Twitter’s ‘Super Follow’ creator subscription takes shots at Substack and Patreon

It’s been an all-around more ambitious year for Twitter. Following activist shareholder action last year that aimed to oust CEO Jack Dorsey, the company has been making long overdue product moves, buying up companies and aiming to push the envelope on how it can tap its network and drive new revenue streams. Things seem to be paying off for the company, as their share price sits at an all-time high — double that of its 2020 high.

Today, the company shared early details on its first ever paid product, a feature called “Super Follow” which aims to combine the community trends of Discord, the newsletter insights of Substack, the audio chat rooms of Clubhouse and the creator support of Patreon into a creator subscription. The company announced the service during its Analyst Day event Thursday morning.

Plenty of details are still up in the air for the feature, which notably does not have a launch timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Screenshots shared by Twitter showcase a feature that allows Twitter users to subscribe to their favorite creators for a monthly price (one screenshot details a $4.99 per month cost) and earn certain subscriber-only perks, including things like “exclusive content,” “subscriber-only newsletters,” “community access,” “deals & discounts,” and a “supporter badge” for subscribers. Creators in the program will also be able to paywall certain media they share, including tweets, fleets and chats they organize in Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor Spaces.

The company’s other big announcement of the event was “Communities,” a product that seems designed to compete with Facebook Groups but also will likely provide “Super Follow” networks a place to interact with creators in close cahoots.

Introducing paywalls into the Twitter feed could dramatically shift the mechanics of the service. Twitter has been pretty conservative over the years in building features that are intended for singular classes of users. Creator-focused features built for a network that is already home to so many creators could be a major threat to services like Patreon, which have largely popped up due to the lackluster monetization tools available from the big social platforms.

New revenue streams will undoubtedly be key to Twitter’s ambitious plan to double its revenues by 2023.

 

#analyst, #ceo, #clubhouse, #computing, #day, #discord, #facebook, #jack-dorsey, #operating-systems, #patreon, #paywall, #real-time-web, #software, #tc, #text-messaging, #twitter

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SolarWinds hackers targeted NASA, Federal Aviation Administration networks

Hackers are said to have broken into the networks of U.S. space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration as part of a wider espionage campaign targeting U.S. government agencies and private companies.

The two agencies were named by the Washington Post on Tuesday, hours ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing tasked with investigating the widespread cyberattack, which the previous Trump administration said was “likely Russian in origin.”

Spokespeople for the agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did not deny the breach in remarks to the Post.

It’s believed NASA and the FAA are the two remaining unnamed agencies of the nine government agencies confirmed to have been breached by the attack. The other seven include the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, the Treasury, and the National Institutes of Health, though it’s not believed the attackers breached their classified networks.

FireEye, Microsoft, and Malwarebytes were among a number of cybersecurity companies also breached as part of the attacks.

The Biden administration is reportedly preparing sanctions against Russia, in large part because of the hacking campaign, the Post also reported.

The attacks were discovered last year after FireEye raised the alarm about the hacking campaign after its own network was breached. Each victim was a customer of the U.S. software firm SolarWinds, whose network management tools are used across the federal government and Fortune 500 companies. The hackers broke into SolarWinds’ network, planted a backdoor in its software, and pushed the backdoor to customer networks with a tainted software update.

It wasn’t the only way in. The hackers are also said to have targeted other companies by breaking into other devices and appliances on their victims’ networks, as well as targeting Microsoft vendors to breach other customers’ networks.

Last week, Anne Neuberger, the former NSA cybersecurity director who last month was elevated to the White House’s National Security Council to serve as the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said that the attack took “months to plan and execute,” and will “take us some time to uncover this layer by layer.”

#anne-neuberger, #biden-administration, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberattacks, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #director, #federal-aviation-administration, #federal-government, #fireeye, #government, #information-technology, #malwarebytes, #microsoft, #russia, #security, #senate-intelligence-committee, #software, #solarwinds, #supply-chain-attack, #the-washington-post, #trump-administration, #u-s-government, #united-states

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Kleeen raises $3.8M to make front-end design for business applications easy

Building a front-end for business applications is often a matter of reinventing the wheel, but because every business’ needs are slightly different, it’s also hard to automate. Kleeen is the latest startup to attempt this, with a focus on building the user interface and experience for today’s data-centric applications. The service, which was founded by a team that previously ran a UI/UX studio in the Bay Area, uses a wizard-like interface to build the routine elements of the app and frees a company’s designers and developers to focus on the more custom elements of an application.

The company today announced that it has raised a $3.8 million seed round led by First Ray Venture Partners. Leslie Ventures, Silicon Valley Data Capital, WestWave Capital, Neotribe Ventures, AI Fund and a group of angel investors also participated in the round. Neotribe also led Kleeen’s $1.6 million pre-seed round, bringing the company’s total funding to $5.3 million.

Image Credits: Kleeen

After the startup he worked at sold, Kleeen co-founder, CPO and President Joshua Hailpern told me, he started his own B2B design studio, which focused on front-end design and engineering.

“What we ended up seeing was the same pattern that would happen over and over again,” he said. “We would go into a client, and they would be like: ‘we have the greatest idea ever. We want to do this, this, this and this.’ And they would tell us all these really cool things and we were: ‘hey, we want to be part of that.’ But then what we would end up doing was not that. Because when building products — there’s the showcase of the product and there’s all these parts that support that product that are necessary but you’re not going to win a deal because someone loved that config screen.”

The idea behind Kleeen is that you can essentially tell the system what you are trying to do and what the users need to be able to accomplish — because at the end of the day, there are some variations in what companies need from these basic building blocks, but not a ton. Kleeen can then generate this user interface and workflow for you — and generate the sample data to make this mock-up come to life.

Once that work is done, likely after a few iterations, Kleeen can generate React code, which development teams can then take and work with directly.

Image Credits: Kleeen

As Kleeen co-founder and CEO Matt Fox noted, the platform explicitly doesn’t want to be everything to everybody.

“In the no-code space, to say that you can build any app probably means that you’re not building any app very well if you’re just going to cover every use case. If someone wants to build a Bumble-style phone app where they swipe right and swipe left and find their next mate, we’re not the application platform for you. We’re focused on really data-intensive workflows.” He noted that Kleeen is at its best when developers use it to build applications that help a company analyze and monitor information and, crucially, take action on that information within the app. It’s this last part that also clearly sets it apart from a standard business intelligence platform.

#ai-fund, #app-store, #business-intelligence, #co-founder, #developer, #enterprise, #mobile-app, #neotribe-ventures, #operating-systems, #president, #saas, #silicon-valley-data-capital, #software, #switch, #tc

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ChargeLab raises seed capital to be the software provider powering EV charging infrastructure

As money floods into the electric vehicle market a number of small companies are trying to stake their claim as the go-to provider of charging infrastructure. These companies are developing proprietary ecosystems that work for their own equipment but don’t interoperate.

ChargeLab, which has raised $4.3 million in seed financing led by Construct Capital and Root Ventures, is looking to be the software provider providing the chargers built by everyone else.

“You’ll find everyone in every niche and corner,” says ChargeLab chief executive Zachary Lefevre. Lefevre likens Tesla to Apple with its closed ecosystem and compares Chargepoint and Blink, two other electric vehicle charging companies to Blackberry — the once dominant smartphone maker. “What we’re trying to do is be android,” Lefevre said.

That means being the software provider for manufacturers like ABB, Schneider Electric and Siemens. “These guys are hardware makers up and down the value stack,” Lefevre said.

ChargeLab already has an agreement with ABB to be their default software provider as they go to market. The big industrial manufacturer is getting ready to launch their next charging product in North America.

As companies like REEF and Metropolis revamp garages and parking lots to service the next generation of vehicles, ChargeLab’s chief executive thinks that his software can power their EV charging services as they begin to roll that functionality out across the lots they own.

Lefevre got to know the electric vehicle charging market first as a reseller of everyone else’s equipment, he said. The company had raised a pre-seed round of $1.1 million from investors including Urban.us and Notation Capital and has now added to that bank account with another capital infusion from Construct Capital, the new fund led by Dayna Grayson and Rachel Holt, and Root Ventures, Lefevre said.

Eventually the company wants to integrate with the back end of companies like Chargepoint and Electrify America to make the charging process as efficient for everyone, according to ChargeLab’s chief executive.

As more service providers get into the market, Lefevre sees the opportunity set for his business expanding exponentially. “Super open platforms are not going to be building an EV charging system any more than they would be building their own hardware,” he said.

#abb, #android, #apple, #chargelab, #chargepoint, #charging-stations, #companies, #construct-capital, #dayna-grayson, #electric-vehicles, #electrical-engineering, #electrify-america, #inductive-charging, #north-america, #notation-capital, #rachel-holt, #reef, #root-ventures, #siemens, #smartphone, #software, #tc

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Jamaica’s Amber Group fixes second JamCOVID security lapse

Amber Group has fixed a second security lapse that exposed private keys and passwords for the government’s JamCOVID app and website.

A security researcher told TechCrunch on Sunday that the Amber Group left a file on the JamCOVID website by mistake, which contained passwords that would have granted access to the backend systems, storage, and databases running the JamCOVID site and app. The researcher asked not to be named for fears of legal repercussions from the Jamaican government.

This file, known as an environment variables (.env) file, is often used to store private keys and passwords for third-party services that are necessary for cloud applications to run. But these files are sometimes inadvertently exposed or uploaded by mistake, but can be abused to gain access to data or services that the cloud application relies on if found by a malicious actor.

The exposed environmental variables file was found in an open directory on the JamCOVID website. Although the JamCOVID domain appears to be on the Ministry of Health’s website, Amber Group controls and maintains the JamCOVID dashboard, app, and website.

The exposed file contained secret credentials for the Amazon Web Services databases and storage servers for JamCOVID. The file also contained a username and password to the SMS gateway used by JamCOVID to send text messages, and credentials for its email-sending server. (TechCrunch did not test or use any of the passwords or keys as doing so would be unlawful.)

A portion of the exposed credentials found on the JamCOVID website, controlled and maintained by Amber Group. (Image: TechCrunch)

TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia to alert the company to the security lapse, who pulled the exposed file offline a short time later. We also asked Savadia, who did not comment, to revoke and replace the keys.

Matthew Samuda, a minister in Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security, did not respond to a request for comment or our questions — including if the Jamaican government plans to continue its contract or relationship with Amber Group, and what — if any — security requirements were agreed upon by both the Amber Group and the Jamaican government for the JamCOVID app and website?

Details of the exposure comes just days after Escala 24×7, a cybersecurity firm based in the Caribbean, claimed that it had found no vulnerabilities in the JamCOVID service following the initial security lapse.

Escala’s chief executive Alejandro Planas declined to say if his company was aware of the second security lapse prior to its comments last week, saying only that his company was under a non-disclosure agreement and “is not able to provide any additional information.”

This latest security incident comes less than a week after Amber Group secured a passwordless cloud server hosting immigration records and negative COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year. Travelers visiting the island are required to upload their COVID-19 test results in order to obtain a travel authorization before their flights. Many of the victims whose information was exposed on the server are Americans.

One news report recently quoted Amber’s Savadia as saying that the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days.”

Neither the Amber Group nor the Jamaican government have commented to TechCrunch, but Samada told local radio that it has launched a criminal investigation into the security lapse.


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#amazon-web-services, #caribbean, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cryptography, #government, #operating-systems, #password, #securedrop, #security, #signal, #sms, #software

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Ex-General Catalyst and General Atlantic VC announces $68M debut fund

As of 2019, the majority of venture firms — 65% — still did not have a single female partner or GP at their firm, according to All Raise.

So naturally, anytime we hear of a new female-led fund, our ears perk up.

Today, New York-based Avid Ventures announced the launch of its $68 million debut venture capital fund. Addie Lerner — who was previously an investor with General Catalyst, General Atlantic and Goldman Sachs — founded Avid in 2020 with the goal of taking a hands-on approach to working with founders of early-stage startups in the United States, Europe and Israel.

“We believe investing in a founder’s company is a privilege to be earned,” she said.

Tali Vogelstein — a former investor at Bessemer Venture Partners — joined the firm as a founding investor soon after its launch and the pair were able to raise the capital in 10 months’ time during the 2020 pandemic.

The newly formed firm has an impressive list of LPs backing its debut effort. Schusterman Family Investments and the George Kaiser Family Foundation are its anchor LPs. Institutional investors include Foundry Group, General Catalyst, 14W, Slow Ventures and LocalGlobe/Latitude through its Basecamp initiative that backs emerging managers. 

Avid also has the support of 50 founders, entrepreneurs and investors as LPs — 40% of whom are female — including Mirror founder Brynn Putnam; Getty Images co-founder Jonathan Klein; founding partner of Acrew Capital Theresia Gouw and others.

Avid invests at the Series A and B stages, and so far has invested in Alloy, Nova Credit, Rapyd, Staircase, Nava and The Wing. Three of those companies have female founders — something Lerner said happened “quite naturally.”

“Diversity can happen and should happen more organically as opposed to quotas or mandates,” she added.

In making those deals, Avid partnered with top-tier firms such as Kleiner Perkins, Canapi Ventures, Zigg Capital and Thrive Capital. In general, Avid intentionally does not lead its first investments in startups, with its first checks typically being in the $500,000 to $1 million range. It preserves most of its capital for follow-on investments.

“We like to position ourselves to earn the right to write a bigger check in a future round,” Lerner told TechCrunch. 

In the case of Rapyd, Avid organized an SPV (special-purpose vehicle) to invest in the unicorn’s recent Series D. Lerner had previously backed the company’s Series B round while at General Catalyst and remains a board observer.

Prior to founding Avid, Lerner had helped deploy more than $450 million across 18 investments in software, fintech (Rapyd & Monzo) and consumer internet companies spanning North America, Europe and Israel. 

When it comes to sectors, Avid is particularly focused on backing early-stage fintech, consumer internet and software companies. The firm intends to invest in about 20 startups over a three-to-four year period.

“We want to take our time, so we can be as hands-on as we want to be,” Lerner said. “We’re not looking to back 80 companies. Our goal is to drive outstanding returns for our LPs.”

The firm views itself as an extension of its portfolio companies’ teams, serving as their “Outsourced Strategic CFO.” Lerner and Vogelstein also aim to provide the companies they work with strategic growth modeling, unit economics analysis, talent recruiting, customer introductions and business development support.

“We strive to build deep relationships early on and to prove our value well ahead of a prospective investment,” Lerner said. Avid takes its team’s prior data-driven experience to employ “a metrics-driven approach” so that a startup can “deeply understand” their unit economics. It also “gets in the trenches” alongside founders to help grow a company.

Ed Zimmerman, chair of Lowenstein Sandler LLP’s tech group in New York and adjunct professor of VC at Columbia Business School, is an Avid investor.

He told TechCrunch that because of his role in the venture community, he is often counsel to a company or fund and will run into former students in deals. Feedback from numerous people in his network point to Lerner being “extraordinarily thoughtful about deals,” with one entrepreneur describing her as “one of the smartest people she has met in a decade-plus in venture.”

“I’ve seen it myself in deals and then I’ve seen founders turn down very well branded funds to work with Addie,” Zimmerman added, noting they are impressed both by her intellect and integrity. “…Addie will find and win and be invited into great deals because she makes an indelible impression on the people who’ve worked with her and the data is remarkably consistent.”

#acrew-capital, #addie-lerner, #basecamp, #bessemer-venture-partners, #brynn-putnam, #canapi-ventures, #catalyst, #consumer-internet, #corporate-finance, #diversity, #finance, #foundry-group, #funding, #general-atlantic, #general-catalyst, #george-kaiser-family-foundation, #goldman-sachs, #israel, #jonathan-klein, #kleiner-perkins, #new-york, #north-america, #slow-ventures, #software, #tali-vogelstein, #tc, #tech, #techcrunch-include, #theresia-gouw, #thrive-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Microsoft announces the next perpetual release of Office

If you use Office, Microsoft would really, really, really like you to buy a cloud-enabled subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365). But as the company promised, it will continue to make a stand-alone, perpetual license for Office available for the foreseeable future. A while back, it launched Office 2019, which includes the standard suite of Office tools, but is frozen in time and without the benefit of the regular feature updates and cloud-based tools that come with the subscription offering.

Today, Microsoft is announcing what is now called the Microsoft Office LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel). It’ll be available as a commercial preview in April and will be available on both Mac and Windows, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

And like with the previous version, it’s clear that Microsoft would really prefer if you just moved to the cloud already. But it also knows that not everybody can do that, so it now calls this version with its perpetual license that you pay for once and then use for as long as you want to (or have compatible hardware) a “specialty product for specific scenarios. Those scenarios, Microsoft agrees, include situations where you have a regulated device that can’t accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices on a manufacturing floor and other devices that simply can’t be connected to the internet.

“We expect that most customers who use Office LTSC won’t do it across their entire organization, but only in specific scenarios,” Microsoft’s CVP for Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, writes in today’s announcement.

Because it’s a specialty product, Microsoft will also raise the price for Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual Office apps by up to 10%.

“To fuel the work of the future, we need the power of the cloud,” writes Spataro. “The cloud is where we invest, where we innovate, where we discover the solutions that help our customers empower everyone in their organization – even as we all adjust to a new world of work. But we also acknowledge that some of our customers need to enable a limited set of locked-in-time scenarios, and these updates reflect our commitment to helping them meet this need.”

If you have one of these special use cases, the price increase will not likely deter you and you’ll likely be happy to hear that Microsoft is committing to another release in this long-term channel in the future, too.

As for the new features in this release, Spataro notes that will have dark mode support, new capabilities like Dynamic Arrays and XLOOKUP in Excel, and performance improvements across the board. One other change worth calling out is that it will not ship with Skype for Business but the Microsoft Teams app (though you can still download Skype for Business if you need it).

#cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #jared-spataro, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-office, #office-365, #operating-systems, #software, #subscription-services, #windows-10

0

TikTok parent ByteDance joins patent troll protection group LOT Network

LOT Network, the non-profit that helps businesses of all sizes and across industries defend themselves against patent trolls by creating a shared pool of patents to immunize themselves against them, today announced that TikTik parent ByteDance is joining its group.

ByteDance has acquired its fair share of patents in recent years and is itself embroiled in a patent fight with its rival Triller. That’s not what joining the LOT Network is about, though. ByteDance is joining a group of companies here that includes the likes of IBM, the Coca-Cola Company, Cisco, Lyft, Microsoft, Oracle, Target, Tencent, Tesla, VW, Ford, Waymo, Xiaomi and Zelle. In total, the group now has over 1,300 members.

As LOT CEO Ken Seddon told me, the six-year-old group had a record year in 2020, with 574 companies joining it and bringing its set of immunized patents to over 3 million, including 14% of all patents issued in the U.S.

Among the core features of LOT, which only charges members who make more than $25 million in annual revenue, is that its members aren’t losing control over the patents they add to the pool. They can still buy and trade them as before, but if they decide to sell to what the industry calls a ‘patent assertion entity,’ (PAE) that is, a patent troll, they automatically provide a free licence to that patent to every other member of the group. This essentially turns LOT into what Seddon calls a ‘flu shot ‘ against patent trolls (and one that’s free for startups).

“The conclusion that people are waking up to is, is that we’re basically like a herd, we’re herd immunization, effectively,” Seddon said. “And every time a company joins, people realize that the community of non-members shrinks by one. It’s like those that don’t have the vaccination shrinks — and they are, ‘wait a minute, that makes me a higher risk of getting sued. I’m a bigger target.’ And they’re like, ‘wait a minute, I don’t want to be the target.’”

ByteDance, he argues, is a good example for a company that can profit from membership in LOT. While you may think of patents as purely a sign of a company’s innovativeness, for corporate lawyers, they are also highly effective defense tools (that can be used aggressively as well, if needed). But it can take a small company years to build up a patent portfolio. But a fast-growing, successful company also becomes an obvious target for patent trolls.

“When you are a successful company, you naturally become a target,” Seddon said. “People become jealous and they become threatened by you. And they covet your money and your revenue and your success. One of the ways that companies can defend themselves and protect their innovation is through patents. Some companies grow so fast, they become so successful, that their revenue grows faster than they can grow their patent portfolio organically.” He cited Instacart, which acquired 250 patents from IBM earlier this month, and Airbnb, which was sued by IBM over patent infringement in early 2020 (the companies settled in December), as examples.

ByteDance, thanks to the success of TikTok, now finds itself in a situation where it, too, is likely to become a target of patent trolls. The company has started acquiring patents itself to grow its portfolio faster and now it is joining LOT to strengthen its protection there.

“[ByteDance] is being a visionary and trying to get ahead of the wave,” Seddon noted. “They are a successful global company that needs to develop a global IP strategy. Historically, PAEs were just a US problem, but now ByteDance has to worry about PAEs being an issue in China and Europe as well.  By joining LOT, they protect themselves and their investments from over 3 million patents should they ever fall into the hands of a PAE.”

Lynn Wu, Director and Chief IP Counsel, Global IP and Digital Licensing Strategy at ByteDance, agrees. “Innovation is core to the culture at ByteDance, and we believe it’s important to protect our diverse technical and creative community,” she said in today’s announcement. “As champions for the fair use of IP, we encourage other companies to help us make the industry safer by joining LOT Network. If we work together, we can protect the industry from exploitation and continue advancing innovation, which is key to the growth and success of the entire community.”

There’s another reason companies are so eager to join the group now, though, and that’s because these patent assertion entities, which had faded into the background a bit in the mid- to late-2010s, may be making a comeback. The core assumption here is a bit gloomy: many companies seem to assume we’re in for an economic downturn. If we hit a recession, a lot of patent holders will start looking at their patent portfolios and start selling off some their more valuable patents in order to stay afloat. Since beggars can’t be choosers, that often means they’ll sell to a patent troll if that troll is the highest bidder. Last year, a patent troll sued Uber using a patent sold by IBM, for example (and IBM gets a bit of a bad rap for this, but, hey, it’s business).

That’s what happened after the last recession — though it typically takes a few years for the effect to be felt. Nothing in the patent world moves quickly.

Now, when LOT members sell to a troll, that troll can’t sue other LOT members over it. Take IBM, for example, which joined LOT last year.

“People give IBM a lot of grief and criticism for selling to PAEs, but at least IBM is giving everybody a chance to get a free license,” Seddon told me. “IBM joined LOT last year and what IBM is effectively doing is saying to everybody, ‘look, I joined LOT.’ And they put all of their entire patent portfolio into LOT. And they’re saying to everybody, ‘look, I have the right to sell my patents to anybody I want, and I’m going to sell it to the highest bidder. And if I sell it to a patent troll and you don’t join LOT — and if you get sued by a troll, is that my fault or your fault? Because if you join LOT, you could have gotten a free license.’”

#airbnb, #bytedance, #cisco, #flu, #ford, #ibm, #instacart, #intellectual-property-law, #lawsuit, #lot-network, #lyft, #microsoft, #monopoly, #oracle, #patent, #patent-law, #patent-troll, #software, #tencent, #tesla, #triller, #united-states, #vaccination, #vw, #waymo

0

Emerging as an Eastern powerhouse, Earlybird Digital East Fund launches new $242M fund

Earlybird Digital East Fund — a fund associated with Germany’s Earlybird VC, but operating separately — has launched a €200m ($242m) successor fund. The fund’s focus will remain the same as before: a Seed and Series-A fund focusing on what’s known as ‘Emerging Europe’, in other words, countries stretching from the Baltics to Central and Eastern Europe, and Turkey. The firm has also promoted Mehmet Atici, who’s been with the firm for eight years, to Partner. The new fund has made four investments so far: FintechOS, Payhawk, Picus, and Binalyze.

The back-story to DEF is a fascinating tale of what happened to Europe in the last 15 years, as tech took off and Europeans returned from Silicon Valley.

Following his exit from SelectMinds (where he was the Founder & CEO) in 2005, Cem Sertoglu moved back to Turkey. Although he says he “accidentally became the first angel investor” there, he was clearly the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He told me: “I was very lucky and ended up writing the first checks in some of the first large outcomes in Turkey.”

In 2013, Sertoglu partnered with Evren Ucok (the first angel in Peak Games and Trendyol), and Roland Manger (Earlybird). Dan Lupu, a Romanian investor who had covered the region for Intel Capital, joined them, and together they raised the ‘Earlybird Digital East Fund I’ set at $150m fund in 2014, focusing on CEE and Turkey. This was and is an area where there can be high-quality ventures to be found, but very little in the way of VC. 

Thereafter, between 2014 and 2019, the fund invested in UiPath, Hazelcast, and Obilet. UiPath has become a global leader in the area known as ‘Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Hazelcast is a low latency data processing platform startup with Turkish roots. Obilet is a marketplace focused for the massive Turkish intercity bus travel market. DEF has also exited Vivense, Dolap, and EMbonds and in more recent times the fund has exited Vivense, the “Wayfair of Turkey” to Actera, the top local PE fund.

The team had spectacular early success. Peak Games, Trendyol, YemekSepeti and GittiGidiyor are the four largest Turkish tech exits to date. Digital East Fund was an investor in all of them. Peak games exited for $1.8 billion in cash to Zynga only last year.

As of Q4 2020, the fund’s metrics are:
Investment Multiple: 24.9x
Gross IRR: 104.4%
Net IRR: 84.1%

So in VC terms, they have done pretty well.

I interviewed Sertoglu to unpack the story of Earlybird Digital East Fund.

He told me DEF has achieved a 17 times investment multiple on a $150 million fund. He thinks “this might be the biggest European VC fund performance in history, and it’s not coming from Berlin, it’s not coming from London, but it’s coming from Eastern Europe. We have been told by some of our LPs that they think we’re the top 2014 vintage VC fund in the world, nobody’s seen stronger numbers than this.”

“Peak Games turned out to be a phenomenal story. When you look at how tough it’s been for Turkey, macroeconomically. The fact that a single company with 100 people essentially sold for $1.8 billion in cash, was just… it was staggering for the local market here.”

DEF’s emergence from Turkey, together with its relationship with a fund in Berlin, was not the most obvious path for the VC fund.

“One thing we realized early one was that we could invest with our own capital and syndicating to our friends, but for follow-on funding, we’d always have to go global. And that made us feel vulnerable. It made us feel we were always dependent on others’ comprehension of the opportunity that we were facing. So that’s when the first fund idea came out this was,” said Sertoglu.

“We felt that there was this unusual dislocation between opportunity and capital in Eastern Europe. Our first fund was $150 million funds – I mean, a very quaint size compared to Western markets. But we became the largest fund in the region, and decided to focus on this series A gap where we felt that there was this big opportunity, because of the way we think series A is still very much a local play.”

“Being a local player that understands the region would be an advantage, so this was proven to be true. We could essentially see pretty much everything in Eastern Europe for the last eight years. And we caught the biggest one, fortunately, which was UiPath. I think very few funds around the world can say that they see the majority if not all of the opportunities that fall into their mandate,” he said.

“We have this dual strategy of backing local champions as well as contenders for global markets as well. 20 years ago you had to be in Silicon Valley. Now, Transferwise comes out of Estonia, UiPath comes out of Romania. And that was even before the pandemic.”

Sertoglu concluded: “So we now have fresh capital, coming on the heels of a very successful first fund, which we’re keen to deploy. We’re calling all the opportunities, seeing very ambitious, strong teams coming out of the region. And we have 200 million euros to focus on these types of opportunities in the region.”

#artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #central-europe, #ceo, #computing, #eastern-europe, #estonia, #europe, #germany, #intel-capital, #london, #romania, #selectminds, #software, #tc, #transferwise, #turkey, #uipath, #wayfair, #yemeksepeti, #zynga

0

Facebook restricts users in Australia from sharing or viewing news links

Australian Facebook users will be forced to go elsewhere to read news after the company announced Wednesday that they will be restricting users in the country from sharing or viewing news links on the platform. The drastic move follows debate on proposed legislation from the Australian government that seeks to push internet platforms — with a particular focus on advertising giants Facebook and Google — to pay news publishers directly for access to share their content.

Pulling back entirely was a nuclear option for Facebook which had previously floated the possibility. In a blog post, the company sought to minimize the material impact of the decision to Facebook’s bottom line, while emphasizing what the move will cost users in Australia and around the globe. The company disclosed that just 4% of the content in Australian users’ feeds was news, though the platform did not break out other engagement metrics tied to news consumption.

In their post, Facebook sought to drive a distinction between how news content was shared on Facebook by users while content is algorithmically curated by Google inside their search product. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for the region, wrote. “On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

Google has already begun working with publishers to drive lump sum payments so that they continue to surface news content in the country, striking a deal Wednesday with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, despite their own earlier threats to shut down in Australia. Facebook’s action has ramifications for global users outside Australia who will be unable to share links on the platform to news publications based in the country.

This legislation is an aggressive example of regional legislation having the potential to drive global change for how internet platforms continue to operate. It’s clear that plenty of other countries are watching this saga play out. Facebook taking a hard line approach while Google seeks to strike private deals to stay active showcases different approaches from very different platforms being forced to reckon with how they operate in the future.

#australia, #computing, #facebook, #facebook-platform, #google, #murdoch, #news-corp, #rupert-murdoch, #social-media, #software, #tc, #world-wide-web

0

Reducing the spread of misinformation on social media: What would a do-over look like?

The news is awash with stories of platforms clamping down on misinformation and the angst involved in banning prominent members. But these are Band-Aids over a deeper issue — namely, that the problem of misinformation is one of our own design. Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

If we could teleport back in time to relaunch social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok with the goal of minimizing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories from the outset … what would they look like?

This is not an academic exercise. Understanding these root causes can help us develop better prevention measures for current and future platforms.

Some of the core elements of how we’ve built social media platforms may inadvertently increase polarization and spread misinformation.

As one of the Valley’s leading behavioral science firms, we’ve helped brands like Google, Lyft and others understand human decision-making as it relates to product design. We recently collaborated with TikTok to design a new series of prompts (launched this week) to help stop the spread of potential misinformation on its platform.

The intervention successfully reduces shares of flagged content by 24%. While TikTok is unique amongst platforms, the lessons we learned there have helped shape ideas on what a social media redux could look like.

Create opt-outs

We can take much bigger swings at reducing the views of unsubstantiated content than labels or prompts.

In the experiment we launched together with TikTok, people saw an average of 1.5 flagged videos over a two-week period. Yet in our qualitative research, many users said they were on TikTok for fun; they didn’t want to see any flagged videos whatsoever. In a recent earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg also spoke of Facebook users’ tiring of hyperpartisan content.

We suggest giving people an “opt-out of flagged content” option — remove this content from their feeds entirely. To make this a true choice, this opt-out needs to be prominent, not buried somewhere users must seek it out. We suggest putting it directly in the sign-up flow for new users and adding an in-app prompt for existing users.

Shift the business model

There’s a reason false news spreads six times faster on social media than real news: Information that’s controversial, dramatic or polarizing is far more likely to grab our attention. And when algorithms are designed to maximize engagement and time spent on an app, this kind of content is heavily favored over more thoughtful, deliberative content.

The ad-based business model is at the core the problem; it’s why making progress on misinformation and polarization is so hard. One internal Facebook team tasked with looking into the issue found that, “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” But the project and proposed work to address the issues was nixed by senior executives.

Essentially, this is a classic incentives problem. If business metrics that define “success” are no longer dependent on maximizing engagement/time on site, everything will change. Polarizing content will no longer need to be favored and more thoughtful discourse will be able to rise to the surface.

Design for connection

A primary part of the spread of misinformation is feeling marginalized and alone. Humans are fundamentally social creatures who look to be part of an in-group, and partisan groups frequently provide that sense of acceptance and validation.

We must therefore make it easier for people to find their authentic tribes and communities in other ways (versus those that bond over conspiracy theories).

Mark Zuckerberg says his ultimate goal with Facebook was to connect people. To be fair, in many ways Facebook has done that, at least on a surface level. But we should go deeper. Here are some ways:

We can design for more active one-on-one communication, which has been shown to increase well-being. We can also nudge offline connection. Imagine two friends are chatting on Facebook messenger or via comments on a post. How about a prompt to meet in person, when they live in the same city (post-COVID, of course)? Or if they’re not in the same city, a nudge to hop on a call or video.

In the scenario where they’re not friends and the interaction is more contentious, platforms can play a role in highlighting not only the humanity of the other person, but things one shares in common with the other. Imagine a prompt that showed, as you’re “shouting” online with someone, everything you have in common with that person.

Platforms should also disallow anonymous accounts, or at minimum encourage the use of real names. Clubhouse has good norm-setting on this: In the onboarding flow they say, “We use real names here.” Connection is based on the idea that we’re interacting with a real human. Anonymity obfuscates that.

Finally, help people reset

We should make it easy for people to get out of an algorithmic rabbit hole. YouTube has been under fire for its rabbit holes, but all social media platforms have this challenge. Once you click a video, you’re shown videos like it. This may help sometimes (getting to that perfect “how to” video sometimes requires a search), but for misinformation, this is a death march. One video on flat earth leads to another, as well as other conspiracy theories. We need to help people eject from their algorithmic destiny.

With great power comes great responsibility

More and more people now get their news from social media, and those who do are less likely to be correctly informed about important issues. It’s likely that this trend of relying on social media as an information source will continue.

Social media companies are thus in a unique position of power and have a responsibility to think deeply about the role they play in reducing the spread of misinformation. They should absolutely continue to experiment and run tests with research-informed solutions, as we did together with the TikTok team.

This work isn’t easy. We knew that going in, but we have an even deeper appreciation for this fact after working with the TikTok team. There are many smart, well-intentioned people who want to solve for the greater good. We’re deeply hopeful about our collective opportunity here to think bigger and more creatively about how to reduce misinformation, inspire connection and strengthen our collective humanity all at the same time.

#column, #facebook, #internet-culture, #mark-zuckerberg, #misinformation, #opinion, #qanon, #social, #software, #tiktok

0

YouTube to expand Shorts to the U.S., add 4K and DVR to YouTube TV, launch in-video shopping and more in 2021

YouTube has a host of big product updates coming this year, and it just detailed a lot of them in a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Google’s streaming video site plans to expand its TikTok-esque Shorts mobile video creation and consumption tool to the U.S. (it’s currently in beta in India), make YouTube TV a more full-featured in-home cable alternative, add customization and control options to YouTube Kids and more.

Many of the product updates detailed by Mohan are expansions of existing tests and beta features, but there are also entirely new developments that could significantly change how YouTube works for both creators and audiences. YouTube’s focus on monetization and new formats also indicates a desire to keep creators happy, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the platform’s popular new mobile-first competitor TikTok.

Here’s a TL;DR of everything YouTube announced today for its 2021 roadmap:

  • Expansion of its in-video e-commerce shopping experience beyond the current limited beta
  • Expansion of Applause tipping feature
  • YouTube Shorts launching in the U.S.
  • Adding the ability for parents to specify individual channels and videos for their kids to be able to watch on YouTube Kids
  • New features for user playlists on YouTube Music, and making those playlists more discoverable to others
  • A new paid add-on coming to YouTube TV that offers 4K streaming, DVR for off-line playback, and unlimited simultaneous in-home streams
  • Automatic video chaptering for some videos that don’t have creator-defined ones
  • A redesigned YouTube VR experience focused on accessibility, search and better navigation

YouTube has a big year planned, and some of these changes could significantly alter the dynamics of the platform. Making it possible for every creator to turn their channel in a mini shopping channel has a lot of potential to alter what it looks like to build a business on the platform, while YouTube TV’s transformation narrows the gap even further between that service and traditional cable and satellite provider offerings.

#ecommerce, #google, #india, #neal-mohan, #social-media, #software, #streaming-video, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #virtual-reality, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #youtube-music

0

Atlassian launches a whole new Trello

Trello, the Kanban board-centric project management tool acquired by Atlassian in 2017, today launched what is likely one of its most important updates in recent years. With significantly more than 50 million users, Trello is one of the most popular project management tools around ,and in many ways, it brought digital Kanban boards to the mainstream. That focus doesn’t change with today’s release, but the team is now adding a slew of new board views and new capabilities to the individual cards that make up those views, with a special focus on bringing more data from third-party tools right into those cards. That’s in addition to a number of changes to the overall look and feel of the service.

“Over the years, we’ve built this huge, passionate audience of people,” Michael Pryor, Trello’s co-founder and now Atlassian’s head of Trello, told me ahead of today’s announcement. “We have way over 50 million signups — and that 50 million numbers is from 2018 or something, they won’t let me yet give out the current number. […] Then last year, the pandemic hits. We talked about the future of work, right? And then, all of a sudden, it was like: nope, that’s just work. That’s how everyone works. Now, it’s all distributed. We just compressed it all at once. And we had this overnight shift. We would talk previously about this explosion of apps, we would talk about all the browser tabs, people getting lost in information sprawl. Now, it’s just turned up to eleven.”

The behind a lot of the new features was to make it easier for users to do more work inside of Trello and to get better macro views of what teams are working on themselves, but also what is happing across teams and inside an organization. In addition, the new Trello adds more ways to see data from other tools natively inside the service, without having to switch tools.

Image Credits: Atlassian

In practice, that means Trello is adding five new views to Trello (and making it easy to switch between them): team table view for tracking cross-company or cross-project work in a spreadsheet-like fashion; timeline view for managing roadblocks and making data adjustments; calendar view for tracking deadline and time-sensitive tasks; map view for users who have location-based projects; and finally dashboard view for better visualizing success metrics and building reports.

For the most part, the names here are self-explanatory. What’s maybe the most interesting feature here, though, is that the new team table view is Trello’s first view that brings in multiple boards.

“It raises your perspective up to the portfolio level — not just at a single board level,” Pryor said. “Eventually, all the views will do that same thing and so we will essentially have this ability that if you’re on a board, you can pivot your cards and look at them depending on what the project is and how you need them.” The idea here, he explained, was to use and extend Trello’s existing visual language to add these shared perspectives.

What’s also important here is that Trello plans to open this feature to third parties that may want to build their own views as well. The Trello team itself, for example, built a slide view that automatically creates slides for all of the cards in a project to make it easy for somebody to present them in a meeting, for example.

Image Credits: Atlassian

Pryor argues that what Trello is doing with its new cards, though, is maybe even more important. The team is adding over 30 new card types where, just by adding a URL that links to YouTube, Google Drive, Figma, JIRA  or even other Trello boards, you’ll be able to see previews of what you linked to right inside of Trello.

“What that does, I think, is that it elevates what that card represents from just being a thing that exists only within Trello to represent work that’s happening across all these other tools,” Pryor explained. “So now your JIRA tickets can exist alongside your Trello cards. And you’re categorizing that and moving and talking about it in a way that’s independent of what’s happening in JIRA — it could be connected to it, but it adds this ability to create a dashboard that brings all that work into one place.”

Image Credits: Atlassian

Pryor noted that the team wanted to leverage the simplicity and visual language that Trello’s users already love and then apply that to other tools. “We could get into a race and just build project management-type features. We’re really trying to build a project management app, instead of building an app that helps you manage all your projects. That’s distinct from going down this road where we’re just like: feature, feature, feature.” That approach, he argues, would just lead to bloat. Instead, the team wants to take its card metaphor, expand on that and allow its users to build new solutions inside of Trello, using a visual language they are already familiar with.

Another new feature that’s coming soon — and one that the Trello community has been expecting for a while — is mirror cards, which essentially allow you to share the same card between boards. All you have to do is link from a source card to a card on a card on another board and that new card will look just like the original card.

#atlassian, #business, #co-founder, #google, #head, #kanban, #software, #tc, #trello, #web-applications

0

Open source video player VLC will get a new UI this year with 4.0 launch

An orange traffic cone has long been the logo and symbol for VLC media player.

Enlarge / An orange traffic cone has long been the logo and symbol for VLC media player.

News website Protocol ran an extensive piece on the history and status of the popular open source video player VLC, and the story includes new details about the next major version of the software. Among other things, VLC 4.0 will bring a complete user interface overhaul.

“We modified the interface to be a bit more modern,” VideoLAN foundation President Jean-Baptiste Kempf told the publication. Kempf had previously shown some version of a new interface about two years ago, but it’s unclear at this point how much that one resembles the one the team plans to introduce with VLC 4.0.

While the article doesn’t list every change coming, it does outline a couple other possible directions and priorities for VLC.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#software, #tech, #video, #video-player, #videolan, #vlc, #vlc-4-0

0

Reddit raises $250 million in Series E funding

Reddit has raised a new funding round, totalling $250 million. This is the company’s Series E round of financing, and it comes hot on the heels of renewed public attention on the site that has dubbed itself ‘the front page of the Internet,’ owing to the role the subreddit r/WallStreetBets played in the recent meteoric rise (and subsequent steep fall) of the value of GameStop stock. Reddit also ran a 5-second Super Bowl ad on Sunday, consisting of. a single static image that looked like a standard post on the network itself.

This is Reddit’s 16th year of operation, and the company has raised around $800 million to date, including a Tencent-led $300 million Series D in February, 2019. Today’s round including financing from “existing and new investors,” Reddit noted in a blog post in which it announced the funding. In the post, Reddit notes that the company felt “now was the right opportunity to make strategic investments in Reddit including video, advertising, consumer products and expanding into international markets.”

Reddit’s 5-second Super Bowl ad.

It’s unclear how the round came together exactly, but given the network’s time in the spotlight over the past few weeks, culminating in yesterday’s very brief, but also very memorable and high-profile ad, it seems likely it was at least finalized fast in order to help the company make the most of its time in the spotlight. In terms of what kind of specific moves Reddit could make with its new cash on hand, the blog post also namecheck its acquisition late last year of short video sharing platform Dubsmash, and announced plans to double its team over the course of this year with new hires.

Reddit’s long history has also included some significant tumult, and efforts to clean up its act in order to present a better face to advertisers, and to potential new community members. The network still struggles with balancing its commitments to fostering a home for a range of communities with the potential for hate speech and discrimination to take root within some of these, and it was also in the news earlier this year for finally banning controversial subreddit r/donaldtrump following “repeat´d policy violations” surrounding the attempted insurrection a the U.S. Capitol by a mob of domestic terrorists.

 

#apps, #consumer-products, #dubsmash, #funding, #gamestop, #like-button, #recent-funding, #reddit, #robinhood, #short-selling, #social, #software, #startups, #super-bowl, #tc, #websites, #wikis, #world-wide-web

0

The Rust programming language finds a new home in a non-profit foundation

Rust, the programming language — not the survival game, now has a new home: the Rust Foundation. AWS, Huawei, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla banded together to launch this new foundation today and put a two-year commitment to a million-dollar budget behind it. This budget will allow the project to “develop services, programs, and events that will support the Rust project maintainers in building the best possible Rust.”

Rust started out as a side project inside of Mozilla to develop an alternative to C/C++ . Designed by Mozilla Research’s Graydon Hore, with contributions from the likes of JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, Rust became the core language for some of the fundamental features of the Firefox browser and its Gecko engine, as well as Mozilla’s Servo engine. Today, Rust is the most-loved language among developers. But with Mozilla’s layoffs in recent months, a lot of the Rust team lost its job and the future of the language became unclear without a main sponsor, though the project itself has thousands of contributors and a lot of corporate users, so the language itself wasn’t going anywhere.

A large open-source project oftens needs some kind of guidance and the new foundation will provide this — and it takes a legal entity to manage various aspects of the community, including the trademark, for example. The new Rust board will feature 5 board directors from the 5 founding members, as well as 5 directors from project leadership.

“Mozilla incubated Rust to build a better Firefox and contribute to a better Internet,” writes Bobby Holley, Mozilla and Rust Foundation Board member, in a statement. “In its new home with the Rust Foundation, Rust will have the room to grow into its own success, while continuing to amplify some of the core values that Mozilla shares with the Rust community.”

All of the corporate sponsors have a vested interest in Rust and are using it to build (and re-build) core aspects of some of their stacks. Google recently said that it will fund a Rust-based project that aims to make the Apache webserver safer, for example, while Microsoft recently formed a Rust team, too, and is using the language to rewrite some core Windows APIs. AWS recently launched Bottlerocket, a new Linux distribution for containers that, for example, features a build system that was largely written in Rust.

 

#aws, #brendan-eich, #firefox, #free-software, #gecko, #google, #huawei, #javascript, #microsoft, #mozilla, #mozilla-foundation, #programming-languages, #rust, #servo, #software, #tc

0

Clubhouse is now blocked in China after a brief uncensored period

Thousands of Chinese users suddenly found themselves unable to access Clubhouse on early Monday evening as the country prepared to start the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. Inside WeChat groups, Clubhouse users rushed to report the situation and help each other with ways to get back onto the red hot live audio app.

Audio drop-in startup Clubhouse was rapidly gaining steam in China, attracting a bevy of users early on to conversations on a wide range of topics. The app seemed likely to meet the fate of other U.S.-based apps and services, however – namely, a ban – and as of Monday, that indeed what Clubhouse faces, as confirmed by TechCrunch. Clubhouse is no longer available to users in China, and is unlikely to return given how much the app’s model would have to change to comply with Chinese internet regulation.

Notice received by users in China when trying to access Clubhouse as of Monday.

Clubhouse has faced criticism at home in the U.S. for its lack of effective moderation and abuse-prevention practices, so it’s hardly a surprise that it has fallen afoul of China’s rather more strict enforcement of measures designed to stifle the spread information the government deems inappropriate for discussion. The app was also not officially available via Apple’s China App Store, though access to it and its audio rooms was, before today, freely available without use of a VPN provided a user had the app installed on their device.

As Clubhouse was not listed on the Chinese App Store, so it’s unclear how many people from mainland China were on the platform. A room discussing the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protest, a taboo topic in China, reached the maximum number of participants at 5,000 on Friday. Some users are reporting inside WeChat groups that they can no longer receive verification codes at their Chinese phone numbers, which could provide additional clues to the level of blockage. Users in China used their Chinese phone numbers to sign up for Clubhouse, and those are linked to their real ID in the country, which means there are potential risks for those who registered.

In the past two weeks, Clubhouse soared in popularity within a few communities in mainland China, including people in startups, investment, academic, or those with overseas background. Many of them were aware the app wouldn’t last long in China given free and often political debates frequented the platform. Clubhouse rooms titled “How long will Clubhouse last in China” and “Have you been invited to have tea for using Clubhouse?” attracted big crowds. “Having tea” is a euphemism for being taken away for interrogation by the police.

As TechCrunch noted on Saturday, Clubhouse’s early success prior to this shutdown has already prompted the creation of a number of homegrown alternatives designed around drop-in audio networking. Clubhouse’s popularity in China, however, may be difficult to replicate for any of these similar efforts – for the same reasons the original app itself is now inaccessible within the country.

 

 

With a Great Firewall circumvention tool like a virtual private network (VPN), some users on mainland China managed to regain access to Clubhouse.

We will update with more information about the ban….

#app-store, #apple-inc, #apps, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ios, #itunes, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #united-states, #vpn

0

TechCrunch’s favorite companies from 500 Startups’ latest demo day

TechCrunch tuned into 500 Startups‘ 27th demo day today, keen to get our eyes on the accelerator’s latest companies.

Demo days are regular affairs, but they always feature a crop of startups that could build the next tech giant, so we pay attention. Especially in the COVID-19 era, when demo days have gone virtual. Now it’s easier than ever for investors, and journalists, to tune in.

TechCrunch has covered Y Combinator’s virtual demo days, as well as regular batches from the various Techstars accelerators around the world.

But, today we’re talking favorites from 500 Startups’ latest cohort. Jonathan Shieber will take the baton first, followed by Alex Wilhelm.

Demo day standouts

Stack

  • What: A new way to browse online.
  • Why we like it: The browser and tab model hasn’t changed much since the days of Netscape and organizing online information is increasingly a complicated mess of a hundred tabs (at least on my browser). Stack is pitching a new way to organize information that’s more interactive, more organized and easier to visualize.

Adapty

  • What: Low-code A/B testing of monetization mechanics and subscriber services for apps.
  • Why we like it: Helping to give app developers tools to better understand where, how and why monetization breaks down and offer tools to fix it makes Adapty a standout among this YC cohort. The app economy is still a multibillion dollar business and getting customers to stick around remains a huge problem. Anything that can help is a boon for company builders.

    #500-startups, #accelerator, #alex-wilhelm, #jonathan-shieber, #mobile-software, #quantum-computing, #software, #tc

0

Microsoft launches Viva, its new take on the old intranet

Microsoft today launched Viva, a new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. This includes standard features like access to internal communications built on integrations with SharePoint, Yammer and other Microsoft tools. In addition, Viva also offers access to team analytics and an integration with LinkedIn Learning and other training content providers (including the likes of SAP SuccessFactors), as well as what Microsoft calls Viva Topics for knowledge sharing within a company.

If you’re like most employees, you know that your company spends a lot of money on internal communications and its accompanying intranet offerings — and you then promptly ignore that in order to get actual work done. But Microsoft argues that times are changing, as remote work is here to stay for many companies, even after the pandemic (hopefully) ends. Even if a small percentage of a company’s workforce remains remote or opts for a hybrid approach, those workers still need to have access to the right tools and feel like they are part of the company.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a pre-recorded video. “As the world recovers, there is no going back. Flexibility in when, where and how we work will be key.”

He argues that every organization will require a unified employee experience platform that supports workers from their onboarding process to collaborating with their colleagues and continuing their education within the company. Yet as employees work remotely, companies are now struggling to keep their internal culture and foster community among employees. Viva aims to fix this.

Unsurprisingly, Viva is powered by Microsoft 365 and all of the tools that come with that, as well as integrations with Microsoft Teams, the company’s flagship collaboration service, and even Yammer, the employee communication tool it acquired back in 2012 and continues to support.

There are several parts to Viva: Viva Connections for accessing company news, policies, benefits and internal communities (powered by Yammer); Viva Learning for, you guessed it, accessing learning resources; and Viva Topics, the service’s take on company-wide knowledge sharing. For the most part, that’s all standard fair in any modern intranet, whether it’s from a startup provider or an established player like Jive.

Viva Insights feels like the odd one out here, especially after Microsoft’s kerfuffle around its Productivity Score. The idea here is to give managers insights into whether their team (but not individual team members) are at risk of burnout, for example, in order to encourage them to turn off notifications or set daily priorities (a good manager, I’d hope, could do this without analytics, but here we are, in 2021). It’s also meant to help company leaders “address complex challenges and respond to change by shedding light on organizational work patterns and trends.” Sure.

Because this is Microsoft in 2021, there’s also a lot of talk about employee well-being in today’s announcement. For most employees, that means fewer meetings, more focus time and turning off notifications after work. Obviously there are technical tools to help with that, but it’s really a question of company culture and management. I’m not sure you need analytics integrated with LinkedIn’s Glint for that, but you can now have those, too.

“As the world of work changes, the next horizon of innovation will come from a focus on creativity, engagement and well-being so organizations can build cultures of resilience and ingenuity,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365. “Our vision is to deliver a platform for the employee experience that helps organizations create a thriving culture with engaged employees and inspiring leaders.”

#computing, #enterprise, #human-resource-management, #intranet, #linkedin, #microsoft, #microsoft-viva, #recruitment, #satya-nadella, #sharepoint, #software, #successfactors, #yammer

0

Social platform veteran Sriram Krishnan is Andreessen Horowitz’s latest general partner

Today, Andreessen Horowitz founder Marc Andreessen announced that social media product veteran Sriram Krishnan will be joining the firm as their latest general partner.

Krishnan, whose previous roles include stints at Snap, Facebook and Twitter, has gained a higher profile in recent weeks from his recurring audio show “The Good Time Show” on Clubhouse. His recent talk with Tesla CEO Elon Musk was something of a watershed moment for the audio chat platform driving plenty of new attention to the budding app.

This announcement follows a report in The Information regarding the hire earlier this week.

Krishnan’s hire comes at an interesting point for Andreessen Horowitz, the firm is at the center of plenty of chatter among media circles regarding their “go direct” content strategy. At the same time, a16z and its leadership have played an increasingly hard-nosed role in driving a broader backlash against tech media in recent years among founders and tech enthusiasts in their orbit. Krishnan has spent much of the past couple years building out his flirtations with “tech optimism” content with his interview newsletter “The Observer Effect,” his Clubhouse show and his prolific Twitter usage.

Broader “tech pessimism” among media outlets has, I think, partially been owed to a swift and outspoken shift in thinking regarding the societal responsibilities of social media platforms to more aggressively moderate the content they are surfacing on a global scale. Some of the partners at a16z, a Facebook backer, have been among the more vocal in pushing back on these critiques even as the executives at their portfolio companies have seemed more amenable to shift their thinking.

In his blog post, Andreessen notes that Krishnan will be joining the firm’s consumer team to invest in areas that include social.

Krishnan, well-regarded in tech circles, may play an important role at the firm as they approach more social investments in a world where the effects of rapidly scaled consumer platforms have become more understood. The firm and its partners have been throwing their full support behind Clubhouse in an aggressive push to promote the platform, flexing the firm’s celebrity connections and influence along the way as the platform quickly picks up millions of new users. Krishnan’s direct operator roles engaging with the product struggles of building platforms that responsibly scale will likely be an asset as the firm faces increased competition across an increasingly frothy venture market.

#andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #clubhouse, #effect, #elon-musk, #facebook, #marc-andreessen, #operating-systems, #snap, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #software, #sriram-krishnan, #tc, #tesla, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web

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Vivino raises $155 million for wine recommendation and marketplace app

If you’re at all interested in wine, chances are you’ve turned to Vivino at least a few times for recommendations. The app and the company behind it have been helping people enjoy better wine since 2010, and now the startup has raised $155 million with its Series D round – a sum over twice as large as all of its previous funding to date. Spurred by rapid growth that has seen its user base grow from 29 million in 2018, to 50 million currently, Vivino wants to use the large cash injection to significantly boost its core tech and personalized recommendation engine, while also expanding its presence in key growth markets globally.

Vivino is an interesting company for many reasons, but chief among them might be just how similar its vision today is to the one it started out with. Founder and CEO Heini Zachariassen told me in an interview that the app has been remarkably immune to the pivot – something as natural as breathing in the fast-flowing startup world.

“I can look at my slide, from when I pitched this 10 years ago,” he told me. “It says, ‘Hey, you scan a bottle of wine, then you can buy it.’ That just makes a lot of sense to anybody, so it really hasn’t changed much.”

“It’s been very, very difficult to build much – much harder to build than building that slide,” he joked. But it’s always been the same – we always knew that was going to be the model.”

That core value proposition is what leads to a lot of Vivino’s initial downloads and subsequent usage. The scenario is likely familiar: You’re sitting in a restaurant and browsing the wine menu, or staring at a crowded shelf in a wine store. For myself, I think I likely searched for something like ‘wine recommendation app’ and found Vivino via the App Store, installed it and was snapping photos of labels or menus within minutes. The recommendations provided somewhere to start, and since then the app has grown more personalized as I’ve provided input about my tastes.

Image Credits: Vivino

Vivino’s marketplace component means you can often buy the wines you find and enjoy directly from the app, via partnerships the company fosters and maintains with merchants large and small around the world. Zachariassen explained that they strive to maintain high standards when it comes to these partners, since the experience a user has with them is largely a reflection on Vivino itself because the app provides the means for the purchase.

Building more relationships with more merchants in more geographies is one part of their expansion goal for addressing their primary growth markets, but the company is also going to put a lot more capital behind improving and extending its recommendation engine. A lot of the building blocks are in place to make big improvements there, not least of which is the wine database that Vivino spent a decade building essentially from zero.

“Stage one of the hurdles we faced, even before we got commercial, was really building the data,” Zachariassen told me. “There is no aggregated data anywhere. So we’ve basically built this data totally from scratch. So it means taking a picture of bottle of wine, then having people just entering info every single day to fill it. We have 1.5 billion pictures of wine labels right now, so building that mass of data in a good and structured way really is 10 years of work.”

He adds that wine is a particularly long-tail marketplace, with highly individual tastes and very little indication in the company’s history that that’s likely to change in any significant way. Vivino’s marketplace approach, which is highly local on both the supply and the demand side, is particularly well-suited to addressing the sector’s needs, and Zachariassen believes Vivino has only really begun to scratch the surface on that thus far. I asked him why now was the right time to take on this sizeable round, given they’ve been very modest with prior funding amounts.