Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Rachael runs a bakery in New York. She set up shop in 2010 with her personal savings and contributions from family and friends, and the business has grown. But Rachael now needs additional financing to open another store. So how does she finance her expansion plans?

Because of stringent requirements, extensive application processes and long turnaround times, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) like Rachael’s bakery seldom qualify for traditional bank loans. That’s when alternative lenders — who offer short and easy applications, flexible underwriting and quick turnaround times — come to the rescue.

Alternative lending is any lending that occurs outside of a conventional financial institution. These kinds of lenders offer different types of loans such as lines of credit, microloans and equipment financing, and they use technology to process and underwrite applications quickly. However, given their flexible requirements, they usually charge higher interest rates than traditional lenders.

Securitization is another cost-effective option for raising debt. Lenders can pool the loans they have extended and segregate them into tranches based on credit risk, principal amount and time period.

But how do these lenders raise funds to bridge the financing gap for SMBs?

As with all businesses, these firms have two major sources of capital: equity and debt. Alternative lenders typically raise equity funding from venture capital, private equity firms or IPOs, and their debt capital is typically raised from sources such as traditional asset-based bank lending, corporate debt and securitizations.

According to Naren Nayak, SVP and treasurer of Credibly, equity generally constitutes 5% to 25% of capital for alternative lenders, while debt can be between 75% and 95%. “A third source of capital or funding is also available to alternative lenders — whole loan sales — whereby the loans (or merchant cash advance receivables) are sold to institutions on a forward flow basis. This is a “balance-sheet light” funding solution and an efficient way to transfer credit risk for lenders,” he said.

Let’s take a look at each of these options in detail.

Funding sources for alternative lenders.

Image Credits: FischerJordan

Equity capital

Venture capital or private equity funding is one of the major sources of financing for alternative lenders. The alternative lending industry is said to be a “gold mine” for venture capital investments. While it is difficult for such companies to receive credit from traditional banks because of their stringent requirements in the initial stages, once the founders have shown a commitment by investing their own money, VC and PE firms usually step in.

However, VC and PE firms can be expensive sources of capital — their investment dilutes the ownership and control in the company. Plus, obtaining venture capital is a long, involved and competitive process.

Alternative lenders that have achieved good growth rates and scaled their operations have another option: An IPO lets them quickly raise large amounts of money while providing a lucrative exit for early investors.

#bank, #bluevine, #column, #corporate-finance, #credit, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #finance, #forward, #funding, #kabbage, #lendingclub, #loans, #money, #new-york, #ondeck, #online-lending, #startups, #united-states, #vc, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investments

Twitter taps crypto developer to lead ‘bluesky’ decentralized social network effort

Twitter’s ambitious upstart decentralized social media working group “bluesky” took an important step Monday as the social media company appointed a formal project lead who will direct how the protocol develops moving forward.

Crypto developer Jay Graber was tapped by Twitter to helm the initiative, which the company hopes will eventually create a decentralized social media protocol that a number of social networks including Twitter will operate on. The separate bluesky organization will operate independently but to date has been funded and managed largely by employees at Twitter.

Graber had already been working in a less formal role inside the bluesky team, with Twitter paying her to create a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem for a working group of developers in the space. Graber previously worked on the developer team behind privacy focused cryptocurrency Zcash and built out her own decentralized social network called Happening, designed to compete with Facebook Events. Graber eventually walked away from the effort after having issues bootstrapping a user base interested in the benefits of decentralization, something that has grown to be a near-insurmountable issue for most upstart networks in the space.

In an interview back in January, Graber told TechCrunch she saw a major opportunity in Twitter entering the decentralized social space due to the hefty user base on the Twitter platform, which will itself eventually migrate to the protocol, the company has said.

“The really powerful thing about Twitter doing a decentralized protocol move is that if you could design a protocol that works in an ideal way, you don’t have to go through the initial effort of finding the niche to bootstrap from because Twitter will bring so many users,” Graber told us.

In January, TechCrunch profiled the initiative as it gathered more attention following Twitter’s permanent ban of former President Donald Trump from its platform. Following Trump’s removal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey highlighted the bluesky effort as one of the company’s ongoing initiatives to ensure that social media moderation could be less decentralized in the future. A decentralized social media protocol would allow for individual networks to govern themselves without one company or organization exercising monolithic control over the sphere of online conversations. 

“I think a huge focus for everyone involved has been thinking how do we enable better moderation, and not just coming from one source,” Graber told TechCrunch.

The bluesky organization is still in its earliest stages. Graber’s next task is bulking up the team with its first hires, which include a protocol developer and web developer.

#blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #donald-trump, #facebook, #forward, #jack-dorsey, #operating-systems, #president, #real-time-web, #social-media, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #tc, #technology, #text-messaging, #twitter

Kafene raises $14M to offer buy now, pay later to the subprime consumer

The buy now, pay later frenzy isn’t going anywhere as more consumers seek alternatives to credit cards to fund purchases.

And those purchases aren’t exclusive to luxuries such as Pelotons (ahem, Affirm) or jewelry someone might be treating themselves to online. A new fintech company is out to help consumers finance big-ticket items that are considered more “must have” than “nice to have.” And it’s just raised $14 million in Series A funding to help it advance on that goal.

Neal Desai (former CFO of Octane Lending) and James Schuler (who participated in Y Combinator’s accelerator program as a high schooler) founded New York City-based Kafene in July 2019. The pair’s goal is to promote financial inclusion by meeting the needs of what it describes as the “consumers that are left behind by traditional lenders.”

More specifically, Kafene is focused on helping consumers with credit scores below 650 purchase retail items such as furniture, appliances and electronics with its buy now, pay later (BNPL) model. Consider it an “Affirm for the subprime,” says Desai.

Global Founders Capital and Third Prime Ventures co-led the round, which also included participation from Valar, Company.co, Hermann Capital, Gaingels, Republic Labs, Uncorrelated Ventures and FJ labs.

“Historically, if you could access credit, you could go to the bank or use a credit card,” Third Prime’s Wes Barton told TechCrunch. “But if you had some unexpected expense, and had to miss a payment with the bank, there would be repercussions and you could fall into a debt trap.”

Kafene’s “flexible ownership” model is designed to not let that happen to a consumer. If for some reason, someone has to forfeit on a payment, Kafene comes to pick up the item and the customer is no longer under obligation to pay for it moving forward.

The way it works is that Kafene buys the product from a merchant on a consumers’ behalf and rents it back to them over 12 months. If they make all payments, they own the item. If they make them earlier, they get a “significant” discount, and if they can’t, Kafene reclaims the item and takes the loan loss.

Image Credits: Kafene

It’s a modern take on Rent-A-Center, which charges more money for inferior products, Desai believes.

“This is also a superior product to credit cards, and the size of that market is massive,” Barton said. “We want to take a huge chunk of credit card business in time, and give consumers the flexibility to quit at any point in time, and fly free, if you will.”

Such flexibility, Kafene claims, helps promote financial inclusion by giving a wider range of consumers options to alternative forms of credit at the point of sale.

It also helps people boost their credit scores, according to Desai, because if they buy out of the loan earlier than the 12-month term, their credit score goes up because Kafene reports them as a positive payer.

“In any situation where they don’t steal the item, their credit score improves,” he said. “Even if they end up returning it because they can’t afford it. In the long run, they can have a better credit score to qualify for a traditional loan product.”

Kafene rolled out a beta of its financing product in December of 2019 and then had to pause in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company essentially “hibernated” from March to June 2020 and re-launched out of beta last July.

By October, Kafene stopped all enrollment with merchants because it had more demand that it could handle — largely fueled by more people being financially strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, the company was handling about $2 million a month in merchandise volume.

With its new capital, Kafene plans to significantly scale its existing lease-to-own financing business nationally, as well as to launch a direct-to-consumer virtual lease card.

#bank, #bnpl, #buy-now, #credit, #credit-card, #credit-score, #debt, #economy, #electronics, #finance, #fintech, #forward, #global-founders-capital, #kafene, #money, #new-york-city, #pay-later, #personal-finance, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #third-prime-ventures, #uncorrelated-ventures, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

Don’t miss these startups exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

We’re just five days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 where thousands of mobility movers and shakers will dive deep into the game-changing technology that’s reinventing the way we move people — and pretty much everything else — around the world.

Mobility 2021 is a jam-packed event, and we want to make sure you know about everything that’s going down on June 9. But first, a message from the home office: Buy your TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 pass here. We now return you to our regularly scheduled post.

We’ve told you about the incredible slate of speakers, and you’ll find the wide range of topics they’ll cover in the event agenda. Remember, you can watch any session later at your convenience thanks to video on demand.

Now we want to remind you to visit our virtual expo area. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of Mobility 2021 — and one that offers untold opportunity. That’s where you’ll find 28 outstanding early-stage startups exhibiting their awesome tech and talent.

Hopin, our virtual platform, lets exhibitors schedule and host interactive product demos via live stream. Don’t be shy. Ask for a demo and start a conversation. Whether you’re looking to invest, collaborate or find the right solution for your business, you’ll find opportunity waiting for you in the expo.

Pro Tip: Watch all the exhibiting startups pitch live to TC editors and event attendees during the Startup Pitch Feedback Session (check the agenda for the exact time).

Ready to start planning your expo strategy? Here’s the list of the mighty mobility startups exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9 — in just five days. Grab your pass and dive into all the information, education, community and opportunity designed to drive your business forward.

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

#entrepreneurship, #forward, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #video-on-demand

5 Reasons you need to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.

Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Leading Voices
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.

Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).

Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).

Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)

Check out the full agenda here.

Trendspotting

Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next.  Here’s what our attendees are saying:

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

1 on 1 Global Networking

At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.

Early Stage Expo & Pitch

30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.

TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door. 

#artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #cto, #engineer, #forward, #head, #jeff-johnson, #jesse-levinson, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #self-driving-car, #tc, #zoox

YouTube announces a $100M fund to reward top YouTube Shorts creators over 2021-2022

YouTube is giving its TikTok competitor, YouTube Shorts, an injection of cash to help it better compete with rivals. The company today introduced the YouTube Shorts Fund, a $100 million fund that will pay YouTube Shorts creators for their most viewed and most engaging content over the course of 2021 and 2022. Creators can’t apply for the fund to help with content production, however. Instead, YouTube will reach out to creators each month whose videos exceeded certain milestones to reward them for their contributions.

The company expects to dole out money to “thousands” of creators every month, it says. And these creators don’t need to be in the YouTube Partner Program to qualify — anyone is eligible to receive rewards by creating original content for YouTube Shorts.

YouTube declined to share more specific details about the fund’s operations at this time, including how creators will be vetted or what specific thresholds for receiving payments YouTube has in mind. It also wouldn’t offer details as to whether YouTube creators could receive multiple payments in the same pay period if they had several videos that would qualify, or any other details.

And while the company stressed that only “original” content would gain rewards, it didn’t clarify how it will go about checking to ensure the content isn’t already uploaded on another platform, like Reels, Snapchat, or TikTok.

Image Credits: YouTube

Instead, YouTube said that more details about the payments and qualifications would be available closer to the fund’s launch, which is expected sometime in the next few months. It pointed out also that it has paid out over $30 billion to creators, artists and media companies over the last three years, and it expects the new fund will help it to build a long-term monetization model for Shorts on YouTube going forward.

YouTube isn’t the only platform to take on the threat of TikTok by throwing cash at the problem.

Snapchat has been paying $1 million per day to creators for their top-performing videos on Spotlight, its own TikTok clone, minting several millionaires in the process. Facebook-owned Instagram, meanwhile, made lucrative offers to top TikTok stars to use its new service, Reels, The WSJ reported last year.

Despite the size of these efforts, TikTok’s own Creator Fund remains a competitive force. It announced its fund would grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. in the next three years and would be more than double that on a global basis. This March, it also added another requirement to receiving the fund’s payments, including having at least 100K authentic views in the last 30 days — a signal that it’s setting the bar even higher, given its current success.

Alongside the debut of YouTube’s Shorts Fund, the company also noted it’s expanding its Shorts player feature across more place on YouTube to help viewers discover this short-form video content, will begin testing ads for Shorts, and will be rolling out the new “remix audio” feature to all Shorts creators.

Image Credits: YouTube

This somewhat controversial feature allows Shorts creators to sample sounds from other YouTube videos for use in their Shorts, instead of only using song clips or original audio. Some YouTube creators were surprised to find the feature was opt-out by default — meaning their content could be used on YouTube Shorts unless they took the time to turn this setting off or removed their video from YouTube.

Since its launch, YouTube has also rolled out other features to Shorts, including support for captions, the ability to record up to 60 seconds with the Shorts camera, the ability to add clips from your phone’s gallery to your recordings made with the Shorts camera, and the ability use basic filters to color correct videos. YouTube says more effects will arrive in the future.

But even as YouTube tries to catch up with TikTok on feature sets, TikTok has been expanding its own effects lineup and becoming more YouTube-like by supporting longer videos. Some TikTok creators, for example, have recently been given the ability to record videos 3 minutes in lengths, instead of just 60 seconds.

YouTube says the new fund will roll out in the coming months and it will listen to the feedback from the creator community to develop a long-term program designed for YouTube Shorts.

#computing, #creator-fund, #facebook, #forward, #instagram, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #player, #shorts, #snapchat, #social, #software, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-hosting, #youtube, #youtube-shorts

Forward Health raises $225M from investors including The Weeknd as it looks to expand nationwide

Primary care startup Forward Health is looking to expand its tech-powered, personalized healthcare model across the U.S., and will use a new $225 million Series D raise to help make it happen. The new capital comes from Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank, Mark Benioff – and recording artist The Weeknd – among others. I spoke to Forward Health co-founder and CEO Adrian Aoun about his company’s plans for this fresh capital, and we also chatted briefly about how The Weeknd got involved.

Forward, which currently operates clinics in select U.S. markets including LA, New York, Chicago, SF and Washington, D.C., has a number of distinguishing features, but most notable are likely its tech-first approach that includes a full biometric assessment upon first visit, and its business model, which eschews insurance providers altogether and instead works based on a single flat membership fee.

Aoun and his co-founders created Forward Health with the idea of building a healthcare business that’s aligned with its customers in terms of incentives, which is why they sidestepped insurance altogether. That’s led to a focus on customer service and long-term patient relationships and outcomes, which Aoun says are stronger because they’re not bound by an individual’s relationship with their employer, for instance, which is often the case when an employer foots the bill for healthcare via company-provided insurance.

“The average person in the Bay Area is with their employer for about two and a quarter years,” Aoun told me. “So your employer is kind of sitting there thinking, if you get the flu, you’re missing three days of work – I’m out some money.” That means they’ll do things like institute programs to remind employees constantly to get their annual flu vaccine, and do other things to make that happen like provide on-premise shots. But Aoun says they’re optimizing for short-term outcomes, not long-term health – because that’s where their incentives tell them to optimize.

Image Credits: Forward Health

But when long-term healthcare programs, like lifestyle shifts that can lessen the potential of truly dangerous outcomes like heart disease and cancer, come into play, an employer who expects you to stick around for a few years at most is far less incentivized to want to fund that. Forward Health, which aims to attract subscribers and, for lack of a better term, minimize churn, actually is incentivized to make those long-term outcomes positive for everyone who comes through the door.

That’s part of why one focus with this new funding is to debut new doctor-led programs tailored to treating conditions that individual patients might be predisposed to – like heart health, if heart disease runs in your family, or specific types of cancer, if there’s a history of that, for instance.

“We’ve got our [in-clinic] body scanners, our blood tests, our gene sequencing – we basically collect on the order of about 500 biometric data points,” Aoun said. “The idea is you and your doctor then figure out which which kind of programs make sense for you based upon those.”

For example, Aoun says he’s actually at fairly high risk for developing heart disease, so there’s a Forward program that includes doing a heart risk analysis, blood tests, and regular at-home monitoring of key risk factors like blood pressure and weight. Another program for cancer prevention includes measures designed to help lessen the risk of contracting the top five cancers in terms of prevalence — so Forward created a dermatoscope for that, which is essentially a skin scanner to map out an individual’s moles and skin features and alert them of any changes.

This builds on work that Forward began at the outset of COVID-19 — its ‘Forward at Home’ program, which includes sending patients home with specialized sensors for remote care. Another specialized program tailored to COVID-19 actually offers monitoring specific to the disease in order to track a patient’s progress safely.

“We’re now launching programs for all the top diseases to help you get ahead of them,” Aoun said. “And whatever kind of programs you’re using, you walk away with plans that are tailored to you, again, to counsel you not only on the potential risks for the things like the cancer and heart disease, but also to be proactive, with guidance from diet, to exercise, to stress, and to sleep, etc.”

The programs are supported by Forward’s 24/7 worldwide care support team, which subscribers can access via their mobile app. It’s also complemented by the check-ins with your physician via the ‘Forward at Home’ in-home virtual visits.

Image Credits: Forward Health

While Forward is already rolling these out, it has plans to continue to develop new ones, and it’s also monitoring results in order to understand how they’re working for users, and will be sharing that data once it has collected a significant sample. I asked Aoun how Forward can scale this kind of personalized care – especially now that the startup plans to open additional locations in other parts of the country.

Basically, Aoun said that Forward approached it as an engineering problem. He argues that most solutions in healthcare see the fundamental issue as a labor problem — but trying to scale that, with the salaries that medical professionals command, and the limited availability of skilled talent, makes no sense. Especially because consumers are naturally looking for improvements in their standard of care over time, in the same way they expect improvements in the products they buy or services they use.

Rather than relying on a chain of increasingly specific medical professionals to address individual health risks and needs, Aoun said Forward identified that there’s a massive amount of overlap in preventative care courses of action. The Forward team focused on breaking the fundamental elements down into what equate roughly to reusable Lego blocks, which can be recombined with relative speed and repeatability to produce a program that’s nonetheless tailored to an individual’s needs.

Combined with Forward Health’s longitudinal approach to care, these programs and their recombinant nature should prove a good dataset from which to assess how a direct, client-focused primary care model affects overall health.

And, because I promised, I’ll leave you with how Aoun says The Weeknd got involved in the Series D.

“He literally just walked by one of our locations, and walked in and was like, ‘This is awesome,’ and then asked a friend, who asked a friend, who asked a friend to get connected,” he told me.

#adrian-aoun, #artist, #cancer, #chicago, #disease, #flu, #forward, #forward-health, #founders-fund, #health, #healthcare, #khosla-ventures, #louisiana, #new-york, #physician, #recent-funding, #softbank, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #washington-d-c

Epic Games buys photogrammetry software maker Capturing Reality

Epic Games is quickly becoming a more dominant force in gaming infrastructure M&A after a string of recent purchases made to bulk up their Unreal Engine developer suite. Today, the company announced that they’ve brought on the team from photogrammetry studio Capturing Reality to help the company improve how it handles 3D scans of environments and objects.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Photogrammetry involves stitching together multiple photos or laser scans to create 3D models of objects that can subsequently be exported as singular files. As the computer vision techniques have evolved to minimize manual fine-tuning and adjustments, designers have been beginning to lean more heavily on photogrammetry to import real world environments into their games. 

Using photogrammetry can help studio developers create photorealistic assets in a fraction of the time it would take to create a similar 3D asset from scratch. It can be used to quickly create 3D assets of everything from an item of clothing, to a car, to a mountain. Anything that exists in 3D space can be captured and as game consoles and GPUs grow more capable in terms of output, the level of detail that can be rendered increases as does the need to utilize more detailed 3D assets.

The Bratislava-based studio will continue operating independently even as its capabilities are integrated into Unreal. Epic announced some reductions to the pricing rates for Capturing Reality’s services, dropping the price of a perpetual license fee from €15,000 to $3,750 USD. In FAQs on the studio’s site, the company notes that they will continue to support non-gaming use clients moving forward.

In 2019, Epic Games acquired Quixel which hosted a library of photogrammetry “mega scans” that developers could access.

 

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #computer-graphics, #epic-games, #forward, #gaming, #laser, #photogrammetry, #tc, #tencent, #unreal-engine, #video-gaming

Chrome adds new capabilities for developers, introduces new privacy rules for extension developers

At the Chrome Dev Summit, Google’s Chrome team today announced a number of new capabilities for developers, updated rules for extension developers, as well as new steps to improve the overall performance of the browser.

In addition, the Chrome team also announced a major change for extension developers: sometime in 2021, users will get more granular control over which sites an extension can access and starting in January, every extension will feature a ‘privacy practices’ section on the Chrome Web Store that details what kind of data the extension collects.

Image Credits: Google

The Chrome team also today announced that it will launch Manifest V3 in mid-January, when Chrome 88 hits the stable channel. That’s something a lot of extension developers — especially those working on ad blockers — have been dreading. Manifest V3 introduces new limits for extension developers that are meant to prevent them from accessing too much data from their users, but it also puts relatively severe limits on how extensions can interact with a web page. Google now says it has made some changes to V3 based on the feedback it has received, but this is probably not the last we’ve heard of this.

Overall, however, if you’re a user, the most welcome news from today’s event may be that, after working to reduce the overall memory footprint of the browser with a couple of updates earlier this year, the team is now tackling the V8 JavaScript engine and reducing its memory footprint as well. In addition, the team found some new ways to speed up V8 and eliminate any parsing pauses by loading a site’s JavaScript files in parallel to make sure they can be used the moment a page wants to execute them.

The team also continues to work on new ways to speed up the browsing experience, too. The team is doing this by actually changing the way it compiles Chrome, something it first talked about this summer, when these changes arrived in the Chrome beta channel.

“Based on looking at the usage patterns of Chrome, we asked ourselves — with insights of how users are actually using Chrome — are there things we could do in how we compile chrome itself that would make it more efficient? And we found that the answer is yes,” Google’s Ben Galbraith told me. “[…] We call it profile-guided optimization and in [certain] scenarios, we found up to 10 percent faster page loads due to these task-specific compiler optimizations.” Most of the scenarios are in the 2 to 5 percent range, but given how mature most browser engines are now, even that’s a significant difference.

The team is also recently worked on improving tab throttling and how it allocates resources to foreground and background tasks. Galbraith noted that the plan is to do more work along these lines moving forward.

Developers, too, will get some new tools to improve the performance of their web apps as part of Google’s Web Vital initiative, which aims to provide developers with the right performance metrics to help them understand how users experience their web apps. Google Search will use some of these core metrics in its rankings, starting May 2021. Google already highlights this data in the Chrome Experience Report, in its Search Console and elsewhere, but today it is also launching an open-source Web Vitals Report tool to help developers create custom visualization based on the Web Vitals data they’ve sent to Google Analytics. Google Analytics doesn’t currently surface this data in the context of Web Vitals, so developers can now run these reports using Google’s own hosted tool or fork the code and run them on their own infrastructure.

Image Credits: Google

“When you look at the different metrics, we’re focused on the things that we understand the most: loading metrics, visual stability and the like, and interaction — so when you click on something, something actually happens. The mission for these metrics is to be able to really understand the quality of the experience that you’ve got.,” Google’s Dion Almaer explained.

And there is more. On the privacy front, Google continues to iterate on its Privacy Sandbox model. It’s adding two new experiments here with the Click Conversion Measurement API to measures ad conversions without using cross-site identifiers and the new Trust Token APIs that allow a site to issue a cryptographic token to a user it trusts. The idea behind this token is that the browser can then use this token in another context as well to evaluate that a user is who they say they are — and not a bot or an impostor with malicious intent.

In addition, there are also new features for developers who want to write PWAs, updates to how developers can accept payments in Chrome and more.

Image Credits: Google

#api, #ben-galbraith, #chrome-os, #chrome-web-store, #dion-almaer, #forward, #google-chrome, #javascript, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #v8, #web-apps, #web-browsers

MG Siegler talks portfolio management and fundraising 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

This week, GV General Partner (and TechCrunch alum) MG Siegler joined us on Extra Crunch Live for a far-ranging chat about what it takes to foster a good relationship between investor and startup, how portfolio management and investing has changed as the COVID-19 crisis drags on, and what Siegler expects will and won’t stick around in terms of changes in behavior in investment and entrepreneurship once the pandemic passes.

We last caught up with Siegler on the heels of his investment in Universe, a mobile-focused, e-commerce business-building startup. The coronavirus pandemic was relatively new and no one was sure how long it would last or what measures to contain it would look like. Now, with a few months of experience under his belt, Siegler told me that things have relatively settled into a new normal from his perspective as an investor – sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, but mostly just resulting in differences that require adaptation.

This select transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Aside from section headers, all text below is taken from MG Siegler’s responses to my questions.

Business impacts of coping with the pandemic six months on

Just talking about the business side of the equation, I do think that things have sort of stabilized in the day-to-day world here. For us, certainly, I think it’s it’s just as much of a factor though, of just learning how to operate in this in this weird and surreal environment, and knowing how to do remote meetings better. Knowing how to hop on quick Zoom calls, Hangouts, and phone calls, with portfolio companies, to help put out fires, and doing all board meetings remotely, and all that sort of stuff.

That seems like it’s pretty straightforward on paper, but in day-to-day operations, these are all different little learning things that you have to do and come across. I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point. But, you know, there’s always going to be some more wildcards – like we’re a week away, today, from from the US election.

#chair, #entrepreneur, #extra-crunch-live, #forward, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #video-conferencing

Why Apple’s Q4 earnings look different this year

On Thursday, Apple delivered a Q4 earnings beat but the stock slid anyway as wary investors saw worse than expected iPhone revenues. At the time of writing, stock was down around 5% in after-hours trading.

It was a mild beat, with Apple posting $64.7 billion compared to the $63.7 billion Wall Street was expecting and $0.73 earnings per share versus an estimated $0.70. While Apple showcased all-time-highs in Services and Mac divisions, iPhone revenues were down 20 percent year-over-year.

Generally, Apple’s Q4 earnings feature a bit of a bump from the first few days of sales of the new iPhones, but with Apple running a few weeks behind this year, their launches have missed the window to be included on Q4 and will instead all be bundled into the Q1 holiday quarter.

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro dropped on September 20 of last year, while this year’s iPhone 12 was released more than a month later on October 23, while the iPhone 12 Pro has still yet to launch but will be available November 13.

The bigger question is how this delay might affect the company’s entire product release schedule. Will the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro see a shorter life cycle than previous models or will October/November be the new launch timeline for the company’s smartphones going forward?

Digging into the other numbers beyond iPhone, Apple showcased $9.03 billion in Mac revenue for Q4, $6.80 billion in iPad, $7.87 in Wearables etc. and $14.55 billion in Services revenue. Interestingly, this is surely the closest Apple’s Services revenues have gotten to iPhone sales to date, with revenues there reaching just over one-half of overall iPhone sales for Q4. In 2019, the ratio was closer to 1:3.

Next quarter is likely to be big revenue-wise, but investors don’t seem to have been wooed with Q4.

#apple, #apple-inc, #forward, #ios, #iphone, #iphone-8, #iphone-se, #mobile-phones, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc

Withings raises $60 million to bridge the gap between consumer tech and healthcare providers

Since being re-acquired from Nokia in 2018 by a group including its original founders and some of its original investors, health tech company Withings has been focused on evolving their offering of consumer health hardware to provide medical-grade data that can be shared with, and leveraged by healthcare professionals to deliver better, more personalized care. The company has now raised another $60 million to continue pursuing that goal, a Series B funding round co-led by Glide Healthcare, along with existing Withings investors IDinvest Partners, Bpfrance and BNP Paribas Développement, ODDO BHF and Adelle Capital.

Withings will use the funds to ramp up its MED PRO division, a part of the business formed last year that focuses on the company’s B2B efforts, placing its medical-grade consumer health devices in programs and deployments managed by medical professionals, health institutions, insurance payers, researchers and more.

In an interview, Withings CEO Mathieu Letombe explained that following the re-acquisition of the company, the team set out to “pivot slightly” in regards: First, the company would only focus on medical grade products and services from here on out, something that Letombe said was done at least in part because of how crowded the general ‘wellness’ tech category has become, and in part because players like Apple had really, in their view, made the most of that category with their Apple Watch and other health features.

The second was to shift on their business side to better address the B2B market – primarily due to inbound requests to do so.

“We were getting a lot of requests from the healthcare industry,” Letombe told me. “And by the healthcare industry I mean major healthcare programs, like the diabetes prevention program, the hypertension program. Also hospitals, insurers and Pharma, so we decided to dig into it and we saw the there was a huge demand for medical connected devices from this world.”

According to Letombe, Withings was well-positioned to address this need, and had an advantage over other traditional medical device suppliers for enterprise and industry. The company’s DNA was in building accurate, user-friendly devices to help them keep an eye on their wellbeing at home, and so they put their focus on evolving those products so that the results they provide pass the standards of governing medical device regulatory bodies around the world.

Withings’ special advantage in this pursuit was that it knew very well how to build products that customers want to use, and have opted to pay out of pocket for in the past. Most medical equipment for at-home monitoring that comes from a payer or a healthcare institution hasn’t had to face the challenges and focusing rigor of the consumer technology market, and it’s foisted upon users, not selected by them from a field of choices. Letombe says that this consumer edge is what has helped Withings with its B2B business, and notes that both sides of the market will continue to be of equal importance to the company going forward.

The company had been turning its attention to building out a suite of products, from smart blood pressure monitors, to scales that measure body fat percentage, to contactless thermometers and much more, long before there was any hint of the current COVID-19 pandemic, obviously. But that demand from the healthcare industry has stepped up considerably in the wake of the coronavirus, which has accelerated plans from insurers, care providers and healthcare pros to develop and deploy remote care capabilities and services.

“We also got a ton of requests from a company that wanted to create back-to-work packages, were there was a thermometer or a scale or blood pressure monitor for them to help the employee understand if they are at risk for COVID,” Letombe said, noting that the B2B opportunities the company has seen extend beyond the healthcare industry itself.

Image Credits: Withings

To assist with its new medical B2B focus, Withings has also formed a Medical Advisory Board, which Letombe says they’ve actually been working with for a year but that they’re only announcing publicly alongside this funding. The board includes Mayo Clinic Platform President Dr. John Halamka, former head of Clinical Pharmacology in Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou Dr. Stéphane Laurent, and former head of Clinical Innovation at Pfizer Craig Lipset – top medical professionals across respected institutions and one of the largest therapeutics companies in the world.

Letombe notes that Withings also has a number of medical physicians and professionals on staff, as well as a psychologist and a physicist, and so they’re involved in building the products themselves throughout their design and creation, rather than just validating their results after the fact.

Withings would seem to be in a great position to address not only the growing need for connected medical monitoring tools, but also to understand exactly what makes those products work for consumers, and become something they actively want to use as part of their lifestyle. This new $60 million round is a vote of confidence in that strategy, and in its ability to become something bigger and still more ambitious.

#apple, #biotech, #bnp-paribas, #ceo, #companies, #diabetes, #forward, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #health, #healthcare-industry, #hypertension, #idinvest-partners, #mayo-clinic, #medical-device, #nokia, #pfizer, #president, #science, #tc, #technology, #withings

From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacements using plant material and lab cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacements can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

KFC beyond meat

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the US, KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year.  The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while  dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, General Manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

#articles, #atlanta, #beyond-meat, #charlotte, #east-coast, #emerging-technologies, #energy-consumption, #fast-food, #food, #food-and-drink, #forward, #fried-chicken, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kfc, #los-angeles, #moscow, #nashville, #russia, #san-diego, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #united-states, #west-coast

Virgin Orbit sets first orbital launch for May 24

Virgin Orbit has been preparing for this moment for years, but it’s now officially ready to launch its small satellite delivery vehicle to orbit for the first time. This key demonstration mission, taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, will replicate the actual operational launch experience that Virgin Orbit hopes to provide its customers going forward.

The company is targeting Sunday May 24 at 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) for this historic launch, with a four-hour window on the day during which the actual take-off could occur. The mission will include flying its modified Boeing 747 carrier craft with its LauncherOne to that vehicles launch altitude, where it’ll detach from the 747 and use its own rocket engines to make the rest of the trip to space. There’s a backup opportunity on Monday, should weather interfere.

Virgin Orbit’s approach differs from traditional vertical rocket launches, and use of the carrier aircraft means it can take off from traditional runways. The LauncherOne rocket is a two-stage expendable launch vehicle that can carry around 660 lbs or 1,100 lbs to orbit, depending on the orbit required. That puts it at more payload capacity than Rocket Lab’s Electron, but less than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The concept behind Virgin Orbit’s approach is designed to reduce costs to make small satellite launches more affordable. Estimates put launch costs at around $12 million per flight, which is a considerable savings vs. traditional launch costs and even the price of SpaceX missions.

Virgin Orbit has been performing a number of tests and flights to ready for this final full demonstration mission, including a captive carry test last month. If all goes well with this demo mission, the company could begin launching for commercial clients as early as July.

#aerospace, #boeing, #flight, #forward, #launcherone, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #virgin-galactic, #virgin-orbit

Apple Operations SVP details supply chain safety changes due to COVID-19

Today, Apple released its 2020 Supplier Responsibility progress report. In it, Senior Vice President of Operations Sabih Khan published a letter that details an outline of the plan it created to increase safety and protection efforts in its supply chain worldwide.

As far as I can tell this is the first time that Khan has written publicly since he was appointed to this role in 2019. The letter walks through some of the efforts Apple has made to ensure, as Khan states, a “right to a safe and healthy workplace” for Apple employees and supply chain members.

As a pole position company that is the premiere manufacturer of consumer electronics in the world, Apple’s stances and efforts here are obviously under an incredible microscope. The measures that it takes will serve as a playbook for worldwide manufacturers going forward.

After thanking Apple’s suppliers around the word, Khan says that thousands of its employees worked with suppliers to create a plan to continue business in a fashion that took to account health recommendations in each country as well as the universal rules that govern coronavirus spread mitigation.

Apple Senior Vice President,
Operations, Sabih Khan

A few actions it has taken at its supplier facilities:

  • Health screenings
  • limiting density and enforcing strict social distancing
  • Requiring the use of PPE both during work and in common areas
  • Implementing enhanced deep cleaning protocols
  • Deploying masks and sanitizers to employees

Apple has also redesigned and reconfigured factory floorpans at its suppliers where needed. It has also introduced flexible work hours like staggered work shifts to ensure social distancing measures can be maintained.

In addition to executing protections at its own suppliers, Apple is sharing its plans with NGOs and other organizations to help establish standards across the industry.

“We put people first in everything we do— and require everyone we work with to do the same — because we want to uphold the highest standards,” Khan says in the letter. “Our Supplier Code of Conduct prevents discrimination and harassment of any kind, and supplier employees are provided anonymous channels to speak up.  We partner with our suppliers to create educational and training opportunities, including traditional college degree programs, vocational training initiatives, and health and wellness programs so their employees can learn new skills and work toward fulfilling their goals.”

Apple’s supplier report would normally be released in the February-March time frame but it wanted to take some time to plan and execute protection measures first before issuing the report and details of its adjustments due to COVID-19.

“While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, we’ve also drawn hope and inspiration from humanity’s renewed focus on the health of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. That consciousness — of our health and the health of others — is something we can always carry with us,” Khan finishes. “Our work to protect people and the planet may never be finished — but we’ve never been more confident that our brightest days are still ahead.”

The supplier report this year is based on interviews of 52,000 workers in its supply chain. It is also auditing suppliers in 49 countries now, up from 30 in 2018 — with a total of 1142 audits in 2019. Apple’s Zero Waste program was introduced in 2015 in an effort reduce carbon emissions and waste from its supply chain. This report says that the program is now integrated into final assembly, testing and packaging across all of its major products. Apple diverted 1.3 million metric tons of waste from landfills last year and re-used 40% of water from its manufacturing process — some 9.4 billion gallons.

The full text of Khan’s letter is below.

Health comes first. Now and always.

As people around the world continue to face many challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the importance of protecting the planet and treating everyone with dignity and respect — values that inform every decision we make.

Our Supplier Responsibility Progress Report is a look back at the progress we achieved in bringing those commitments to life last year. But I first want to share some of the actions we’re taking in our global supply chain right now to address COVID-19’s unprecedented challenges, and to ensure people are able to return to work safely — because everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

This pandemic has left no country untouched, and we want to thank all our suppliers around the world for their commitment, flexibility and care for their teams as we navigate COVID-19’s complex and rapidly evolving impacts. From the outset, we worked with our suppliers to develop and execute a plan that puts the health of people first.  Thousands of Apple employees have worked tirelessly to execute that plan in partnership with our suppliers around the world.

First and foremost, that’s meant working with our suppliers around the world on a range of protections suited to the circumstances in each country, including health screenings, limiting density, and ensuring strict adherence to social distancing in their facilities. We’re requiring the use of personal protective equipment — both during work and in all common areas — and have worked together to implement enhanced deep cleaning protocols and deploy masks and sanitizers.

Our teams have also partnered with suppliers to redesign and reconfigure factory floorplans where needed and to implement flexible working hours — including staggered work shifts — to maximize interpersonal space. We continue to work closely with leading medical and privacy experts to develop advanced health and safety protocols.

As we develop tools and implement best practices across our entire supply chain, we are also sharing what we learn within our industry and beyond.  We haven’t allowed COVID-19 to undermine the values that have long defined who we are — values rooted in the responsibilities we have to one another and to the planet.

This year’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report describes our work to bring all of those commitments to life in 2019. Whether it’s helping with the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, or training millions of people on their workplace rights, we apply our values in all aspects of our business, and every year, we raise the bar that our suppliers must meet as well.

We put people first in everything we do— and require everyone we work with to do the same — because we want to uphold the highest standards. Our Supplier Code of Conduct prevents discrimination and harassment of any kind, and supplier employees are provided anonymous channels to speak up.  We partner with our suppliers to create educational and training opportunities, including traditional college degree programs, vocational training initiatives, and health and wellness programs so their employees can learn new skills and work toward fulfilling their goals.

We’re committed to transparently reporting the progress we’ve made and have yet to make. This report draws on interviews from more than 50,000 employees in our supply chain and more than one thousand audits of supplier facilities across 49 countries — including surprise audits. The same attention to detail and innovation that goes into our products informs this report, and the work to ensure our worldwide network of suppliers upholds the standards themselves.

The environment we all share is fragile, and we are more dedicated than ever to fighting climate change and reducing emissions. Through strategic partnerships, we’re helping our suppliers shrink their carbon footprint and conserve precious resources, like water and energy. Green manufacturing is smart manufacturing, and, more broadly, we know what is good for the environment is also good for business.   

While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge, we’ve also drawn hope and inspiration from humanity’s renewed focus on the health of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. That consciousness — of our health and the health of others — is something we can always carry with us.

Our work to protect people and the planet may never be finished — but we’ve never been more confident that our brightest days are still ahead.

Sabih Khan is Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations.

Sabih leads Apple’s global supply chain, which includes Supplier Responsibility.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-store, #berkshire-hathaway, #business, #companies, #consumer-electronics, #economy, #energy, #forward, #supply-chain, #tc

Changing policy, Y Combinator cuts its pro rata stake and makes investments case-by-case

In a message posted to its internal communications channel earlier this week, the massive startup accelerator Y Combinator said it will change the terms of its own PPP (the YC pro rata investment program) and investing in companies raising seed and Series A rounds on a case-by-case basis.

The company began a policy of investing in every seed and Series A round for its portfolio companies back in 2015.

Since then, it has taken a 7% stake in every company which raised a priced seed and Series A round, investing in over 300 Y Combinator companies over nearly 500 rounds.

Under its new policy, the accelerator is reducing its investment size from 7 percent to 4 percent and is only investing on a case-by-case basis going forward.

The reason for the change is that the number of companies in its portfolio has gotten too large for it to invest and some of the limited partners who back the accelerator’s operations are balking at making commitments to the pro rata investment program.

“We have significantly exceeded the funds we raised for pro ratas, and the investors who support YC do not have the appetite to fund the pro rata program at the same scale,” the accelerator wrote in a post seen by TechCrunch . “In addition, processing hundreds of follow-on rounds per year has created significant operational complexities for YC that we did not anticipate. Said simply, investing in every round for every YC company requires more capital than we want to raise and manage. We always tell startups to stay small and manage their budgets carefully. In this instance, we failed to follow our own advice.”

For entrepreneurs who take investments from the accelerator, the change is pretty significant. On the accelerator’s internal messaging board they worried about the potential optics of having the accelerator not make a follow-on commitment.

YC addressed those concerns by saying it would not make an investment decision until a company had already received an initial term sheet from a lead investor.

The new changes will take effect on May 8, 2020, the investor said.

“In the future, we will no longer invest automatically in every priced seed and Series A/B round. Instead, we will exercise pro rata rights on a case-by-case basis, like other investors on your cap table,” the accelerator wrote. “We’ve heard your feedback that YC’s pro rata allocation is bigger than what some of you would prefer. So for those investments we do make, we will reduce the size of our pro rata and simplify its calculation to be a flat 4% participation right in each priced round. To calculate the size of YC’s pro rata investment in your round, simply multiply the amount of capital you are raising by 4%. If our ownership right before the round is less than 4%, we will cap our investment in the round at our then-current ownership. Our intention is not to have a super pro-rata right.”

Even with the reduced investment size, YC said it would only make investments in roughly one-third of its portfolio.

“The YC Continuity team will manage these investment decisions and will work very hard to inform you within a day or two of receiving your materials,” the accelerator wrote. “We will honor any pending pro rata investments for term sheets signed before May 8. But we wanted to communicate this message broadly so that founders can plan accordingly.”

#business, #business-incubators, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #forward, #fundings-exits, #private-equity, #pro-rata, #startup-accelerator, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch, #y-combinator

Start-Ups Jump the Gun on Home Kits for Coronavirus Testing

After a federal warning, companies have stopped marketing kits that let consumers collect their own saliva or throat swabs and send them to labs.

#carbon-health, #centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #epidemics, #everlywell, #forward, #gates-bill-and-melinda-foundation, #medicine-and-health, #nurx, #start-ups, #tests-medical