-powered executives disguise themselves so they can work alongside everyday employees, ostensibly to learn from them.

Flipping that script, software company Vincit USA has a “CEO of the Day” program where staffers move into a metaphorical corner office for 24 hours and receive a very real unlimited budget. There’s just one requirement.

“The CEO must make one lasting decision that will help improve the working experience of Vincit employees,” said Ville Houttu, Vincit’s founder and CEO.

Since instituting the program, Vincit USA has received multiple awards for its workplace culture and sees reduced staff turnover.

“Though it may seem crazy, the initiative has paid off tenfold,” said Houttu.

What I’ve learned after 5 years of buying common stock in startups

Buying common stock can help align investor and founder incentives

Image Credits: Tim Robberts (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Instead of giving founders standard term sheets, Boston-based seed-stage venture capital firm Pillar VC offers to buy common stock.

“There are many terms and conditions in a preferred term sheet that can misalign investors and founders,” says founding partner Jamie Goldstein.

“As with any experiment, we have learned a few things that have surprised us and faced challenges we’ve had to overcome.”

China’s regulatory crackdown is good news for startups aligned with CCP goals

Alex Wilhelm takes stock of the wall of news out of China over the past week to see if there’s a silver lining for startups in the country as the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on everything from edtech companies to streaming platforms.

His take?

“The result may be concentrated effort and capital in sectors that Beijing favors and reduced capital and focus from entrepreneurs in sectors that have been deemed fit for strict control,” he writes. “Simply: Central planning is going to tilt business more toward centrally planned goals.”

Duolingo’s IPO pricing is great news for edtech startups

The Pittsburgh-based language-learning unicorn initially aimed for an $85 to $95 per share IPO price range, then bumped that up to $95 to $100 before it began to trade. It ultimately entered the public markets at $102 per share.

Alex Wilhelm notes that based on Duolingo’s expected Q2 revenues, the company has a run-rate multiple of nearly 16x. Compare that to the median multiple for public SaaS companies of 14x.

“Duolingo, a consumer edtech company, is now more valuable per revenue dollar than the median public enterprise SaaS business,” Alex writes.

Financial firms should leverage machine learning to make anomaly detection easier

Machine learning can make anolmaly detection easier

Image Credits: GOCMEN (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“Anomaly detection is one of the more difficult and underserved operational areas in the asset-servicing sector of financial institutions,” EZOPS CEO Bikram Singh writes in a guest column.

But it’s critical to detect these anomalies amid a sea of data. That’s where unsupervised learning can offer a solution.

​​”With all eyes on data, it’s crucial that financial institutions find solutions to detect anomalies upfront, thereby preventing bad data from infecting downstream processes,” Singh writes.

“Machine learning can be applied to detect the data anomalies as well as identify the reasons for them, effectively reducing the time spent researching and rectifying executions.”

African startups join global funding boom as fintech shines

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim continued their global tour of Q2 2021 venture capital data, this week focusing on Africa.

“Early data indicates that Africa is set to trounce historical records in terms of venture capital raised in the year and that the first half of 2021 saw roughly twice the funds raised by African startups as was recorded in the first half of 2020,” they write.

“Startups across Africa have never had more access to capital than they do right now.”

True ‘shift left and extend right’ security requires empowered developers

Empowered developers will change the nature of true shift left and extend right security

Image Credits: kuritafsheen (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The intention of DevSecOps is to wedge security and compliance into DevOps. But that’s easier said than done, says Apiiro founder and CEO Idan Plotnik.

“Shifting left and extending right doesn’t mean that a scanning tool or security architect should detect a security risk earlier in the process — it means that a developer should have all the context to prevent the vulnerability before it even happens,” he writes.

4 key areas SaaS startups must address to scale infrastructure for the enterprise

bonsai tree with miniature scaffolding

Image Credits: Stewart Sutton (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Asana’s head of engineering, Prashant Pandey, rounds up four tips for SaaS startups looking to build up their infrastructure to meet customers’ growing needs.

“Startups and SMBs are usually the first to adopt many SaaS products. But as these customers grow in size and complexity — and as you rope in larger organizations — scaling your infrastructure for the enterprise becomes critical for success,” he writes.

He offers four areas to focus on:

  • Address your customers’ security and reliability needs
  • Give IT admins control over product usage
  • Build data isolation into your architecture
  • Support customers by interconnecting their data across applications

#africa, #china, #duolingo, #e-commerce, #ec-roundup, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #latin-america, #startups, #tc

Last day to snag early bird passes to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021

Don’t miss your chance to experience TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 — the startup world’s must-attend event of the season — for less than $100. Why not get the best ROI of your time while simultaneously learning about the latest industry trends and mining for opportunities that can take your startup to new levels of success?

Disrupt takes place on September 21-23, but the early-bird deal expires today, July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT). Buy your Disrupt 2021 pass now and save.

Let’s talk about what you’ll experience at Disrupt. Over on the Disrupt Stage you’ll find one-on-one interviews with icons and interactive, expert-led, presentations from across the tech, investing and policy sectors. Folks like Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn and Mirror CEO Brynn Putnam. And that’s just the tip of the tech iceberg. You can check out all the speakers here.

You’ll find plenty of actionable advice and how-to tips and strategies on the Extra Crunch Stage. Take a gander at just two of the topics we have scheduled there and explore the full Disrupt agenda here.

Crafting a Pitch Deck that Can’t Be Ignored: Investors may be chasing after the hottest deals, but for founders selling their startup’s vision, it’s never been more important to communicate it in the clearest way possible. Pitch deck experts Mercedes Bent (partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners), Mar Hershenson (co-founder & managing partner, Pear VC) and Saba Karim (Techstars’ head of accelerator pipeline) dig into what’s essential, what’s unnecessary and what could just make all the difference in your next deck.

How Do You Select the Right Tech Stack: From day zero, startups have to make dozens of trade-offs when it comes to the infinite variety of tech stacks available to today’s engineers. Choose the wrong combination or direction, and a startup could be left with years of refactoring to fix the legacy damage. What are the best practices for assessing potential stacks, and how can you minimize the risk of a painful mistake? Preeti Somal (executive vice president of engineering, HashiCorp) and Jill Wetzler (head of engineering, Pilot) will discuss strategies for improving engineering right from the beginning and at every stage of a startup’s journey.

Disrupt’s virtual format provides plenty of opportunity for questions, so come prepared to ask the experts about the issues that keep you up at night.

One post can’t possibly contain all the events and opportunities of Disrupt. Don’t miss the epic Startup Battlefield competition, hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley expo area, special breakout sessions — like the Pitch Deck Teardown — and so much more.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 offers tons of opportunity. Don’t miss out on the first one — buy your Disrupt pass today, July 30, by 11:59 pm (PT) for less than $100. It’s a sweet deal!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#articles, #brian-armstrong, #brynn-putnam, #ceo, #coinbase, #duolingo, #finance, #hashicorp, #jill-wetzler, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luis-von-ahn, #mining, #money, #pear-vc, #pete-buttigieg, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techstars, #united-states, #verizon-media

Duolingo’s IPO pricing is great news for edtech startups

While the Chinese technology market digests a new regulatory landscape impacting the country’s edtech market in a sharply negative manner, U.S. education technology companies have something to cheer about: Duolingo’s IPO priced very well.

The language-learning unicorn initially targeted an $85 to $95 per share IPO price range. That interval was later raised to $95 to $100 per share. And then, last night, Duolingo priced at $102 per share, just over its raised range.

That’s the sort of IPO pricing run that we tend to see from hot enterprise software companies (SaaS) that investors have favored heavily in recent quarters. But the stock market has also provided nigh-indulgent valuations to consumer-facing tech companies with strong brands, like Airbnb. So, the Duolingo IPO’s pricing strength should not be an utter surprise.

But it is a welcome result for U.S. edtech, regardless. When the company set its first IPO price range, TechCrunch noted that it was on track to earn a new, higher valuation. This led us to the following set of conclusions:

If Duolingo poses a strong debut, consumer edtech startups will be able to add a golden data point to their pitch decks. A strong Duolingo listing could also signal that mission-driven startups can have impressive turns.

And now Duolingo has managed to price above its raised range. Yeehaw, as they say.

In more prosaic terms, Duolingo has set a higher multiple for edtech revenue than we expected it to, implying that the exit value of edtech top line could be greater than private-market investors anticipated. After all, Duolingo was valued at around $2.4 billion last November. At its IPO price, the company’s nondiluted valuation is now $3.66 billion, not counting 765,916 shares that its underwriters may purchase at the $102-per-share price if they so choose.

#china, #duolingo, #ec-edtech, #ec-united-states, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #startup-company, #startups, #unicorn, #united-states, #valuation

Extra Crunch roundup: RapidSOS EC-1, how to prep for an M&A exit, inside Genki Forest

According to one estimate, Americans call 911 about 240 million times every year.

Sending emergency services to the right location sounds straightforward, but each 911 call is routed through one of thousands of call centers known as public safety answering points (PSAPs).

“Every 911 center is very different and they are as diverse and unique as the communities that they serve,” said Karin Marquez, senior director of public safety at RapidSOS.

One PSAP that serves New York City is a 450,000-square-foot, blast-resistant cube set on nine acres, but you also have “agencies in rural America that have one person working 24/7 and they’re there to answer three calls a day,” Marquez noted.

Founded eight years ago, RapidSOS processes more than 150 million emergencies each year across approximately 5,000 PSAPs. The company’s technology helps call centers integrate requests from cell phones, landlines and IoT devices.

“Its technology is almost certainly integrated into the smartphone you’re carrying and many of the devices you have lying around,” Managing Editor Danny Crichton writes in a four-part series that studies the company’s origins and ensuing success:


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


  • Part 1: The early years and why a consumer app company turned to govtech and integrated services for technology and device companies.
  • Part 2: How RapidSOS made its pivot and why its current business model has performed so well.
  • Part 3: To transform 911 services, RapidSOS established dozens of corporate and individual partnerships.
  • Part 4: Examines the future of 911 and RapidSOS in light of limited infrastructure funding.

“I’ve honestly never met a company like RapidSOS with so many signed partnerships,” says Danny, who initially wrote about the firm six years ago.

“It’s closed dozens of partnerships and business development deals, and with some of the biggest names in tech. How does it do it? This story is about how it built a successful BD engine.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How to prepare for M&A, your most likely exit avenue

M&A is the most likely exit avenue for startups

Image Credits: Reinhard Krull / EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The headlines might be littered with mega deals, IPOs and SPACs, but in all likelihood, you will exit your startup via a relatively smaller merger or acquisition, Ben Boissevain writes in a guest column.

“The IPO market is healthy again, but M&A still represents 88% of exits: So far this year, there were 503 IPOs and 5,203 deals,” writes Boissevain, founder of Ascento Capital.

“While it is good to strive for a billion-dollar-plus sale, a successful IPO or a SPAC deal, it is practical to prepare your startup for a smaller transaction.”

Duolingo boosts IPO price target in boon to edtech startups

U.S. edtech company Duolingo bumped up its IPO price range Monday morning, targeting $95 to $100 per share, up from previous guidance of $85 to $95 per share.

“The fact that Duolingo is raising its IPO price range indicates that we are more likely on the path for a strong offering than a weak one,” Alex Wilhelm notes.

Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years

Bottles of tea made by Genki Forest

Image Credits: VCG (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Many Extra Crunch readers will not have heard of China’s fastest-growing bottled beverage company: Genki Forest is a direct-to-consumer startup that started selling its sodas, milk teas and other products just five years ago.

Today, its products are available in 40 countries and the company hopes to generate revenue of $1.2 billion in 2021. After closing its latest funding round, Genki Forest is valued at $6 billion.

Industry watchers frequently compare the upstart to giants like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, but founder Binsen Tang comes from a tech background, having funded ELEX Technology, a social gaming company that found success internationally.

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in 2015, “but it does need good products.”

Leveraging China’s robust distribution network, lighting-fast manufacturing capabilities and a vast pool of data that enables holistic digitization, Genki Forest sells more than 30% of its products online.

“Everything feels right about the company,” said VC investor Anna Fang. “The space, the founder, the products and the back end … they exemplify the new Chinese consumer brand.“

Sequoia’s Mike Vernal outlines how to design feedback loops in the search for product-market fit

Sequoia’s Mike Vernal joined us on TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising to discuss how founders should approach product-market fit, with a specific focus on tempo.

It doesn’t mean fast in the kind of uncontrolled, reckless, crashing sense. It means fast in a sort of consistent, maniacal, get-a-little-bit-better-each-day kind of way. And it’s actually one of the top things that we look for, at least when evaluating a team: How consistently fast they move.

As China shakes up regulations, tech companies suffer

Alex Wilhelm spent the end of last week and the beginning of this one looking at Chinese regulations targeting its edtech sector, aiming to understand “precisely what is going on with the various regulatory changes.”

“For startups, the regulatory changes aren’t a death blow; indeed, many Chinese tech startups won’t be affected by what we’ve seen thus far,” he writes. “But on the whole, it feels like the risk profile of doing business in China has risen.”

Automakers have battery anxiety, so they’re taking control of the supply

04 Porsche Taycan 4S

Image Credits: Porsche AG

To ensure a steady supply of batteries, automakers are increasingly looking to joint ventures.

“Like if you’re VW, and you say, ‘We’re going to go 50% electric by whatever year,’ but then the batteries don’t show up, you’re bankrupt, you’re dead,” Sila Nano CEO Gene Berdichevsky said in a recent interview.

“Their scale is so big that even if their cell partners have promised them to deliver, automakers are scared that they won’t.”

Pro tips from the team behind Kickstarter’s most funded app

Image Credits: AndreyPopov / Getty Images

The team at memoryOS “spent countless hours researching down the rabbit hole of crowdfunding tips and tricks” before it successfully became the most-funded app on Kickstarter, the company’s CEO, Alex Ruzh, writes in a guest column.

“We’re sharing our approach (and secrets) to building a successful crowdfunding campaign because we know just how tough it can be to launch your own product,” he writes.

SOSV partners explain how deep tech startups can fundraise successfully

Startups developing so-called deep tech often find it challenging to raise capital for various reasons.

At TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, two experienced investors, SOSV partners Pae Wu and Garrett Winther, spoke on the subject and advised startups facing a challenging fundraising path.

Checkout is the key to frictionless B2B e-commerce

Processing payments, credit and authorizations for B2B purchases is all handled electronically, but that’s not a panacea.

For example, volume sellers prefer to work through traditional accounts payable systems instead of paying the service fees smaller companies accept as the cost of doing business.

However, the combination of fraud and identity protection with credit handling and digital payments “creates a powerful network, the type that can not only build trust but enable one-click transactions at scale,” says Andrew Steele, an investor at Activant Capital.

 

Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang: CEO coaching is ‘about having a second set of eyes’

At TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang spoke about why he encourages founders in his portfolio to work with executive coaches.

I don’t think you need to limit advice from people who are “been there, done that.” I think it is really important to get input from those people, but in terms of personal development, I think you want insight from people who understand how human beings listen and learn and grow.

#andrew-steele, #china, #cowboy-ventures, #crowdsourcing, #duolingo, #ec-roundup, #extra-crunch-roundup, #kickstarter, #mike-vernal, #startups, #tc, #ted-wang, #venture-capital

Duolingo boosts IPO price target in boon to edtech startups

U.S. edtech company Duolingo released a revised IPO price range this morning, boosting its potential per-share value to $100 after initially targeting a range that topped out at $95 per share.

Per the unicorn’s SEC filings, Duolingo is now targeting a $95 to $100 per share IPO price range, up from $85 to $95 per share, or a gain of around 12% at the bottom and 5% at the top.

TechCrunch previously called the Duolingo debut a bellwether of sorts for the larger U.S. edtech ecosystem; if Duolingo can price and trade well, investors in private companies may be more willing to invest, given a more proven and attractive exit market. On the other hand, if Duolingo prices weakly or trades poorly, the company could place a wet blanket atop the startup edtech world.

The fact that Duolingo is raising its IPO price range indicates that we are more likely on the path for a strong offering than a weak one.

For edtech companies that have hit unicorn status — like Masterclass, Course Hero, Quizlet and Outschool — it’s good news. For reference, those companies have raised $461.4 million, $97.4 million, $62 million and $130 million, respectively, per Crunchbase data.

What’s Duolingo worth?

The terms of the company’s IPO have not changed, aside from its proposed price. So, Duolingo is still selling 3.7 million shares in its debut, and some 1.41 million shares will be sold by existing equity holders. The company’s underwriters also reserved their right to buy 765,916 shares of the company’s stock at IPO price in the 30 days following its debut.

At the upper and lower bands of the company’s IPO price, its simple valuation excluding underwriter shares now lands between $3.41 billion and $3.59 billion. Inclusive of its greenshoe offering, those numbers rise to $3.48 billion and $3.67 billion.

Recall that when private, Duolingo’s November 2020 Series H valued the company at just over $2.4 billion. So long as Duolingo prices in its range, it will provide investors with a nice bump in the value of their investment. Duolingo was valued at just $1.6 billion in mid-2020, indicating that it has more than doubled in value since that investment.

#course-hero, #duolingo, #ec-edtech, #edtech, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #masterclass, #natasha-mascarenhas, #outschool, #quizlet, #startups, #tc

Duolingo’s bellwether IPO

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We were smaller team this week, with Natasha and Alex together with Chris to sort through yet another summer frenzy of a week.

This time around we actually recorded live on Twitter Spaces, which was a first for the podcast. If you missed it, it’s probably because we didn’t promote the taping since it was just an experiment. Good news, though, is that it went well, and we’re going to some more live tapings of the show with the entire crew on the mics. Make sure to follow the show on the Big Tweet to ensure that you can come hang with us next week. We’ll also do some Q&A at the end, if we’re in good moods.

Until then, let’s live in the present. Here’s what we got into in today’s show:

Have a lovely weekend, you lovely human.
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#bolt, #clubhouse, #crypto, #duolingo, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #europe, #fundings-exits, #index, #index-ventures, #language-learning, #mural, #newcampus, #numerade, #opensea, #sololearn, #spreadsheet-com, #startups, #twitter, #twitter-live, #venture-capital

Extra Crunch roundup: Seed stage basics, SaaS marketing live chat, Zoom’s Five9 buy

A famous poem advises us not to compare ourselves with others, “for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

The same holds true for startup fundraising; the size of your seed round will be determined solely by your company’s immediate needs and the investors you’re working with.

“Remember that fundraising is not the goal,” says three-time YC alum Yin Wu. “Building a successful business is.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


If you are an early-stage founder who’s seeking clarity about apportioning equity — or if you’re biting your nails over how much to raise — read this primer. It’s also a useful overview for early employees and co-founders who may be new to startup financing.

Topics covered:

  • How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds
  • How much to raise
  • How to arrive at your valuation

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! I hope you have a great week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Twitter Spaces: SaaS marketing with MKT1 founders Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich

MKT1 Co-Founders Green

Image Credits: MKT1

Join us today at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET/10 p.m. London for a Twitter Spaces conversation with Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich, founders of MKT1, a partnership that advises SaaS startups.

In addition to their work with individual companies, they also run founder workshops, a job board and a marketer-led syndicate.

Emily has built marketing teams from scratch at companies like Asana, Carta, and Astro, and Kathleen has scaled and led marketing and operations teams at several high-growth startups, including Intercom, Box, Facebook and Scalyr.

If you have an Android device or an iPhone and a Twitter account, click here to join the conversation or set a reminder:

https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1vAxRwkMWgzKl?s=20

Duolingo’s IPO could cast golden halo on edtech startups

Alex Wilhelm and Natasha Mascarenhas look into recent figures from U.S. edtech giant Duolingo.

It announced a first price range of $85 to $95 per share, which Alex and Natasha note “feels strong.”

“If Duolingo poses a strong debut, consumer edtech startups will be able to add a golden data point to their pitch decks,” they write. “A strong Duolingo listing could also signal that mission-driven startups can have impressive turns.”

But if it struggles?

“The wave of consumer edtech apps may lose some enthusiasm about going public.”

Outdoorsy co-founders detail how they expanded the sharing economy to RVs

Outdoorsy-founders-series

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Seven years ago, ad executive Jen Young and tech entrepreneur Jeff Cavins stepped away from the careers they’d built to launch Outdoorsy, an RV rental marketplace.

Last month, they announced a partnership with high-end camping company Collective Retreats and raised a $90 million Series D and $40 million in debt to speed up an already impressive rate of growth.

To learn more about their approach to building a transportation company that caters to people who crave a taste of nomadic existence, Rebecca Bella interviewed Young and Cavins for Extra Crunch.

Their conversation explored the impacts of COVID-19, their business strategy and why they decided to take on $30 million in debt financing:

Jeff Cavins: We like to look at macro trends as a business and I think U.S. monetary policy is going to get us all in a little bit of trouble. So we wanted to lock in a credit facility for the company at advantageous terms.

Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst explains how to get ready to raise your next round

Sarah Kunst at Disrupt SF 2017

Image Credits: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

TechCrunch virtually sat down with venture capitalist and Cleo Capital managing director Sarah Kunst at our latest Early Stage event. Kunst joined us to chat about preparing for raising capital in today’s frenetic fundraising environment, digging into the gritty mechanics for the audience.

This post rounds up a few favorite excerpts from the chat, starting with Kunst’s notes on how to make a killer pitch deck.

She also offered advice regarding incorporation, how to find a co-founder and when startups are too large to join an accelerator.

In an increasingly hot biotech market, protecting IP is key

Protecting IP is key for biotechs

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The good news for biotech startups is that investment in the sector is soaring.

“Along the way, founders will need to procure additional investments, develop strategic partnerships and stave off competition,” Kevin A. O’Connor, a partner in the Intellectual Property practice group at Neal Gerber Eisenberg, writes in a guest column. “All of which starts by protecting the fundamental asset of any biotech company: its intellectual property.”

ServiceMax promises accelerating growth as key to $1.4B SPAC deal

Female worker working on a machine in factory. Woman in uniform operating a machine.

Image Credits: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller dug into ServiceMax, a company that builds software for the field-service industry, after it announced it would go public via a SPAC.

“Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption,” they write. “It promises a big change to that storyline, though. Here’s how.”

The head of Citi Ventures on how, and why, to leverage corporate venture arms like his

At our recent Early Stage event, we had the opportunity to talk with Arvind Purushotham, the managing director and global head of Citi Ventures, about how startups should think about corporate venture arms, including what a check from an enterprise like Citi can mean, and how to leverage that kind of goliath once it’s already a financial partner.

For founders trying to understand the benefits and potential pitfalls of working with a corporate venture arm versus a more traditional venture team, it’s worth zipping through this discussion.

Robinhood targets IPO valuation up to $35B amid warning that crypto incomes are slipping

Alex Wilhelm considers what Robinhood’s first IPO price range ($38 to $42 per share) means for the U.S. consumer fintech giant and whether we can expect it to raise the range again before it debuts.

In picking apart Robinhood’s latest filing, Alex noticed an aside about decreased crypto trading volume.

“Because Robinhood deals with consumers, who might decide to trade less in time, it has more uncertainty in its future growth than, say, Zoom,” he notes.

The Zoom-Five9 deal is a big bet for the video conferencing company

Video Conferencing Software Zoom Goes Public On Nasdaq Exchange

Image Credits: Kena Betancur / Getty Images

Zoom plans to spend a little less than a sixth of its value on Five9, which sells software that allows users to reach customers across platforms and record notes on their interactions.

Alex Wilhelm notes “that Five9’s revenue growth rate is a fraction of Zoom’s.”

“The larger company, then, is buying a piece of revenue that is growing slower than its core business. That’s a bit of a flip from many transactions that we see, in which the smaller company being acquired is growing faster than the acquiring entity’s own operations.

“Why would Zoom buy slower growth for so very much money?”

AngelList Venture’s Avlok Kohli on rolling funds and the busy state of VC

Few companies have deeper insights into the day-by-day state of venture capital than AngelList.

According to the company’s data, over 51% of the “top tier U.S. VC deals” involve their platform and tools, giving them a remarkably expansive view of everything going on.

AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss topics ranging from the state of the market to his thoughts on why there’s suddenly so much money flooding into VC (sending valuations to the sky), and where AngelList could go from here.

#angellist, #duolingo, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #five9, #growth-marketing, #mkt1, #outdoorsy, #sarah-kunst, #servicemax, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #startups, #tc, #verified-experts, #yin-wu

Duolingo’s IPO could cast golden halo on edtech startups

Edtech giant Duolingo set an initial price range for its impending IPO today. The unicorn expects to price in its public debut at $85 to $95 per share, selling 3,700,000 in the deal.

Another 1,406,113 shares are being sold by existing shareholders, and 765,916 shares are being offered to underwriting banks as part of the transaction. All told, the company may see 5,872,029 shares trade hands in its IPO, worth some $557,842,755. Duolingo itself can raise as much as $424,262,020 in gross proceeds at its current range, provided that its underwriting banks exercise their option.

The IPO is a material fundraising event for the company. Before its public offering, the largest single hit of capital that Duolingo raised was a $45 million Series D from 2015.

Let’s dig into what Duolingo, which we profiled in much more detail here, is worth at its IPO price and peek at its preliminary second-quarter results. Our goal will be to understand its valuation in the context of its growth. From there, we’ll be able to draw some general conclusions about the larger edtech startup market.

What’s it worth?

After its IPO, Duolingo will have 35,892,152 shares outstanding, sans its underwriter’s option. At the lower and upper bounds of its simple IPO valuation, Duolingo is worth $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion.

As with every company going public, Duolingo’s IPO valuation rises if we include shares that have vested in RSU or options form, but have yet to be exercised. In the case of Duolingo, its share count rises to 43,776,271, per an initial TechCrunch analysis of the company’s RSU and options details provided in its S-1 filing. At that share count, Duolingo is worth $3.7 billion to $4.2 billion.

For every number provided, the company’s underwriter’s option adds modestly.

All valuations listed above are a premium over the company’s final private price set during its November 2020 Series H round of funding. That $35 million round valued the company at around $2.4 billion.

At first blush, then, the company’s IPO price range feels strong, regardless of whether we lean on simple or fully diluted share counts to come to a new price for the firm. But how do its new valuations stack against its recent revenue? Let’s find out.

#duolingo, #ec-edtech, #edtech, #education, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #s-1, #tc