Jolla hits profitability ahead of turning ten, eyes growth beyond mobile

A milestone for Jolla, the Finnish startup behind the Sailfish OS — which formed, almost a decade ago, when a band of Nokia staffers left to keep the torch burning for a mobile linux-based alternative to Google’s Android — today it’s announcing hitting profitability.

The mobile OS licensing startup describes 2020 as a “turning point” for the business — reporting revenues that grew 53% YoY, and EBITDA (which provides a snapshot of operational efficiency) standing at 34%.

It has a new iron in the fire too now — having recently started offering a new licensing product (called AppSupport for Linux Platforms) which, as the name suggests, can provide linux platforms with standalone compatibility with general Android applications — without a customer needing to licence the full Sailfish OS (the latter has of course baked in Android app compatibility since 2013).

Jolla says AppSupport has had some “strong” early interest from automotive companies looking for solutions to develop their in-case infotainment systems — as it offers a way for embedded Linux-compatible platform the capability to run Android apps without needing to opt for Google’s automotive offerings. And while plenty of car makers have opted for Android, there are still players Jolla could net for its ‘Google-free’ alternative.

Embedded linux systems also run in plenty of other places, too, so it’s hopeful of wider demand. The software could be used to enable an IoT device to run a particularly popular app, for example, as a value add for customers.

“Jolla is doing fine,” says CEO and co-founder Sami Pienimäki. “I’m happy to see the company turning profitable last year officially.

“In general it’s the overall maturity of the asset and the company that we start to have customers here and there — and it’s been honestly a while that we’ve been pushing this,” he goes, fleshing out the reasons behind the positive numbers with trademark understatement. “The company is turning ten years in October so it’s been a long journey. And because of that we’ve been steadily improving our efficiency and our revenue.

“Our revenue grew over 50% since 2019 to 2020 and we made €5.4M revenue. At the same time the cost base of the operation has stablized quite well so the sum of those resulted to nice profitability.”

While the consumer mobile OS market has — for years — been almost entirely sewn up by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, Jolla licenses its open source Sailfish OS to governments and business as an alternative platform they can shape to their needs — without requiring any involvement of Google.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia was one of the early markets that tapped in.

The case for digital sovereignty in general — and an independent (non-US-based) mobile OS platform provider, specifically — has been strengthened in recent years as geopolitical tensions have played out via the medium of tech platforms; leading to, in some cases, infamous bans on foreign companies being able to access US-based technologies.

In a related development this summer, China’s Huawei launched its own Android alternative for smartphones, which it’s called HarmonyOS.

Pienimäki is welcoming of that specific development — couching it as a validation of the market in which Sailfish plays.

“I wouldn’t necessarily see Huawei coming out with the HarmonyOS value proposition and the technology as a competitor to us — I think it’s more proving the point that there is appetite in the market for something else than Android itself,” he says when we ask whether HarmonyOS risks eating Sailfish’s lunch.

“They are tapping into that market and we are tapping into that market. And I think both of our strategies and messages support each other very firmly.”

Jolla has been working on selling Sailfish into the Chinese market for several years — and that sought for business remains a work in progress at this stage. But, again, Pienimäki says Jolla doesn’t see Huawei’s move as any kind of blocker to its ambitions of licensing its Android alternative in the Far East.

“The way we see the Chinese market in general is that it’s been always open to healthy competition and there is always competing solutions — actually heavily competing solutions — in the Chinese market. And Huawei’s offering one and we are happy to offer Sailfish OS for this very big, challenging market as well.”

“We do have good relationships there and we are building a case together with our local partners also to access the China market,” he adds. “I think in general it’s also very good that big corporations like Huawei really recognize this opportunity in general — and this shapes the overall industry so that you don’t need to, by default, opt into Android always. There are other alternatives around.”

On AppSupport, Jolla says the automative sector is “actively looking for such solutions”, noting that the “digital cockpit is a key differentiator for car markers — and arguing that makes it a strategically important piece for them to own and control.

“There’s been a lot of, let’s say, positive vibes in that sector in the past few years — new comers on the block like Tesla have really shaken the industry so that the traditional vendors need to think differently about how and what kind of user experience they provide in the cockpit,” he suggests.

“That’s been heavily invested and rapidly developing in the past years but I’m going to emphasize that at the same time, with our limited resources, we’re just learning where the opportunities for this technology are. Automative seems to have a lot of appetite but then [we also see potential in] other sectors — IoT… heavy industry as well… we are openly exploring opportunities… but as we know automotive is very hot at the moment.”

“There is plenty of general linux OS base in the world for which we are offering a good additional piece of technology so that those operating solutions can actually also tap into — for example — selected applications. You can think of like running the likes of Spotify or Netflix or some communications solutions specific for a certain sector,” he goes on.

“Most of those applications are naturally available both for iOS and Android platforms. And those applications as they simply exist the capability to run those applications independently on top of a linux platform — that creates a lot of interest.”

In another development, Jolla is in the process of raising a new growth financing round — it’s targeting €20M — to support its push to market AppSupport and also to put towards further growing its Sailfish licensing business.

It sees growth potential for Sailfish in Europe, which remains the biggest market for licensing the mobile OS. Pienimäki also says it’s seeing “good development” in certain parts of Africa. Nor has it given up on its ambitions to crack into China.

The growth round was opened to investors in the summer and hasn’t yet closed — but Jolla is confident of nailing the raise.

“We are really turning a next chapter in the Jolla story so exploring to new emerging opportunities — that requires capital and that’s what are looking for. There’s plenty of money available these days, in the investor front, and we are seeing good traction there together with the investment bank with whom we are working,” says Pienimäki.

“There’s definitely an appetite for this and that will definitely put us in a better position to invest further — both to Sailfish OS and the AppSupport technology. And in particular to the go-to market operation — to make this technology available for more people out there in the market.”

 

#africa, #android, #appsupport, #automotive, #china, #europe, #google, #harmonyos, #huawei, #jolla, #linux, #meego, #mobile, #mobile-linux, #nokia, #operating-systems, #russia, #sailfish, #sailfish-os, #sami-pienimaki, #smartphones, #tc, #tesla

Robert Downey Jr. is launching a new ‘rolling’ venture fund to back sustainability startups

A little less than two years ago, when the actor, producer, and investor Robert Downey Jr. unveiled his new, sustainability focused initiative called the FootPrint Coalition at Amazon’s re:MARS conference it was little more than a static website and a subscription prompt.

Jump cut to today, and the firm now has five portfolio companies, a non-profit initiative, and is launching a rolling venture fund, Footprint Coalition Ventures, at the World Economic Forum’s Digital Davos event.

With the new rolling fund, managed through AngelList, Downey Jr.’s initiative sits the intersection of two of the biggest ideas reshaping the world economy — the democratization of access to capital and investment vehicles and the $10 trillion opportunity to decarbonize global industry.

It’s another arrow in the quiver for an institution that aims to combine storytelling, investing, and non-profit commitments to combat the world’s climate crisis.

Rolling funds and the revolution in finance

There’s a revolution happening in finance right now, whether it’s the rise of the Redittors trying to avenge the malfeasance of short-sellers and big institutional investors that’s happening through investments in stocks like Blockbuster, Nokia, Gamestop and AMC, or the new crowdfunding sources and rolling funds that are allowing regular investors to finance early stage companies, things on Wall Street are definitely changing.

And while the public market gambles are undoubtably minting some new millionaires, opening up access to interesting startup investments is a thesis that’s a stark contrast to the cynicism of day-trading gambles.

Both could leave investors with less than zero in some cases, but with rolling funds or crowdfunding, there’s a real opportunity to build something rather than just sticking it to the man.

Unlike traditional venture funds, rolling funds raise new capital commitments on a quarterly basis and invest as they go, hence the “rolling”. Investors come on for a minimum one-year commitment, and invest at a quarterly cadence. In Downey Jr.’s fund that commitment amounts to $5,000 per quarter for up to 2,000 qualified investors (and a smaller number of accredited ones), according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s plans.

“The idea of opening [the fund] to real people, rather than the ivory tower of the institutional bigwigs… It’s a little bit more slamdance than Sundance [and] I kind of dig it,” said Downey Jr.

A guide to recognizing FootPrint Coalition Ventures

FootPrint Coalition Ventures will be split between early and late stage investment funds and will be looking to make six investments per year in early stage companies and four later stage deals.

Helping Downey Jr. manage the operations are investors like Jonathan Schulthof, who previously founded LOOM Media, which leverages smart urban infrastructure for advertising, founded Motivate International, which manages bike sharing services in cities across the U.S., and served as a managing partner for Global Technology Investments. Schulthof is joined by Steve Levin, who co-founded Team Downey, Downey Jr.’s media production company and Downey Ventures, which invests in media and technology companies. 

The firm already has four companies in its portfolio through investments it made using the founders’ own capital. And while those investments were all under $1 million, the firm expects that the size of its commitments will grow as it raises additional cash. Footprint Coalition has also maintained pro-rata investment rights so that it can increase the size of its stake in businesses over time. And the investments it made to date were sized in anticipation of potential for follow-ons at much higher valuations.

A venture fund inside of a coalition

The initiative that Downey Jr. hopes to build is more than just an investment arm. Both he and his co-founders see the investment side as a single piece of a broader platform that leverages the massive social following Downey Jr. has created and the storytelling skills he and his team have mastered through decades spent working in the movie business.

That broader team includes Rachel Kropa, the former head of the CAA Foundation, who will lead scientific and philanthropic efforts and serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities, according to a statement.

Rachel Kropa, former head of the CAA Foundation who joined Footprint Coalition to lead scientific and philanthropic efforts last year, will serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities.

“The idea that the content that we made can be related back to the individual is very powerful,” said Kropa. “This problem is so intractable and interconnected across the world. It does matter that the fish that you eat are made using a sustainable feed.”

Kropa is referring to a piece that the FootPrint Coalition put out around sustainable aquaculture tied to the group’s recent investment in Ÿnsect, a company that makes protein from crickets for use in animal feed and human food.

“Our content around Cellular Agriculture, exemplifies the type of content we can create in the course of taking a deep dive into a particular industry. Though we have not (yet) invested in the space, we do believe there are interesting stories to tell,” said one person who works with the company.

That media is additive to activate the group’s audience, and is not something that it charges for — or considers part of its investment valuation. “We’ve been creating edited video segments with Robert doing voice over and overlaying animation all of which we’ve been posting to social. We do this for free to the companies, and we don’t charge / strong-arm / cajole for warrants, advisor shares, or the like in return,” the person said.

Weird science and sustainability

While Ÿnsect is one example of a company that the FootPrint Coalition has backed that’s doing something which may be a little outside of the purview of most of Downey Jr.’s following, other businesses like the bamboo toilet paper company, Cloud Paper, and the new investment in the sustainability focused financial services company, Aspiration, have definite direct consumer ties.

That balance is something that Schulthof said the firm was looking for as it pursues not just environmental and sustainability returns, but, more concretely, profit.

“We look at things that are meaningful and impactful [and] I get to be purely capitalist. The question is this a good opportunity is something that has to do with its margins, its scale, its risk profile, the people involved and fundamentally what are the terms… do we think the company will deliver value to investors,” said Schulthof. “We’re looking for returns.”

The opportunity for returns is enormous. As the group noted, the ESG sector – funds that focus on the Environmental, Social and Governance issues – continues to grow rapidly Part of the broader stakeholder capitalism movement, impact investing funds have topped $250 billion, and sustainability assets have doubled in value over the past three years.

“We see two powerful trends working together to support the environment. First, engaging content and media distribution enable us to create a passionate community from Robert’s 100 million followers and to use that audience to access great investments. Second, a turnkey technology platform now enables us to manage a broad set of individual investors,” said Schulthof in a statement. “Venture funds traditionally have high minimums that exclude only the wealthiest individuals, or endowments and foundations. With much lower minimums and shorter investment periods, we can now offer access to these same companies to a much broader group. When these investors further ignite our passionate audience, we hope to set a positive feedback loop in motion with environmental technologies as the ultimate beneficiary.”

 

#advisor, #amc, #angellist, #animation, #aspiration, #cloud-paper, #corporate-finance, #crowdfunding, #davos, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #funding, #gamestop, #head, #investor, #managing-partner, #media-production, #money, #nokia, #private-equity, #sundance, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #venture-capital, #world-economic-forum, #ynsect

Nokia launches a laptop with India’s Flipkart

Nokia, the 155-year-old iconic firm that has manufactured a range of items from rubber to cables to phones and telecommunications equipment, is ready to expand to a new category.

The Finnish firm on Monday launched the Nokia PureBook X14 laptop in collaboration with Walmart -owned Flipkart for the Indian market.

The Nokia PureBook X14, which is priced at Indian rupees 59,990 ($815), features a 14-inch full-HD display and is powered by Intel’s 10th generation quad-core i5 processor with up to 4.2GHz turbo speed.

The laptop, which ships pre-installed with Windows 10 Home, sports a 512GB NVMe SSD and 8 GB DD4 RAM.

Its other specs include: 86% screen-to-body ratio and 178-degree viewing angles, matte black finish, Dolby Atmos-powered speakers, Face Unlock with Windows Hello, Intel UHD 620 Graphics with 1.1GHz Turbo GPU, Bluetooth 5.1, two USB 3.1 ports, one USB 2.0 port, and one USB Type C port as well as dedicated ports for HDMI and ethernet. The Nokie PureBook X14, which weighs about 1.1kg, will last up to 8 hours on a single charge.

Flipkart, which has grown its private label and brand ecosystems in recent years, is the design and manufacturing partner for the new laptop. Like it does with Motorola, Flipkart has inked a licensing agreement with the Finnish firm, a representative of Flipkart told TechCrunch.

The laptop will be exclusively sold through Flipkart in India, which is also the only market for this particular device.

“Launching the Nokia brand into this new product category is testament to our successful collaboration with Flipkart. We are excited to offer consumers in India a Nokia branded laptop which brings innovation to address a gap in the market, as well as the style, performance and reliability that the Nokia brand is known for, said Vipul Mehrotra, VP for Brand Partnerships at Nokia, in a statement.

The Indian laptop market has attracted several new firms in recent years, including Xiaomi, which launched a range of affordable laptops in the country this year.

#asia, #flipkart, #hardware, #nokia, #walmart, #windows-10-home

Apple partner Servify raises $23 million to scale its devices after-sales and management platform overseas

Servify, a Mumbai-headquartered startup that operates a device lifecycle management platform and works deeply with brands including Apple and Samsung in a number of geographies, has raised $23 million in a new financing round.

The Series C financing round for the five-year-old startup was led by existing investor Iron Pillar, and other existing investors including Blume Ventures, Beenext, and Tetrao SPF participated in the round. The new round pushes Servify’s to-date raise to $48 million.

Servify works with enterprises such as Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Nokia, Motorola, and Airtel and handles after-sales services such as device protection, exchange, and trade-in programs for its partners, explained Sreevathsa Prabhakar, founder and chief executive of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The startup, which offers its services through a whitelabel arrangement with enterprises, works with over 50 brands and reaches over 50 markets. With Apple, it works in three geographies, and in over half a dozen with OnePlus .

The new round, which was oversubscribed, will help the startup expand its expertise in many new product categories and deepen its reach in international markets, said Prabhakar, who has more than a decade of experience in overseeing after-sales and other device management businesses.

“We are keenly interested in unique businesses addressing hard problems in very large and global markets and are excited to continue to back the company in its next phase of growth. Stellar execution by Servify’s team combined with its differentiated technology platform have led to the company’s impressive growth this year despite Covid-19 related challenges,” said Anand Prasanna, Managing Partner at Iron Pillar, in a statement.

The coronavirus outbreak has deeply impacted the business of Servify, which was profitable in the financial year that ended in March. The month of April and May, when many countries enforced lockdowns, the startup’s business reached a complete halt. But in the months since, it has not only fully-recovered but grown to new heights, said Prabhakar.

TechCrunch asked Prabhakar if he would ever consider engaging with customers directly. He said the current model of Servify enables it to acquire customers at no charge and he thinks it’s the right model to maintain moving forward.

“It is very satisfying as we have more than quadrupled our revenue in 2020 till date, and raised funds for expansion even during the tough economic climate. This further strengthens our belief that we have built a globally scalable sound business that is not only trusted by large brands, but also the investor community,” he said.

More to follow…

#apple, #asia, #funding, #hardware, #india, #motorola, #nokia, #oneplus, #samsung, #xiaomi

HMD is bringing a 5G smartphone and wireless earbuds to the US

Over the past four years or so, HMD has carved out a nice little niche for itself with its Nokia-branded handsets. The instant name recognition of a legacy brand was a nice little perch on which to gain some footing in an overcrowded market.

Pricing has long been a key to its appeal, as well, and that’s on display with the arrival of the company’s first 5G-enabled handset. The Nokia 8.5 5G runs $699 and goes up for pre-order today in the U.S. It will also be hitting Amazon in the coming weeks. It’s not cheap by the company’s standards, but it’s definitely among the more competitively priced 5G handsets around.

The phone is also set to make an appearance in the upcoming Bond film. It features four rear-facing cameras, including a 64-megapixel lens and a macro — an uncommon but increasingly popular alternative on the latest batch of smartphones. The screen is a massive 6.81 inches, and the device is — unsurprisingly — powered by Qualcomm’s mid-tier Snapdragon 765G.

Today’s announcement also finds Nokia bringing its fully wireless earbuds stateside. No specific time frame was given for the Power Earbuds, but they’ll be priced at a reasonable $99. There’s stiff competition in the market, these days — especially in the low end of the market — but the buds have been getting a pretty positive reaction for their price point, thanks to a comfortable design and a ridiculous 150 hours of battery courtesy of their massive charging case.

#5g, #earbuds, #hardware, #hmd, #nokia, #smartphones

Google, Nokia, Qualcomm are investors in $230M Series A2 for Finnish phone maker, HMD Global

Mobile device maker HMD Global has announced a $230M Series A2 — its first tranche of external funding since a $100M round back in 2018 when it tipped over into a unicorn valuation. Since late 2016 the startup has exclusively licensed Nokia’s brand for mobile devices, going on to ship some 240M devices to date.

Its latest cash injection is notable both for its size (HMD claims it as the third largest funding round in Europe this year); and the profile of the strategic investors ploughing in capital — namely: Google, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Though whether a tech giant (Google) whose OS dominates the world’s smartphone market (Android) becoming a strategic investor in Europe’s last significant mobile OEM (HMD) catches the attention of regional competition enforcers remains to be seen. Er, vertical integration anyone? (To wit: It’s a little over two years since Google was slapped with a $5BN penalty by EU regulators for antitrust violations related to how it operates Android — and the Commission has said it continues to monitor the market ‘remedies’.)

In a further quirk, when we spoke to HMD Global CEO, Florian Seiche, ahead of today’s announcement, he didn’t expect the names of the investors to be disclosed — but we’d already been sent press release material listing them so he duly confirmed the trio are investors in the round. (But wouldn’t be drawn on how much equity Google is grabbing.)

HMD’s smartphones run on Google’s Android platform, which gives the tech giant a firm business reason for supporting the mobile maker in growing the availability of Google-packed hardware in key growth markets around the world.

And while HMD likens its consistent (and consistently updated) flavor of Android to the premium ‘pure’ Android experience you get from Google’s own-brand Pixel smartphones, the difference is the Finnish company offers devices across the range of price points, and targets hardware at mobile users in developing markets.

The upshot is relatively little overlap with Google’s Pixel hardware, and still plenty of business upside for Google should HMD grow the pipeline of Google services users (as it makes money by targeting ads).

Connoisseurs of mobile history may see more than a little irony in Google investing into Nokia branded smartphones (via HMD), given Android’s role in fatally disrupting Nokia’s lucrative smartphone business — knocking the Finnish giant off its perch as the world’s number one mobile maker and ushering in an era of Android-fuelled Asian mobile giants. But wait long enough in tech and what goes around oftentimes comes back around.

“We’re extremely excited,” said Seiche, when we mention Google’s pivotal role in Nokia’s historical downfall in smartphones. “How we are going to write that next chapter on smartphones is a critical strategic pillar for the company and our opportunity to team up so closely with Google around this has been a very, very great partnership from the beginning. And then this investment definitely confirms that — also for the future.”

“It’s a critical time for the industry therefore having a clear strategy — having a clear differentiation and a different point of view to offer, we believe, is a fantastic asset that we have developed for ourselves. And now is a great moment for us to double down on this,” he added.

We also asked Seiche whether HMD has any interest in taking advantage of the European Commission’s Android antitrust enforcement decision — i.e. to fork Android and remove the usual Google services, perhaps swapping them out for some European alternatives, which is at least a possibility for OEMs selling in the region — but Seiche told us: “We have looked at it but we strongly believe that consumers or enterprise customers actually love [Google] services and therefore they choose those services for themselves.” (Millions of dollars of direct investment from Google also, presumably, helps make the Google services business case stack up.)

Nokia, meanwhile, has always had a close relationship with HMD — which was established by former Nokia execs for the sole purpose of licensing its iconic mobile brand. (The backstory there is a clause in the sale terms of Nokia’s mobile device division to Microsoft expired in 2016, paving the way for Nokia’s brand to be returned to the smartphone market without the prior Windows Mobile baggage.)

Its investment into HMD now looks like a vote of confidence in how the company has been executing in the fiercely competitive mobile space to date (HMD doesn’t break out a lot of detail about device sales but Seiche told us it sold in excess of 70M mobiles last year; that’s a combined figure for smartphones and feature phones) — as well as an upbeat assessment of the scope of the growth opportunity ahead of it.

On the latter front US-led geopolitical tensions between the West and China do look poised to generate a tail-wind for HMD’s business.

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, for example, is facing a loss of business, as US government restrictions threaten its ability to continue selling chips to Huawei; a major Chinese device maker that’s become a key target for US president Trump. Its interest in supporting HMD’s growth, therefore, looks like a way for Qualcomm to hedge against US government disruption aimed at Chinese firms in its mobile device maker portfolio.

While with Trump’s recent threats against the TikTok app it seems safe to assume that no tech company with a Chinese owner is safe.

As a European company, HMD is able to position itself as a safe haven — and Seiche’s sales pitch talks up a focus on security detail and overall quality of experience as key differentiating factors vs the Android hoards.

“We have been very clear and very consistent right from the beginning to pick these core principles that are close to our heart and very closely linked with the Nokia brand itself — and definitely security, quality and trust are key elements,” he told TechCrunch. “This is resonating with our carrier and retail customers around the world and it is definitely also a core fundamental differentiator that those partners that are taking a longer term view clearly see that same opportunity that we see for us going forward.”

HMD does use manufacturing facilities in China, as well as in a number of other locations around the world — including Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

But asked whether it sees any supply chain risks related to continued use of Chinese manufacturers to build ‘secure’ mobile hardware, Seiche responded by claiming: “The most important [factor] is we do control the software experience fully.” He pointed specifically to HMD’s acquisition of Valona Labs earlier this year. The Finnish security startup carries out all its software audits. “They basically control our software to make sure we can live up to that trusted standard,” Seiche added. 

Landing a major tranche of new funding now — and with geopolitical tension between the West and the Far East shining a spotlight on its value as alternative, European mobile maker — HMD is eyeing expansion in growth markets such as Africa, Brail and India. (Currently, HMD said it’s active in 91 markets across eight regions, with its devices ranged in 250,000 retail outlets around the world.)

It’s also looking to bring 5G to devices at a greater range of price-points, beyond the current flagship Nokia 8.3. Seiche also said it wants to do more on the mobile services side. HMD’s first 5G device, the flagship Nokia 8.3, is due to land in the US and Europe in a matter of weeks. And Seiche suggested a timeframe of the middle of next year for launching a 5G device at a mid tier price point.

“The 5G journey again has started, in terms of market adoption, in China. But now Europe, US are the key next opportunity — not just in the premium tier but also in the mid segment. And to get to that as fast as possible is one of our goals,” he said, noting joint-working with Qualcomm on that.

“We also see great opportunity with Nokia in that 5G transition — because they are also working on a lot of private LTE deployments which is also an interesting area since… we are also very strongly present in that large enterprise segment,” he added.

On mobile services, Seiche highlighted the launch of HMD Connect: A data SIM aimed at travellers — suggesting it could expand into additional connectivity offers in future, forging more partnerships with carriers. 

“We have already launched several services that are close to the hardware business — like insurance for your smartphones — but we are also now looking at connectivity as a great area for us,” he said. “The first pilot of that has been our global roaming but we believe there is a play in the future for consumers or enterprise customers to get their connectivity directly with their device. And we’re partnering also with operators to make that happen.”

“You can see us more as a complement [to carriers],” he added, arguing that business “dynamics” for carriers have also changed substantially — and customer acquisition hasn’t been a linear game for some time.

“In a similar way when we talk about Google Pixel vs us — we have a different footprint. And again if you look at carriers where they get their subscribers from today is already today a mix between their own direct channels and their partner channels. And actually why wouldn’t a smartphone player be a natural good partner of choice also for them? So I think you’ll see that as a trend, potentially, evolving in the next couple of years.”

#africa, #android, #antitrust, #brazil, #china, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #google, #hmd-global, #huawei, #india, #indonesia, #microsoft, #mobile, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #nokia, #qualcomm, #smartphone, #smartphones, #trump, #united-states, #us-government, #vietnam, #windows-mobile

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.

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Imaging startup Light is exiting the smartphone business

Light’s push into smartphones was an inevitability. Sure, the startup turned heads with its pricey L16 camera, but these days mobile photography is almost exclusively the domain of the handset. Early last year, the answer arrived in the form of the trypophobia-inducing Nokia 9 PureView.

In a category where manufacturers raced to add more cameras, the PureView had the most, with a five-hexagonal array. It was new, innovative and for most, it was overkill. At the very least, however, it gave Nokia/HMD some bragging rights and managed to set the handset apart in one of the most hotly contested corners of the smartphone hardware race.

But Light is getting out of the smartphone game. Ultimately, the competition may have just been too stiff for a small startup, especially with many manufacturers working on their own native hardware and software solutions.

Light confirmed the move this week an email to Android Authority, writing simply that it was “no longer operating in the smartphone industry.” It’s a surprising bit of news, given that mobile partnerships seemed like the most logical way forward for the company, which drummed up a $121 million in a SoftBank-led round back in 2018. That Series D brought the Palo Alto-based company’s total funding up to more than $181 million.

More recently, it also signed deals with Sony and Xiaomi. No word on what such a move means for those partnerships going forward. Nor is it clear what life after smartphones looks like for Light. We’ve reached out to the company for more insight into its plans.

#hardware, #light, #mobile, #nokia, #startups