Growth tactics that will jump-start your customer base

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying the groundwork for user-generated content

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

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

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

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

Build in public …

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

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

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

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… or build in private

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

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

Medium revamps its Partner Program, launching new eligibility requirements and referral bonuses

Amid a year of editorial pivots and employee exits, Medium announced today that it will make significant changes to its Medium Partner Program, which allows writers on the platform to monetize their content.

Founded in 2011, Medium launched its Partner Program in 2017. Since then, the platform has paid out $28 million to over 200,000 contributors. Initially, it offered payouts based on how much time Medium members spent reading a writer’s content. For $5 per month or $50 per year, Medium members could read all posts on the platform without hitting a paywall. Plus, part of each member’s subscription was split among the writers they read; so, if a Medium member spent 10% of their time reading one writer’s work, for example, that writer would get 10% of the subscriber’s revenue share.

Medium said that earnings based on read time will remain the same. But now, Medium will offer a new way to make money with the launch of a referral program.

Previously, if a reader converted to a paying member within 30 days of reading a writer’s story, that writer would get credit for the amount of time the reader spent reading their work. Under the new model, Partner Program writers will now have a personalized referral landing page — for any reader who purchases a Medium subscription via their page, the writer will get half of that member’s subscription fee for as long as they remain a paying member, minus the standard 2.9% + $0.30 in payment processing fees. So, if a writer got 100 readers to sign up for a monthly Medium membership through their referral, that would net the writer $227 per month.

However, now it’s more difficult for a writer to join the Partner Program — writers must have 100 subscribers, at least one published Medium story, and they must live within specific geographic regions. Even if a Partner meets the new eligibility requirements, they might lose their status if they don’t publish anything new in a six month period. Still, under the previous structure, just becoming a Partner didn’t guarantee financial rewards — some Partners with smaller followings would make pennies each month. Existing Partners will retain their status through the end of 2021, and if they haven’t reached 100 subscribers by then, they will be removed.

Also, Medium will soon institute a minimum payout threshold of $10, meaning that if a writer makes less than $10 in a month, that pay will roll over to the next month until they amass at least $10.

Medium has been reticent about its subscriber numbers in the past, but CEO Ev Williams told TechCrunch in November that its subscriber numbers were in the “high hundreds of thousands.” In March 2021, Medium had 725,000 subscribers per Axios, but Digiday previously reported that Medium had hoped to reach 1 million subscribers by 2020. As of September, its competitor Substack, founded in 2017, had 250,000 paid subscribers and raised a $65 million series B round two months later. Medium last raised venture funding in 2016 with a $50M series C round.

Platforms like Substack and the newer Ghost pay writers based on how many paying subscribers they have. Medium’s new revenue sharing model similarly incentivizes writers to corral readers to the platform, but Medium takes about 50%. For direct subscriptions to a writer’s individual newsletter, Substack takes 10%, and Ghost takes $9 per month. While Substack or Ghost readers might subscribe to multiple individual newsletters, Medium subscribers pay just one $5 monthly or $50 yearly fee to access all of the website’s content.

The newsletter business is competitive — in June, Facebook launched a newsletter platform called Bulletin with hand-picked contributors, and Twitter acquired Revue earlier this year. Then, last week, Quora unveiled a monetization platform called Quora+, which costs the same as a Medium membership. Similar to Medium, Quora+ subscribers get access to all content any writer chooses to put behind a paywall, and writers are paid based on engagement with their content. But writers can also write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora — Quora takes a 5% cut of those payments.

#apps, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ev-williams, #medium, #newsletters, #paywall, #quora, #social-software, #substack, #world-wide-web, #writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

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

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

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

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

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

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

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

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

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

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

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

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

Fintech

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

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

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

Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messaging

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

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

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

Streaming & Entertainment

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

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

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

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

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

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

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

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

Dating

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

Photos

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

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

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

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

Health & Fitness

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

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

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

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

Edtech

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

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

News & Reading

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

Utilities

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

Security & Privacy

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

Funding and M&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

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

Xingtu

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

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

Tweets

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

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

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

Creators can now monetize their expertise on Quora

In May, Yahoo! Answers shut down after helping the internet answer its most burning questions since 2005. But now, Quora, which began as a question-and-answer site but expanded to incorporate blogging, is making its platform more appealing to creators.

Quora says it’s “on track to be cash flow positive from ads alone,” implying that the platform isn’t currently in the black. But Quora sees tapping into the creator economy and subscriptions as a way to turn a profit.

“We want to make sharing knowledge more financially sustainable for creators,” Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo wrote in a blog post. “Even though many people are motivated and able to spend their time writing on Quora just to share their knowledge, many others could share much more with financial justification to do so.”

Quora’s first new product is Quora+ — subscribers will pay a $5 monthly fee or a $50 yearly fee to access content that any creator chooses to put behind a paywall. These are the same rates that Medium, which has no ads, charges for its membership program.

Rather than paying select creators, subscribers will pay Quora. Then, each subscriber’s payment will be distributed to creators “in proportion to the amount each subscriber is consuming their content, with more of a subscriber’s contribution going to writers and spaces the subscriber follows.” Creators have the option to enable a dynamic paywall on Quora+ content, which would give free users access to certain posts if Quora thinks they’re likely to convert to paid membership; there’s also an “adaptive” paywall option, which uses an algorithm to decide whether to paywall content for a specific user on a case-by-case basis. This is supposed to help creators strike a balance between monetizing their content and growing their audience to find new potential subscribers.

Quora told TechCrunch that it is still experimenting with Quora+ and can’t yet say what percentage it will take from subscriptions.

The other option is for creators to write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora. Quora will take 5% of the subscription fee, which the creator can choose at their own discretion — comparatively, the direct-to-consumer blogging platform Substack takes 10% of writers’ profits, which makes Quora a competitive alternative. Other platforms like Ghost ask for a $9 monthly fee, but let writers retain their revenue — for writers making at least $180 per month, Ghost would be more profitable than Quora.

“We’re able to sustainably commit to taking only a minimal fee without needing to increase it in the future because we make enough revenue from ads to fund most of the platform’s development and operations,” D’Angelo wrote. Substack, meanwhile, doesn’t have ads.

Quora reached a $1.8 billion valuation in 2017 after raising $85 million, and at the time, the platform had 190 million monthly users. Now, according to D’Angelo’s blog post, over 300 million people use Quora each month. Despite this user growth, Quora laid off an undisclosed amount of staff in its Bay Area and New York City offices in January 2020.

Space subscriptions will launch today for English language users in 25 countries, including the U.S. The rollout of Quora+ will be less immediate as Quora invites select writers to test the platform and determine what works best for subscribers and creators.

#adam-dangelo, #apps, #california, #ceo, #new-york-city, #peer-to-peer, #question-and-answer-site, #quora, #substack, #website, #websites, #yahoo, #yahoo-answers

Bring your own environment: The future of work

The world has just witnessed one of the fastest work transformations in history. COVID-19 saw businesses send people home en masse, leaning on technology to maintain business as usual. Working from home, once the exception rather than the rule, became responsible for two-thirds of economic activity as an estimated 1.1 billion people around the world were forced to perform their daily jobs remotely, up from 350 million in 2019.

As we explain in the 2021 Accenture Technology Vision report, this transformation is just the beginning. Looking ahead, where and how people work will be much more flexible concepts with the potential to bring benefits to employees and employers alike. In fact, 87% of executives Accenture surveyed believe that the remote workforce opens up the market for difficult-to-find talent.

These benefits will only be fully realized if enterprises adopt a strategic approach to the future of work. Think back to a few years ago, when the bring your own device (BYOD) trend was in vogue. Faced with demand from workers to use their own devices in the enterprise setting, businesses had to think through new policies and controls to support this model.

Employers must now do the same thing, but on a much bigger scale. BYOD has become “BYOE”: Employees are bringing their entire environments to work. These environments include a broader range of worker-owned tech (smart speakers, home networks, gaming consoles, security cameras and more) and their work setting. One person may have a home office set up in a shed in their garden, another may be working from the kitchen table, surrounded by their family.

Businesses need to accept that their employees’ environments are a permanent part of their enterprise and adjust them accordingly.

The workplace reimagined

Looking ahead, the BYOE-style of work won’t be limited to employees’ homes. People will be free to work from anywhere, and they will want to work in the environment that’s best for them — whether that’s the office, home or a hybrid mix of the two. This is something leaders must accommodate rather than fight.

Indeed, leaders can rethink the purpose of working at the warehouses, depots, factories, offices, labs and other locations that make up their businesses. They should consider carefully when it makes sense for people to be at certain sites and with certain people. They will thereby be able to optimize their operations.

A few years from now, the organizations that succeed will be the ones that resisted the urge to race everyone back to the office and instead rethought how their workforce operates. They will have put in place a robust strategy for change that includes the adoption of technology enablers like the cloud, AI, IoT and XR. But more importantly, this will outline how their reimagined workforce model can support and enable their people and how this can be reflected in the corporate culture.

Enabling the new

The first step toward this future requires gaining visibility into the employee experience. With BYOE, the employee experience has never been more important, but it has also never been harder to monitor. Workplace analytics will therefore be critical to understanding how employees’ environments are impacting their work and finding insights that can improve their experience and productivity.

Security is another primary enabler. Businesses need to accept that their employees’ environments are a permanent part of their enterprise and adjust them accordingly. IT security teams will have to do more than ensure that a worker’s laptop is secured with the latest firewall patches, and consider the worker’s network security and the security of all devices linked to that network, such as baby monitors and smart TVs.

Once the technology, analytics and security foundations are in place, businesses will be better positioned to unlock the full value of BYOE: operating model transformation. When companies go virtual-first, they have new opportunities to integrate emerging technologies into the workforce. With a virtual-first BYOE strategy, for example, businesses can have a warehouse full of robots doing the physical work, coupled with offsite employees safely monitoring and overseeing strategy.

Cultural change is key

Success in BYOE will also come down to culture. The enterprise must accept that the employee environment is now part of the “workplace” and accommodate people’s needs. This will be a large, slow-to-emerge cultural shift, but there will be quick wins, too.

Take the disconnect between in-person and remote workers as an example. So much is currently tied to geography, but the future will be all about balance. Workers in different roles will benefit from the work environment best suited to their needs. However, without careful implementation, the approach could lead to a divided workforce, where in-office and remote workers struggle to collaborate. Quora is already looking to overcome this challenge by requiring all employees who are attending meetings, regardless of whether they’re home or in the office, to appear on their own video screen.

Reimagining the organization for BYOE is a moving target and best practices are still emerging. But one thing is already clear: You can’t afford to wait. To attract the best talent and keep employees engaged, start planning now.

#accenture, #column, #consulting, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #firewall, #labor, #mobile-device-management, #opinion, #quora, #remote-work, #remote-working, #telecommunications, #telecommuting, #working-remotely

Scale AI founder and CEO Alexandr Wang will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9

Last week, Scale AI announced a massive $325 million Series E. Led by Dragoneer, Greenoaks Capital and Tiger Global, the raise gives the San Francisco data labeling startup a $7 billion valuation.

Alexandr Wang founded the company back in 2016, while still at MIT. A veteran of Quora and Addepar, Wang built the startup to curate information for AI applications. The company is now a break-even business, with a wide range of top-notch clients, including General Motors, NVIDIA, Nuro and Zoox.

Backed by a ton of venture capital, the company plans a large-scale increase in its headcount, as it builds out new products and expands into additional markets. “One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

The executive will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 to discuss how the company has made a major impact on the industry in its short four years of existence, the role AI is playing in the world of transportation and what the future looks like for Scale AI.

In addition to Wang, TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 will feature an incredible lineup of speakers, presentations, fireside chats and breakouts all focused on the current and future state of mobility — like EVs, micromobility and smart cities for starters — and the investment trends that influence them all.

Investors like Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) — all of whom will grace our virtual stage. They’ll have plenty of insight and advice to share, including the challenges that startup founders will face as they break into the transportation arena.

You’ll hear from CEOs like Starship Technologies’ Ahti Heinla. The company’s been busy testing delivery robots in real-world markets. Don’t miss his discussion touching on challenges ranging from technology to red tape and what it might take to make last-mile robotic delivery a mainstream reality.

Grab your early bird pass today and save $100 on tickets before prices go up in less than a month.

#addepar, #alexandr-wang, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #autotech-ventures, #clara-brenner, #deliv, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #general-motors, #greenoaks-capital, #micromobility, #mit, #nuro, #nvidia, #quora, #rachel-holt, #san-francisco, #scale-ai, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tc-sessions-mobility, #technology, #tiger-global, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital, #wang

What Silicon Valley could learn from China’s Q&A platform Zhihu

China’s largest question and answer platform Zhihu began trading in New York at $9.5 per share at the lower end of its IPO range, valuing the company at about $5.3 billion.

The aggregate offering size of Zhihu’s IPO and the concurrent private placements is $772.5 million, assuming the underwriters do not exercise their option to purchase additional ADSs. With Zhihu’s sizable flotation, some Silicon Valley executives and investors may start to pay more attention to this ten-year-old company from China that was once simply regarded as the “Quora of China.”

Q&A remains at the core of Zhihu, which means “do you know” in classical Chinese, but the service has become much more than the American counterpart that was founded two years before it.

“I think Quora is a good product, but I think Quora today still equals Quora ten years ago,” said Kai-Fu Lee, whose investment firm Sinovation Ventures is a seed investor in Zhihu and is the company’s largest outside shareholder with a 13% stake.

“Zhihu has already grown up and is on the path to becoming a multifaceted super app centered around knowledge, while Quora is still a question and answer website with an app,” added Lee, an AI expert and an avid Zhihu contributor himself.

Asides from facilitating Q&As, Zhihu has also dabbled in premium content, live videos and audio, online education, among other forms that it believes are ripe for sharing knowledge.

Today, Zhihu generates about 70-80% of its revenues from advertising, according to its prospectus, though other businesses like membership and e-commerce are growing financial contributors, a sign that it’s working to diversify monetization streams.

The willingness of Chinese startups to “reinvent themselves and cannibalize their own success” is what differentiates them from American companies, Lee observed.

“Because they know if they don’t do that, their challenger will, and they are ambitious towards building the super app as a dream. I think American entrepreneurs tend to build something really good and light, partner with other companies and stay in their comfort zone,” said the investor who was the president of Google China in the late 2000s.

“I really think that Silicon Valley and U.S. entrepreneurs should look to China for ideas or inspirations of doing things differently.”

Conflict of interest

From 2019 to 2020, Zhihu’s monthly active users grew from 48 million to 68.5 million, an indication that the platform has thrived beyond the small clientele of Chinese tech elites, investors and academics whom it first attracted. A new mother could be on Zhihu asking for postnatal tips and a Foxconn worker may be on the site sharing her factory stories.

Zhihu’s revenue increased from 670.5 million yuan ($102 million) in 2019 to 1.4 billion yuan in 2020, while its net loss shrank from 1 billion yuan to 517.6 million yuan. It may seem at first that commercialization is at odds with Zhihu’s principle rooted in open user collaboration. Oftentimes, answerers are not economically incentivized but simply participating for leisure. But Zhihu is for-profit from day one and needs income after all.

It’s a always delicate matter to balance a product’s commercial and user interests. The bottom line is to be vigilant and deliberate about the kind of ads or sponsored content allowed on the platform. Restrain could mean smaller advertising revenue, but a medical ad scandal that hit Chinese search giant Baidu back in 2016 showed how easily user trust could be lost. Well-placed and responsible ads, on the other hand, could bring greater returns for both advertisers and the platform.

On the innovative side, not all users have appreciated Zhihu’s new features. Zhihu has recently upped its ante on short videos, which have become the default medium through which many Chinese users receive information, thanks to more affordable connectivity and industry forerunners like Douyin and Kuaishou. But some users argue that short videos by nature verge on entertainment and are obtrusive for the more serious, text-focused Zhihu.

Zhihu has other interests to balance. Its shareholders include Tencent, Baidu and Kuaishou, which are “super apps” themselves for their extensive functionalities. They all have traffic deals with Zhihu. For example, Zhihu content is surfaced in the search results on WeChat, which has its own search engine.

While joining hands with giants could drive user growth for a smaller player, dependence on outsiders could also handcuff a startup, forcing it to give away significant shares too early and joggle the interests of multiple allies, who could be rivals themselves.

Lee declined to comment on Zhihu’s relationship with any specific partner, but he did indicate that Zhihu doesn’t currently have an “overreliance” on partners and that the firm keeps “natural working business relationships with them.”

“That also speaks to the purity and the ambition of the Zhihu team that it hopes to maintain more independence by making more friends,” said Lee.

#asia, #china, #funding, #ipo, #quora, #tc, #zhihu

Brainly raises $80M as its platform for crowdsourced homework help balloons to 350M users

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a major upswing in virtual learning — where some schools have gone (and stayed) remote, and others have incorporated significantly stronger online components, in order to help communities maintain more social distancing. That has in turn led to a surge in the usage of tools to help home learners do their work better, and today, one of them is announcing a growth round that speaks to the opportunity in that market.

Brainly, a startup from Poland that has built a popular network for students and their parents to engage with each other for advice and help with homework questions, has raised $80 million, a series D that it will be using both to continue building out the tools that it offers to students as well as to hone in on expansion in some key emerging markets such as Indonesia and Brazil. The news comes on the heels of dramatic growth for the company, which has seen its user base grow from 150 million users in 2019 to 350 million today.

The funding is being led by previous backer Learn Capital, with past investors Prosus Ventures, Runa Capital, MantaRay, and General Catalyst Partners also participating. The company has now raised some $150 million and while it’s not disclosing valuation, CEO and co-founder Michał Borkowski confirmed it is “definitely” an upround for the company. For more context, Pitchbook estimates that the company was valued at $180 million in its last round, a Series C of $30 million in 2019.

That C round was raised specifically to help Brainly grow in the U.S. It currently has some 30 million users in that market, and it happens to be the only one in which Brainly is monetising users. Everywhere else, Brainly is currently free to use. (In the U.S. there are also some formidable competitors, like Chegg, which has strong traction in the market of helping students with homework.)

“Brainly has become one of the world’s largest learning communities, achieving significant organic growth in over 35 countries,” said Vinit Sukhija, Partner at Learn Capital, in a statement.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Brainly was finding an audience with students — primarily those aged 13-19, said Borkowski — who were turning to the service to connect with people who could help them with homework when they found themselves at an impasse with, say, a math problem or getting to grips with the sequence of events that led to the revolutions of 1848. The platform is open-ended and is a little like a Quora for homework, in that people can find and answer questions they are interested in, as well as ask questions themselves.

That platform, however, took on a whole new dimension of importance with the shift to virtual learning, Borkowski said.

“In the western world, online education wasn’t a big investment area [pre-Covid] and that has changed a lot, with huge adoption by students, parents and teachers,” he said. “But that big transition, switching from offline to online, has left kids struggling because teachers have so much more to do, so they can’t engage in the same way.”

So with “homework” becoming “all work”, that has effectively led to needing more help than ever with home studies. And while many parents have tried to get more involved to make up the difference, “having parents as teachers has been hard,” he added. They may have been taught differently from how their kids are learning, or they don’t remember or know answers.

One thing that Brainly started to see, he said, was that with the pandemic more parents started using the app alongside students, either to work out answers together or to get the help themselves before helping their kids, with a number of these being from parents of kids younger than 13. He said that 15-20% of all new registrations currently are coming from parents.

Brainly up to now has been mainly focused on how to build out more tools for the students — and now parents — that use it, and has so far been about organic growth for those communities.

However, there is clearly scope to expand that to more educational stakeholders to better organise what kind of questions are answered and how. Borkowski said that the company has indeed been approached by educators, those building curriculums and others so that answers might tie in better with the kinds of questions that they are most likely to ask of students, although for now the company “wants to keep the focus on students and parents getting stuck.”

In terms of future products, Brainly is looking at ways of bringing in more tutoring, video and AI into the mix. The AI aspect is very interesting and will in fact tie in to wider curriculum coverage based on more localised needs. For example, if you ask for help with a particular kind of quadratic equation technique, you can then be served lots of same practice questions to help better learn and apply what you’ve just been learning, and you might even then get suggested related topics that will appear alongside that in a wider mathematics examination. And, you might be offered the chance to meet with a tutor for further help.

Tutoring, he said, is something that Brainly has already been quietly piloting and has run some 150,000 sessions to date. Having such a large user base, Borkowski said, helps the startup run services at scale while still effectively keeping them in test mode.

“It will be about looking at what students are studying and how to map that to the curriculum in the country, and what we can do to help with that.” Borkowski said. “But it will require a heavy lift and and machine learning to pinpoint students” for it to work properly, which is one reason it has yet to roll it out more comprehensively, he added.

Tutoring and more personalization are not the only areas where Brainly is actively testing out new services. The company is also creating more space for adding in video to demonstrate different techniques (which I suspect is especially good for something like mathematics, but equally helpful for, say, an art technique).

There are “thousands per week” being added already, but as with tutoring “that, for us, is a testing stage,” added Borkowski. There should be more coming in Q1 about new products, he said.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #brainly, #brazil, #e-commerce, #education, #europe, #funding, #gamification, #general-catalyst, #general-catalyst-partners, #homework, #indonesia, #machine-learning, #online-education, #poland, #prosus-ventures, #quora, #runa-capital, #subscription-services, #tc, #united-states

How will coronavirus change the world? — Parlia launches to help you find out

Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite?” Google that phrase and you will get thousands of results. It just goes to show that, to a large extent, the “Q&A” model is broken on the internet. Where once Yahoo Answers and Quora were considered the bright young things of Web 2.0’s “Read/Write Web”, today there is only the chaos of myriad search results. Let’s face it, many have tried to really crack Q&A (remember “Mahalo”?) but few ever got very far and most became zombie sites.

But look again and you will notice something. A site called Parlia sits at Number 3 on that search result for ‘Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite’. But Parlia only launched (in stealth mode) in October last year.

So how can this be?

Well, this upstart in the Q&A space has now closed a Pre-seed round of funding from Bloomberg Beta, Tiny VC and others (amount undisclosed).

And as founder, and former journalist, Turi Monthe tells me, the idea here is Parlia will become an “encyclopedia of opinion.”

“We’re a wiki: mapping out all the perspectives on both the breaking stories and controversies of the day, as well as the big evergreen questions: does God exist? Is Messi really better than Ronaldo? The way we’re building is to also help fix today’s polarisation, outrage and information silo-ing,” he tells me.

While most Q&A sites are geared around X vs Y, and focused on rational debate, Parlia is trying to map ALL the opinions out there: flat earthers’ included. It’s aiming to be descriptive not prescriptive and is closer to a wiki, unlike Quora where the authors are often selling ‘something’ as well as themselves as experts.

The site is already on a tear. And also highly appropriate for this era.

Right now top subjects include “How to stay healthy during quarantine at home?” or “What are the effects of spending long periods in coronavirus isolation?” or “Will the coronavirus crisis bring society together?” The list goes on. Users see the arguments calmly, dispassionately laid out, alongside counter-arguments and all the other arguments and positions.

Says Munthe: “In 2016, I realized the age of political consensus was over. I watched as Britain spilt maybe a trillion words of argument in the build-up to the Brexit Referendum and thought: there are no more than a half-dozen reasons why people will vote either way.”

He realized that if there’s a finite number of arguments around something as huge and divisive as Brexit, then this would be true for everything. Thus, you could theoretically map the arguments around Gun Control, Abortion, responses to the Coronavirus, the threat of AI, and pretty much everything.

So why would anyone want to do that? It’s, of course, a good thing in itself and would help people understand what they think as well as help them understand how the rest of the world thinks.

Luckily, there is also a business model. It will potentially carry ads, sponsorships, membership, user donations. Another is data. If they get it right, they will have surfaced foundational information about the very ways we think.

Munthe thinks all the users will come through Search. “The media opportunity, we think, is 100M+ pageviews/month,” he says.

Munthe’s cofounder is J. Paul Neeley, former Professor of the Royal College of Art, and a Service Designer who’s worked with Unilever and the UK’s Cabinet Office. Munthe himself has been exploring the systemic issues of the media ecosystem for some time. From founding a small magazine in Lebanon, reporting in Iraq in 2003, then starting and exiting Demotix, to launching North Base Media (a media-focused VC).

The temptation, of course, is to allow bias to creep in return for commercial deals. But, says Menthe: “We will never work with political parties, and we will set up our own ethics advisory board. But that understanding should be of value to market researchers and institutions everywhere.”

So now you can find out how coronavirus will change the world?

#biology, #cofounder, #coronavirus, #demotix, #designer, #europe, #google, #iraq, #journalist, #lebanon, #linguistics, #messi, #quora, #tc, #unilever, #united-kingdom, #yahoo