Roku debuts a 15-minute weekly series that recommends what to watch next

Roku is expanding its programming for its free content hub, The Roku Channel, with today’s launch of its own weekly entertainment program called “Roku Recommends.” The 15-minute show will leverage Roku’s data to highlight the Top 5 titles for viewers to stream that week. While not exactly “original programming” the way that Roku’s recent additions of its acquired Quibi content is, the series will run only on Roku, where it can be found in The Roku Channel and Featured Free, with new episodes every Thursday.

The series is the first production to emerge from the new Roku Brand Studio — a studio that aims to produce video ads and other custom branded content for ad partners. The show is produced by Funny Or Die and Mike Farah, Beth Belew, and Jim Ziegler serve as executive producers.

The show’s co-hosts include entertainment reporter and AfterBuzz TV co-founder Maria Menounos and former NFL player, Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins. The duo will present the Top 5 titles to viewers. These recommended shows or movies may come from any of the thousands of channels across the Roku platform, based on data exclusive to the platform.

“According to Nielsen data, the average streamer spends more than seven minutes searching for what to watch next,” said Chris Bruss, Head of Roku Brand Studio, in a statement. “We are uniquely positioned to use our trending data both to help consumers find incredible movies and shows and to help advertisers go beyond the traditional 30-second ad to entertain streamers who otherwise spend time in ad-free, subscription-only environments,” he added.

The series will also allow for ad sponsors. The company says it has already signed on several national advertisers, starting with Walmart, to sponsor the program. Advertisers will have access to Roku’s Measurement Partner Program to determine whether or not their integration reaches subscription video on-demand (SVOD)-only streaming users, as well as view other metrics about their video ad campaign’s reach, brand perception and impact.

The series comes at a time when the streaming landscape is shifting. Today’s streaming services regularly serve up recommended content based on what their customers are watching — Netflix, for example, shows rows of popular and trending content, as well as a Top 10 list of newly popular titles. But as the number of available streaming services grows, larger entities merge, and content jumps around as licensing agreements end and start, consumers may be more in need of a set of current recommendations from across channels and services, not just those isolated inside one service.

Amazon Fire TV’s update recently addressed this need with the introduction of a new “Find” feature that aims to make it easier for users to search and browse movies, shows and free content across its platform. Roku, however, didn’t have a recommendation system of its own.

It’s also interesting to see that Roku is willing to use its proprietary streaming data in this way — something it could choose to do more with further down the road to help build out a broader set of recommendations, if it chose.

 

#cord-cutting, #funny-or-die, #internet-television, #media, #multimedia, #player, #quibi, #roku, #streaming, #streaming-media, #streaming-services, #television, #tv, #walmart

0

Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

0

Brazilian proptech startup QuintoAndar lands $300M at a $4B valuation

Fintech and proptech are two sectors that are seeing exploding growth in Latin America, as financial services and real estate are two categories in particular dire need of innovation in a region.

Brazil’s QuintoAndar, which has developed a real estate marketplace focused on rentals and sales, has seen impressive growth in recent years. And today, the São Paulo-based proptech has announced it has closed on $300 million in a Series E round of funding that values it at an impressive $4 billion.

The round is notable for a few reasons. For one, the valuation – high by any standards but especially for a LatAm company – represents an increase of four times from when QuintoAndar raised a $250 million Series D in September 2019.

It’s also noteworthy who is backing the company. Silicon Valley-based Ribbit Capital led its Series E financing, which also included participation from SoftBank’s LatAm-focused Innovation Fund, LTS, Maverik, Alta Park, an undisclosed US-based asset manager fund with over $2 trillion in AUM, Kaszek Ventures, Dragoneer and Accel partner Kevin Efrusy.

Having backed the likes of Coinbase, Robinhood and CreditKarma, Ribbit Capital has historically focused on early-stage investments in the fintech space. Its bet on QuintoAndar represents clear faith in what the company is building, as well as its confidence in the startup’s plans to branch out from its current model into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title, insurance and escrow services.

The latest round brings QuintoAndar’s total raised since its 2013 inception to $635 million.

Ribbit Capital Partner Nick Huber said Quintoandar has over the years built “a unique and trusted brand in Brazil” for those looking for a place to call home.

“Whether you are looking to buy or to rent, QuintoAndar can support customers through the entire transaction process: from browsing verified inventory to signing the final contracts,” Huber told TechCrunch. “The ability to serve customers’ needs through each phase of life and to do so from start to finish is a unique capability, both in Brazil and around the world.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it expanded also into connecting a home buyers to sellers.

Image Credits: QuintoAndar

TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga and he shared details around the growth that has attracted such a bevy of high-profile investors.

Like most other businesses around the world, QuintoAndar braced itself for the worst when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year – especially considering one core piece of its business is to guarantee rents to the landlords on its platform.

“In the beginning, we were afraid of the implications of the crisis but we were able to honor our commitments,” Braga said. “In retrospect, the pandemic was a big test for our business model and it has validated the strength and defensibility of our binsess on the credit side and reinforced our value proposition to tenants and landlords. So after the initial scary moments, we actually felt even more confident in the business that we are building.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as “a distant market leader” with more than 100,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its homebuying marketplace is live in 4. Part of its plans with the new capital is to expand into new markets within Brazil, as well as in Latin America as a whole.

The startup claims that, in less than a year, QuintoAndar managed to aggregate the largest inventory among digital transactional platforms. It now offers more than 60,000 properties for sale across Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belho Horizonte and Porto Alegre. To give greater context around the company’s growth of that side of its platform: in its first year of operation, QuintoAndar closed more than 1,000 transactions. It has now surpassed the mark of 8,000 transactions in annualized terms, growing between 50% and 100% quarter over quarter.

As for the rentals side of its business, Braga said QuintoAndar has more than 100,000 rentals under management and is closing about 10,000 new rentals per month. The company is not profitable as it’s focused on growth, although it is unit economics are particularly favorable in certain markets such as Sao Paulo, which is financing some of its growth in other cities, according to Braga.

Now, the 2,000-person company is looking to begin its global expansion with plans to enter the Mexican market later this year. With that, Braga said QuintoAndar is looking to hire “top-tier” talent from all over.

“We want to invest a lot in our product and tech core,” he said. “So we’re trying to bring in more senior people from abroad, on a global basis.”

Some history

CEO Braga and CTO André Penha came up with the idea for QuintoAndar after receiving their MBAs at Stanford University. As many startups do, the company was founded out of Braga’s personal “nightmare” of an experience – in this case, of trying to rent an apartment in Sao Paulo.

The search process, he recalls, was difficult as there was not enough information available online and renters were forced to provide a guarantor, or co-signer, from the same city or pay rent insurance, which Braga described as “very expensive.”

“Overall, I felt it was a very inefficient and fragmented process with no transparency or tech,” Braga told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “There was all this friction and high cost involved, just real tangible problems to solve.”

The concept for QuintoAndar (which can be translated literally to “Fifth Floor” in Portuguese) was born.

“Little by little, we created a platform that consolidated supply and inventory in a uniform way,” Braga said.

The company took the search phase online for the first time, according to Braga. It also eliminated the need for tenants to provide a guarantor, thereby saving them money. On the other side, QuintoAndar also works to help protect the landlord with the guarantee that they will get their rent “on time every month,” Braga said.

It’s been interesting watching the company evolve and grow over time, just as it’s been fascinating seeing the region’s startup scene mature and shine in recent years.

#articles, #brazil, #coinbase, #cto, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kaszek-ventures, #kevin-efrusy, #latin-america, #player, #property-technology, #proptech, #quintoandar, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renting, #ribbit-capital, #sao-paulo, #series-e, #silicon-valley, #softbank, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #techcrunch, #technology, #venture-capital

0

API security startup 42Crunch raises $17M Series A led by Energy Impact Partners

With security top of mind in many companies these days, especially given how many staff work at home, there is one area that remains chronically ignored: that of the world of APIs which power all of the platforms we all use every day.

Now, a significant player in the cybersecurity of APIs is super-charging its offering. 42Crunch, an API security startup, has raised $17 million in a Series A round led by Energy Impact Partners. Adara Ventures also participated.

42Crunch has a ‘micro firewall’ for APIs which aims to protect against attacks listed in the OWASP Top 10 for API Security. It is used by companies such as Mulesoft, Ford Motors, and Qualys.

CEO and Co-Founder of 42Crunch, Jacques Declas said: “What do the recent data breaches at Tesla, Facebook, and Clubhouse have in common? They all came about due to API vulnerabilities. 83% of internet traffic now comes from APIs but traditional firewall approaches are not adapted to cope with the specific threats that APIs create.”

The three French co-founders came up with the idea after being the number of APIs used by customers proliferate.

The normal approach to firewalls – relying on patterns and signatures to detect potential incursions – does not work when it comes to API traffic. 42Crunch claims its platform can individually protect each API, and prevent common cyber-attacks such as injections but also API-specific attacks.

Isabelle Mauny, Co-founder and CTO of 42Crunch, said: “Protecting APIs from threats at runtime is only part of the story. APIs will only be truly secured when security becomes part of the developer’s flow, rather than an afterthought.”

Nazo Moosa, Co-Managing Partner, Energy Impact Partners added: “42Crunch’s ‘shift-left approach’ to the creation of secure-by-design APIs fits strongly with EIP’s vision of protecting global critical infrastructure. The company’s six-digit customer wins last year were catalytic to our decision to lead the round.”

#adara-ventures, #api, #apis, #computing, #energy-impact-partners, #europe, #facebook, #firewall, #ford-motors, #internet-traffic, #mulesoft, #player, #qualys, #software-engineering, #tc, #technology

0

Xbox teams up with Tencent’s Honor of Kings maker TiMi Studios

TiMi Studios, one of the world’s most lucrative game makers and is part of Tencent’s gargantuan digital entertainment empire, said Thursday that it has struck a strategic partnership with Xbox.

The succinct announcement did not mention whether the tie-up is for content development or Xbox’s console distribution in China but said more details will be unveiled for the “deep partnership” by the end of this year.

Established in 2008 within Tencent, TiMi is behind popular mobile titles such as Honor of Kings and Call of Duty Mobile. In 2020, Honor of Kings alone generated close to $2.5 billion in player spending, according to market research company SensorTower. In all, TiMi pocketed $10 billion in revenue last year, according to a report from Reuters citing people with knowledge.

The partnership could help TiMi build a name globally by converting its mobile titles into console plays for Microsoft’s Xbox. TiMi has been trying to strengthen its own brand and distinguish itself from other Tencent gaming clusters, such as its internal rival LightSpeed & Quantum Studio, which is known for PUBG Mobile.

TiMi operates a branch in Los Angeles and said in January 2020 that it planned to “triple” its headcount in North America, adding that building high-budget, high-quality AAA mobile games was core to its global strategy. There are clues in a recruitment notice posted recently by a TiMi employee: The unit is hiring developers for an upcoming AAA title that is benchmarked against the Oasis, a massively multiplayer online game that evolves into a virtual society in the fiction and film Ready Player One. Oasis is played via a virtual reality headset.

Xbox’s latest Series X and Series S are to debut in China imminently, though the launch doesn’t appear to be linked to the Tencent deal. Sony’s Playstation 5 just hit the shelves in China in late April. Nintendo Switch distributes in China through a partnership with Tencent sealed in 2019.

Chinese console players often resort to grey markets for foreign editions because the list of Chinese titles approved by local authorities is tiny compared to what’s available outside the country. But these grey markets, both online and offline, are susceptible to ongoing clampdown. Most recently in March, product listings by multiple top sellers of imported console games vanished from Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace.

#asia, #call-of-duty, #china, #gadgets, #gaming, #honor-of-kings, #los-angeles, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #player, #ready-player-one, #tencent, #video-games, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #xbox

0

Direct-to-consumer orthodontic startup Impress raises $50M to scale across Europe

As the famous phrase goes, ‘software is eating the world’ and now software is eating dentistry. Or, perhaps more accurately, the arena of orthodontics — the specialty of dentistry that deals with things like braces — is slowly but surely being digitalized.

To whit, Impress, a Southern European player in direct-to-consumer orthodontics, has raised a $50 million Series A funding round led by CareCapital (a dental division of Hillhouse Capital in Asia), along with Nickleby capital, UNIQA Ventures, and investors including Michael Linse, Valentin Pitarque, Peter Schiff, Elliot Dornbusch, and others. All existing shareholders, such as TA Ventures and Bynd VC, also participated. 

Impress is an homage to the direct-to-consumer startups in this area in the US such as SmileDirect< and now plans to scale across Europe from its existing bases in Spain, Italy, Portugal, UK, and France.

The company was founded in 2019 in Barcelona by orthodontist Dr. Khaled Kasem and serial entrepreneurs Diliara and Vladimir Lupenko.

Speaking from Barclenoa, Lupenko told me that the idea was to “combine the best orthodontic tradition with the most innovative technology in the sector.”

As things stand, most of the time, consumers can usually only access cosmetic teeth alignment treatments or orthodontic medical treatments in conventional clinics. The new wave of clinics employs 3D scans and panoramic X-rays to check nerve and bone health.

Impress’s model is to offer these high-quality medical treatments directly to consumers, by developing its own chain of orthodontic clinics, which also put an emphasis on design and a ‘modern’ patient experience, it says.

As Diliara Lupenko says: “We didn’t copy what other companies in the space were doing and approached the market from a different angle from the get-go. We doubled down on the doctor-led digital model which brought us way better conversion rates and treatment quality even though on paper it looked complex in the beginning. It’s still very complex but we were able to crack it and scale exponentially.”

Impress now has 75 clinics in Spain, Italy, the UK, France, and Portugal which optimize costs and automate key parts of the value chain.

It now says it’s approaching €50m in annual run-rate and is projected to grow to €150m of revenue in 12 months. 

Andreas Nemeth, managing partner of UNIQA Ventures GmbH commented: “Impress’s customer-centric focus, as well as its demonstrated ability to blitzscale, attracted us to the business. Vladimir and his team leverage technology to create a seamless customer journey for invisible orthodontics and optimized their cost structure in a unique way using software.”

#andreas-nemeth, #asia, #barcelona, #dentistry, #dentists, #europe, #france, #hillhouse-capital, #italy, #managing-partner, #michael-linse, #orthodontist, #player, #portugal, #spain, #ta-ventures, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

Sequoia Games looks to capitalize on NBA Top Shot fever with an AR tabletop game

It’s the golden age of collectibles and legacy institutions are looking to move beyond trading cards, embracing new tech that brings the fandom together online. Sequoia Games, a new game studio launching out of stealth, is aiming for a hit with its tabletop AR game that’s looking to find an audience in a post-Top Shot world.

With a game that seems to be trading cards meets Catan meets NFTs meets augmented reality, Flex NBA is aiming to capture some of the magic that Dapper Labs did with NBA Top Shot, albeit with a title reliant on physical collectibles and a tabletop game.

Collectibles are incredibly hot right now and while there’s been a lot of attention on digital-only collectibles, Sequoia Games’ hybrid approach is probably one that will likely find some new audience segments. The game is centered around these hexagonal discs that function like trading cards but can be tracked inside its mobile app with 3D animations of the players superimposed on top of them. With mechanics similar to other popular trading card games, users can augment those tiles with power-up tiles.

Users get a handful of tiles that vary depending on the tier of their Kickstarter pledge, but going forward, the startup is planning to sell the tiles in randomized packs as well.

Image via Sequoia Games

Users register these tiles inside their app where the ownership of individual tiles is tracked across the network using something that sounds an awful lot like a blockchain — though that’s a word the team was very careful to avoid using. What’s interesting is that once the tiles are registered users can play the game in-person or online. The company is working on first-party marketplace for the tiles, though buyers will have to actually purchase and ship the physical tiles even if they are only playing on mobile.

Like Top Shot, Sequoia Games boasts an official partnership with the NBA and national players’ association. Unlike Dapper Labs, they’re not currently sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars of venture money. The startup’s founder says they’ve raised a modest seed round and are in the process of closing a more sizable Series A.

Also unlike Top Shot, which can — and has been able to — rapidly adjust supply of new moments to meet demand, Sequoia Games is stuck in the physical world and is thus a little more supply-confined — one of the reasons they’ve chosen to do a Kickstarter to gauge interest from potential users early-on.

Prices for the tiers of Kickstarter tiers vary pretty wildly, with a $35 basic pack that includes the most common tiles and a $699 “Supreme Flex Domination Pack” that boast rarer items like MVP-level player tiles. The startup plans to start shipping out packs in July.

#gaming, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #player, #tc

0

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

0

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states

0

The Cult of CryptoPunks

Last month, hours before news of Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale grabbed the front pages of newspapers across the country, a pair of 24 x 24 pixel portraits of aliens wearing little hats sold separately for around $7.5 million each.

The sales, which occurred within 20 hours of each other, didn’t garner the same headlines that the Beeple auction received, but there was a bit of coverage in the tech press, mostly because one of the aliens was sold by Dylan Field, the CEO of design software startup Figma. In a Clubhouse conversation following the sale, Field said he hoped that a century from now the blocky image he had sold would be seen as the “Mona Lisa of digital art.”

Punk #7804, which recently sold for 4,200 Ether (about $7.5M at the time of sale)

The pixelated alien portraits belonged to an NFT platform called CryptoPunks. In the world of NFTs, the platform is as close to ancient history as it gets, meaning it’s almost four years old. There are 10,000 punks, all of which were procedurally generated and claimed for free when the project launched in 2017.

Since then, the economy built around trading these images has sauntered on with a small but passionate community, at least until a few months ago. That’s when it suddenly exploded, dragging into the fray Silicon Valley CEOs, prominent venture capitalists, famous YouTubers, poker stars and major business personalities. The platform has seen nearly $200 million worth of transaction volume in official deals since launch, according to NFT tracking site CryptoSlam, with 98% of that volume flowing through the platform in the past few months.

The sudden rise in punk prices is owed to an explosion of interest in NFTs largely brought about by climbing cryptocurrency prices, the rise in popularity of Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot and the resurgence of the physical collectibles markets, all of which have made some investors more comfortable with the idea of betting on digital goods.

Today, the cheapest punk you can buy will run you about $30,000 in Ethereum cryptocurrency, while the rarest may be worth just shy of $10 million.

CryptoPunks have captured plenty of attention, but even with all eyeballs on the project, people still aren’t sure exactly what they’re looking at.

“In NFT world, people are talking about selling Jack Dorsey tweets, Top Shots and Beeple in the same sentence right now,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told TechCrunch in an interview. “The lines can get a little blurry. When you look at CryptoPunks, are they art? Are they collectibles? Are they… you know, well… what are they exactly?”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Back in early 2017, John Watkinson and Matt Hall were playing with a pixelated character generator they built, and they were pretty enthusiastic about the fun little pop art portraits they had been cooking up. By June, they had created 10,000 characters with different hairstyles, hats and glasses for a project called CryptoPunks that would be hosted on the nascent Ethereum blockchain. Some punks had a handful of attributes, some had none, some were apes, some were aliens. While the creators had a hand in curating some elements, they let their generator take control of the creativity.

They launched to modest interest from a small community of blockchain enthusiasts who only had to pay a few pennies in Ethereum “gas” transaction fees to own their own punk. It was a novel idea, pre-dating the NFT platform CryptoKitties by months and NBA Top Shot by years, but it arrived at the cusp of crypto’s 2017 wave during the early throes of initial coin offerings, where scams were plentiful and attention was hard to come by. Hall said that about 20-30 punks were claimed in the days following launch.

Then a week later Mashable wrote a story about the fledgling crypto art project, and within hours every punk was gone.

Some users went all-in immediately. One user that went by the username hemba has become something of a cautionary figure in the CryptoPunks community, claiming more than 1,000 punks at launch and selling every one of them before the market took off this year, missing out on tens of millions of dollars in profits at current prices. Another user who goes by mr703 claimed some 703 punks in total at launch, hundreds of which they are still holding onto years later in a collection similarly worth tens of millions.

In a Discord chat with the pseudonymous mr703, we asked whether they felt they had enough or if there were any punks they still intended to buy. “I own all the punks I ever really want,” they typed back. Their public wallet shows they paid more than $37,000 for a punk in the minutes in between our question and their answer. They spent $35,000 on another one several hours later.

Some investors who have already gone all-in backing risky cryptocurrencies see NFTs as a way to diversify their crypto holdings. Others see CryptoPunks as more of a game.

CryptoPunks creators Matt Hall and John Watkinson

“I think that with each year that passes the definition of what is gambling and what is investing move closer and closer together,” says Mike McDonald, a 31-year-old professional poker player who recently bought his first punk.

Why are some punks worth tens of thousands of dollars while others are worth millions? Users in the thriving CryptoPunks Discord community have had to decide that on their own, combining objective analysis of the rarity of certain design attributes with the more subjective impressions of punk “aesthetics.”

Things aren’t always predictable. Earrings are the most common attribute for punks, commanding much lower price floors than those with beanie hats, which are the rarest attribute. But hundreds of punks are wearing 3D glasses, yet they tend to earn a hefty premium over those with green clown hair even though fewer of those punks exist. Some attributes gain market momentum randomly; for instance, the market for punks wearing hoodies has been particularly hot in recent weeks.

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

As prices have surged, owning a piece of the CryptoPunks’ finite supply has become a “digital flex” in its own right, especially when used as an avatar on social media sites, several punk owners told us. That has drawn plenty of wealthy buyers outside the blockchain world, including influencers like YouTuber Logan Paul who uploaded a video last month detailing his $170,000 purchase of several punks.

“When you don’t have a punk, the ecosystem seems like this gentlemen’s club of the 10,000 people that can afford these kinds of avatars,” says McDonald.

There is some concern among the community whether all of this outside attention is a sign of an impending crash in prices, though many investors feel reassured by the historical value of CryptoPunks among NFTs. Nevertheless, some of the investors have a hard time convincing those in their lives that what they’re doing is anything but reckless.

After a recent six-figure punk purchase, user Chris Mintern says his girlfriend was exasperated that he had just dropped more money on a punk than her house was worth. “She says it’s all just a bunch of internet nerds who don’t appreciate the value of money. That to them, it’s just a game and numbers on a screen,” he told TechCrunch.

The community surrounding CryptoPunks has largely bloomed on the chat app Discord in a dedicated group where users that are verified as punk owners tend to drive conversations and can gather attention for up-and-coming NFT projects they’re betting on.

“It’s a bit of a cult,” said user thebeautyandthepunk in an interview.

Like many early users, thebeautyandthepunk has stayed pseudonymous since claiming a couple dozen punks at launch, telling us that no one in her life has any idea she’s sitting on an NFT collection likely worth millions — except her accountant. She did recently decide to make it known that she was one of the few female traders who have been present in the overwhelmingly male CryptoPunks community since the beginning.

“I really try to keep my real life and my crypto life completely separate,” she says. “But people need to know that women have been [in this space] for a while and we’re not going anywhere.”

Today, all 10,000 punks are scattered across some 1,889 wallets, according to crypto tracker Etherscan. Some of those accounts are inactive and feared dead, with the punks inside them lost on the blockchain forever. The largest single wallet of punks today belongs to the platform’s creators, holding some 488 punks. It’s their only ownership in a blockchain-based marketplace where most mechanics are already set in stone.

“We’re just users now, too. Nothing about our website is specific to us having created the project,” Watkinson tells TechCrunch. “Our only equity is through the punks we own. We don’t take a cut of the market or anything.”

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The NFT high-rollers table

Today, CryptoPunks’ creators are working on NFTs full time. While they can’t make any underlying changes to the CryptoPunks contract, they have aimed to improve the website’s marketplace while hopping into the Discord group to keep an eye on the ever-growing community of users.

“It was never our intention for this to sort of be our careers,” Watkinson says.

In 2019, the duo debuted a follow-up project called Autoglyphs, which brought generative art to the blockchain. It didn’t boast the pop aesthetic of CryptoPunks, but it added a new layer to their exploration of blockchain art. Hall and Watkinson have built up a company around their various projects called Larva Labs, and they are in the process of building up a new NFT project that they hope will have a lower barrier of entry than CryptoPunks and Autoglyphs.

“As the CryptoPunks get more and more expensive, they’re just hard to get into,” Hall says.

At around $200 million in official marketplace sales, CryptoPunks’ total lifetime sales volume is about 40% of what Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot has achieved in its past several months. Though CryptoPunks has done so with 0.35% of Top Shot’s total transaction volume, which is fewer than 12,000 trades compared to more than 3.3 million, according to CryptoSlam. Those high transaction numbers spread across millions of NFTs mean much less value per transaction on Top Shot, but a much, much bigger pool of active users.

Last month, Dapper Labs announced they had raised $305 million at a $2.6 billion valuation as they look to expand their private Flow blockchain to other blockchain “games” through more high-profile partnerships. Hall and Watkinson have been watching Dapper Labs’ success, but don’t think Larva Labs will need venture funding to continue exploring what’s next for NFTs.

“Rather than looking at becoming a large company and doing a deal with the NBA or something like that, we’re more just looking forward to kind of just continuing to explore the tech possibilities,” Watkinson said. “What we love about CryptoPunks is the action, and so we’d like to find a way back to sort of that level of action, and our next project is going to try to find ways to sort of keep the deal flow going.”

They have few details to share on the new project, which they said will debut “relatively soon” this year.

Image Credits: Lucas Matney

The origin of the species

CryptoPunks lore is largely steeped in the assertion that they are the oldest NFT project on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a line that was floated by almost all of the punk owners I spoke with as the main reason they had dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the platform. In Paul’s recent YouTube video, he justified prices to his skeptical friends by noting, “[CryptoPunks] is the first and that makes it special.”

But over the past few weeks, holes in that narrative have begun to emerge, as “crypto archaeologists” have begun to unearth abandoned NFT projects that were created in Ethereum’s earliest days, with at least one arriving before CryptoPunks. We recently spoke with Cyrus Adkisson, the creator of a project called Etheria, which he debuted back in 2015, just three months after Ethereum’s mainnet went live. The project allowed users to buy up, sell and build on hexagonal swaths of digital land on a large map. It didn’t develop much of a following at launch and sat abandoned for years on the Ethereum blockchain until Adkisson saw the “fever pitch” developing around NFTs and started searching for the passcode to his old account.

“I remember calling my parents toward the end of February, telling them I may be sitting on a goldmine here,” Adkisson told TechCrunch.

After ultimately gaining access to his Etheria account, he then fired off a few tweets from Etheria’s long-dormant Twitter account, detailing that the bulk of the 914 tiles across two externally tradeable versions were still available and could be claimed for 1 Ether each. Adkisson says by the end of that weekend, his previously empty wallet was filled with $1.4 million worth of Ethereum.

Age alone won’t make Etheria a hit; the major challenge from here is building up a community around the project that brings in more users and pushes the prices of land tiles higher. A tile recently sold for nearly $25,000 worth of Ether, but early adopters are struggling to balance waiting out the market’s development with liquidating enough tiles so that new users can get involved and the project can build hype. 

“With these projects, it’s like, yeah, you have the historical context, but now you need to build a solid foundation with your communities because your real measure is not now, but it’s going to be what your community, size and engagement look like in a year,” says Allen Hena, an NFT enthusiast who helped attract attention to the Etheria community last month with a series of blog posts.

 In the days following the project’s resurrection, the young community has already seen plenty of disagreement and infighting as Adkisson aims to maintain some level of control over the platform on which plenty have already pinned their retirement plans. Owners are mainly frustrated by Adkisson’s attempts to make an older version of Etheria externally tradeable, something that would likely make land tiles on the existing contracts considerably less valuable. Since our interview, Adkisson has left Etheria’s Discord server and admins in the group have vowed to continue on without him as he decides which direction he wants to take Etheria 1.0.

While punk owners we talked with are keeping an eye on these newly reemerged projects, they’re also skeptical that Etheria’s older status will do much to impact CryptoPunks’ value to NFT history.

“On paper it looks cool but it didn’t actually do anything for the community,” says user Daniel Maegaard. “CryptoPunks did all the hard work.”

Punk #6487, which Daniel Maegaard recently sold for 550 Ether (about $1.05M at the time of sale)

Maegaard, a 30-year-old crypto investor based in Brisbane, Australia, is more tied up in the value of CryptoPunks than most. He recently sold a particularly rare female “zero-trait” punk for more than $1 million. He’s also the owner of one of the rarest — some argue the rarest — punks, the only one with seven unique attributes, a qualifier that has earned it the nickname “7-atty” and a sacred place in punk lore. When he bought the punk for about $18,000 in Ethereum last year, it was the most anyone had ever paid. He isn’t keen to let it go anytime soon, saying he recently turned down a private offer for $4.2 million from a group of investors that hoped to tokenize the NFT and sell fractional shares of it to other users. Part of holding onto it is the potential for further gains, but the real reason, he says, is that he’s beginning to feel an emotional bond with his collection of digital files.

“These little pixelated faces, it should be easy to give them up. I’ve sold a few punks and I’ve regretted every sale, I experienced that when I sold my zero-trait punk,” Maegaard says. “Like, yeah, a million dollars is nice, but I really liked her.”

#accountant, #blockchain, #blockchain-art, #blockchains, #brisbane, #crypto-art, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #dylan-field, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #figma, #gamestop, #jack-dorsey, #logan-paul, #matt-hall, #mona-lisa, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #nfts, #player, #sothebys, #tc

0

Hiro Capital puts $2.3M into team sports tracking platform PlayerData — as does Sir Terry Leahy

Hiro Capital has gradually been making a name for itself as an investor in the area know as ‘Digital Sports’ or DSports for shorts. It’s now led a $2.3m funding round in PlayerData. While the round might sound small, the area it’s going into is large and growing. Also investing in the round is Sir Terry Leahy, previously the CEO of Tesco, the largest British retailer.

Edinburgh, UK-based PlayerData uses wearable technology and software tracking to give grass-roots and professional sports teams feedback on their training. It can, for instance, allow coaches to replay key moments from a game, even modeling different outcomes based on player positioning.

This is Hiro Capital’s 4th DSports and ‘connected fitness’ investment, and it joins Zwift, FitXR and NURVV. Hiro has also invested in eight games startups in the UK, USA and Europe, as befits the heritage of cofounder and partner Ian Livingstone, OBE,CBE, who is the former chairman of Tomb Raider publisher Eidos plc and all-round gaming pioneer.

PlayerData says it has captured more than 10,000 team sessions across UK soccer and rugby, and logged over 50 million meters of play. It also has strong network effects, it says. Every time a new team encounters one using Playerdata’s platform, it generates 5 more clubs as users.

Roy Hotrabhvanon is cofounder and CEO of PlayerData, and is a former international-level archer. He’s joined by Hayden Ball, cofounder and CTO, a firmware and cloud infrastructure expert.

playerdata app

playerdata app

In a statement Hotrabhvanon said: “Our mission is to bring fine-grained data and insight to clubs across team sports, helping them supercharge their game-making, improve player performance, and avoid injury… Our ultimate goal is to implement cutting-edge insights from pioneering wearables that are applicable to any team in any discipline at any level.”

Cherry Freeman, co-founding Partner at Hiro says: “PlayerData ticks all of our key boxes: a huge TAM with over 3m grass-roots clubs; a deep moat built on shared player data, machine learning and highly actionable predictive algorithms; compelling customer network effects; and a really impressive yet humble founding team.”

The PlayerData news forms part of a wider growth in digital sports, which includes such breakout names as Peloton, Tonal, Mirror, as well as Hiro’s portfolio investment, Zwift. With the pandemic putting an emphasison both home workouts and general health, the fascination with digital measurement of performance now has a growing grip on the sector.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Freeman added: “We think there are something like 3 million teams that are potential customers for PlayerData. Obviously the number of runners is enormous, and they only need to get a small slice of that market to have a very, very large business. At the end of the day everyone, everyone works out, even if you just go for a walk, so the target market’s huge and they started with running but their technology is applicable to a whole raft of other sports.”

#capital, #ceo, #chairman, #cofounder, #cycling, #edinburgh, #europe, #fiction, #finance, #hiro, #machine-learning, #partner, #player, #tc, #tesco, #tonal, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wearable-technology, #zwift

0

Rec Room raises at $1.25B valuation from Sequoia and Index as VCs push to find another Roblox

Investor FOMO following Roblox’s blockbuster public debut is pushing venture capitalists who missed out on that gaming giant to invest in competing platforms.

Today, Rec Room announced it has raised $100 million from Sequoia and Index, with participation from Madrona Venture Group. The deal is a huge influx of capital for Rec Room, which had raised less than $50 million before this round, including a $20 million Series C that closed in December. In 2019, we reported that the company had raised its Series B at a $126 million valuation, this latest deal values the company at $1.25 billion, showcasing how investor sentiment for the gaming space has shifted in the wake of Roblox’s monster growth.

Rec Room launched as a virtual reality-only platform, but as headset sales creeped along slowly, the company embraced traditional game consoles, PC and mobile to expand its reach.

In a press release accompanying today’s funding announcement, Rec Room detailed it has surpassed 15 million “lifetime users” and had shown 566% year-over-year revenue growth. In December, CEO Nick Fajt told TechCrunch that the company has tripled its player base in the past 12 months.

The company has been following in Roblox’s footsteps in many ways as it build out its creator tools and seeks to build out an on-platform economy for game creators. The company says that two million players have created content on the platform and that Rec Room is on track to pay out more than $1 million to them this year.

#ceo, #gaming, #madrona-venture-group, #player, #rec-room, #roblox, #series-b, #tc, #techcrunch, #venture-capital, #video-games, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality

0

With 1v1Me, anyone can gamble on their ability to crush an opponent in player vs. player games

Anthony Geranio has played video games for the past thirteen years. The 26 year-old first time founder of 1v1Me, a new company that lets anyone gamble on their ability to win in a player vs. player game, tried to make it as a professional gamer, but when that didn’t work, he turned to the tech industry.

Geranio and his co-founder Alex Emmanuel bounced between companies like TextNow, Skillshare, and Grailed to combine both of their passions — gaming and entrepreneurship into a new company.

“The reason I got into programming was because I wanted to be my own boss one day,” Geranio said. And even though he was making $200,000 a year working at mission driven companies like SkillShare, Geranio said he still wasn’t fulfilled.

The COVID-19 pandemic finally convinced Geranio and Emmanuel to take the plunge. All of Geranio’s friends had started lockdown whiling away the hours by playing poker online for money. Then poker turned into Call of Duty, which turned into Madden, which became whatever else the kids play these days (my gaming days ended with Mortal Kombat II).

Geranio then went to OnDeck and, after graduating, began knocking on investors’ doors. The company managed to raise over $2 million from investors including On Deck, Erik Torenberg at Village Global, Turner Novak at GeltVC, Niv Dror at Shrug, SterlingVC, Ali Hamed at Crossbeam, Cody Hock and Cole Hock from UpNorth, Lightshed Ventures and BettorCapital. Notable angels also wanted in on the action including Justin Waldron, Brud founder Trevor McFedries, Ian Borthwick, Albert Cheng, Stephen Sikes and Anthony Pompliano.

The company is launching its app on the app store with an invite only approach, with the first invites going to content creators who already play games like Call of Duty. The longterm goal is to create content creators around wagering. “We’re trying to create a network where wagering is the engagement tool,” said Geranio.

For now, the company is only supporting bets on games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. The service acts as a marketplace which exchanges contact information on a PlayStation or Xbox. To win a wager, competitors have to link their bank accounts, settle on an amount, and 1v1Me puts that money in escrow. Gamers stream their game on Twitch and 1v1Me monitors the game to determine the winner. Once the competition is over, the winner gets the money transferred to their account.

The company is launching with gamers like  NoisyButters (who invested as well), LunchtimeRLaw, and Vonniezugz.

To juice signups and invites, which can either be obtained through a creator or by following the company on Twitter where 1v1Me will give codes away, the company is also hosting a $500 challenge to whichever competitor wins the most games at the end of the week.

“When I worked at YouTube, I met many gaming creators that desired to entertain their fans and hone their skills, but it can be a struggle to make significant money along the way,” said Albert Cheng, Co-lead of Socially Financed and Director of Product at Duolingo. “1v1 is the most promising platform for esports gamers to make a living, and I’m thrilled to back them on their journey.”

#ali-hamed, #anthony-pompliano, #call-of-duty, #co-founder, #duolingo, #erik-torenberg, #founder, #gamer, #gaming, #grailed, #justin-waldron, #madden, #online-poker, #player, #skillshare, #stereotypes, #tc, #turner-novak, #twitch, #video-gaming, #village-global

0

German InsureTech platform Hepster raises $10M Series A led by Element Ventures

Hepster, an insurtech platform from Germany, has raised $10 million in a Series A funding led by Element Ventures. Also participating was Seventure Partners, MBMV, and GPS Ventures, as well as previous investors. The funds will be used to broaden the Hepster insurance ecosystem and scale up its network, with an emphasis on automation.

The German insurance market is famously slow at adopting new practices, and Hepster is part of a new wave of insurtech startups in the country taking advantage of this. It allows businesses to build insurance policies from scratch, matched specifically to the needs of their individual service or industry. E-commerce players, for instance, can then embed these insurance products into the e-commerce journey.

Its products are therefore better suited to the new sector of, for example, shared e-bike schemes and peer-to-peer rental platforms, which are rarely covered by traditional brokers in Germany. However, it also caters to traditional, established industries as well.

It now has more than 700 partners, including European bike retailers and rental companies Greenstorm Mobility and Baron Mobility, as well as Berlin-based cargo bike provider Citkar and Munich e-bike startup SUSHI.

Christian Range, Hepster co-founder and CEO, said in a statement: “Hepster is now a key player within the European insurance market. Our state-of-the-art technology with our API-driven ecosystem, as well as our highly service-oriented approach, sets us apart.” 

In interview, he told me: “Germany is the toughest market with the most regulations, the most laws. We have a saying in Germany if you can make it in Germany, you can make it everywhere. Also, it’s a big market in terms of selling insurance products because Germans really like insurance in every regard. So there is huge market potential in Germany I think.”

Michael McFadgen, partner at Element Ventures, said: “As new industries and business models emerge, companies need much more flexible insurance propositions than what is currently being offered by traditional brokers. Hepster is the breakout company in the space, and their focus on embedded insurance will pay dividends in years to come.”

#berlin, #e-bike, #element-ventures, #europe, #germany, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #munich, #partner, #player, #seventure-partners, #tc

0

How Niantic evolved Pokémon GO for the year no one could go anywhere

Pokémon GO was created to encourage players to explore the world while coordinating impromptu large group gatherings — activities we’ve all been encouraged to avoid since the pandemic began.

And yet, analysts estimate that 2020 was Pokémon GO’s highest-earning year yet.

By twisting some knobs and tweaking variables, Pokémon GO became much easier to play without leaving the house.

Niantic’s approach to 2020 was full of carefully considered changes, and I’ve highlighted many of their key decisions below.

Consider this something of an addendum to the Niantic EC-1 I wrote last year, where I outlined things like the company’s beginnings as a side project within Google, how Pokémon Go began as an April Fools’ joke and the company’s aim to build the platform that powers the AR headsets of the future.

Hit the brakes

On a press call outlining an update Niantic shipped in November, representatives said the company had tossed out its product roadmap, which included a handful of new features that have yet to see the light of day. They declined to say which features were removed, noting that it just didn’t make sense to release them right now.

Instead, as any potential end date for the pandemic slipped further into the horizon, the team refocused in Q1 2020 on figuring out ways to adapt what already worked and adjust existing gameplay to let players do more while going out less.

Turning the dials

As its name indicates, GO was never meant to be played while sitting at home. John Hanke’s initial vision for Niantic was focused around finding ways to get people outside and playing together; from its very first prototype, Niantic had players running around a city to take over its virtual equivalent block by block. They’d spent nearly a decade building up a database of real-world locations that would act as in-game points meant to encourage exploration and wandering. Years of development effort went into turning Pokémon GO into more and more of a social game, requiring teamwork and sometimes even flash mob-like meetups for its biggest challenges.

Now it all needed to work from the player’s couch.

The earliest changes were those that were easiest for Niantic to make on-the-fly, but they had dramatic impacts on the way the game actually works.

Some of the changes:

  • Doubling the players “radius” for interacting with in-game gyms, landmarks that players can temporarily take over for their in-game team, earning occupants a bit of in-game currency based on how long they maintain control. This change let more gym battles happen from the couch.
  • Increasing spawn points, generally upping the number of Pokémon you could find at home dramatically.
  • Increasing “incense” effectiveness, which allowed players to use a premium item to encourage even more Pokémon to pop up at home. Niantic phased this change out in October, then quietly reintroduced it in late November. Incense would also last twice as long, making it cheaper for players to use.
  • Allowing steps taken indoors (read: on treadmills) to count toward in-game distance challenges.
  • Players would no longer need to walk long distances to earn entry into the online player-versus-player battle system.
  • Your “buddy” Pokémon (a specially designated Pokémon that you can level up Tamagotchi-style for bonus perks) would now bring you more gifts of items you’d need to play. Pre-pandemic, getting these items meant wandering to the nearby “Pokéstop” landmarks.

By twisting some knobs and tweaking variables, Pokémon GO became much easier to play without leaving the house — but, importantly, these changes avoided anything that might break the game while being just as easy to reverse once it became safe to do so.

GO Fest goes virtual

Like this, just … online. Image Credits: Greg Kumparak

Thrown by Niantic every year since 2017, GO Fest is meant to be an ultra-concentrated version of the Pokémon GO experience. Thousands of players cram into one park, coming together to tackle challenges and capture previously unreleased Pokémon.

#artificial-intelligence, #flash, #gaming, #google, #john-hanke, #mobile, #niantic, #player, #pokemon, #pokemon-go, #social, #tc, #video-games, #video-gaming, #xp

0

ClickUp CEO talks hiring, raising and scaling in the white-hot productivity space

Few young software companies have had as great a year as San Diego-based ClickUp . The company, which makes business productivity tools for task management, goals and docs, raised its first bit of outside funding in mid-2020.

Just six months later, it has reached a $1 billion valuation after doubling its customer base and revenue increased ninefold as businesses embraced remote work.

The new funding and valuation after just a few months of hefty growth show just how closely investors are watching the productivity software space. I spoke with ClickUp CEO Zeb Evans yesterday to get his insights on the challenges of hypergrowth and why it made sense to say “yes” to the check.

This interview has edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: This has been an awfully busy year for your team. What’s happened since we talked about your Series A?

Zeb Evans: The last time we chatted with you, we were at an inflection point where we had seen a lot of growth pre-COVID and then post-COVID we saw that growth continue. So we just really kept up those growth rates and really increased in some areas. Last time we chatted we had about 100,000 teams and now we’re over double that with over 200,000 teams that use our software. I think we were at about a million users and now we’re well over two million users that use the product as well.

CEO Zeb Evans. Image Credits: ClickUp

That’s interesting, so it sounds like you’ve found a sweet spot in terms of team size?

Yeah, our number of users per team ends up being around 10 people or a little bit more than that. And that’s really stayed true from six months ago to today.

How has your own team’s size changed?

We’re right around 200 people right now, so we’ve definitely more than doubled since the last time that we talked, and we’re going to double again hopefully in the next quarter so we’ve got an aggressive hiring plan to do that.

Cool, so you’ve doubled your user base in six months as well as your team. How has your team adjusted to scaling so quickly?

It’s a good question. I think that the biggest thing that we’ve always focused on is shipping a new version of ClickUp every week. That is our differentiation. We’ve kind of created these iterative cycles called natural product market fit and it’s been hard to keep up with that. I mean, we’ve done it but as you scale, you know you have many more users and more considerations to take into every feature that you change and feature that you develop.

I think that’s been like the biggest thing we’ve been focused on and listening to that community that that is ever-growing every week. Obviously hiring is always top of mind also, and we haven’t done that as fast as we’d like to. But we’re making improvements there and we’re getting there.

A lot of startups raised opportunistic rounds during what’s seemed to be a very hot market, at what point did you think that it might make sense to raise even more money after closing that Series A?

So, our Series A was our first outside capital and we didn’t really know what that would do at the time. What we saw when we raised that fund was that we were able to really accelerate our vision and our product. We’ve used these resources very efficiently and we saw great unit economics come out of that. And also as you mentioned, it’s certainly a good time and a great market to be in — the productivity market is just the hottest right now. So it was kind of a trifecta of that but the real reason to raise was certainly to be able to continue that product growth and the acceleration of scaling that comes with raising money.

#asana, #business, #ceo, #clickup, #cloud, #document-management, #microsoft, #player, #project-management, #salesforce, #software, #stephen-elop, #task-management, #tc, #trello, #webflow, #zeb-evans

0

Indiegogo founder launches alternative investments discovery platform Vincent

As more and more alternative investment marketplaces pop up around specific verticals like art or collectibles, Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin is launching a Kayak-like platform called Vincent which helps curious investors get a handle on what the entire asset class has to offer.

Rubin and co-founders Evan Cohen and Ross Cohen have raised $2 million for the venture with backing from investors including Uncommon Denominator, ERA Ventures, The Fund and Rubin’s own firm Humbition. Vincent launched in beta this July but the firm is now ready to take the platform wide with a public launch. Rubin says the team has assembled the “most comprehensive database of alternate investments.”

Rubin has been a driving force behind alternative investments since his Indiegogo days and has helped guide some of the existing legislation that has made investments in alternative assets more tenable.

Part of the buzz around alternative investments in 2020 is the result of evolving guidance from stateside regulatory bodies, while added attention comes from the boom around investment platforms that bring users more approachable tools to access financial institutions. Specific verticals may be hoping to build up a Robinhood -like brand and following around their particular niche, but Vincent is aiming to benefit from rising tides and users eyeing diversification.

“[Our partners] are really heads down often on a lot of curation around a specific deal and trying to become experts in that space,” Rubin tells TechCrunch . “What we’ve learned is that the investor is thinking more about trying to get exposure to alternative investments and not only do they want exposure to one alternative investment, they want exposure to the entire asset class.”

The company currently has partnerships with about 50 platforms, Rubin tells me, including platforms like WeFunder, SharesPost, Rally Rd. and Otis. The deals which span real estate, venture, collectibles, and art, among others, bring Vincent users access to $2 billion worth of investments, the company says. Users visiting Vincent are asked whether or not they are accredited which routes them to the list of deals they have access to.

Similar to Kayak, people are using Vincent to source the deals, but once they find an asset that tickles their fancy, they’ve being redirected to the partner platform’s site or app in order to actually carry out the deal. Once a user carries out an investment on said platform, Vincent receives a standard fee from the partner platform.

Vincent’s main challenge is building up a brand that resonates with users without actually managing the actual investments themselves. Most of these partner platforms, as Rubin notes, are built around curating and developing an expertise around a specific niche, whether that works in a broader scenario is the big question.

“The whole goal of an aggregator is to really simplify an experience where the market is massively fragmented,” Rubin says.

Vincent is also aiming to be more than an aggregator, serving up editorial content with a blog and newsletter that the team hopes can make the platform more of a one-stop-shop for investors looking to educate themselves on alternative assets. For his part, Rubin hopes that the gold rush of startups building alternative investment platforms is the perfect time for a player to come in that focuses on streamlining everything.

 

#evan-cohen, #finance, #indiegogo, #investment, #money, #player, #real-estate, #robinhood, #sharespost, #slava-rubin, #tc, #techcrunch, #wefunder

0

Animal Jam was hacked, and data stolen. Here’s what parents need to know

WildWorks, the gaming company that makes the popular kids game Animal Jam, has confirmed a data breach.

Animal Jam is one of the most popular games for kids, ranking in the top five games in the 9-11 age category in Apple’s App Store in the U.S., according to data provided by App Annie. But while no data breach is ever good news, WildWorks has been more forthcoming about the incident than most companies would be, making it easier for parents to protect both their information and their kids’ data.

Here’s what we know.

WildWorks said in a detailed statement that a hacker stole 46 million Animal Jam records in early October but that it only learned of the breach in November.

The company said someone broke into one of its systems that the company uses for employees to communicate with each other, and accessed a secret key that allowed the hacker to break into the company’s user database. The bad news is that the stolen data is known to be circulating on at least one cybercrime forum, WildWorks said, meaning that malicious hackers may use (or be using) the stolen information.

The stolen data dates back to over the past 10 years, the company said, so former users may still be affected.

Much of the stolen data wasn’t highly sensitive, but the company warned that 32 million of those stolen records had the player’s username, 23.9 million records had the player’s gender, 14.8 million records contained the player’s birth year, and 5.7 million records had the player’s full date of birth.

But, the company did say that the hacker also took 7 million parent email addresses used to manage their kids’ accounts. It also said that 12,653 parent accounts had a parent’s full name and billing address, and 16,131 parent accounts had a parent’s name but no billing address.

Besides the billing address, the company said no other billing data — such as financial information — was stolen.

WildWorks also said that the hacker also stole player’s passwords, prompting the company to reset every player’s password. (If you can’t log in, that’s probably why. Check your email for a link to reset your password.) WildWorks didn’t say how it scrambled passwords, which leaves open the possibility that they could be unscrambled and potentially used to break into other accounts that have the same password as used on Animal Jam. That’s why it’s so important to use unique passwords for each site or service you use, and use a password manager to store your passwords safely.

The company said it was sharing information about the breach with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

So what can parents do?

  • Thankfully the data associated with kids accounts is limited. But parents, if you have used your Animal Jam password on any other website, make sure you change those passwords to strong and unique passwords so that nobody can break into those other accounts.
  • Keep an eye out for scams related to the breach. Malicious hackers like to jump on recent news and events to try to trick victims into turning over more information or money in response to a breach.

#articles, #computer-security, #data-breach, #data-security, #gaming, #have-i-been-pwned, #password-manager, #player, #security, #security-breaches, #united-states

0

Roblox to host its first virtual concert, featuring Lil Nas X

Roblox this morning announced a partnership with Columbia Records that will allow it to bring a virtual concert experience featuring Lil Nas X to its gaming platform. Notably, this will be Roblox’s first-ever virtual concert, and follows similar events that have been held during the pandemic, like the “One World: Together At Home” concert to benefit WHO in April, and Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert hosted in-game, which attracted 12.3 million concurrent players at its peak.

The Lil Nas concert, meanwhile, will be hosted in an online event space custom-designed by Roblox to allow for an immersive experience. There will be several different stages, each inspired by Lil Nas X’s songs and music videos, that will use a variety of technologies including the latest in shadowing, lighting, and physically based rendering (PBR) facial recognition technologies, the company says.

During the concert, Lil Nas X will also perform his new single “Holiday” for the first time live, as well as other popular hiits.

The event itself will actually be run over three showings starting with the main event on Sat. Nov. 14th at 1 PM PST. The Asia showing will follow at 10 PM PST, then the European show will be on Sun. Nov. 15 at 9 AM PST.

In addition, Roblox and Columbia Records will host a Q&A with Lil Nas X that will be streamed in the concert venue with a preshow at 4 PM on Friday Nov. 13.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Columbia Records to bring Lil Nas X fans and the Roblox community together in an entirely new way,” said Jon Vlassopulos, Global Head of Music at Roblox, in a statement about the event. “This concert with Lil Nas X will transport players and their friends into the Metaverse, and bring to life the future of what immersive, social experiences can look like.”

Ahead of the event, the new concert venue will feature mini games and other activities for players to explore, as well as a virtual store offering exclusive merchandise, like accessories, emotes, and Lil Nas X avatar bundles.

“We’re throwing the biggest virtual concert of 2020, and I hope everybody in the world can come check it out,” said Lil Nas X, in a statement. “I feel very lucky to be the first artist to ever do this on Roblox. We had so much fun putting this together for my fans, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it,” he added.

Roblox has been signaling an interest in expanding its platform beyond gaming in recent months, as the pandemic fueled a jump in monthly users and player spending, as well as a desire for virtual activities in general. The company in July reported it had grown to more than 150 million monthly active users, up from the 115 million it had in February, before the U.S.’s shelter-in-place orders had kicked in.

It also in July launched  “Party Place,” a virtual venue focused on hanging out for meetups or birthday parties.

The shift to virtual platforms for socializing has helped boost Roblox revenues, as well.

One third-party estimate, from Sensor Tower, pegged Roblox mobile spending at $94 million in September. It also suggested Roblox had passed $2 billion in spending to date. A more recent report from Safe Betting Sites, estimated Roblox players spent $820 million in total from Jan. through Sept. 2020.

The gaming company is poised to IPO, but a date has not been disclosed.

#columbia-records, #gaming, #lil-nas-x, #metaverse, #musicians, #nas, #online-games, #player, #roblox, #sensor-tower, #travis-scott, #united-states

0

Mobile testing platform Kobiton raises $14M, acquires competitor Mobile Labs

Atlanta-based Kobiton, a mobile testing platform that allows developers and QA teams to test their apps on real devices, both on their own desks and through the company’s cloud-based service, today announced that it has acquired Mobile Labs, another Atlanta-based mobile testing service.

To finance the acquisition of its well-funded competitor, Kobiton raised a $14 million extension to its $5.2 million Series A from its existing investor BIP Capital and new investor Fulcrum Equity Partners.

As Kobiton CEO Kevin Lee told me, we shouldn’t take that as the acquisition price, but it’s probably a fair guess that the real price isn’t too far off. The companies declined to disclose the exact price, though. Mobile Labs, which was founded in 2011, had raised about $15 million before the acquisition, according to Crunchbase. The last time it raised outside funding was in 2014. Kobiton and Mobile Labs do not share any common investors.

Kobiton CEO Kevin Lee

It’s interesting that Kobiton, which launched in 2017 and which may seem like a smaller player at first glance, was able to acquire Mobile Labs. Lee argues that one of the reasons why Mobile Labs decided to sell is that while his company has long focused on using machine learning to help developers build the tests for their apps — and the open-source Appium testing framework — Mobile Labs had fallen behind in this area.

“They were a little slow to invest in [AI] and I think they realized — and rest of the market, I think will realize it — if you don’t invest heavily and early, you kind of get behind the eight ball,” Lee told me.

He also noted that there are a lot of obvious synergies between the two companies. Mobile Labs has a lot of clients in the gaming and financial services space, for example. A lot of those clients are relatively new to mobile, while Kobiton’s existing customer base is often mobile-first.

“They’ve been around for 10 years and [have] a lot of partners, a lot of stuff outside the US,” Lee noted. “They have mainly have focused on what I would call large established enterprises in regulated industries or industries that are really concerned about IP protection — so behind the firewalls — where they really succeeded well.”

Those Mobile Labs customers, Lee said, were also looking for AI/ML-based testing solutions and the acquisition will now allow the two companies to layers Kobiton’s technology on top of the Mobile Labs solution. There will be an upgrade path for these customers and they’ll be able to do so at their own pace. There’s no plan to sunset Mobile Labs’ existing services for the time being, though some of Mobile Labs’ individual brands may change names.

With this acquisition, Kobiton will more than double the number of its US-based employees, though that’s in part because a good portion of the company’s team is based in Vietnam.

#artificial-intelligence, #atlanta, #automation, #bip-capital, #ceo, #developer, #finance, #fulcrum-equity-partners, #kobiton, #machine-learning, #player, #sauce-labs, #software-engineering, #tc, #united-states, #vietnam

0

As Blizzard sunsets StarCraft II, some of its key creators raise cash for a new gaming studio

Even as Blizzard pulls the plug on new updates for its StarCraft II game, nearly a decade after its launch, gaming investors are financing the next new thing coming from key members of the game’s early development team.

Blizzard vets Tim Morten, the former production director for StarCraft II; and Tim Campbell, the lead campaign designer for WarCraft III; have launched a new studio with a number of colleagues from Blizzard to bring real time strategy games to a bigger audience.

The new company, Frost Giant Studios, has picked up $4.7 million in seed funding from the gaming and synthetic media focused investment firm, Bitkraft Ventures, along with participation from 1 Up Ventures, GC Tracker, Riot Games, and Griffin Gaming Partners, the company said.

“Frost Giant Studios is on a mission to bring one of the most beloved genres to a broader audience,” said Scott Rupp, Founding General Partner at Bitkraft Ventures. “We are excited to see some of the most experienced leaders in real-time strategy game development come together to build a game that will secure the future growth of the RTS genre while staying true to the core player fantasy of RTS.”

Building on their experience developing StarCraft II over the past ten years, the Frost Giant Studios strategy is focused on making gameplay better, easier, and more collaborative.

Think of it as taking some of the best elements of the battle royal genre and bringing them into real-time strategy games with an eye toward playability and competitive opportunities in esports.

“Real-time strategy players are an incredibly passionate community, and they deserve not just a great new game, but one they can share broadly with friends. Building a worthy successor will take time, but we’re incredibly excited and grateful to carry real-time strategy forward at Frost Giant Studios,” said Tim Morten, Frost Giant Studios CEO.

#blizzard-entertainment, #ceo, #director, #general-partner, #iii, #player, #riot-games, #starcraft, #synthetic-media, #tc, #video-games, #video-gaming

0

Genies updates its software development kit and partners with Gucci, Giphy

Genies, has updated its software development kit and added Giphy and Gucci as new partners to enable their users to create personalized Genie avatars.

The company released the first version of its sdk in 2018 when it raised a $10 million to directly challenge Snap and Apple for avatar dominance. Now, with the latest update, the company said it has managed to create a new three dimensional rendering that can be used across platforms — if developers let Genies handle the animation.

Genies has already managed to sign up many of the biggest names in entertainment to act as their official manager through their Genies talent agency. These include celebrities like Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, and Rihanna. Genies also locked in deals with the National Football League’s player’s association along with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

Now, those celebrities and athletes can monetize exclusive digital goods made by Genies on platforms like Gucci and Giphy and the fashion house and meme generator can now give users their own digital identity to play around with.

“Over the past year, our technology has been sharpened by the exacting creative demands of celebrities. This advanced Genies’ march to be the go-to avatar globally,” said Akash Nigam, Genies CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “What was previously a celebrity exclusive experience, is now broadly available for consumers to use as their virtual portable identities. By opening up to the masses, we’ve now created an opportunity for tastemakers to forge new, unique relationships with their audiences through avatar digital goods.”

The SDK integrations are still highly curated and tailored (there’s a lot of heavy lifting that Genies needs to do with each one). For instance, Gucci users can try on the latest designs and the company will sell digital goods on its platform created by Genies. Giphy users will use their avatars as gifs on its site and through its distribution network.

“Our Avatar Agency has served as the go-to platform for thousands of artists, and with our next-gen, highly expressive and dynamic 3D Genie, we will further solidify our position as the universal digital identity,” said Izzy Pollak, Director of Avatar SDK at Genies. “For celebrities and everyday users alike, it unlocks new arenas and verticals for users to cultivate their avatars in. On top of traditional 2D environments like mobile apps and websites, Genies can now live in AR/VR platforms, games, and in use cases or SDK partner platforms that demand a 360-degree rendering of the digital goods they purchase,”

#akash-nigam, #animation, #apple, #avatar, #films, #genies, #giphy, #gucci, #justin-bieber, #major, #major-league-baseball, #national-basketball-association, #national-football-league, #player, #snap, #tc

0

Microsoft brings new robotic process automation features to its Power Platform

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Softomotive, a player in the low-code robotic process automation space with a focus on Windows. Today, at its Ignite conference, the company is launching Power Automate Desktop, a new application based on Softomotive’s technology that lets anyone automate desktop workflows without needing to program.

“The big idea of Power Platform is that we want to go make it so development is accessible to everybody,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its low-code platform, told me. “And development includes understanding and reporting on your data with Power BI, building web and mobile applications with Power Apps, automating your tasks — whether it’s through robotic process automation or workflow automation — with Power Automate, or building chatbots and chat-based experiences with Power Virtual Agent.”

Power Automate already allowed users to connect web-based applications, similar to Zapier and IFTTT, but the company also launched a browser extension earlier late last year to help users connect native system components to Power Automate. Now, with the integration of the Softomotive technology and the launch of this new low-code Windows application, it’s taking this integration into the native Windows user interface one step further.

“Everything still runs in the cloud and still connects to the cloud, but you now have a rich desktop application to author and record your UI automations,” Lamanna explained. He likened it to an ‘ultimate connector,’ noting that the “ultimate API is just the UI.”

He also stressed that the new app feels like any other modern Office app like Outlook (which is getting a new Mac version today, by the way) or Word. And like the modern versions of those apps, Power Automate Desktop derives a lot of its power from being connected to the cloud.

It’s also worth noting that Power Automate isn’t just a platform for automating simple two- or three-step processes (like sending you a text message when your boss emails you), but also for multistep, business-critical workflows. T-Mobile, for example, is using the platform to automate some of the integration processes between its systems and Sprint.

Lamanna noted that for some large enterprises, adopting these kinds of low-code services necessitates a bit of a culture shift. IT still needs to have some insights into how these tools are used, after all, to ensure that data is kept safe, for example.

Another new feature the company announced today is an integration between the Power Platform and GitHub, which is now in public preview. The idea here is to give developers the ability to create their own software lifecycle workflows. “One of the core ideas of Power Platform is that it’s low code,” Lamanna said. “So it’s built first for business users, business analysts, not the classical developers. But pro devs are welcome. The saying I have is: we’re throwing a party for business users, but pro devs are also invited to the party.” But to get them onto the platform, the team wants to meet them where they are and let them use the tools they already use — and that’s GitHub (and Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code).

#articles, #author, #automation, #business, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #economy, #ifttt, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #player, #softomotive, #tc, #windows, #zapier

0

Hear from the CEO Porsche Cars North America on electrifying the sports car

Few electric cars made a bigger splash than the new Porsche Taycan. As President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America Klaus Zellmer has the tall order of bringing the electric sedan to America and selling it against Tesla on Tesla’s home turf. He also oversees Porsche’s digital assets in the U.S. market namely the customer portal My Porsche and a digital sales platform — a critical test in the era of Covid-19.

We invited Zellmer to speak at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility due to his unique positioning inside Porsche. He’s well-suited to speak on a variety of topics critical to founders, engineers, and venture capitalists within the mobility space.

Many see Porsche well positioned to be a key player in electric vehicles and the Taycan is just the start. As CEO of Porsche Cars North America Zellmer can speak directly to the challenges and opportunities facing automakers and startups alike in the North American market.

Likewise, as the President and CEO of Porsche Digital, Zellmer has deep insights into the user experience expectations of today’s drivers including online sales. As Covid-19 continues to strain retail, dealerships are feeling strains as well. More customers are turning to online dealerships — something Zellmer can speak directly to.

Porsche Digital launched its first US-based operations in Silicon Valley in 2017 and later expanded to Atlanta in 2019. When writing about the Atlanta opening in 2019, TechCrunch writer Darrell Etherington noted that Porsche maintains facilities in global hubs of tech talent and speculated that the company uses these facilities for attracting engineering talent and potential acquisitions of complementary early-stage companies.

We hope you can join our talk with Zellmer at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2020. The event is virtual this year, therefore making it more accessible to attendees from around the world. Zellmer joins other mobility executives including Bryan Salesky of Argo AI, Peter Rawlinson of Lucid Motors, and Tekedra Mawakana of Waymo.

#america, #atlanta, #bryan-salesky, #car-dealership, #cars, #ceo, #darrell-etherington, #lucid-motors, #online-sales, #peter-rawlinson, #player, #porsche, #porsche-digital, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #waymo, #writer

0

Sunrun’s $3.2 billion Vivint Solar bid challenges Tesla’s energy ambitions

Tesla’s 2014 acquisition of SolarCity turned the electric vehicle manufacturer into the undisputed largest player in residential solar, but that lead has steadily eroded as its major competitor, Sunrun, surged ahead with more aggressive plans. Now with the $3.2 billion dollar acquisition of the residential solar installation company, Vivint Solar, Sunrun looks to solidify its place in the top spot.

From Tesla’s very early days Elon Musk has tried to define the company as an energy company rather than just a manufacturer of electric vehicles. When Tesla made its $2.6 billion bid for SolarCity the move was viewed as the culmination of the first phase of its “master plan,” which called for Tesla to “provide zero emission electric power generation options.”

Now that plan faces a major test from a publicly traded competitor that’s focused solely on providing residential solar power and the ability to lower costs for its panels through greater efficiencies of scale, according to analysts who track the solar energy sector.

Sunrun will be freaking big,” Joe Osha, an analyst at JMP Securities, told Bloomberg News. “They are clearly looking for ways to get scale and efficiency.”

Indeed, the combined companies will save roughy $90 million per year thanks to operational efficiencies, according to a statement from Sunrun. And the economies of scale will give the companies even more leverage when they contract with utilities on feeding power into the electric grid.

As Sunrun acknowledged in the announcement of its acquisition of the Blackstone-backed Vivint, the combined customer base of 500,000 homes represents over 3 gigawatts of solar assets. That figure still is only 3% penetration of the total market for residential solar in the United States.

Sunrun had already edged out Tesla for the top spot in residential solar installations and together the two companies account for 75% of new residential solar leases each quarter, according to data from Bloomberg NEF.

“Americans want clean and resilient energy. Vivint Solar adds an important and high-quality sales channel that enables our combined company to reach more households and raise awareness about the benefits of home solar and batteries,” Sunrun CEO and co-founder Lynn Jurich said in a statement. “This transaction will increase our scale and grow our energy services network to help replace centralized, polluting power plants and accelerate the transition to a 100% clean energy future.”

Even as Sunrun’s $1.46 billion stock (and the assumption of about $1.8 billion in debt) creates a massive competitor to Tesla’s solar business, there’s an opportunity for Tesla to sell more batteries through its residential solar competitor.

Sunrun and Vivint will likely be pushing their customers to add energy storage to their solar installations and that means using either Tesla’s Powerwall batteries or its own Brightbox batteries manufactured in partnership with LG Chem .

Investors have responded to Sunrun’s latest maneuver by pouring money into the stock. Sunrun’s shares were up over $5 in midday trading.

Image Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

“Vivint Solar and Sunrun have long shared a common goal of bringing clean, affordable, resilient energy to homeowners,” said David Bywater, Chief Executive Officer of Vivint Solar, in a statement. “Joining forces with Sunrun will allow us to reach a broader set of customers and accelerate the pace of clean energy adoption and grid modernization. We believe this transaction will create value for our customers, our shareholders, and our partners.”

#alternative-energy, #analyst, #articles, #blackstone, #chief-executive-officer, #elon-musk, #energy, #energy-storage, #lg-chem, #player, #solar-power, #solarcity, #sunrun, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #vivint, #yahoo

0

Uber Africa launches Uber Cash with Flutterwave and explores EVs

Uber is launching its Uber Cash digital wallet feature in Sub-Saharan Africa through a partnership with San Francisco based — Nigerian founded — fintech firm Flutterwave.

The arrangement will allow riders to top up Uber wallets using the dozens of remittance partners active on Flutterwave’s Pan-African network.

Flutterwave operates as a B2B payments gateway network that allows clients to tap its APIs and customize payments applications.

Uber Cash will go live this week and next for Uber’s ride-hail operations in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, according to Alon Lits — Uber’s General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Depending on the country, you’ve got different top up methods available. For example in Nigeria you can use your Verve Card or mobile money. In Kenya, you can use M-Pesa and EFT and in South Africa you can top up with EFT,” said Lits.

Uber Cash in Africa will also accept transfers from Flutterwave’s Barter payment app, launched with Visa in 2019.

The move could increase Uber’s ride traffic in Africa by boosting the volume of funds sent to digital wallets and reducing friction in the payment process.

Uber still accepts cash on the continent — which has one of the world’s largest unbanked populations — but has made strides on financial inclusion through mobile money.

Update on Uber Africa

Uber has been in Africa since 2015 and continued to adapt to local market dynamics, including global and local competition and more recently, COVID-19. The company’s GM Alon Lits spoke to TechCrunch on updates — including EV possibilities — and weathering the coronavirus outbreak in Africa.

Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa continued to run through the pandemic, with a couple exceptions. “The only places we ceased operations was where there were government directives,” Lits said. That included Uganda and Lagos, Nigeria.

Though he couldn’t share data, Lits acknowledged there had been a significant reduction in Uber’s Africa business through the pandemic, in line with the 70% drop in global ride volume Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed in March.

“You can imagine in markets where we were not allowed to operate revenues obviously go to zero,” said Lits.

Like Africa’s broader tech ecosystem, Uber has adapted its business to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Africa, which hit hardest in March and April and led to lockdowns in key economies, such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa

On how to make people feel safe about ride-hailing in a coronavirus world, Lits highlighted some specific practices. In line with Uber’s global policy, it’s mandatory in Africa for riders and drivers to wear masks.

“We’re actually leveraging facial recognition technology to check that drivers are wearing masks before they go,” said Lits. Uber Africa is also experimenting with impact safe, plastic dividers for its cars in Kenya and Nigeria.

Uber Africa Nairobi

Image Credits: Uber

In Africa, Uber has continued to expand its services and experiment with things the company doesn’t do in in any major markets. The first was allowing cash payments in 2016 — something Uber hopes the introduction of Uber Cash will help reduce.

Along with rival Bolt, Uber connected ride-hail products to Africa’s motorcycle and three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxi markets in 2018.

Uber moved into delivery in Africa, with Uber Eats, and recently started transporting medical supplies in South Africa through a partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mobility Africa

In addition to global competitors, such as Bolt, Uber faces local competition as Africa’s mobility sector becomes a hotspot for VC and startups.

A couple trends worth tracking will be Uber’s potential expansion to Ethiopia and moves toward EV development in Africa.

On Ethiopia, the country has a nascent tech scene with the strongest demographic and economic thesis — Africa’s second largest population and seventh biggest economy — to become the continent’s next digital hotspot.

Ethiopia also has a burgeoning ride-hail industry, with local mobility ventures Ride and Zayride. Uber hasn’t mentioned (that we know of) any intent to move into the East African country. But if it does, that would serve as a strong indicator of the company’s commitment to remaining a mobility player in Africa.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda, Image Credits: Ampersand

With regards to electric, there’s been movement on the continent over the last year toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use.

In 2019, Nigerian mobility startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round backed by Yamaha, a portion of which was dedicated to pilot e-motorcycles powered by renewable energy.

Last year the government of Rwanda established a national plan to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos, working in partnership with EV startup Ampersand.

And in May, Vaya Africa — a ride-hail mobility venture founded by mogul Strive Masiyiwa — launched an electric taxi service and solar charging network in Zimbabwe. Vaya plans to expand the program across the continent and is exploring e-moto passenger and delivery products.

On Uber’s moves toward electric in Africa, it could begin with two or three wheeled transit.

“That’s something we’ve been looking at in South Africa…nothing that we’ve launched yet, but it is a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Uber’s Sub-Saharan Africa GM Alon Lits.

He noted one of the challenges of such an electric model on the continent is lack of a robust charging infrastructure.

Even so, if Uber enters that space — with Vaya and others — emissions free ride-hail and delivery EVs buzzing around African cities could soon be a reality.

#africa, #african-tech, #business, #ceo, #dara-khosrowshahi, #e-motorcycles, #energy, #ethiopia, #evs, #flutterwave, #ghana, #kenya, #lagos, #nigeria, #player, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #tanzania, #tc, #transport, #uber, #uganda, #vaya-africa, #visa, #yamaha, #zimbabwe

0