The GoPro-ification of the iPhone

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, we talked about some sunglasses from a company that many people do not like very much. This week, we’re talking about Apple and the company 1,600 times smaller than it that’s facing similar product problems.

Thanks for joining in — follow my tweets @lucasmtny for more.


(Photo by Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc.)

the big thing

When you get deep enough into the tech industry, it’s harder to look at things with a consumer’s set of eyes. I’ve felt that way more and more after six years watching Apple events as a TechCrunch reporter, but sometimes memes from random Twitter accounts help me find the consumer truth I’m looking for.

As that dumb little tweet indicates, Apple is charging toward a future where it’s becoming a little harder to distinguish new from old. The off-year “S” period of old is no more for the iPhone, which has seen tweaks and new size variations since 2017’s radical iPhone X redesign. Apple is stretching the periods between major upgrades for its entire product line and it’s also taking longer to roll out those changes.

Apple debuted the current bezel-lite iPad Pro design back in late 2018 and it’s taken three years for the design to work its way down to the iPad mini while the entry-level iPad is still lying in wait. The shift from M1 Macs will likely take years as the company has already detailed. Most of Apple’s substantial updates rely on upgrades to the chipsets that they build, something that increasingly makes them look and feel like a consumer chipset company.

This isn’t a new trend, or even a new take, it’s been written lots of times, but it’s particularly interesting as the company bulks up the number of employees dedicated to future efforts like augmented reality, which will one day soon likely replace the iPhone.

It’s an evolution that’s pushing them into a similar design territory as action camera darling GoPro, which has struggled again and again with getting their core loyalists to upgrade their hardware frequently. These are on laughably different scales, with Apple now worth some $2.41 trillion and GoPro still fighting for a $1.5 billion market cap. The situations are obviously different, and yet they are both facing similar end-of-life innovation questions for categories that they both have mastered.

This week GoPro debuted its HERO10 Black camera, which brings higher frame rates and a better performing processor as it looks to push more of its user audience to subscription services. Sound familiar? This week, Apple debuted its new flagship, the iPhone 13 Pro, with a faster processor and better frame rates (for the display not the camera here, though). They also spent a healthy amount of time pushing users to embrace new services ecosystems.

Apple’s devices are getting so good that they’re starting to reach a critical feature plateau. The company has still managed to churn out device after device and expand their audience to billions while greatly expanding their average revenue per user. Things are clearly going pretty well for the most valuable company on earth, but while the stock has nearly quadrupled since the iPhone X launch, the consumer iPhone experience feels pretty consistent. That’s clearly not a bad thing, but it is — for lack of a better term — boring.

The clear difference, among 2.4 trillion others, is that GoPro doesn’t seem to have a clear escape route from its action camera vertical.

But Apple has been pushing thousands of employees toward an escape route in augmented reality, even if the technology is clearly not ready for consumers and they’re forced to lead with what has been rumored to be a several-thousand-dollar AR/VR headset with plenty of limitations. One of the questions I’m most interested in is what the iPhone device category looks likes once its unwieldy successor has reared its head. Most likely is that the AR-centric devices will be shipped as wildly expensive iPhone accessories and a way to piggy back off the accessibility of the mobile category while providing access to new — and more exciting — experiences. In short, AR is the future of the iPhone until AR doesn’t need the iPhone anymore. 


Image Credits: Tesla

other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Everything Apple announced this week
Was it the most exciting event Apple has ever had? Nah. Are you still going to click that link to read about their new stuff? Yah.

GoPro launches the HERO10 Black
I have a very soft spot in my heart for GoPro, which has taken a niche corner of hardware and made a device and ecosystem that’s really quite good. As I mentioned above, the company has some issues making significant updates every year, but they made a fairly sizable upgrade this year with the second-generation of their customer processor and some performance bumps across the board.

Tesla will open FSD beta to drivers with good driving record
Elon Musk is pressing ahead with expanding its “Full Self-Driving” software to more Tesla drivers, saying that users who paid for the FSD system can apply to use the beta and will be analyzed by the company’s insurance calculator bot. After 7 days of good driving behavior, Musk says users will be approved.

OpenSea exec resigns after ‘insider trading’ scandal
NFTs are a curious business; there’s an intense amount of money pulsating through these markets — and little oversight. This week OpenSea, the so-called “eBay of NFTs,” detailed that its own VP of Product had been trading on insider information. He was later pushed to resign.

Apple and Google bow to the Kremlin
Apple and Google are trying to keep happy the governments of most every market in which they operate. That leads to some uncomfortable situations in markets like Russia, where both tech giants were forced by the Kremlin to remove a political app from the country’s major opposition party.


Gitlab logo

Image Credits: Gitlab

extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

What could stop the startup boom?
“…We’ve seen record results from citiescountries and regions. There’s so much money sloshing around the venture capital and startup worlds that it’s hard to recall what they were like in leaner times. We’ve been in a bull market for tech upstarts for so long that it feels like the only possible state of affairs. It’s not…”

The value of software revenue may have finally stopped rising
“…I’ve held back from covering the value of software (SaaS, largely) revenues for a few months after spending a bit too much time on it in preceding quarters — when VCs begin to point out that you could just swap out numbers quarter to quarter and write the same post, it’s time for a break. But the value of software revenues posted a simply incredible run, and I can’t say “no” to a chart…

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing
“…The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per PitchbBook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation…”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-silicon, #ebay, #extra-crunch, #google, #gopro, #ios, #ipad, #iphone, #iphone-12-pro, #iphone-5s, #major, #mobile-phones, #musk, #reporter, #russia, #tablet-computers, #tc, #technology, #venture-capital, #week-in-review

OpenSea admits incident as top exec is accused of trading NFTs on insider information

The “eBay of NFTs” is running into a scandal as it admits one of its employees traded the crypto digital assets using insider information from the platform.

Yesterday, a top executive at NFT platform OpenSea was accused of front-running sales on the platform, purchasing pieces from NFT collections before they were featured on the homepage of the platform. According to Twitter user @ZuwuTV, the startup’s Head of Product was using secret crypto wallets to buy drops before they listed on the main page of OpenSea, selling them shortly after they were highlighted publicly by OpenSea, and funneling the profits back to his main account. Users linked to a handful of transactions from accounts linked back to the executive on the public blockchain including an NFT drop that was, at the time, actively listed on the front page of the platform.

Today, OpenSea seemed to acknowledge the incident, saying in a blog post that it had “learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly.” The company did not identify the employee but said that they were conducting an “immediate” review of the incident. The startup, which was recently valued at $1.5 billion after raising a $100 million Series B from Andreessen Horowitz, added in the unsigned blog post that this incident was “incredibly disappointing.”

“We’re conducting a thorough review of yesterday’s incident and are committed to doing the right thing for OpenSea users,” OpenSea CEO Devin Finzer said in a tweet.

OpenSea, which did a record $3.4 billion in transaction volume last month, appears not to have had any rules in places preventing employees from using confidential information to buy or sell NFTs on its own platform to its own users. The company detailed that it was now implementing a policy that team members could not buy or sell “from collections or creators while we are featuring or promoting them,” and that they are “prohibited from using confidential information to purchase or sell any NFTs, whether available on the OpenSea platform or not.”

Most NFTs are not generally assumed to be securities, despite little official guidance from the SEC on the crypto asset class. Some in the space have questioned whether different mechanics around buying and selling, alongside ongoing rewards structures may be pushing some NFT sales further into securities territory.

“Many have been enticed by dramatic jumps in the value of new digital assets,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown said in a hearing yesterday — as transcribed by The Block — where the relationship between crypto markets and SEC enforcement was discussed. “Some professional investors and celebrities make earning millions look easy. But, as we are reminded time and again, it’s never that simple – and too often, someone’s quick profit comes at the expense of workers and entire communities.”

We’ve reached out to OpenSea for further comment.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchains, #ceo, #chairman, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #ebay, #ethereum, #executive, #head, #opensea, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

Sendoso nabs $100M as its corporate gifting platform passes 20,000 customers

Corporate gift services have come into their own during the Covid-19 pandemic by standing in as a proxy for other kinds of relationship building activities — office meetings, lunches, and hosting at events — that have traditionally been part and parcel of how people do business, but were no longer feasible during lockdowns, social distancing and offices closing their doors.

Now, Sendoso — a popular “end-to-end” gifting platform offering access to 30,000 products including corporate swag, regular physical gifts, gift cards and more; and then providing services like logistics, packing and sending to get those gifts to the recipients — is announcing $100 million of funding to capitalize on this shift, led by a big new investor.

New backer SoftBank, via its Vision Fund 2, is leading this latest Series C round of funding. Oak HC/FT, Struck Capital, Stage 2 Capital, Craft Ventures, Signia Venture Partners and Felicis Ventures — all previous investors — are also participating.

The company has been on a strong growth trajectory for years now, but it specifically saw a surge of activity as the pandemic kicked off. It now has more than 20,000 businesses signed up and using its services, particularly for sales and marketing outreach, but also to help shore up morale among employees.

“Everyone was stuck at home by themselves, saturated with emails,” said Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO of Sendoso, in an interview. “Having a personal connection to sales prospects, employees and others just meant more.” It has now racked up some 3 million gifts sent since launching in 2016.

Sendoso is not disclosing its valuation, but Rudeegraap hinted that it was four times higher than the startup’s Series B valuation from 2020. PitchBook estimates that to be $160 million, which would make the current valuation $640 million. The company has now raised over $150 million.

Rudeegraap said Sendoso will be using the funds in part to invest in a couple of areas. First, to hire more talent: it has 500 employees now and plans to grow that by 30% by the end of this year. And second, international expansion: it is setting up a European HQ in Dublin, Ireland to complement its main office in San Francisco.

Comcast, Kimpton Hotels, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq and eBay are among its current customers — so this is in part to serve those customers’ global user bases, as well as to sign up new gifters. He estimated that the bigger market for corporate gifting is about $100 billion annually, so there is a lot to play for here.

The company was co-founded by Rudeegraap and Braydan Young (who is its chief alliances officer) on the back of a specific need Rudeegraap identified while working as a sales executive. Gifting is a very standard practice in the world of sales and marketing, but he was finding a lot of traction with potential and current customers by taking a personalized approach to this act.

“I was manually packing boxes, grabbing swag, coming up with handwritten notes,” he recalled. “It was inefficient, but it worked so well. So I dreamed up an idea: why not be able to click a button in Salesforce to do this automatically? Sometimes the best company is one that solves a pain point of your own.”

And this is essentially what Sendoso does. The startup’s platform integrates with a company’s existing marketing, sales and management software — Salesforce, HubSpot, SalesLoft among them — and then lets users use this to organize and order gifts through these channels, for example as part of larger sales, marketing or HR strategies. The gifts are wide-ranging, covering corporate swag, other physical presents, gift cards and more, and there are also integrations you can include to share gifting across teams of salespeople, to analyze the campaigns and more.

The Sendoso platform itself, meanwhile, positions itself as having the “marketplace selection and logistics precision of Amazon.com.” But Sendoso also believes it’s better than someone simply using Amazon.com itself since it ultimately takes a more personalized approach in how it presents the gift.

“There are a lot of things we do uniquely in terms of what we have built throughout our software, gifting options and logistics centre. We really personalize our gifts at scale with handwritten notes, special boxing, and more,” something that Amazon cannot do, he added. “We have built a lot of unique technology and logistics software that would make it hard for Amazon to compete.” He said that one of Sendoso’s integrations is actually with Amazon, so Sendoso users can order through there, but then the gift is first routed to Sendoso to be repackaged in a nicer way before being sent out.

At its heart, the startup has built a way of knitting together disparate work practices — some codified in software, and some based on human interactions and significantly more infused with randomness, emotion and ad hoc approaches — and built it all into a technology platform. The ability to scale what feels like an otherwise bespoke level of service is what has helped Sendoso gain traction not just with users, but investors, too:

“We believe Sendoso offers the most comprehensive end-to-end gifting platform in the market,” said Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “Their platform includes a global marketplace of curated vendors, seamless integration with existing tools, global logistics, and deep analytics. As a result, Sendoso serves as the backbone to enterprises’ engagement programs with prospective customers, existing customers, employees and other key stakeholders. We’re excited to lead this Series C round to help Sendoso accelerate its vision.”

#amazon, #amazon-com, #business, #ceo, #comcast, #companies, #craft-ventures, #dublin, #ebay, #economy, #enterprise, #felicis-ventures, #funding, #gift, #gift-card, #giving, #hubspot, #ireland, #marketing, #partner, #salesforce, #salesloft, #san-francisco, #sendoso, #signia-venture-partners, #softbank, #softbank-group, #stage-2-capital, #struck-capital, #vision-fund

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

#agile-software-development, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ceo, #cisco, #computer-security, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyactive, #devops, #ebay, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #funding, #google, #ibm, #jp-morgan-chase, #kindred-capital, #maryland, #microsoft, #paypal, #security, #software, #software-development, #startup-company, #symantec, #technology

xentral, an ERP platform for SMBs, raises $75M Series B from Tiger Global and Meritech

Enterprise Resource Planning systems have traditionally been the preserve of larger companies, but in recent years the amount of data small medium sized businesses can generate has increased to the point where even SMEs/SMBs can get into the world of ERP. And that’s especially true for online-only businesses.

At the beginning of the year we covered the $20 million Series A funding of Xentral, a German startup that develops ERP for online small businesses, but it clearly didn’t plan to stop there.

It’s now raised a $75 million Series B funding from Tiger Global and Meritech, following up from existing investors Sequoia Capital, Visionaries Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin), and Freigeist.

The cash will be used to enhance product, hire staff and expand the UK operation towards a more global ERP market, which is expected to reach $32 billion by 2023.

Speaking to me over a call, Benedikt Sauter, founder and CEO of central, said: “We hook into Shopify, eBay, Amazon, Magento, WooCommerce, and also CRM systems like Pipedrive to collect the software together in one place, and try to do it all automatically in the background so that companies can really focus. Our goal is that a business owner who decides on Friday that they need a flexible ERP can implement and configure xentral over the weekend and hand it over to their team on Monday.”

The German startup covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting, and sales management, and, right now, the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany. Customers include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global, said: “Our diligence has uncovered a delighted customer base at xentral and a product offering that has evolved into a true mission-critical platform for ecommerce merchants globally. We are excited to partner with such product visionaries as Benedikt and Claudia as the business scales to serve customers not only in Europe but around the globe in the future.”

Xentral was Sequoia’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region this year. Sequoia backed other European startups before, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n, and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from the US. Sequoia and its new partner in Europe, Luciana Lixandru, is understood to be joining Xentral’s board along with Visionaries’ Robert Lacher.

Alex Clayton, General Partner at Meritech said: “Meritech invested in NetSuite in 2008 with the vision of bringing ERP to the cloud… We believe that xentral will bring automation to hundreds of thousands SME businesses, dramatically improving multi-channel processes and data management in an ever-growing e-commerce market.”

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his wife) built the early prototype of central originally for their first business in computer hardware sales.

#amazon, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #business, #business-partner, #ceo, #co-founder, #crm, #data-management, #ebay, #erp-software, #europe, #general-partner, #germany, #graphcore, #klarna, #luciana-lixandru, #magento, #meritech, #netsuite, #online-payments, #partner, #pipedrive, #sequoia-capital, #shopify, #tc, #tiger-global, #uipath, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #visionaries-club, #woocommerce, #xentral, #yfood

Growth tactics that will jump-start your customer base

Five years ago, the playbook for launching a new company involved a tried-and-true list of to-dos. Once you built an awesome product with a catchy name, you’d try to get a feature article on TechCrunch, a front-page hit on Hacker News, hunted on ProductHunt and an AMA on Quora.

While all of these today remain impressive milestones, it’s never been harder to corral eyeballs and hit a breakout adoption trajectory.

In this new decade, it is possible to first out-market your competitor, and then raise lots of money, hire the best team and build, rather than the other way around (building first, then marketing).

Outbound marketing tools and company newsletters are useful, but they’re also a slow burn and offer low conversion in the new creator economy. So where does this leave us?

With audiences spread out over so many platforms, reaching cult status requires some level of hacking. Brand-building is no longer a one-hit game, but an exercise in repetition: It may take four or five times for a user to see your startup’s name or logo to recognize, remember or Google it.

Below are some growth tactics that I hope will help jump-start the effort to building an engaged user base.

Laying the groundwork for user-generated content

Before users are evangelists, they are observers. Consider creating a bot to alert you of any product mentions on Twitter, or surface subject-matter discussions on Reddit (“Best tools to manage AWS costs?” or “Which marketplace do you resell your old electronics on?”), which you can then respond to with thoughtful commentary.

Join relevant communities on Discord, infiltrate Slack groups of relevant conferences (including past iterations of a conference  —  chances are those groups are still alive with activity), follow forums on StackOverflow and engage in the discussions on all these channels.

The more often you post, the better your posts convert. The more your handle appears on newsfeeds, the more likely it will be included on widely quoted “listicles.”

Most “user-generated content” in the early innings should be generated by you, from both personal accounts and company accounts.

Build in public …

Building in public is scary given the speed at which ideas can be copied, but competition will always exist, since new ideas are not born in vacuums. Companies like Railway and Replit post to Twitter every time they post a new changelog. Stir brands its feature releases as “drops,” similar to streetwear drops.

Building in public can also lend opportunities for virality, which requires drama, comedy or both. Hey.com’s launch was buoyed by Basecamp’s public fight against Apple over existing App Store take rates.

Mmhmm, the virtual camera app that adds TV-presenter flair to video meetings, launched with a viral video that hit over 1.5 million views. The company continues to release entertaining YouTube demos to showcase new use cases.

Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.

… or build in private

Like an artist teasing an upcoming album, some companies are able to drum up substantial anticipation ahead of exiting stealth mode. When two ex-Apple execs founded Humane, they crafted beautiful social media pages full of sophisticated photography without revealing a single hint of what they set out to build.

#airbnb, #column, #ebay, #ec-column, #ec-growth-marketing, #ec-how-to, #hims, #quora, #social, #social-media, #startups, #tc

eBay manager imprisoned for harassment of journalists the CEO wanted to “take down”

A person's hand inserting a key into the lock on a jail-cell door.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Charles O’Rear)

A former eBay security manager who pleaded guilty for his role in a cyberstalking conspiracy was sentenced to 18 months in prison yesterday.

Philip Cooke, former senior manager of security operations for eBay’s Global Security Team, pleaded guilty in October 2020 to one count of conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and one count of conspiracy to commit witness tampering. He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on each charge with the two sentences to be served concurrently, according to an order issued in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He was also fined $15,000 and sentenced to supervised release of three years after he gets out of prison.

The Department of Justice alleged that, in 2019, Cooke helped plan and attempt to cover up the stalking of Ina and David Steiner of Natick, Massachusetts, who run the news website EcommerceBytes. Cooke was one of seven eBay employees accused of harassment involving sending threatening messages and deliveries of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a bloody pig mask to the couple’s home. Several conspirators allegedly traveled from California to Massachusetts to conduct surveillance on the couple, but Cooke was not among them. Cooke wasn’t included in the initial charges filed in June 2020 but was charged a few weeks later.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cyberstalking, #ebay, #policy

Lawsuit: eBay tried to “terrorize, stalk and silence” couple that ran news site

A bloody pig mask purchased on Amazon.

Enlarge / A bloody pig mask mailed to cyberstalking victims by then-eBay employees. (credit: FBI)

A former eBay security official who pleaded guilty for his role in a cyberstalking conspiracy has asked for leniency in sentencing while blaming his actions in part on a “drinking culture” at eBay that contributed to his alcoholism.

“eBay had a bar on campus that opened at 3:00 p.m., and drinking was part of the culture, with alcohol present throughout the office space where it was typical to take morning shots of alcohol with co-workers,” a sentencing memorandum for 56-year-old defendant Philip Cooke said yesterday. It was filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Cooke was senior manager of security operations for eBay’s Global Security Team, making an annual salary of $185,000, when he played a role in the harassment of a couple that operated a news website. The harassment—in response to news coverage that eBay executives did not like—involved sending threatening messages and deliveries of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a bloody pig mask to the couple’s home in Natick, Massachusetts. Cooke was promoted by eBay to Director of Security Operations and given a raise to $205,000 in June 2020, about 10 months after the cyberstalking campaign began and just before it became public.

Read 33 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cyberstalking, #ebay, #policy

Android announces six new features, emphasizing safety and accessibility

Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.

Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.

When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.

Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #california, #computing, #ebay, #etsy, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #greece, #kazakhstan, #kroger, #mobile-linux, #myfitnesspal, #new-zealand, #nike, #operating-systems, #philippines, #postmates, #siri, #smartphones, #snapchat, #software, #spotify, #turkey, #walmart, #wayfair, #whatsapp, #yahoo

Amazon, eBay fight legislation that would unmask third-party sellers

Boxes move along a conveyor belt at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey.

Enlarge / Boxes move along a conveyor belt at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey. (credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Amazon and a who’s who of online-only retailers are trying to kill proposed federal and state legislation that would make the companies disclose contact information for third-party sellers.

The bills would force Amazon and others to verify the identities of third-party sellers and provide consumers with ways to contact the stores. The proposed legislation is pitting brick-and-mortar retailers—including Home Depot, Walgreens, and JC Penney, which support the bills—against online retailers like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Poshmark, and others, which argue that the legislation would harm small sellers. 

The bills come as brick-and-mortar retailers lost ground to online retailers throughout the pandemic—in 2020, 20 percent of consumer retail purchases were made online, compared with about 14 percent in 2019. But the legislation is also being proposed in response to a slew of counterfeit, stolen, and dangerous items that have appeared on marketplace sites. 

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#amazon, #e-commerce, #ebay, #policy

SpecTrust raises millions to fight cybercrime with its no-code platform

Risk defense startup SpecTrust is emerging from stealth today with a $4.3 million seed raise and a public launch.

Cyber Mentor Fund led the round, which also included participation from Rally Ventures, SignalFire, Dreamit Ventures and Legion Capital.

SpecTrust aims to “fix the economics of fighting fraud” with a no-code platform that it says cuts 90% of a business’ risk infrastructure spend that responds to threats in “minutes instead of months.” 

“In January of 2020, I got a bug in my ear to, instead of an API, build a cloud-based service that handles all this complex orchestration and unifies all this data,” said CEO Nate Kharrl, who co-founded the company with Bryce Verdier and Patrick Chen. “And, it worked. And it worked fast enough that you can’t even tell it’s there doing its work.”

For example, he says, SpecTrust even in its early days was able to pull identity behavior information in seconds.

“Today, it’s more like five and seven milliseconds,” he said. “And, engineers don’t have to lift anything or adjust data models.”

Since the San Jose, California-based startup’s offering is deployed on the internet, between a website or app and its users, an organization gets fraud protection without draining the resources of its engineers, the company says. Founded by a team that ran risk management divisions at eBay and ThreatMetrix, SpecTrust is banking on the fact that companies — especially financial institutions — will be drawn to the flexibility afforded by a no-code offering.

Much of the industry is split up between compliance and onboarding, authenticating risk and payments, and user trust and safety, Kharrl said.

“We put all the tools together to address all things combined, to make sure the person an institution is talking to is who they say they are, and not acting with malicious intent,” he told TechCrunch. “We sit in between them and their traffic to make sure the risk and fraud teams have what they need to spot bad guys.”

Image Credit: SpecTrust

Online businesses spend billions on risk defense yet still lose a lot of money to fraudsters, scammers and identity thieves, Kharrl said. And, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global shift in the digital economy as more people came to rely on the internet to meet day-to-day needs. 

“With these new trends in commerce and banking came more opportunities for fraudsters, scammers and identity thieves to target people and businesses,” he added. For example, an alarming number of cybercriminals employed no-code attack tools and click-to-deploy infrastructure to launch sophisticated attacks.

Fintech and crypto companies are feeling the biggest impacts, as legacy software designed for big banks, for example, can be slow and expensive, said Kharrl. 

We built SpecTrust to instantly put complete assessment, automation and enforcement capabilities in the hands of teams charged with fighting modern cybercrime threats,” he said.

Using its platform, the company says an organization’s risk team can review and investigate everything a customer does “from its first page view to its last click with unified behavior, identity, history and risk data.” 

Even non-technical staffers can do things like identify attack behavior, verify customer identity information, validate payment details and work to mitigate threats before they become losses, according to Kharrl.

Jon Lim of SignalFire says that SpecTrust has built an end-to-end risk protection platform that enables customers of all sizes and risk profiles “to access the latest innovative risk protection solutions, quickly respond to the evolving threat landscape and share the best practices and learnings across the entire customer base.”

And of course, it was drawn to the startup’s no-code platform and ability to provide visibility over every user interaction versus treating each interaction as an independent event.

“This not only delivers stronger protection to customers but also a smoother experience to the end user,” Lim said.

The fraud prevention space is hot these days. Sift, which also aims to predict and prevent fraud, in April raised $50 million in a funding round that valued the company at over $1 billion.

#banking, #credit-card-fraud, #cybercrime, #dreamit-ventures, #ebay, #fraud-prevention, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-theft, #rally-ventures, #recent-funding, #risk, #security, #signalfire, #startup, #startups, #tc, #threatmetrix, #venture-capital

Prime today, gone tomorrow: Chinese products get pulled from Amazon

If you ever bought power banks, water bottles, toys, or other daily goods on Amazon, the chances are your suppliers are from China. Analysts have estimated that the share of Chinese merchants represented 75% of Amazon’s new sellers in January, up from 47% the year before, according to Marketplace Pulse, an e-commerce research firm.

Chinese sellers are swarming not just Amazon but also eBay, Wish, Shopee and Alibaba’s AliExpress. The boom is in part a result of intense domestic competition in China’s online retail world, which forces merchants to seek new markets. Traditional exporters are turning to e-commerce, cutting out excessive distributors. Businesses are enchanted by the tale that a swathe of the priciest property in Shenzhen, the Chinese city known for its vibrant tech industry and expensive apartments, is now owned by people who made a fortune from e-commerce export.

But the get-rich-quick optimism among the cross-border community came to a halt when several top Chinese sellers disappeared from Amazon over the past few days. At least eleven accounts that originate from Greater China were suspended, according to Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of Marketplace Pulse.

Several accounts belong to the same parent firms, as it’s normal for big sellers, those with more than a million dollars in annual sales, to operate multiple brands on Amazon to optimize sales.

TechCrunch has reached out to Mpower and Aukey, whose Amazon stores are gone and were two of the most successful brands native to the American marketplace.

In total, the suspended accounts contribute over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon, said Kaziukenas.

Amazon didn’t comment on the status of the suspended accounts, but said in a statement for TechCrunch that it has “long-standing policies to protect the integrity of our store, including product authenticity, genuine reviews, and products meeting the expectations of our customers.”

“We take swift action against those that violate them, including suspending or removing selling privileges,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

Chinese e-commerce exporters were startled by the incident. Inside WeChat groups where hundreds of sellers normally exchange business strategies, anxiety is rife and the consensus is that the targeted sellers have “crossed the line” in conducting questionable platform practices. Amazon says it shares enforcement actions directly with selling accounts.

“This isn’t the first time Amazon has shut down accounts over fake reviews and other behavior that violate its rules, but the scale of this wave is unprecedented,” said Bill Zhang, who develops and exports smart training suits through Amazon.

It’s no doubt that Amazon needs Chinese suppliers for affordable and diverse products, of which average quality has also increased remarkably in recent years. But as competition heated up among Chinese sellers, black hat tactics that were common in Chinese e-commerce became a necessity to survive on Amazon.

“It’s an open secret that a lot of Chinese sellers are aggressive towards marketing,” Cameron Walker, who worked for an export trade show in China for over a decade before running a toy export business.

One of the common tricks employed by Chinese sellers is review manipulation because reviews affect how a product is listed on Amazon. This can be done by paying real buyers to leave a positive review or sending fake orders and leaving good reviews through zombie accounts.

The latter approach is often delegated to agents that call themselves “product review” services, which offer a suite of resources to emulate real accounts: IP proxies, virtual credit cards, overseas addresses, any pieces of identity that can help avoid suspicion from Amazon’s anti-fake algorithms, said an executive at a payments service who works closely with Chinese exporters.

Another prevalent tactic, which perhaps poses a greater existential crisis to Amazon than fake reviews, is ways to direct buyers away from Amazon onto merchants’ own web stores. Amazon restricts merchants from collecting sensitive buyer information such as emails, but Chinese exporters find a way around: sending postcards to customers asking them to leave reviews on their own websites.

These tricks have been around for years, so what caused the sudden attack at top sellers?

Exporters contacted by TechCrunch pointed to a data breach uncovered by SafetyDetectives, a cybersecurity firm, which contained a trove of direct messages between Amazon sellers soliciting fake reviews from buyers. The data, which implicates more than 200,000 individuals, was hosted on a server that appears to be in China, according to SafetyDetectives’ report.

The report didn’t mention the names of the sellers involved. TechCrunch cannot immediately verify claims in the report.

Amazon did not say whether it was aware of the data breach. It, however, claimed that it uses “machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly” and monitor “all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue.” It also works with social media sites to report “bad actors.”

But bad actors will likely come back even after the latest episodes of crackdowns, said the cross-border payments executive.

“Amazon is fighting an entire lucrative and tight-knit ecosystem of merchants and fake review services, not just a few big sellers.”

In recent years, Amazon has been trying to nudge more new sellers to join and be “good brands,” observed Walker. Merchants now need to meet strict requirements for brand registries, safety testing, and insurance liability, he said.

“It’s getting more difficult and costly to run a business on Amazon.”

These challenges have encouraged hordes of exporters to diversify sales channels beyond Amazon and invest in their own Shopify-based web stores, where they get to write the rules. They are encouraged by what Shein, an independent e-commerce store that sells made-in-China apparel to overseas markets, has achieved. In the first quarter, Shein was the world’s second most downloaded shopping app, according to data provided by app analytics firm SensorTower. Many Chinese sellers dream that one day they, too, could break free from the grip of a behemoth like Amazon.

#alibaba-group, #aliexpress, #amazon, #amazon-marketplace, #asia, #china, #cross-border-commerce, #e-commerce, #ebay, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shein, #shenzhen, #shopee, #shopify, #tc

eBay embraces NFTs

eBay is joining the NFT frenzy, telling Reuters today that going forward it will allow the sales of NFTs on its platform, a mainstream embrace that follows billions of dollars in NFT purchases over the past few months. The e-commerce company seems poised to slowly build up sales of digital collectibles on the platform, starting with a smaller group of verified sellers on the platform.

“In the coming months, eBay will add new capabilities that bring blockchain-driven collectibles to our platform,” eBay exec Jordan Sweetnam told them.

eBay has invested heavily in infrastructure for physical collectibles like trading cards, as well as items like sneakers and watches which they help verify for buyers.

eBay is a major presence in online shopping, but the platform will have its work cut out for it competing with dozens of crypto native NFT marketplaces already out there. While NFT interest has been high as of late, the infrastructure for buying collectibles with cryptocurrencies still isn’t the most user-friendly. Earlier this week, executives at eBay said they were open to accepting cryptocurrencies in the future.

This news comes as the Ethereum cryptocurrency, which is the primary method of purchase for most NFTs, reaches past all-time-highs, currently trading over $4,100.

#articles, #blockchain, #computing, #cryptocurrency, #ebay, #ecommerce, #nft, #online-shopping, #technology

Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berkeley-lab, #biden-administration, #bp-ventures, #capricorn-investment-group, #chevron-technology-ventures, #department-of-energy, #ebay, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #executive, #fiber-optic, #geothermal-energy, #greenhouse-gas, #houston, #jeff-skoll, #renewable-energy, #rice-university, #schlumberger, #stanford-university, #tc, #temasek, #texas, #united-states, #vickers-venture-partners

PayPal’s ambition and uphill battle in China

Over the last few months, PayPal has been quietly gearing up for its expansion in China.

At the recent Boao Forum for Asia, China’s answer to Davos, the American payments giant said its strategy for China is not to challenge the duopoly of Alipay and WeChat Pay. Instead, it wants to focus on cross-border business and provide gateways both for Chinese merchants to collect funds and for Chinese consumers to pay for overseas goods.

It’s certainly a lucrative area. The market size of cross-border e-commerce in China surged from about 3 trillion yuan ($460 million) to nearly 6 trillion yuan between 2016 and 2021, according to market research firm iResearch.

But this space has also become crowded in recent years and PayPal may be late to the fray, said a China-based manager for an American tech giant, who asked for anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

On Amazon, one of the largest marketplaces for Chinese exporters to sell online, there are already established options for merchants to collect funds. Setting up a bank account in a foreign country can be difficult for a small-time Chinese exporter, not to mention the high fees for remittance, so such merchants often seek third-party payments transfer solutions such as U.S.-based Payoneer and Chinese equivalents Pingpong and Lianlian, which charge a relatively small fee to deposit merchants’ sales into their bank accounts at home.

China has stringent policies for foreign exchange and electronic payments, but PayPal has already cleared the regulatory hurdles. In January, the American fintech titan became the first foreign firm to hold a license for online payment processor in China after it bought out shares in a local payments firm.

Obtaining the government greenlight is just the first step. The appeal of PayPal hinges largely on what it can offer to Chinese e-commerce exporters, who are now flooding the likes of Amazon and eBay.

“At the end of the day, customers only care which service is the cheapest and easiest to use,” said the China-based manager from the American firm.

“The Chinese cross-border payment solutions have achieved impressive results in terms of products, scale, and fees,” the person said. “I don’t think PayPal stands a chance.”

Exporters who build their own online stores instead of selling on mainstream marketplaces may still find PayPal necessary as a tool to accept payments from customers, given the app’s wide reach.

As for cross-border payments, PayPal is competing with Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Ant Group’s Alipay, which have long been ubiquitous in China. Both e-wallets have been aggressively growing their global partnerships to let China’s outbound travelers pay at overseas retailers like they would at home. Those shopping for overseas products domestically often use Chinese-owned e-commerce apps, which tend to have Alipay or WeChat Pay as their payment processor. Credit cards never became prevalent in China.

Cross-border payments have also become one of Ant’s main growth goals, according to the prospectus of its now-halted initial public offering. While overseas businesses accounted for just about 5% of the firm’s revenue in the second half of 2020, most of that segment came from cross-border payments. At the time, Ant also had plans to spend HK$52.8 billion, or 40%, of the net proceeds from its IPO on expanding its cross-border payment and merchant services as well as other overseas functionalities.

“It depends on whether PayPal is able to offer even lower fees than Ant,” said a person who previously worked on cross-border wallets for a Chinese company. “But PayPal itself is not famous for low fees.”

#alipay, #amazon, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #cross-border-e-commerce, #ebay, #ecommerce, #finance, #merchant-services, #online-payments, #online-stores, #payments, #payoneer, #paypal, #tc, #tencent, #wechat, #wechat-pay

Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

#afore-capital, #bank, #banking, #debit-card, #drizly, #ebay, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ipad, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luge-capital, #melinda-gates, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #netflix, #new-york, #online-payments, #paypal, #pivotal-ventures, #recent-funding, #spotify, #stadium-goods, #startup, #startups, #tc, #till-financial, #tom-pincince, #united-states, #up, #venture-capital

Backflip offers an easier way to turn used electronics into cold, hard cash

Mike Barile spent two years and racked up nearly $20,000 in credit card debt to bring his first startup, Backflip, to life.

The former management consultant had spent years toiling in the startup grind, first at Uber, then, after taking a coding academy bootcamp through AppAcademy (where Barile met his co-founder, Adam Foosaner), at Google and at a failed cryptocurrency startup.

Burned by the crypto experience, Barile was casting about for his next thing, and trying to find a way to scrape up some rent money, when he hit on the idea for Backflip. The experience of selling electronics online was still shady and Barile and Foosaner thought there had to be a better way.

That way became Backflip. It offers customers cash on delivery for their used electronics — anything from Androids to Xboxes and Apple devices to Gameboys.

When I first started working on backflip back in March 2019, I met this kid named Chris and he wanted to buy some of my old iPhones. He had been a student at USF and as a side hustle he started buying used devices and would refurbish them and then either sell them himself or sell them to an official reseller,” said Barile. “Chris started making so much money he dropped out of school. That was a holy shit moment. He can make a lot of money doing this and he’s doing a really good thing.”

The problem, said Barile, was safety. “He’s got all these devices he’s acquiring paying cash for and he’s driving all around town… Everyone who works in the [refurbish and resell] industry has at least one story about getting robbed at gunpoint.”

Backflip solved that problem by being the intermediary between buyers and sellers and taking a small commission for managing the transaction.

The company raised its first money at the end of 2019, but before that, Foosaner and Barile lived off of credit and used electronics.

So far, Backflip has facilitated the exchange of roughly 3,000 devices. The company handles everything from wiping a device and ensuring its quality to finding a buyer for the electronics. The company pays out roughly $150 per device and has deposited a little over $500,000 with users of the service, according to data provided by the company.

“We did all sorts of stuff to get our first few users,” said Barile. We posted ads on Facebook Marketplace and Craiglist. We started experimenting at the end of the summer with the most bare bones mobile app kind of thing. At that point it was just Adam and I,” Barile said.

Starting now, Backflip is working with UPS stores to provide in-person drop-off and packaging centers for the used electronics. Over time, Barile sees those services expanding to offer cash on delivery. “The experience will be similar to an Amazon return,” he said. “Except we’ll be paying you.”

Currently about half of the company’s inventory is used handsets and mobile devices, but Barile said that could drop to a third of inventory as word spreads about the hundred-odd pieces of electronics that Backflip is willing to

“Unlike other resale options, Backflip prioritizes the user’s time and convenience,” said Foosaner in a statement. “Forget the back-and-forth of negotiating over price and scheduling a meetup. We’re here to do all the work for the seller and make sure they get paid fairly and quickly. Backflip users can know that they’re getting the most for their devices without having to do anything other than bring them to The UPS Store or box them up at home.”

The connection to the refurbishing community started early for Barile, whose mother had a side business called “Stone Cottage Workshop” where she was flipping refurbished furniture on eBay and at local thrift stores near Barile’s bucolic New Jersey hometown.

“We want to build the Amazon of making things disappear from your apartment,” Barile said. 

#amazon, #apple-inc, #e-waste, #ebay, #electronics, #google, #mobile-devices, #tc, #uber

Mercado Libre taps Pachama to monitor and manage its $8 million investment in Latin American rainforest restoration

Mercado Libre, one of the largest e-commerce and financial services company from Latin America by market cap, has selected the startup and Y Combinator alumni Pachama as its strategic partner in developing projects to restore ecosystems in Latin America.

The selection of Pachama is part of a program initiated by Mercado Libre, Latin America’s answer to Amazon, which is called Regenera America. The $8 million that Mercado Libre is investing will be in two reforestation projects: the “Mantiqueira Conservation Project”, organized under the auspices of The Nature Conservancy and the “Corridors of Live Project”, designed and implemented by the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas.

Both projects will focus on the reforestation of over three thosuand hectares, through natural regeneration and planting over 1 million trees, restoring biodiversity corridors and protecting hydrological basins in the Atlantic Forest region of Brazil, the two companies said in a statement.

Pachama will provide satellite and machine learning technologies to verify and monitor the carbon sequestration produced by the sweeping reforestation efforts in a deal which leapfrogs Mercado Libre ahead of Microsoft as the young startup’s largest customer.

Software tools provided by Pachama will also increase the efficiency and transparency of the actual reforestation efforts on the ground, the companies said in a joint statement.

The deal between the two companies, and Mercado Libre’s big buy was announced earlier today at a press conference in Argentina and the agreement marks the first time Mercado Libre has tapped money from a recently issued $400 million Sustainability Bond that was designed to finance projects of what the e-commerce giant called “triple impact” in the Latin American region. The bond was issued by JP Morgan and BNP Paribas.

“We’re taking our first steps. We have always tried to do things the hard way and go to the core of problems. We have had a very interesting debate internally about when is the right time to start buying carbon offsets and carbon credits but we also realize that the … getting up and running of projects that generate carbon credits in Latin America was potentially even more of a challenging situation and more of a longterm solution,” said Mercado Libre chief financial officer Pedro Arnt.

“This is a building block of a longer term strategy thinking through not just what we can do for the next two or three years,” Arnt said. 

The Regenera America project has four pieces, Arnt said: measuring and reporting emissions internally for the company; buying clean energy for the company’s operations; providing electric vehicles for its own fleet and assisting its last mile and logistics partners in electrifying their own transportation; and the development of reforestation efforts across Latin America.

“This is setting up an example for more traditional industries across Latin America,” said Diego Saez-Gil, the co-founder and chief executive of Pachama. MercadoLibre is the largest company by market cap in Latin America and serves as a standard bearer for the forward thinking businesses in the region, he said. “Latin America is one of the biggest holders of biodiversity and carbon stocks in the world, and should be playing a more active role in climate mitigation.”

It’s a big step for Pachama as well. The deal marks the first time the young company has involved itself in project origination and provide a new revenue stream to compliment its existing lines of business.

“We are incredibly excited to start helping new reforestation projects get off the ground that have the capabilities to plant millions of trees and remove millions tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. If we are to solve climate change we need more projects like these to start as soon as possible,” said Saez-Gil in a statement. “We are confident that technologies such as AI and satellite imagery are key to scaling these efforts with high integrity, efficiency and transparency. Partnering with world-class organizations such as Mercado Libre, The Nature Conservancy and IPE for our first projects represents an incredible opportunity for us.” 

#argentina, #artificial-intelligence, #biology, #bnp-paribas, #brazil, #chief-financial-officer, #clean-energy, #diego-saez-gil, #e-commerce, #ebay, #electric-vehicles, #jp-morgan, #latin-america, #mercado-libre, #mercadolibre, #microsoft, #nature-conservancy, #pachama, #partner, #paypal, #satellite-imagery, #tc, #y-combinator

Version 2 of Google’s Flutter toolkit adds support for desktop and web apps

At an online event, Google today announced Flutter 2, the newest version of its open-source UI toolkit for building portable apps. While Flutter started out with a focus on mobile when it first launched two years ago, it spread its wings in recent years and with version 2, Flutter now supports web and desktop apps out of the box. With that, Flutter users can now use the same codebase to build apps for iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux and the web.

“The big thing that justifies the major version number shift is, of course, the availability of web and desktop support,” Flutter product lead Tim Sneath told me. “And that’s just a fairly profound pivot. It’s rare for products that you suddenly have all these additional endpoints.”

Image Credits: Google

He noted that because of Flutter’s open-source nature, web and desktop support had been “cooking in the open” for a while, so the addition of these endpoints isn’t a surprise. A lot of that work in getting these new platforms ready for the 2.0 release involved getting the performance up to par on these new platforms.

It’s worth noting, though, that Flutter desktop support is still behind an early-release flag in Flutter’s stable release channel and Google says developers should think of it as a “beta snapshot.” Web support, however, has transitioned from beta to stable and has become just another target for building apps with Flutter.

Image Credits: Google

On the web platform, specifically, Sneath noted that the team deliberately started out with a very standard, DOM-centric approach. But while that worked fine, it also meant performance was held back by that, especially for more advanced features. Over the course of the last year or so, the team started working on what it calls Canvas Kit. This WebAssembly-based project takes the same Skia graphics engine that powers Android and Chrome itself and makes it available to web apps.

“What that’s meant is that we can now essentially bypass the core HTML — sort of the document-centric parts of the web platform — and really use the app-centric parts of the web platform without leaving [behind] things like auto-complete of text or passwords and all the things that keep the web feeling very unique,” Sneath said.

Image Credits: Google

On the desktop, Google is announcing that Canonical is going all-in on Flutter and making it the default choice of all its future desktop and mobile apps.

Microsoft, too, is expanding its support for Flutter and working with Google on Windows support for Flutter. Given Microsoft’s interest in Android, that’s maybe no huge surprise, and indeed, Microsoft today is releasing contributions to the Flutter engine to help support foldable Android devices.

In total, Google notes, there are now over 15,000 packages for Flutter and Dart from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Huawei, Alibaba, eBay and Square.

As always, there are dozen of other smaller updates to Flutter in this update, too.

Looking ahead, Sneath noted that the Flutter team plans to spend more time on Flutter as a framework for embedded devices and other somewhat non-traditional platforms. He also noted that the team is interested in how Flutter can help power ambient computing experiences.

“As we think about the ambient computing worlds where there are these core premises behind the ambient computing aspects — things like: can it be searched easily? Can people make money off of the apps that they build and do it in a responsible way? We’re building support for those kinds of services. Better analytics, better ads frameworks, connectivity into things like Firebase and Google Cloud, so that people can not just take advantage of Flutter but the broader ecosystem services that Google provides,” Sneath explained.

#android, #chrome-os, #developer, #ebay, #flutter, #google, #linux, #macos, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #software, #tc, #web-apps, #web-development, #web-programming

EBay and Adevinta to sell UK sites Gumtree, Motors.co.uk and Shpock to get their $9.2B deal past regulators

After inking a $9.2 billion deal to merge their classifieds businesses last year, eBay and Norway’s Adevinta have announced a deal to sell off three popular web properties in the UK to get the deal cleared by local regulators, the Competition Markets Authority. The companies plan to sell off Adevina-owned Shpock, and eBay-owned Gumtree and Motors.co.uk — three UK sites that let individuals sell used goods and find/offer services — with the transactions expected to be completed in time for eBay and Adevinta to complete their bigger deal in Q2 2021, pending final regulatory approvals.

“EBay and Adevinta remain excited about the proposed combination of Adevinta and eBay Classifieds Group and now target closing the transaction in Q2 2021, subject to final ratification of the remedies execution plan by the CMA and receipt of outstanding regulatory approval in Austria,” the companies said in a joint statement.

The companies have not yet said whether they plan to sell them in a single package or to independent buyers, but a spokesperson for Adevinta said that it’s likely that the CMA will give another update in 2-4 weeks. She declined to give a price range for the properties.

But in the statement from the companies, eBay said that Gumtree and Motors, which form its UK classifieds business, account for less than 10% of its consolidated revenues ($10.3 billion last year); and Adevinta said that Shpock revenues make up less than 1% of its consolidated revenues (which were about $80 million in the last 12 months). Adevinta is the majority owner of Norwegian publisher Schibsted, among other businesses.

The CMA provisionally has said that it would support the deal if the sale of the three properties gets completed.

“The CMA considers that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the undertakings offered by Adevinta and eBay, or a modified version of them, might be accepted by the CMA under the Enterprise Act 2002,” it noted in a brief update (which was dated 2 March, 2020, although I think that was a typo).

The divestment decision comes as a result of the CMA last month announcing that the deal raised competition concerns as is.

“It is important that people have choice when it comes to selling items they no longer require or searching for a bargain online, and that they can enjoy competitive fees and services,” said CMA’s Joel Bamford, Senior Director of Mergers, in a statement. “There is a realistic chance that without this deal Gumtree and Shpock would have been direct competitors to eBay, which is by far the biggest player in this market. This is the latest in a series of merger probes by the CMA involving large digital companies, where we are thoroughly examining deals to ensure that competition is not restricted, and consumers’ interests are protected.”

Interestingly, one of those other deals also involves eBay, indirectly. Another asset that eBay sold off as part of its wider divestment efforts aiming to streamline its business was selling secondary ticket market company Stubhub to Viagogo in a $4 billion deal. That acquisition closed last year, but then the merger was investigated by the CMA, which last month ordered Viagogo to divest the company’s business outside of North America. It’s a crushing blow when you consider that events have fallen off a virtual cliff (literally and figuratively).

Turning back to Gumtree, Shpock and Motors.co.uk, even if those sites are a relatively small part of eBay and Adevinta’s wider business revenue-wise, collectively they form a very popular option for people looking to buy or sell used goods or hire people for service jobs in the UK. I’ve been a regular user of both in my time, to sell and buy items, and to advertise for/discover several excellent au pairs. Coincidentally, people also use them to resell tickets.

It’s notable that the CMA didn’t consider Facebook, or any others, big enough yet to be seen as viable competitors in that market. It will be worth watching to see how and if that changes though. With deals like last week’s $191 million fundraise for Wallapop, and Facebook’s persistent Marketplace efforts, it is clear that there is still business to be found in classified listings, both as a standalone enterprise, or as something that creates stickiness for users to hang around for other services and advertising alongside them.

#adevinta, #ebay, #ecommerce, #europe, #fundings-exits, #gumtree, #ma, #schibsted, #shpock

After lockdowns boost gaming marketplace Eneba, it raises $8M from Practica and InReach

Eneba, a marketplace for gamers that sells games and other products, has raised a $8M round of funding from Practica Capital and InReach Ventures. The funding is described as a ‘combination’ of a Seed and Series A round. Also participating in the funding for the Lithuanian startup was FJ Labs and a group of Angel investors including Mantas Mikuckas, COO of Vinted. The investment highlights once again the strength of the Baltics region as tech ecosystem, after Lithuania produced its first Unicorn in the shape of Vinted, and Estonia’s added Pipedrive to its unicorns list.

With the increased shift to digital entertainment during the pandemic, the startup has managed to garner much more US traffic. Launched in 2018 by two Lithuanian school friends, Vytis Uogintas and Žygimantas Mikšta, Eneba says it has attracted 26 million unique users because of its security features, ‘one-click to buy’ gamer experience and fingerprinting technology. The site also optimizes its localized gaming experiences to show locally trending gaming products. Eneba’s platform is designed to reduce risky transactions, simplifies the refunding process, and deals with fraud threats.

Co-founder and CMO, Žygimantas Mikšta said: “We had a lot of new users coming to Eneba during these uncertain times. While it was extremely satisfying to see our numbers increasing tenfold, there was a challenge to meet the demand. To better reflect our user numbers, we had to quickly expand our team to 130.”

Security has risen up the agenda in online gaming as virtual goods and services connected to games can be highly susceptible to fraud or theft. Although it competes with outlets like Amazon, eBay, and retailers like Gamestop, Game.co.uk, Eneba think they’ve found a better, tailored online pre/post-buying experience for gamers, while addressing the risk problems for sellers and buyers in the gaming world.

Donatas Keras, partner at Practica Capital said: “We are thrilled to be backing Vytis and Žygimantas. We’ve been impressed by their ability to execute at such speed as their company quickly scales, and to drive an incredible product with a unique value proposition for gamers.”

Co-founder of InReach Ventures, Roberto Bonanzinga, said: “In Europe we have a tradition of building successful companies in the gaming space. We are very excited to have discovered Eneba thanks to our AI platform when the company was unknown and under the radar. We have been extremely impressed by what the founders have been able to build in such a short amount of time.”

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #companies, #coo, #ebay, #estonia, #europe, #fj-labs, #game-co-uk, #gamestop, #inreach-ventures, #lithuania, #online-gaming, #partner, #pipedrive, #retailers, #tc, #unicorn, #united-states, #vinted

eBay takes a bite at StockX and GOAT with sneaker authentication for sales $100+ in the U.S.

eBay is announcing today that it’s going to start authenticating sneaker sales over $100 in the U.S. This is a clear bite into the dominance of StockX and GOAT in the limited sneaker universe.

The authentication will be done by Sneaker Con, the company that runs, well, Sneaker Con. Founded by Yu-Ming Wu and Hayden Sharitt, Sneaker Con was infused with cash by Visionary Private Equity Group in 2018. They provide a well known and influential backer in the sneakerhead community that should provide a solid signal for buyers and sellers. It’s a good choice.

The quick story here is that eBay’s rep for authentic merch is, uh, not great — especially the sneaker universe where fakes can be virtually indistinguishable from authentic items. Though the brands themselves have toyed with different ways to authenticate from NFC tags to blockchain solutions, the counterfeiters have kept up with those various methods too and clone them quickly. About the only way to guarantee authenticity is to get the product in hand and have them examined by people trained to spot fakes. In some cases that spotting can be as granular as counting the number of stitches thrown in between two segments of a shoe, or observing the glue pattern of a midsole joint.

The program sounds pretty much the same as the others on the market.

  • Proof of Authentication: Upon receiving the sneakers, the independent authenticator confirms
    they are consistent with the listing title, description, and images, and then performs a multi-point
    physical authentication inspection. An eBay tag, guaranteeing its authenticity is attached to the
    sneakers to finalize the process, driving confidence in the collectibility and resale value.
  • Third-Party Authentication: eBay has partnered with industry leader Sneaker Con to create a
    new state-of-the-art facility – leveraging the top authenticators in the industry, a robust checklist
    of product specifications, and best-in-class processes to ensure accuracy and efficiency. With
    rigorous inspection of the box, shoe, and accessories, the authentication underscores eBay’s
    commitment to giving shoppers exactly what they want.
  • Verified Returns: For sellers who choose to offer returns, eBay’s sneaker authentication
    program ensures the exact item initially sold is returned to the seller, via a verified returns
    process. Returns are shipped back directly to the authentication center, where the third-party
    experts verify each item and its condition before returning to the seller.

eBay’s reluctance to spin up an person-in-the-middle authentication program allowed a gap for StockX and GOAT to thrive, offering authentication for new and, in GOAT’s case, even pre-owned sneakers. The eBay authentication tags even look like those offered by the two players. eBay had already launched its Authenticity Guarantee for watches over $2,000 (StockX also sells watches.)

The power of authenticity, of course, is what drives the booming secondary market, where shoes can be limited to thousands of pairs or even dozens of pairs per release. Sneaker culture, which was born on the basketball court and driven largely by Black athletes, musicians and icons, is now squarely mainstream and very big business. eBay has been slow to move here but has significant resources and already does brisk sneaker business with 6 million sneakers sold in 2019.

One note here is that this may drive higher margin business for eBay because higher end sales in the $500+ range are harder to justify on eBay where authenticity was not guaranteed. eBay was likely already capturing a decent portion of the lower end market but now has a chance to grab some of the fattier meat.

StockX and GOAT have advantages still, even with authentication now a commodity feature. They are purpose driven with a collector in view, and they have significant mindshare in the community. But if eBay is able to rescue its reputation for questionable sneaker transactions (I was once shipped a pair of socks and a literal brick in an eBay transaction gone bad) and incredibly poor seller support (eBay sides with the buyer in the vast majority of disputes, even obvious con jobs) then it could pose a serious threat here.

My hope is that the faster movers here will take this as an opportunity to really revamp their product experiences. Both StockX and GOAT have been relatively stagnant on the app and website front for a while, offering some intriguing yet incremental innovation — but not dramatically overhauling their product.

#authentication, #collecting, #consumer-goods, #culture, #ebay, #fashion, #sneaker, #stockx, #tc, #united-states

Crypto exchange Bitpanda closes $52M Series A from Valar Ventures, backed by Peter Thiel

Bitpanda, a crypto assets platform, has closed a $52 million Series A funding round form Valar Ventures, a venture capital firm backed by Peter Thiel. Vienna-based VC Speedinvest also participated, alongside other unnamed investors. Claiming 1.3 million users, Bitpanda has previously been trading digital assets and tokenizing precious metals.

The Vienna-based company will use the cash to expand internationally. It expanded to France, Spain and Turkey in 2020 and plans to enter additional European markets this year and next. It has 300 employees.

Essentially, Bitpanda is a crypto exchange which can support other kinds of assets in a tokenized form. To date, it’s not very well known or used in the Crypto world.

What this represents is an interesting move by a crypto exchange, effectively expanding into real-world assets. At the other end of the spectrum, platforms like eToro, Robinhood and Revolut, which came from traditional assets world, and are now adding Crypto world assets. Eventually, the two will meet, in some shape or form.

Bitpanda is a centralized exchange with its own infrastructure, and is not running on a public blockchain. Other centralized exchanges include Coinbase, Kraken, Binance, Kucoin and Huobi.

As part of the investment, Valar Ventures founding partner, Andrew McCormack, will also join Bitpanda’s board. McCormack was previously with PayPal in its early years and supported Peter Thiel during its IPO and eventual sale to eBay in 2002. Valar has previously invested in European fintechs including Transferwise and the Germany-based digital bank, N26.

#binance, #coinbase, #ebay, #etoro, #europe, #finance, #france, #kraken, #mobile-payments, #money, #n26, #online-payments, #paypal, #peter-thiel, #revolut, #spain, #tc, #transferwise, #turkey, #valar-ventures, #venture-capital, #vienna

Ex-eBay employees to plead guilty in “bloody pig mask” cyberstalking case

A bloody pig mask purchased on Amazon.

Enlarge / A bloody pig mask allegedly mailed to cyberstalking victims by then-eBay employees. (credit: FBI)

Four former eBay employees are expected to plead guilty to charges that they led a cyberstalking campaign against an online newsletter’s editor and publisher. In June, federal officials announced charges and said the harassment campaign “included sending the couple anonymous, threatening messages, disturbing deliveries—including a box of live cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a bloody pig [Halloween] mask—and conducting covert surveillance of the victims.”

The four people who are scheduled to plead guilty are Stephanie Popp, eBay’s former senior manager of global intelligence; Stephanie Stockwell, former manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center (GIC); Veronica Zea, a former eBay contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst in the GIC; and Brian Gilbert, a former senior manager of special operations for eBay’s Global Security Team.

A hearing for a “waiver of indictment and plea to information” is scheduled for October 8, according to an entry in the court docket yesterday. The upcoming guilty pleas were also announced on Twitter by the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts. The case is in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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#ebay, #policy

Willow, the startup making the wearable breast pump, raises $55 million

Willow, the startup company making a new, wearable, breast pump for women, is capping off a frenetic 2020 with $55 million in fresh funding as it looks to expand its product line to more offerings for new mothers.

The company is coming off a year which saw sales increase, and Laura Chambers, the former eBay and Airbnb manager, take over as chief executive and now, with the new capital, it expects to be bringing new products to market beyond the breast pump in 2021.

A March 2020 report from Frost & Sullivan put the total size of the femtech market, including technologies for mothers, at just over $1 billion with growth rates of 12.9%. So the category is small, but growing quickly as more tools come in to provide services in what is a woefully underinvested sector. Indeed, the $155 million that Willow has raised to date puts the company among the upper echelon of women’s health investments.

Contrast that figure with Ro, the storied health brand that launched its subscription medication service for erectile dysfunction with an $88 million investment round.

For women who breast feed, the problems associated with pumping can be legion.

“A lot of women talk about how it’s almost like the pump runs their life,” Naomi Kelman, the founder and former CEO of Willow, told TechCrunch. “Everyone is told, if you don’t breastfeed or pump on a regular basis, your [breastmilk] supply goes down and then breastfeeding is finished for you.”

That’s why startup companies like Willow and Naya Health, as well as established companies like Medela and Lansinoh are developing technologies to not only make pumping breast milk more efficient, but also provide more comfort and dignity to users.

“Through our longstanding relationship with Willow, we’ve been able to see the true impact they have had in helping mom’s balance motherhood in a modern world,” said Josh Makower, Willow’s co-founder and chairman of the company’s board, as well as a General Partner at Willow investor, NEA, in a statement. “Willow is thriving and growing to meet the needs of all moms during these unique times, and we are proud to be a partner in advancing innovation in the femtech field.”

With Chambers at the helm, and the $55 million in new financing in hand from investors led by NEA, Meritech Capital Partners, and including Lightstone Ventures along with new investor Perceptive Advisors, Willow will be doing far more than just making breast pumps and will be looking to expand its footprint to international markets.

“The first problem we wanted solve was pumping and the wonderful wearable mobile pump. That was always product number one. There’s more innovation we can do around pumping. Moms would love us to support them with more hardware and more software,” Chambers said. We’re also working with moms to figure out where else they need support. Mothers are remarkably unsupported in their motherhood journey. We are working with moms to figure out what’s important for them and we’re building that.”

#airbnb, #breast-pump, #ebay, #femtech, #health, #laura-chambers, #meritech-capital-partners, #naya-health, #nea, #perceptive-advisors, #tc, #willow

Your iPhone copy of Fortnite is about to become worthless

That soon-to-be-useless <em>Fortnite</em> icon has been worth a lot of money to some eBay buyers in recent days.

Enlarge / That soon-to-be-useless Fortnite icon has been worth a lot of money to some eBay buyers in recent days. (credit: eBay)

Since Apple pulled Fortnite down from the iOS App Store earlier this month, some eBay users have apparently paid thousands of dollars for iPhones that had a playable, pre-installed copy of the game. Starting tomorrow, though, those devices will be no different from any other iPhones.

“Apple is blocking Fortnite updates and new installs on the App Store and has said they will terminate our ability to develop Fortnite for Apple devices,” Epic wrote in an FAQ update this morning. “As a result, Fortnite’s newly released Chapter 2 – Season 4 update (v14.00), will not release on iOS and macOS on August 27.”

In other words, because the game’s online servers require the latest version to be installed, Fortnite will finally be fully unplayable on iOS devices starting Thursday. Android users will still be able to install and play the latest update by downloading it directly from Epic or from The Samsung Galaxy Store on compatible devices.

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#apple, #ebay, #epic, #fortnite, #gaming-culture

With technology to perfect product pitches in digital marketplaces Pattern raises $52 million

Pattern, a Lehi, Utah-based reseller that offers large and small brands a way to optimize their sales on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Google Shopping, has raised $52 million in growth funding, the company said.

The money, from Ainge Advisory and KSV Global, will be used to expand the company’s business worldwide.

Founded in 2013, the e-commerce reseller uses analytics to lock down market specific keywords in advertising and has managed to reach a run-rate that should see it hit $500 million in annual revenue by the end of 2020, according to Pattern co-founder and chief investment officer, Melanie Alder.

Brands like Nestle, Pandora, Panasonic, Zebra and Skechers sell their goods to Pattern in an effort to juice sales on digital marketplaces.

“Pattern represents our brands in the US, across Europe, and in select markets in Asia, selling for us on global marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, Tmall, and JD as well as building and managing three of our direct-to-consumer sites,” said Kyle Bliffert, CEO and president of Atrium Innovations, a Nestle Health Science company, in a statement. “The global e-commerce growth we have experienced by leveraging Pattern’s expertise is extraordinary.”

Pattern places bets on where a product is likely to receive the most attention using specific keywords, according to the company’s chief executive, Dave Wright. The company buys products from its brand partners and then sells them widely across marketplaces in the US, Europe and Asia. These markets represent $2.7 trillion in total sales and Wright expects it to reach $7 trillion by 2024.

As Wright noted, a majority of searchers for sales begin on Amazon . The company just opened its eighteenth location in Germany. Pattern has grown sales for brands from $3 million to $26 million and the company makes money off of the margin on the sales of products. With the new funding, the company intends to expand into other geographies like Japan and India.

Wright says his company addresses one of the fundamental problems with advertising technology — the proliferation of tools hasn’t meant better optimization for most brands, because they’re teams aren’t equipped to specialize.

While there may be hundreds of different advertising and marketing folks working at a company, each company may have hundreds of brands that it sells and the dedicated teams to specific brands may only have one or two  people on staff.

“Data makes all the difference,” said co-founder and CEO Dave Wright. “I’ve spent the bulk of my career in data science and data management, and our ability to detect and act on ‘patterns’ on ecommerce platforms has allowed the brands we represent to be incredibly successful.”

#amazon, #asia, #brand, #data-management, #e-commerce, #ebay, #europe, #germany, #google, #india, #japan, #nestle, #panasonic, #retailers, #tc, #tmall, #united-states, #utah, #walmart, #zebra

eBay reportedly getting close to selling its classified-ads unit to Adevinta

eBay is reportedly getting close to a deal to sell its classified-ads business to Adevinta, a Norwegian company that runs online marketplaces across Europe and Latin America. According to a Wall Street Journal report, if the negotiations are successful, a cash and stock deal could be announced as soon as Monday. The transaction is expected to value eBay’s classified business at about $8 billion.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that eBay was planning to sell off its classifieds business, with prospective buyers named at that time including private equity firms TPG and Blackstone Group, Naspers, and German publisher Axel Springer SE.

More recently, Prosus NV, an Amsterdam-based investment firm that is controlled by Naspers, emerged as a contender, but Bloomberg reported over the weekend that negotiations hit a bump because eBay wants to maintain a stake in the classifieds business after selling it.

Activist shareholders Elliot Management and Starboard Value LP have pushed eBay to sell off non-core business units to focus on its marketplace, resulting in the sale of StubHub to viagogo for more than $4 billion last year and the appointment of a new chief executive officer.

Ebay’s classifieds division operates mostly outside of the United States, including in Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and Mexico. If Adevinta ends up acquiring it, it can expand its international portfolio of peer-to-peer e-commerce platforms.

An Adevinta representative told TechCrunch the company had no comment on the reported negotiations. TechCrunch has also reached out to eBay.

Ebay said in its last quarterly earnings report, issued in April, that it was “explor[ing] potential value-creating alternatives for its Classifieds business, is holding active discussions with multiple parties and anticipates having an update by the middle of the year.”

During the first quarter of this year, eBay’s main marketplace business generated $2.1 billion in revenue, down, while its classifieds business saw $248 million in revenue. In 2019, the classifieds business made $1.1 billion in revenue, versus $7.6 billion for eBay Marketplace, which is weathering competition from larger online rivals like Amazon.

#adevinta, #classifieds, #ebay, #ecommerce, #europe, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #norway, #tc

Hong Kong fintech Qupital partners with eBay to provide financing for sellers

Qupital, a trade financing platform, announced today that it will partner with eBay as one of its officially recommended Hong Kong financing service providers. In today’s announcement, Qupital said it will provide offshore financing services, including working capital, to eBay sellers in China through QiaoYiDai, its main product.

The agreement with eBay means Qupital will be able to monitor the real-time data of eBay sellers who apply for their services, which the fintech startup says will enable it to assess credit applications within three days, on average, and settle drawdown requests in less than a day.

Founded in 2016 and based in Hong Kong, Qupital raised a $15 million Series A last year led by strategic investor CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund, with participation from Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and MindWorks Ventures.

Qupital is one of a growing roster of fintech companies in Asia—Aspire and First Circle are a couple other examples—that provide loans, credit lines and services to online sellers, SMBs and other businesses who often have trouble obtaining working capital from traditional lenders like banks.

Instead of relying on financial statements, these companies use data analytics to assess creditworthiness. In QiaoYiDai’s case, this means looking at “e-commerce statistics and big data, including the credibility of [applicants’] online shops, historical transaction data, rating data, refund and exchange rates of goods, among a plethora of other data points,” Qupital said in its announcement.

On average, Qiaoyidai provides an average credit limit of $150,000, with a maximum credit line of up to $1.5 million for qualifying sellers.

More e-commerce vendors in China are turning to social media as their main channels for reaching buyers (for example, Alibaba has partnerships with Weibo and Douyin and rival JD.com recently struck a strategic partnership with Kuaishou, while TikTok began testing social commerce last year), and having quick, integrated access to financing tools may convince vendors to stick with legacy e-commerce platforms like eBay, especially for cross-border sellers.

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