Update Zoom for Mac now to avoid root-access vulnerability

A critical vulnerability in Zoom for Mac OS allowed unauthorized users to downgrade Zoom or even gain root access. It has been fixed, and users should update now.

Enlarge / A critical vulnerability in Zoom for Mac OS allowed unauthorized users to downgrade Zoom or even gain root access. It has been fixed, and users should update now. (credit: Getty Images)

If you’re using Zoom on a Mac, it’s time for a manual update. The video conferencing software’s latest update fixes an auto-update vulnerability that could have allowed malicious programs to use its elevated installing powers, granting escalated privileges and control of the system.

The vulnerability was first discovered by Patrick Wardle, founder of the Objective-See Foundation, a nonprofit Mac OS security group. Wardle detailed in a talk at Def Con last week how Zoom’s installer asks for a user password when installing or uninstalling, but its auto-update function, enabled by default, doesn’t need one. Wardle found that Zoom’s updater is owned by and runs as the root user.

It seemed secure, as only Zoom clients could connect to the privileged daemon, and only packages signed by Zoom could be extracted. The problem is that by simply passing the verification checker the name of the package it was looking for (“Zoom Video ... Certification Authority Apple Root CA.pkg“), this check could be bypassed. That meant malicious actors could force Zoom to downgrade to a buggier, less-secure version or even pass it an entirely different package that could give them root access to the system.

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#biz-it, #def-con, #mac, #mac-os, #objective-see, #patrick-wardle, #security, #zoom

Critical Zoom vulnerabilities fixed last week required no user interaction

Critical Zoom vulnerabilities fixed last week required no user interaction

Enlarge (credit: Zoom)

Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research team detailed critical vulnerabilities Zoom patched last week making that made it possible for hackers to execute zero-click attacks that remotely ran malicious code on devices running the messaging software.

Tracked as CVE-2022-22786 and CVE-2022-22784, the vulnerabilities made it possible to perform attacks even when the victim took no action other than to have the client open. As detailed on Tuesday by Google Project Zero researcher Ivan Fratric, inconsistencies in how the Zoom client and Zoom servers parse XMPP messages made it possible to “smuggle” content in them that usually would be blocked. By combining those flaws with a glitch in the way Zoom’s code-signing verification works, Fratric achieved full code execution.

“User interaction is not required for a successful attack,” the researcher wrote. “The only ability an attacker needs is to be able to send messages to the victim over Zoom chat over XMPP protocol.” Fratric continued:

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#biz-it, #exploits, #patches, #vulnerabilities, #zoom

Zoom looks beyond video conferencing as triple-digit 2020 growth begins to slow

It’s been a heady 12-18 months for Zoom, the decade-old company that experienced monster 2020 growth and more recently, a mega acquisition with the $14.7 billion Five9 deal in July. That addition is part of a broader strategy the company has been undertaking the last couple of years to move beyond its core video conferencing market into adjacencies like phone, meeting management and messaging, among other things. Here’s a closer look at how the plan is unfolding.

As the pandemic took hold in March 2020, everyone from businesses to schools to doctors and and places of worship moved online. As they did, Zoom video conferencing became central to this cultural shift and the revenue began pouring in, ushering in a period of sustained triple-digit growth for the company that only recently abated.

#cloud, #enterprise, #saas, #software-platform, #tc, #video-conferencing, #zoom

Sequoia’s Pat Grady says it isn’t clear startups “should be accelerating” right now — here’s why

Earlier today, we joined friend and former colleague Jon Fortt of CNBC in interviewing partner Pat Grady of Sequoia Capital, and it proved a wide-ranging conversation (we wound up blabbing for an hour, which was not always the plan). You can check out the video below but we thought there were some highlights worth pulling out for some of you, including as it pertains to the current market, which has never felt frothier.

It’s more than anecdotal. According to a recent Wilson Sonsini report that we referenced during this chat, during the first quarter of this year, the median pre-money valuation for Series C and later financings hit a record $675 million — more than double the full year 2020 median of $315 million. Meanwhile, senior liquidation preferences in so-called up rounds dropped from appearing in 35% of related deals in 2017 to 20% in the first quarter — a trend that suggests that investors are removing terms in order to win deals. In some cases, founders are feeling so empowered that they are calling out investor behavior that makes them uncomfortable, which is something you didn’t see until more recently.

But Grady said not all is what it seems to those of us on the sidelines. Indeed, he said that while Sequoia’s advice to founders as recently as March of this year was to hit the gas, things have changed more recently. Specifically, he said, “In the last couple of months, a rollout of the vaccines has kind of kind of tapered, so I would say that fog has descended onto the road [and] it’s not so clear the company should be accelerating anymore.”

We also talked about whether companies can forever stay distributed, Tiger Global, and why one of Sequoia’s biggest portfolio companies, the payments giant Stripe, isn’t a public company yet (though it has reportedly hired a law firm to help with preparations). You can find that in the video if you’re so inclined.

On how COVID has impacted Sequoia’s outlook compared with the financial crisis of 2008, when Sequoia famously published its now-famous “RIP: Good Times” memo:

PG: If you go back to that RIP memo, I’d been at Sequoia for a year or so. It was the first major disruption that I had seen —  it was the first major disruption that a lot of our founders had seen. So the question we were getting was, ‘What does this mean for us?’ It was the same sort of thing that happened in March of 2020 that caused us to put out the ‘Black Swan‘ memo [when] what we said was, ‘Hey, you need to brake when you’re going into the curve, so slow down [and] make sure you kind of have your bearings.’

In March of this year what we said was, ‘Okay, now that we’re coming out of the curve, go and accelerate.’ Unfortunately, in the last couple of months, a rollout of the vaccines has kind of kind of tapered and so I would say that fog has descended onto the road [and] it’s not so clear the company should be accelerating anymore. We’re probably in the midst of more indecision now than we were a few months ago or even a year ago . . .we’re kind of stuck in the middle. And so what we’ve been telling companies today is focus on the basics.

On the signals that suggest a slight slowdown to Sequoia, when fundraising all around continues at a record clip:

We don’t pay that much attention to the fundraising numbers, but we do pay attention to employees and we do pay attention to customers, and if you look across not just our portfolio but also public companies in the market at large, attrition has spiked dramatically. There are a lot of people who said, ‘Hey, I hunkered down, I worked hard, I put in my time, but now that the world is starting to open up a little bit again, I’m going to take some time off. I’m going to travel on the see family. I’m going to find a new job. I’m going to start a company.’ And so attrition numbers are actually spiking across the board.

If we look at the customer side of things –and this is not a number that you can get out of public companies because of the way they report [but it’s a number] you can see in private companies — a lot of companies added less revenue in the second quarter than they added in the first. So we actually have seen a little bit of a pullback on the customer side of things [and] that hasn’t necessarily shown up in the fundraising numbers.

On whether that pullback is good, bad, or neutral for founders and investors:

The good news is the whole reason startups exist is to solve important problems in the world, and never have we had a broader array of important problems to be solved than we do right now, because both consumer behavior and the way that businesses operate has changed so dramatically in the last 12 or 18 months. So if what I just said sounds like bad news, we actually think that on balance, it’s great news, because we see these jobs opening up in the world that founders are rushing to fill. I think that’s probably why the fundraising numbers are what they are, because everybody sees all those opportunities and they’re eager to jump in.

On what happens when some of these many new opportunities invariably start to converge — given the current pace of startup funding —  and portfolio companies begin to collide, as happened to Sequoia in March of last year:

We have always had a policy that we do not invest in direct competitors. What defines a direct competitor? Two companies who are going after the same customers in the same market at the same moment in time. Now, if we have a company here in the U.S. going out to the US market, and our partners in India or China or Southeast Asia have a company in their market that does something similar for their market, that’s okay, and maybe someday, down the road, they all end up targeting the same sort of customers. But as long as they’re distinct markets at time zero and they don’t look like they’re converging, that’s okay.

When we’ve ended up in companies that had conflicts, either we’ve done the right thing as in the situation you referenced, or when two companies have kind of converged over time, we’ve set up information barriers and done our best to act in good faith.

So conflicts, it is tough.

There are two products in this market. There’s a product that is faster and cheaper money. And then there’s a product that is unfair advantage. The unfair advantage could be nothing more than that Sequoia doesn’t invest in a lot of companies. We don’t invest in a new company every day. We might partner with 15 to 20 new founders in any given year, and there’s some information value in the fact that Sequoia has gotten into business with a company. So if your unfair advantage is nothing more than the fact that Sequoia chose you, so to speak, that’s still a pretty good advantage when it comes to landing customers [and] landing employees. If your product is money, feel free to give it to competitive companies, because they’re going to get money from somewhere anyway.

#late-stage-venture-capital, #noom, #pat-grady, #scouts, #sequoia-capital, #stripe, #tc, #tiger, #venture-capital, #zoom

Virtual meeting platform Vowel raises $13.5M, aims to cure meeting fatigue

Meetings are an inevitable part of the work day, but as workplaces became more distributed over the past 18 months, Vowel CEO Andy Berman says we are steadily moving toward “death by meeting.”

His virtual meeting platform is the latest to receive venture capital funding — $13.5 million — with the goal of making meetings more useful before, during and after.

Vowel is launching a meeting operating system with tools like real-time transcription; integrated agendas, notes and action items; meeting analytics; and searchable, on-demand recordings of meetings. The company has a freemium business model and will also be rolling out a business plan this fall for $16 per user per month. Extra features will include advanced integrations, security and admin controls.

The Series A was led by David Hornik of Lobby Capital, who was joined by existing investors Amity Ventures and Box Group and a group of individual investors, including Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, Slack VP Ethan Eismann, former Yammer executive Viviana Faga, former InVision president David Fraga and Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest.

Prior to starting Vowel, Berman was one of the founders of baby monitor company Nanit. The company had teams spread out around the world, and communication was tough as a result. In 2018, the company went looking for a tool that would work for synchronous and asynchronous meetings, but there were still a lot of time zones to manage, he said.

Taking a cue from Nanit’s own baby monitors that were streaming video over 17 hours a day, the idea for Vowel was born, and the company began to focus on the hypothesis that distributed work would be prevalent.

“People initially thought we were crazy, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was learning how to work remotely,” Berman told TechCrunch. “As we now go back to hybrid work, we see this as an opportunity.”

In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that executives spent 23 hours in meetings each week. Berman now estimates that the average worker spends half of their time each week in meetings.

Vowel is out to bring Slack, Figma and GitHub components to meetings by recording audio and video that can be paused at any time. Users can add notes and see where those notes fall within a real-time transcription that enables people who arrive late or could not make the meeting to catch up easily. After meetings are over, they can be shared, and Vowel has a search function so that users can go back and see where a particular person or topic was discussed.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team in product, design and engineering. Vowel plans to hire up to 30 new people over the next year. The company recently closed its beta test and has amassed a 10,000-person waitlist. The public launch will happen in the fall, Berman said.

Workplace productivity and office communication tools are not new concepts, but as Berman explained, became increasingly important when homes became offices over the past 18 months.

Competitors took different approaches to solving these problems: focusing on video conferencing or audio or meeting management with plugins. Berman says an area where many have not succeeded yet is integrating meetings into the typical workflow. That’s where Vowel comes in with its “meeting OS,” he added.

“Our goal is to make meetings more inclusive and worthwhile, which includes the prep, the meeting and the follow-up,” Berman said. “We see the future will be about knowledge management, so the difference between what we are doing is ensuring you can catch up quickly and keep that knowledge base. A Garner report said that 75% of workplace meetings will be recorded by 2025, and that is a trend we are reinventing from the ground up.”

David Hornick, founding partner at Lobby Capital, said he became acquainted with Vowel from its existing investor Amity Ventures. Hornick, who sits on the GitLab board, said GitLab was one of the largest distributed companies in the tech space, prior to the pandemic, and saw first-hand the challenge of making distributed teams functionable.

When Hornick heard about Vowell, he said he “jumped quickly” on the opportunity. His firm typically invests in platform businesses that have the capacity to transform business spaces. Many are pure software, like Splunk or GitLab, while others are akin to Bill.com, which transformed how small businesses manage financial operations, he added.

All of those combine into a company, like Vowel, especially given the company’s vision for a meeting OS to transform a meeting space that hadn’t moved forward in decades, he said.

“This was quickly obvious to me because my day is meetings — an eight-Zoom day is a normal day — I just wish I could remember everything,” Hornick said. “Speaking with early customers using the product, when I asked them what they would do if this ever went away, the first thing they said was ‘cry,’ and, because there was no alternative, would return to Zoom or other tools, but it would be a big setback.”

#amity-ventures, #andy-berman, #artificial-intelligence, #box-group, #cloud, #david-hornik, #enterprise, #funding, #knowledge-management, #lobby-capital, #meetings, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #software, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vowel, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Box, Zoom chief product officers discuss how the changing workplace drove their latest collaboration

If the past 18 months is any indication, the nature of the workplace is changing. And while Box and Zoom already have integrations together, it makes sense for them to continue to work more closely.

Their newest collaboration is the Box app for Zoom, a new type of in-product integration that allows users to bring apps into a Zoom meeting to provide the full Box experience.

While in Zoom, users can securely and directly access Box to browse, preview and share files from Zoom — even if they are not taking part in an active meeting. This new feature follows a Zoom integration Box launched last year with its “Recommended Apps” section that enables access to Zoom from Box so that workflows aren’t disrupted.

The companies’ chief product officers, Diego Dugatkin with Box and Oded Gal with Zoom, discussed with TechCrunch why seamless partnerships like these are a solution for the changing workplace.

With digitization happening everywhere, an integration of “best-in-breed” products for collaboration is essential, Dugatkin said. Not only that, people don’t want to be moving from app to app, instead wanting to stay in one environment.

“It’s access to content while never having to leave the Zoom platform,” he added.

It’s also access to content and contacts in different situations. When everyone was in an office, meeting at a moment’s notice internally was not a challenge. Now, more people are understanding the value of flexibility, and both Gal and Dugatkin expect that spending some time at home and some time in the office will not change anytime soon.

As a result, across the spectrum of a company, there is an increasing need for allowing and even empowering people to work from anywhere, Dugatkin said. That then leads to a conversation about sharing documents in a secure way for companies, which this collaboration enables.

The new Box and Zoom integration enables meeting in a hybrid workplace: chat, video, audio, computers or mobile devices, and also being able to access content from all of those methods, Gal said.

“Companies need to be dynamic as people make the decision of how they want to work,” he added. “The digital world is providing that flexibility.”

This long-term partnership is just scratching the surface of the continuous improvement the companies have planned, Dugatkin said.

Dugatkin and Gal expect to continue offering seamless integration before, during and after meetings: utilizing Box’s cloud storage, while also offering the ability for offline communication between people so that they can keep the workflow going.

“As Diego said about digitization, we are seeing continuous collaboration enhanced with the communication aspect of meetings day in and day out,” Gal added. “Being able to connect between asynchronous and synchronous with Zoom is addressing the future of work and how it is shaping where we go in the future.”

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #box, #cloud-computing, #computing, #diego-dugatkin, #enterprise, #mobile-devices, #oded-gal, #remote-work, #saas, #tc, #telecommunications, #video, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Zoom announces first startups receiving funding from $100M investment fund

For more than year now, Zoom has been on a mission to transform from an application into a platform. To that end it made three announcements last year: Zoom Apps development tools, the Zoom Apps marketplace and a $100 million development fund to invest in some of the more promising startups building tools on top of their platform. Today, at the closing bell, the company announced it has made its first round of investments.

Ross Mayfield, product lead for Zoom Apps and integrations spoke to TechCrunch about the round of investments. “We’re in the process of creating this ecosystem. We felt it important, particularly to focus on the seed stage and A stage of partnering with entrepreneurs to create great things on this platform. And I think what you see in the first batch of more than a dozen investments is representative of something that’s going to be a significant ongoing undertaking,” he explained.

He said while they aren’t announcing exact investment amounts, they are writing checks for between $250,000 and $2.5 million. They are teaming with other investment partners, rather than leading the rounds, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working with these startups using internal resources for advice and executive backing, beyond the money.

“Every one of these investments has an executive or senior sponsor within the company. So there’s another person inside that knows the lay of the land, can help them advance and spend more personal time with them,” Mayfield said.

The company is also running several Zoom chat channels for the startups receiving investments to learn from one another and the Zoom Apps team. “We have a shared chat channel between the startup and my team. We have a channel called Announcements and a channel called Help, and another one that the startups created called Community,” he said.

Every week they use these channels to hold a developer office hour, business office hour which Mayfield runs, and then there’s a community hour where the startups can gather and talk amongst themselves about whatever they want.

Among the specific categories receiving funding are collaboration and productivity, community and charity, DE&I and PeopleOps, and gaming and entertainment. In the collaboration and productivity category, Warmly is a sales tool that provides background and information about each person participating in the meeting ahead of time, while allowing the meeting organizer to create customized Zoom backgrounds for each event.

Another is Fathom, which alleviates the need to take notes during a meeting, but it’s more than recording and transcription. “It gives you this really simple interface where you can just tag moments. And then, as a result you have this transcript of the video recording, and you can click on those tagged moments as highlights, and then share a clip of the meeting highlights to Salesforce, Slack and other tools,” Mayfield said.

Pledge enables individuals or organizations to request and collect donations inside a Zoom meeting instantly, and Canvas is a hiring and interview tool that helps companies build diverse teams with data that helps them set and meet DEI goals.

These and the other companies represent the first tranche of investments from this fund, and Mayfield says the company intends to continue looking for startups using the Zoom platform to build their startup or integrate with Zoom.

He says that every company starts as a feature, then becomes a product and then aspires to be a line of products. The trick is getting there.  The goal of the investment program and the entire set of Zoom Apps tools is about helping these companies take the first step.

“The art of being an entrepreneur is working with that risk in the absence of resources and pushing at the frontier of what you know.” Zoom is trying to be a role model, a mentor and an investor on that journey.

#apps, #corporate-investment-arms, #developer, #enterprise, #saas, #startups, #video-conferencing, #zoom, #zoom-apps

Macro relaunches its Zoom skin to focus on self-expression and inclusion

Productivity has been a focal point for many enterprise businesses since before the pandemic hit, and even more so since its onset. But Macro founders Ankith Harathi and John Keck are taking a different tack.

The startup’s Zoom SDK-powered product has been reimagined by its team, and is relaunching today.

When Macro first launched into beta, with $4.3 million in Seed capital led by FirstMark, the idea was that Zoom calls lacked the infrastructure to be truly useful (and equitable). As a solution, the company created a Zoom overlay that allowed users to type in action items, takeaways, etc. right in the call. Macro would then transfer all that information into a Google Doc and send it to attendees.

The product also gave users the option to choose their layout, including skin that would just show thumbnails of attendees over the browser or application of choice, rather than taking up the whole screen. It even had a feature called Airtime that showed how much each individual was talking during a meeting, ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard.

It’s that final feature, and the feedback of Macro users, that culminated in this relaunch. Shifting away from its early productivity bend, Macro is now focusing on self-expression.

“We believe that the future of video communications, one of our most intimate forms of communication, will be super personalized. You and I are fundamentally very different people,” Harathi said to me over Zoom. “But we are in the Zoom era, and we’re all using the same really generic interface regardless of how different we are.”

The new Macro allows users to personalize their interface and express themselves, using shapes, colors, filters and more. In fact, the company is working alongside some big-name artists (TBA) to offer users special reactions within their Zoom calls. Whether or not other members of the call are using Macro, they’ll still see you the way present yourself using the service.

Some features remained from the original iteration of Macro remain, such as Airtime. Harathi and Keck explained to TechCrunch that the main feedback they received on the product at launch, back in July of 2020, was that its features around self-expression and inclusivity were resonating the most with users, and that few folks were actually making use of the service’s productivity suite.

Macro is also reintroducing the skin that allowed users to hang out (and see each other in Zoom) while working collaboratively in some other application, calling it Rooms. Macro currently works with MacOS.

The company is keeping its bottoms-up approach to growth, offering the product for free to anyone who wants to use it, without having to get an entire organization on board.

Macro is riding the Zoom wave as the video conferencing behemoth shifts focus to its app ecosystem. Harathi and Keck believe that Macro is to video conferencing what Superhuman is to email, with the main caveat being that Macro is doubling down on self-expression over productivity.

They believe that the UI winner has a lot to gain as the protocol of video meetings continues to prosper, and the company is aiming to be that winner.

#apps, #macro, #tc, #zoom

Stop using Zoom, Hamburg’s DPA warns state government

Hamburg’s state government has been formally warned against using Zoom over data protection concerns.

The German state’s data protection agency (DPA) took the step of issuing a public warning yesterday, writing in a press release that the Senate Chancellory’s use of the popular videoconferencing tool violates the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) since user data is transferred to the US for processing.

The DPA’s concern follows a landmark ruling (Schrems II) by Europe’s top court last summer which invalidated a flagship data transfer arrangement between the EU and the US (Privacy Shield), finding US surveillance law to be incompatible with EU privacy rights.

The fallout from Schrems II has been slow to manifest — beyond an instant blanket of legal uncertainty. However a number of European DPAs are now investigating the use of US-based digital services because of the data transfer issue, and in some instances publicly warning against the use of mainstream US tools like Facebook and Zoom because user data cannot be adequately safeguarded when it’s taken over the pond.

German agencies are among the most proactive in this respect. But the EU’s data protection supervisor is also investigating the bloc’s use of cloud services from US giants Amazon and Microsoft over the same data transfer concern.

At the same time, negotiations between the European Commission and the Biden administration to seek a replacement data transfer deal remain ongoing. However EU lawmakers have repeatedly warned against any quick fix — saying reform of US surveillance law is likely required before there can be a revived Privacy Shield. And as the legal limbo continues a growing number of public bodies in Europe are facing pressure to ditch US-based services in favor of compliant local alternatives.

In the Hamburg case, the DPA says it took the step of issuing the Senate Chancellory with a public warning after the body did not provide an adequate response to concerns raised earlier.

The agency asserts that use of Zoom by the public body does not comply with the GDPR’s requirement for a valid legal basis for processing personal data, writing: “The documents submitted by the Senate Chancellery on the use of Zoom show that [GDPR] standards are not being adhered to.”

The DPA initiated a formal procedure earlier, via a hearing, on June 17, 2021 but says the Senate Chancellory failed to stop using the videoconferencing tool. Nor did it provide any additional documents or arguments to demonstrate compliance usage. Hence the DPA taking the step of a formal warning, under Article 58 (2) (a) of the GDPR.

In a statement, Ulrich Kühn, the acting Hamburg commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, dubbed it “incomprehensible” that the regional body was continuing to flout EU law in order to use Zoom — pointing out that a local alternative, provided by the German company Dataport (which supplies software to a number of state, regional and local government bodies) is readily available.

In the statement [translated with Google Translate], Kühn said: “Public bodies are particularly bound to comply with the law. It is therefore more than regrettable that such a formal step had to be taken. At the [Senate Chancellery of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg], all employees have access to a tried and tested video conference tool that is unproblematic with regard to third-country transmission. As the central service provider, Dataport also provides additional video conference systems in its own data centers. These are used successfully in other regions such as Schleswig-Holstein. It is therefore incomprehensible why the Senate Chancellery insists on an additional and legally highly problematic system.”

We’ve reached out to the Hamburg DPA and Senate Chancellory with questions.

Zoom has also been contacted for comment.

#data-protection, #data-security, #dataport, #digital-rights, #eu-us-privacy-shield, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #general-data-protection-regulation, #government, #hamburg, #personal-data, #privacy, #schrems-ii, #surveillance-law, #united-states, #video-conferencing, #zoom

Zoom to pay $85M for lying about encryption and sending data to Facebook and Google

A computer screen with a Zoom call showing the faces of a dozen participants.

Enlarge / Technical preview of Zoom’s end-to-end encryption, made available months after Zoom was caught lying to users about how it encrypts video calls. (credit: Zoom )

Zoom has agreed to pay $85 million to settle claims that it lied about offering end-to-end encryption and gave user data to Facebook and Google without the consent of users. The settlement between Zoom and the filers of a class-action lawsuit also covers security problems that led to rampant “Zoombombings.”

The proposed settlement would generally give Zoom users $15 or $25 each and was filed Saturday at US District Court for the Northern District of California. It came nine months after Zoom agreed to security improvements and a “prohibition on privacy and security misrepresentations” in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, but the FTC settlement didn’t include compensation for users.

As we wrote in November, the FTC said that Zoom claimed it offers end-to-end encryption in its June 2016 and July 2017 HIPAA compliance guides, in a January 2019 white paper, in an April 2017 blog post, and in direct responses to inquiries from customers and potential customers. In reality, “Zoom did not provide end-to-end encryption for any Zoom Meeting that was conducted outside of Zoom’s ‘Connecter’ product (which are hosted on a customer’s own servers), because Zoom’s servers—including some located in China—maintain the cryptographic keys that would allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ Zoom Meetings,” the FTC said. In real end-to-end encryption, only the users themselves have access to the keys needed to decrypt content.

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#end-to-end-encryption, #policy, #zoom, #zoombombing

Zoom reaches $85M settlement in ‘Zoombombing’ lawsuit

Zoom has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the video conferencing giant of violating users’ privacy by sharing their data with third parties without permission and enabling “Zoombombing” incidents.

Zoombombing, a term coined by TechCrunch last year as its usage exploded because of the pandemic, describes unapproved attendees entering and disrupting Zoom calls by sharing offensive imagery, using backgrounds to spread hateful messages, or spouting slurs and profanities.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2020 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, also accused the firm of sharing personal user data with third parties, including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.

In addition to agreeing to an $85 million settlement, which could see customers receive a refund of either 15% of their subscription of $25 if the lawsuit achieves class-action status, Zoom has said it will take additional steps to prevent intruders from gatecrashing meetings. This will include alerting users when meeting hosts or other participants use third-party apps in meetings and offering specialized training to employees on privacy and data handling.

“The privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place in us,” Zoom said in a statement. “We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”

The settlement requires approval from US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, to be finalized.

#apps, #articles, #california, #computing, #facebook, #google, #linkedin, #privacy, #san-jose, #security, #software, #united-states, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom, #zoombombing

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube now supports Zoom calls on your TV

Late last year, Amazon launched support for two-way calling that worked with its Fire TV Cube devices. The feature allowed consumers to make and receive calls from their connected TV to any other Alexa device with a screen. Today, the company is expanding this system to enable support for two-way calling with Zoom.

Starting today, Fire TV Cube owners (2nd gen.) will be able to join Zoom work meetings or virtual hangouts via their Fire TV Cube.

To take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, its hands-free streaming device and smart speaker that has Alexa built in, as well as a webcam that supports USB Video Class (UVC) with at least 720p resolution and 30fps. But for a better experience, Amazon recommends a webcam with 1080p resolution and a 60-90 degree field of view from 6 to 10 feet away from the TV. It doesn’t recommend 4K webcams, however.

Amazon suggests webcams like the Logitech C920, C922x, C310, or the Wansview 101JD, for example.

You’ll then connect your webcam to your Fire TV Cube using a Micro USB to USB adapter.

For best results, you’ll want to attach the webcam above the TV screen, Amazon notes.

Once everything is set up and connected, you’ll need to download and install the Zoom app from the Fire TV Appstore. When joining meetings, you can either sign in as a guest or use an existing Zoom account, per the on-screen instructions.

Thanks to the Alexa integration, you can join your meetings hands-free, if you prefer, by way of a voice command like “Alexa, join my Zoom meeting.” Alexa will respond by prompting you for the meeting ID and passcode. Alternately, you can choose to use the remote control to enter in this information.

An optional feature also lets you sync your calendar to Alexa to allow the smart assistant to remind you about the upcoming meetings it finds on your calendar. If you go this route, Alexa will suggest the meeting to join and you’ll just have to say “yes” to be automatically dialed in.

Amazon first announced it was bringing video calling support to its Fire TV platform last fall — a significant update in the new era of remote work and schooling, driven by the pandemic. However, it’s not the only option on the market. Google also last year brought group video calls to its Hub Max devices, and later added support for Zoom calls. Meanwhile Facebook Portal devices have offered video calling of a more personal nature, and last year updated to support Zoom, too.

In other words, Amazon is playing a bit of catch-up here. And its solution is a little more unwieldy as it requires consumers to buy their own webcam, while something like Portal TV offers a TV with a smart camera included.

To use the new feature, you’ll need the latest Fire TV Cube software update to get started, Amazon notes.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-fire-tv, #fire-tv, #fire-tv-cube, #hardware, #logitech, #media, #multimedia, #teleconferencing, #telework, #video, #video-conference, #webcam, #zoom, #zoom-calls, #zoom-video-calls

Class, a Zoom-only virtual classroom, nears unicorn status after SoftBank check

Class, a virtual classroom that integrates exclusively with Zoom, announced today that it has raised $105 million in a financing led by SoftBank Vision Fund II. The 10-month old startup has now raised a total of $146 million in known venture funding to date, which eclipses the amount of capital raised by founder Michael Chasen’s now-public previous company, Blackboard.

Despite its infancy, Class is rapidly nearing unicorn status, confirming that it currently sports a post-money valuation of $804 million. Other investors in Class include GSV Ventures and Emergence Capital, who led the startups’ pre-seed round, as well as top U.S. edtech funds including Reach Capital, Owl Ventures, Insight Partners and Learn Capital.

Class, formerly Class for Zoom, uses management and instruction tools to bolster the video conferencing call experience. Since launch, Class has integrated exclusively with the videoconferencing giant, which rose to household name prominence during the initial months of the pandemic and continues to be a mainstay in synchronous communication. It’s part of a wave of Zoom alternatives and enhancements that have launched over the past year – and to date has over 250 customers.

Today’s announcement of the SoftBank stamp of approval means that Class is making two statements: one, that it’s taking global expansion seriously, and two, I’d argue that it’s signaling that it is not looking to be just an acquisition target for Zoom.

Globalization of edtech

SoftBank likes to back what it views as “winner” in one sector and throw millions into it to help it foothold international markets. Earlier this month, the Japanese conglomerate put millions into Clearco, formerly Clearbanc, to help the alternative financing startup grow into new geographies beyond Europe, Canada and the United States. At this point, I imagine SoftBank is looking for opinionated startups that are naturally pulled internationally, and then funds the heck out of them.

Class is no different. Chasen explained how international demand for the product has been high since Class announced its seed round. Schools from Europe, the Middle East and Japan reached out before Class had rolled out general availability. Now, with Class’ general availability rolled out on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Chromebook, Chasen is focusing on turning those on the waitlist into customers.

Class’ international expansion will see it build up local teams in target regions such as the UK and Ireland, EMEA, Latin American and APAC. The startup is expecting to add 100 new team members across the world to its already 200-person team.

 

Chasen estimates that 65% of the financing will fuel Class’ internationalization and that the remaining will be allocated toward product development. One critique of Class is that the platform offers the same experience to a second grade class as it does to a higher-ed class. Chasen agreed that the startup needs to add more specificity to its product – perhaps gamification for K-12 and exam proctoring for higher ed – in future versions.

“V1 gives you what we believe is the bare minimum you need to teach online,” he said, noting features such as testing and grade trackers. “Right now, we need a product that works well across every market, and in the future we’ll make enhancements that are specific for the markets.”

And so far, users are paying for it. Class said that its revenue grew almost 4X quarter over quarter in 2021.

Friends with Zoom benefits

While there’s a numbing effect around big rounds and flashy valuations, Class’ recent raise could squash questions around whether it’s teeing itself up for an eventual acquisition by Zoom.

When TechCrunch first spoke to Chasen, he said that Zoom is focused more on scale than the sort of in-depth specialization that Class wants to provide.

Still, the company was in kahoots with Zoom’s earliest investors and acted as a Zoom reseller in multiple markets, suggesting that consolidation wouldn’t be too wild of an assumption down the road. After today, though, it’s clear Class views itself as a standalone business. Startups don’t just raise nine-figure funding rounds from savvy investors unless they have ambitions to be bigger than an integration.

Going forward, Class may use some of those millions to establish its brand as the go-to option for schools or institutions that want a classroom-friendly Zoom environment. Per Class’ careers page, marketing is its most aggressive hiring focus right now. The company has six open roles in the marketing team, which include an international marketing manager and a content marketing manager.

Class’ closest competitor is Engageli, which last raised a $33 million Series A in May 2021. Engageli’s co-founder and COO, Jamie Farrell, left in February 2021 for another edtech startup, and the company doesn’t appear to be hiring too aggressively via online job boards. While the details are anecdotal, Engageli may face steeper competition in terms of bandwidth and marketing now that Class has fresh capitalization – and a growing team of global employees.

#class, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #edtech, #education, #michael-chasen, #remote-school, #tc, #video, #zoom

The Zoom-Five9 deal is a big bet for the video conferencing company

Zoom, a well-known video conferencing company, will buy Five9, a company that sells software allowing users to reach customers across platforms, and record notes on their interactions. As TechCrunch noted this morning, the deal is merely “Zoom’s latest attempt to expand its offerings,” having “added several office collaboration products, a cloud phone system, and an all-in-one home communications appliance” to its larger software stack in recent quarters. Both companies are publicly traded.

But the Five9 deal is in a different league than its previous purchases. Indeed, the $14.7 billion transaction represents a material percentage of Zoom’s own value. That tells us that the company is not simply making a purchase in Five9, but is instead making a large bet that the combination of its business and that of the smaller company will prove rather accretive.

Zoom is worth $101.8 billion as of the time of writing, with the company’s shares slipping just over 4% today; the stock market is largely off this morning, making Zoom’s share price movements less indicative of investor reaction to the deal that we might think. Still, it doesn’t appear that the street is excessively thrilled by news of Zoom’s purchase.

That perspective may be reasonable, given that the Five9 transaction is worth nearly 15% of Zoom’s total market cap; the company is betting a little less than a sixth of its value on a single wager.

Not that Five9 doesn’t bring a lot to the table. In its most recent quarter, Five9 posted $138 million in total revenue, growth of 45% on a year-over-year basis.

Still, as Zoom reported in an investor deck concerning the transaction, the smaller company’s growth rate pales compared to its own:

Image Credits: Zoom investor deck

This is where the deal gets interesting. Note that Five9’s revenue growth rate is a fraction of Zoom’s. The larger company, then, is buying a piece of revenue that is growing slower than its core business. That’s a bit of a flip from many transactions that we see, in which the smaller company being acquired is growing faster than the acquiring entity’s own operations.

Why would Zoom buy slower growth for so very much money? One thing to consider is that Five9’s most recent quarterly growth rate is quicker than the growth rate that it posted over the last 12 months. That implies that Five9 has room to accelerate growth compared to its historical pace, bringing its total pace of top-line expansion closer to what Zoom itself manages.

#ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #five9, #fundings-exits, #video-conferencing, #zoom

Equity Monday: Zoom buys Five9 as Robinhood sets IPO price range

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It was a big damn morning, so we had to cut some stuff. Here’s what we got into:

  • Stocks and cryptos are off this morning, as inflation and COVID-19 concerns rise.
  • Zoom is buying Five9. The deal is not super expensive, nor is it cheap. But given the huge percentage of Zoom’s market cap that it represents, it’s a serious wager from the video conferencing startup.
  • Carlyle is buying LiveU for around $400 million. TechCrunch broke this news. The deal shows that private equity interest in startups that aren’t unicorns.
  • Robinhood dropped a new SEC filing this morning! That means we have a price range and valuation target to play with. More from TechCrunch on the matter shortly.
  • From India: A huge round for Lenskart, and a big Series A for GlobalBees.
  • And we covered this round from Nigeria. A smaller transaction, but one that could prove to be quite neat, we reckon.

Ok! Chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#carlyle, #chaka, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #equity, #equity-podcast, #five9, #fundings-exits, #globalbees, #india, #lenskart, #liveu, #nigeria, #public-market, #robinhood, #robinhood-ipo, #startups, #zoom

Zoom buys cloud call center firm Five9 for $14.7 billion

Zoom is taking advantage of the impressive rise in its stock price in the past year to make its first major acquisition. The popular video conferencing firm, which was valued at about $9 billion at its IPO two years ago, said Sunday evening it has agreed a deal to buy cloud call centre service provider Five9 for about $14.7 billion in an all-stock transaction.

20-year-old Five9 will become an operating unit of Zoom after the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2022, the two firms said.

The proposed acquisition is Zoom’s latest attempt to expand its offerings. In the past year, the video conferencing software has added several office collaboration products, a cloud phone system, and an all-in-one home communications appliance.

The acquisition of Five9 — which has amassed over 2,000 customers worldwide including Citrix and Under Armour and processes over 7 billion minutes of calls annually — will help Zoom enter the “$24 billion” market for contact centers, the company said.

“We are continuously looking for ways to enhance our platform, and the addition of Five9 is a natural fit that will deliver even more happiness and value to our customers,” said Eric S. Yuan, founder and chief executive of Zoom, in a statement.

Joining forces will offer both firms “significant” cross-selling opportunities in each other’s respective customer bases, the two firms said.

“Businesses spend significant resources annually on their contact centers, but still struggle to deliver a seamless experience for their customers,” said Rowan Trollope, chief executive of Five9.

“It has always been Five9’s mission to make it easy for businesses to fix that problem and engage with their customers in a more meaningful and efficient way. Joining forces with Zoom will provide Five9’s business customers access to best-of-breed solutions, particularly Zoom Phone, that will enable them to realize more value and deliver real results for their business. This, combined with Zoom’s ‘ease-of use’ philosophy and broad communication portfolio, will truly enable customers to engage via their preferred channel of choice.”

The two firms will do a joint Zoom call Monday to share more about the transaction.

#enterprise, #five9, #fundings-exits, #tc, #zoom

GSA blocks senator from reviewing documents used to approve Zoom for government use

The General Services Administration has denied a senator’s request to review documents Zoom submitted to have its software approved for use in the federal government.

The denial was in response to a letter sent by Democratic senator Ron Wyden to the GSA in May, expressing concern that the agency cleared Zoom for use by federal agencies just weeks before a major security vulnerability was discovered in the app.

Wyden said the discovery of the bug raises “serious questions about the quality of FedRAMP’s audits.”

Zoom was approved to operate in government in April 2019 after receiving its FedRAMP authorization, a program operated by the GSA that ensures cloud services comply with a standardized set of security requirements designed to toughen the service from some of the most common threats. Without this authorization, federal agencies cannot use cloud products or technologies that are not cleared.

Months later, Zoom was forced to patch its Mac app after a security researcher found a flaw that could be abused to remotely switch on a user’s webcam without their permission. Apple was forced to intervene since users were still affected by the vulnerabilities even after uninstalling Zoom. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns were enforced, Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed — as did the scrutiny — including a technical analysis by reporters that found Zoom was not truly end-to-end encrypted as the company long claimed.

Wyden wrote to the GSA to say he found it “extremely concerning” that the security bugs were discovered after Zoom’s clearance. In the letter, the senator requested the documents known as the “security package,” which Zoom submitted as part of the FedRAMP authorization process, to understand how and why the app was cleared by GSA.

The GSA declined Wyden’s first request in July 2020 on the grounds that he was not a committee chair. In the new Biden administration, Wyden was named chair of the Senate Finance Committee and requested Zoom’s security package again.

But in a new letter sent to Wyden’s office late last month, GSA declined the request for the second time, citing security concerns.

“GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The security package you have requested contains highly sensitive proprietary and other confidential information relating to the security associated with the Zoom for Government product. Safeguarding this information is critical to maintaining the integrity of the offering and any government data it hosts,” said the GSA letter. “Based on our review, GSA believes that disclosure of the Zoom security package would create significant security risks.”

In response to the GSA’s letter, Wyden told TechCrunch that he was concerned that other flawed software may have been approved for use across the government.

“The intent of GSA’s FedRAMP program is good — to eliminate red tape so that multiple federal agencies don’t have to review the security of the same software. But it’s vitally important that whichever agency conducts the review do so thoroughly,” said Wyden. “I’m concerned that the government’s audit of Zoom missed serious cybersecurity flaws that were subsequently uncovered and exposed by security researchers. GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.”

Of the people we spoke with who have first-hand knowledge of the FedRAMP process, either as a government employee or as a company going through the certification, FedRAMP was described as a comprehensive but by no means an exhaustive list of checks that companies have to meet in order to meet the security requirements of the federal government.

Others said that the process had its limits and would benefit from reform. One person with knowledge of how FedRAMP works said the process was not a complete audit of a product’s source code but akin to a checklist of best practices and meeting compliance requirements. Much of it relies on trusting the vendor, said the person, describing it like ” an honor system.” Another person said the FedRAMP process cannot catch every bug, as evidenced by executive action taken by President Biden this week aimed at modernizing and improving the FedRAMP process.

Most of the people we spoke to weren’t surprised that Wyden’s office was denied the request, citing the sensitivity of a company’s FedRAMP security package.

The people said that companies going through the certification process have to provide highly technical details about the security of their product, which if exposed would almost certainly be damaging to the company. Knowing where security weaknesses might be could tip off cyber-criminals, one of the people said. Companies often spend millions on improving their security ahead of a FedRAMP audit but companies wouldn’t risk going through the certification if they thought their trade secrets would get leaked, they added.

When asked by GSA why it objected to Wyden’s request, Zoom’s head of U.S. government relations Lauren Belive argued that handing over the security package “would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine the special trust and confidence” that companies place in the FedRAMP process.

GSA puts strict controls on who can access a FedRAMP security package. You need a federal government or military email address, which the senator’s office has. But the reason for GSA denying Wyden’s request still isn’t clear, and when reached a GSA spokesperson would not explain how a member of Congress would obtain a company’s FedRAMP security package

“GSA values its relationship with Congress and will continue to work with Senator Wyden and our committees of jurisdiction to provide appropriate information regarding our programs and operations,” said GSA spokesperson Christina Wilkes, adding:

“GSA works closely with private sector partners to provide a standardized approach to security authorizations for cloud services through the [FedRAMP]. Zoom’s FedRAMP security package and related documents provide detailed information regarding the security measures associated with the Zoom for Government product. GSA’s consistent practice with regard to sensitive security and trade secret information is to withhold the material absent an official written request of a congressional committee with jurisdiction, and pursuant to controls on further dissemination or publication of the information.”

GSA wouldn’t say which congressional committee had jurisdiction or whether Wyden’s role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee suffices, nor would the agency answer questions about the efficacy of the FedRAMP process raised by Wyden.

Zoom spokesperson Kelsey Knight said that cloud companies like Zoom “provide proprietary and confidential information to GSA as part of the FedRAMP authorization process with the understanding that it will be used only for their use in making authorization decisions. While we do not believe Zoom’s FedRAMP security package should be disclosed outside of this narrow purpose, we welcome conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders about the security of Zoom for Government.”

Zoom said it has “engaged in security enhancements to continually improve its products,” and received FedRAMP reauthorization in 2020 and 2021 as part of its annual renewal. The company declined to say to what extent the Zoom app was audited as part of the FedRAMP process.

Over two dozen federal agencies use Zoom, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Executive Office of the President.

#apps, #biden, #biden-administration, #chair, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #congress, #department-of-defense, #executive, #federal-government, #fedramp, #government, #head, #internet, #internet-security, #official, #president, #ron-wyden, #security, #senator, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #web-conferencing, #zoom

#DealMonitor – mymoria sammelt 15 Millionen ein – Zoom kauft Kites – IDnow übernimmt Ariadnext


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 30. Juni werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

mymoria
+++ Kalodion, das Family Office des saarländischen Unternehmers David Zimmer, die Investmentgruppe Egora Holding und die Altinvestoren – darunter DvH Ventures, IBB Ventures, HOWZAT Partners und btov Partners – investieren 15 Millionen Euro in mymoria. Das frische Kapital ist “für Zukäufe und die Integration von traditionellen Bestattungshäusern” gedacht. Das Berliner Unternehmen mymoria wurde 2015 von Felix Maßheimer und Björn Wolff gegründet. 60 Mitarbeiter:innen wirken derzeit für die Jungfirma. Im vergangenen Jahr eröffnete das digitale Bestattungshaus in Köln und München sogenannte Bestattungsboutiquen. Mehr über mymoria

Twinner
“Zwei deutsche prominente Familien” und das japanische Industrie- und Automobilkonglomerat Sojitz Corporatio investieren in Twinner, eine Plattform für die Digitalisierung von Fahrzeugen. Das Unternehmen aus Halle, das digitale Zwillinge von Autos erzeugt, wurde 2017 von Jozsef Bugovics gegründet. bmp Ventures und einige Business Angel investierten zuvor bereits einen zweistelligen Millionenbetrag in Twinner. In der Presseaussendung heißt es nun: “Mit einem Investitionsvolumen von mehr als 40 Millionen Euro gehört Twinner zu einer exklusiven Gruppe von Technologieunternehmen mit internationalen Ambitionen”.

circuly 
+++ neoteq ventures und der Technologiefonds OWL, Business Angels aus der Retail-Branche und Altinvestor Venista Ventures investieren in circuly. Insgesamt flossen nun schon 1,3 Millionen Euro in das Unternehmen. Das Startup aus Bielefeld, das von Victoria Erdbrügger und Nick Huijs gegründet wurde, entwickelt ein SaaS-Tool für Unternehmen, die ihr Geschäftsmodell auf sogenannte Renting Operations aufbauen möchten.

Kowry Energy 
+++ Rolls-Royce investiert in das Berliner Startup Kowry Energy. Das junge Unternehmen, das von Ndiarka Mbodj gegründet wurde, entwickelt dezentrale und nachhaltige Energiesysteme für den afrikanischen Markt. “In Zusammenarbeit mit lokalen unabhängigen Energieversorgern werden dezentrale Energiesysteme zukünftig afrikanischen Kommunen und Betrieben zuverlässigen Zugang zu sauberer Energie ermöglichen”, teilt das Unternehmen mit.

Fertilly
+++ Jetzt offiziell: TA Ventures, IBB Ventures, Wille Finance, Sanner Ventures und mehrere Business Angels investieren – wie bereits berichtet – in Fertilly, früher als Dein Kinderwunsch bekannt. Das Berliner Startup, das 2019 von Christoph Müller-Guntrum gegründet wurde, berät Frauen, Männer und Paare zu den Themen Fruchtbarkeit, Kinderwunsch und Familienplanung. das frische Kapital soll unter anderem in “
die Expansion des Teams und des Kliniknetzwerkes” fließen.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS

Ariadnext
+++ Das Münchner FinTech IDnow, ein Anbieter von Identity Verification-as-a-Service Lösungen, übernimmt das französische Unternehmen Ariadnext. Der Kaufpreis liegt wohl bei 50 Millionen Euro – siehe TechCrunch. “Durch die Zusammenarbeit von IDnow und ARIADNEXT können beide Unternehmen eine umfassende Plattform zur Identitätsverifizierung anbieten. Das umfasst KI-gestützte Lösungen und Verifizierungs-Services mit persönlicher Assistenz, die sowohl Online- als auch am Point-of-Sale genutzt werden können”, teilen die Unternehmen mit. IDnow übernahm zuletzt auch den Düsseldorfer Wettbewerber identity Trust Management und die Wirecard-Tochter Wirecard Communication Services. Mehr über IDnow

Kites
+++ Der amerikanische Videodienst Zoom übernimmt Kites. Das Startup aus Karlsruhe, eine Ausgründung aus dem Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), entwickelt Echtzeitlösungen für maschinelle Übersetzungen. In der Presseaussendung heißt es: “Die beiden kites-Gesellschafter Professor Alexander Waibel und Dr. Sebastian Stüker arbeiten an anwendungstauglichen Produkten, die natürliche und spontane Sprache mit Methoden der Künstlichen Intelligenz automatisch verarbeiten. kites gründeten sie im Jahr 2015 mit dem Ziel, ihre Forschungsergebnisse in echten Anwendungen zu integrieren”. Zoom teilt zur Übernahme weiter mit: “Dr. Stüker and the rest of the Kites team will remain based in Karlsruhe, Germany, where Zoom looks forward to investing in growing the team”. 

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#aktuell, #ariadnext, #berlin, #btov-partners, #dvh-ventures, #egora-holding, #fertilly, #fintech, #halle, #howzat-partners, #ibb-ventures, #idnow, #kalodion, #karlsruhe, #kites, #kowry-energy, #mymoria, #nauta-labs, #sanner-ventures, #ta-ventures, #twinner, #venture-capital, #wille-finance, #zoom

Zoom to acquire German startup to bring real-time translation to meetings

As companies expand worldwide, and meet online in tools like Zoom, the language barrier can be a real impediment to getting work done. Zoom announced that it intends to acquire German startup Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions or Kites for short, to bring real-time machine learning-based translation to the platform.

The companies did not share the terms of the deal, but with Kites, the company gets a team of top researchers, who can help enhance the machine learning translation knowledge at the company. “Kites’ talented team of 12 research scientists will help Zoom’s engineering team advance the field of [machine translation] to improve meeting productivity and efficiency by providing multi-language translation capabilities for Zoom users,” the company said in a statement.

The deal appears to be an acquihire as the company adds those 12 researchers to the Zoom engineering group. It intends to leave the team in place in Germany with plans to build a machine learning translation R&D center with additional hires over time as the company puts more resources into this area.

While the Kites website reveals little about it other than an address, the company About page on LinkedIn indicates that the startup was founded in 2015 by two researchers who taught at Carnegie Mellon and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology with the goal of building machine learning translation tooling.

“The Kites mission is to break down language barriers and make seamless cross language interaction a reality of everyday life,” the LinkedIn overview stated. It claims to be among a handful of companies, that include Google and Microsoft, to have developed “leading speech recognition and translation technologies,” which would suggest that Zoom has acquired some key technologies.

It does not appear the company had a commercial product, but the site does indicate that there is a machine learning translation platform that is in use in academia and government. Regardless, the fruits of the company’s research will now belong to Zoom.

#artificial-intelligence, #exit, #fundings-exits, #kites, #machine-learning, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #startups, #tc, #translation, #zoom

What does Uber and birth control have in common?

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our morning coffee chat with you that is all about the weekend, what to expect this week, and some funding rounds you may have missed. I’m subbing in for Alex Wilhelm today, who is deservedly out on vacation. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_, and Equity on Twitter (turn on those notifications!) @equitypod. 

Biden and world leaders are congregating at the NATO summit, which kicks off this week. Also, the Dublin Tech Summit is happening on Thursday with yours truly, other TC folks, and many entrepreneurs making a virtual appearance.

Now, onto the news!

  •  The weekend: The seat next to Jeff Bezos as he launches into space just got filled for $28 million. Also, Elon Musk tweeted about how Tesla might start accepting Bitcoin as a payment once at least half of it can be mined using clean energy. The comment sent Bitcoin up more than a few percentage points, hovering at $39,173 at the time of the recording.
  • This morning: The FT reports that Flagship Pioneering, which is responsible for incubating and launching Moderna, has raised a new venture capital fund at $3.4 billion. Flagship isn’t your traditional VC. It forms teams around problem areas and brainstorms solutions, incubates the most promising ones, and then eventually spins out and finances those companies.
  •  Funding rounds: Byju’s got a check from UBS and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, making it the most valuable startup in India. The company is now valued at $16.5 billion post-money. Plus, The Pill Club has raised an extension Series B round with former Uber exec Liz Meyerdirk newly at the helm of the company.
  • Finally, please take the Equity Listener Survey. We want to make the show better for you, so spending a few seconds filling out our survey and we will be very grateful.

And that’s all. Be kind with yourself this week, and take more than a 5-minute lunch because true glamour is being present and chewing slowly.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#bitcoin, #byjus, #edtech, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-pod, #eric-yuan, #flagship-pioneering, #health-tech, #jeff-bezos, #moderna, #space, #tc, #tesla, #the-pill-club, #truepill, #uber, #zoom

Could Claap, an asynchronous video meetings platform, end the tyranny of Zoom calls?

Because of the pandemic, we’re all a lot more familiar with remote working than we used to be, whether we like it or not. But the remote tools of the pre-pandemic era – Slack, Trello, Zoom, Asana, etc, etc, etc – are, if we admit it to ourselves, barely scratching the surface of what we really need to be productive. Luckily a new era of remote-working tools is fast emerging. As I recently tweeted, we need to think far more in asynchronous terms if remote working is to be productive (and healthy!), long term.

Older tools can offer asynchronous collaboration, but a new wave of tools is coming. Loom, for instance, is one-way video for ’show and tell’. It’s raised $203.6M – however, it has a drawback: it doesn’t have many collaboration features.

Now a new European startup hopes to address this.

Claap, an asynchronous meeting platform with video and collaboration, thinks it might have part of the solution and a private beta launch is planned for this month.

It’s now raised $3 million in pre-seed funding from LocalGlobe, Headline, E.Ventures, Kima Ventures and angels including Front co-founder Mathilde Collin, Oyster co-founder Tony Jamous, Nest and GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and Automattic’s head of product Aadil Mamujee. It also includes a group of 30 angels such as Ian Hogarth (Songkick), Olivier Godement (Stripe), Roxanne Varza (Station F), Chris Herd (FirstBase), and Xavier Niel (Kima), Shane Mac (investor in Remote).

We all now know that what were previously small catch-ups are now 30-minute Zoom calls, which are pointless. ‘Asynchronous meetings’ could be the way forward.

Claap says its product allows employees to record a short video update on a topic, allow others to comment on the relevant part, and set a due date for team members to respond. Colleagues then view the video and respond in their own time. Claap bulls itself as the remote working equivalent of the ‘quick hallway catch-up’. It integrates with other workplace tools such as Trello or Jira so that when a decision is made on a project, it’s recorded for everyone on the team to see and refer back to. A subscription model is planned which will have a sliding scale depending on team size.

Because it doesn’t require real-time interaction, you don’t need t find a time that suits everyone for a meeting, so in fact the ‘meeting’ sort of disappears. . Instead, the platform creates a space for feedback and iterations.

Founders Robin Bonduelle and Pierre Touzeau looked at solutions already adopted by companies such as Automattic, and GitLab. Touzeau was previously at 360Learning which employed a strict limiting policy for meetings. Bonduelle has 10 years of product management experience, working at various startups and scaleups including Ogury where he was VP of Product, and Rocket Internet. He developed asynchronous communication habits while managing 50 people across 4 different countries and time zones. Touzeau has worked for businesses including L’Oreal and 360Learning, where he was most recently VP of Marketing.

However, asynchronous communication is not always perfect. As we know, Emails and Slack messages can go unread. Video MIGHT be the solution.

Robin Bonduelle, co-founder and CEO at Claap, said: “After a year of working remotely, people are realizing the benefits of not working in an office but at the same time grappling with one of its worst consequences: back-to-back video meetings. A query that in the office would take five minutes to solve now takes at least 30, leaving everyone more exhausted in the process. Claap is designed to solve this issue, allowing colleagues the tools to keep them engaged and connected but without taking up all their time. It’s a new meeting format that allows people to make quick decisions.”

Touzeau said: “Meetings are a necessary part of working, but it doesn’t need to be your entire day. Asynchronous meetings are the key to freeing up our calendars but making sure work still gets done and deadlines are met. We’re excited by the potential Claap has to empower people to work from anywhere.”

George Henry, General Partner at LocalGlobe, said: “We were impressed with Robin and Pierre’s vision and the potential for Claap to allow employees to connect on a project when they need to and facilitate the ability to work from anywhere.”

Jonathan Userovici, Partner at Headline, said: “Zoom may have been the go-to enterprise app over the past 12 months but for the thousands of businesses that are now going to be remote-first, video conferencing alone won’t be enough to keep teams connected and get work done. Claap is the challenger tool to end video-calling fatigue.”

#articles, #asana, #automattic, #chris-herd, #e-ventures, #europe, #general-partner, #gitlab, #gocardless, #groupware, #ian-hogarth, #jonathan-userovici, #kima-ventures, #localglobe, #matt-robinson, #rocket-internet, #songkick, #station-f, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #telecommuting, #trello, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #zoom

The SPAC trash ticker is counting down

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week had the whole crew aboard to record: Grace and Chris making us sound good, Danny to provide levity, Natasha to actually recall facts, and Alex to divert us from staying on topic. It’s teamwork, people – and our transitions are proof of it.

And it’s good that we had everyone around the virtual table as there was quite a lot to get through:

  • Team felt all kinds of ways about the Amazon-MGM deal. Some of us are more positive about than the rest, but what gists out from the transaction is that for Amazon, the purchase price is modest and the company is famously playing a supposedly long-game. Let’s see how James Bond fits into it. Alex receives four points for not bringing up F1 thanks to the Bond-Aston Martin connection.
  • Turning to the SPAC game, we chatted through the recent Lordstown Motors earnings results, and what we can parse from them regarding blank-check companies, promises, and reality.
  • After launching last June with just $2 million, Collab Capital has closed its debut fund at its target goal: $50 million. The Black-led firm invests exclusively in Black-led startups, and got checks from Apple, PayPal, and Mailchimp to name a few. We talk about this feat, and note a few other Black-led venture capital firms making waves in the industry lately.
  • We Resolved our transition puns and eventually spoke about the Affirm spin-out, which raised $60 million in a funding round for BNPL for businesses. There’s bigger questions there around the accessibility and point of BNPL, and if its really re-inventing the wheel or just repackaging it with simpler UX.
  • Next up, we got into a can of worms about the future of meetings thanks to Rewatch, which raised a $20 million Series A this week led by Andreessen Horowitz. The startup helps other startups create internal, private Youtubes to archive their meetings and any video-based comms. We could only spend a second on this, so if you want our longer thoughts in the form of text, check out our 3 views on the topic on Extra Crunch! (Discount Code: Equity)
  • From there we had Interactio and Fireflies.ai, two more startups that are tackling the complexities of meetings in the COVID-19 era, and whatever comes next. Both recently raised new funding, and Alex brought up Kudo to add one more upstart to the mix.
  • Noom, a weight loss platform, bulked up with $540 million in funding after nearly doubling its revenue from 2019 to 2020. The pandemic has made many people gain weight, but we chew into why Noom’s moment might be right now after a decade in the works.

Thanks for hanging out this week, Equity is back on Tuesday with our usual weekly kickoff, thanks to the American holiday on Monday. Chat then, unless you want to follow us on Twitter and get a first-look at all of Chris’ meme work. 

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #affirm, #amazon, #bnpl, #collab-capital, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fireflies-ai, #fundings-exits, #interactio, #kudo, #lordstown-motors, #mgm, #noom, #resolve, #rewatch, #spac, #startups, #zoom

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform, grabs $30M after seeing 12x growth during COVID-19

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform whose customers include massive institutions like the United Nations, European Commission and Parliament along with corporates like BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft, has closed a whopping $30 million Series A after usage of its tools grew 12x between 2019 and 2020 as demand for online meeting platforms surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Series A funding is led by Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, along with participation from Practica Capital, Notion Capital, as well as notable angels such as Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype, and Young Sohn, ex-chief strategy officer of Samsung.

The Vilnius, Lithuania-based startup offers digital tools to connect meetings with certified interpreters who carry out real-time interpretation to bridge language divides between participants. It does also offer a video conferencing platform which its customers can use to run remote meetings but will happily integrate with thirty party software like Zoom, Webex etc. (Last year it says its digital tools were used alongside 43 different video streaming platforms.)

Interactio’s interpreters can be in the room where the meeting is taking place or doing the real-time interpretation entirely remotely by watching and listening to a stream of the meeting. (Or, indeed, it can support a mix of remote and on-site interpretation, if a client wishes.)

It can also supply all the interpreters for a meeting — and it touts a strict vetting procedure for onboarding certified interpreters to its platform — or else it will provide training to a customer’s interpreters on the use of its tools to ensure things run smoothly on the day.

At present, Interactio says it works with 1,000+ freelance interpreters, as well as touting “strong relations with interpretation agencies” — claiming it can easily quadruple the pool of available interpreters to step up to meet rising demand.

It offers its customers interpretation in any language — and in an unlimited number of languages per event. And last year it says it hosted 18,000+ meetings with 390,000 listeners spread across more than 70 countries.

Now, flush with a huge Series A, Interactio is gearing up for a future filled with increasing numbers of multi-lingual online meetings — as the coronavirus continues to inject friction into business travel.

“When we started, our biggest competition was simultaneous interpretation hardware for on-site interpretation. At that time, we were on the mission to fully replace it with our software that required zero additional hardware for attendees besides their phone and headphones. However, for institutions, which became our primary focus, hybrid meetings are the key, so we started partnering with simultaneous interpretation hardware manufacturers and integrators by working together on hybrid events, where participants use hardware on-site, and online participants use us,” a spokeswoman told us.

“This is how we differentiate ourselves from other platforms — by offering a fully hybrid solution, that can be integrated with hardware on-site basically via one cable.”

“Moreover, when we look at the market trends, we still see Zoom as the most used solution, so we compliment it by offering professional interpretation solutions,” she added.

A focus on customer support is another tactic that Interactio says it relies upon to stand out — and its iOS and Android apps do have high ratings on aggregate. (Albeit, there are bunch of historical complaints mixed in suggesting it’s had issues scaling its service to large audiences in the past, as well as sporadic problems with things like audio quality over the years.)

While already profitable, the 2014-founded startup says the  Series A will be used to step on the gas to continue to meet the accelerated demand and exponential growth it’s seen during the remote work boom.

Specifically, the funds will go on enhancing its tech and UX/UI — with a focus on ensuring ease of access/simplicity for those needing to access interpretation, and also on upgrading the tools it provides to interpreters (so they have “the best working conditions from their chosen place of work”).

It will also be spending to expand its client base — and is especially seeking to onboard more corporates and other types of customers. (“Last year’s focus was and still is institutions (e.g. European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations), where there is no place for an error and they need the most professional solution. The next step will be to expand our client base to corporate clients and a larger public that needs interpretation,” it told us.)

The new funding will also be used to expand the size of its team to support those goals, including growing the number of qualified interpreters it works with so it can keep pace with rising demand.

While major institutions like the UN are never going to be tempted to skimp on the quality of translation provided to diplomats and politicians by not using human interpreters (either on premise or working remotely), there may be a limit on how far professional real-time translation can scale given the availability of real-time machine translation technology — which offers a cheap alternative to support more basic meeting scenarios, such as between two professionals having an informal meeting.

Google, for example, offers a real-time translator mode that’s accessible to users of its smartphone platform via the Google voice assistant AI. Hardware startups are also trying to target real-time translation. The dream of a real-life AI-powered ‘Babel Fish’ remains strong.

Nonetheless, such efforts aren’t well suited to supporting meetings and conferences at scale — where having a centralized delivery service that’s also responsible for troubleshooting any audio quality or other issues which may arise looks essential.

And while machine translation has undoubtedly got a lot better over the years (albeit performance can vary, depending on the languages involved) there is still a risk that key details could be lost in translation if/when the machine gets it wrong. So offering highly scalable human translation via a digital platform looks like a safe bet as the world gets accustomed to more remote work (and less globetrotting) being the new normal.

“AI-driven translation is a great tool when you need a quick solution and are willing to sacrifice the quality,” says Interactio when we ask about this. “Our clients are large corporations and institutions, therefore, any kind of misunderstanding can be crucial. Here, the translation is not about saying a word in a different language, it’s about giving the meaning and communicating a context via interpretation.

“We strongly believe that only humans can understand the true context and meaning of conversations, where sometimes a tone of voice, an emotion and a figure speech can make a huge difference, that is unnoticed by a machine.”

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #covid-19, #eight-roads-ventures, #europe, #european-commission, #european-parliament, #fundings-exits, #interactio, #jaan-tallinn, #jp-morgan, #lithuania, #machine-translation, #microsoft, #notion-capital, #online-meetings, #practica-capital, #remote-work, #saas, #samsung, #silicon-valley, #skype, #storm-ventures, #translation, #translator, #united-nations, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex, #young-sohn, #zoom

Kleiner spots Spot Meetings $5M to modernize walk-and-talks for the Zoom generation

Trees, those deciduous entities you can occasionally see outdoors when not locked down or strapped down at a desktop ruminating on a video call, have long been the inspiration for fresh new ideas. Stories abound of how founders built companies while walking the foothills in Silicon Valley or around parks in San Francisco, and yet, we’ve managed over the past year to take movement mostly out of our remote work lives.

Chicago-based Spot Meetings wants to reinvigorate our meetings — and displace Zoom as the default meeting medium at the same time.

The product and company are just a few months old and remain in closed beta (albeit opening up a bit shortly here), and today it’s announcing $5 million in seed funding led by Ilya Fushman at Kleiner Perkins. That follows a $1.9 million pre-seed round led by Chapter One earlier this year.

CEO and co-founder Greg Caplan said that the team is looking to rebuild the meeting from the ground up for an audio-only environment. “On mobile, it needs to be abundantly simple to be very functional and understood for users so that they can actually use it on the go,” he described. In practice, that requires product development across a wide range of layers.

The product’s most notable feature today is that it has an assistant, aptly named Spot, which listens in on the call and which participants can direct commands to while speaking. For instance, saying “Spot Fetch” will pull the last 40 seconds of conversation, transcribe it, create a note in the meeting, and save it for follow-up. That prevents the multi-hand tapping required to save a note or to-do list for follow up with our current meeting products. You “don’t even need to take your phone out,” Caplan points out.

What gets more interesting is the collaboration layer the company has built into the product. Every audio meeting has a text-based scratch pad shared with all participants, allowing users to copy and paste snippets into the meeting as needed. Those notes and any information that Spot pulls in are saved into workspaces that can be referenced later. Spot also sends out emails to participants with follow-ups from these notes. If the same participants join another audio meeting later, Spot will pull in the notes from their last meeting so there is a running timeline of what’s been happening.

Spot’s product design emphasizes collaboration within an audio-focused experience. Image Credits: Spot Meetings

Obviously, transcription features are built-in, but Spot sees opportunities in offering edited transcripts of long calls where only a few minutes of snippets might be worth specifically following up on. So the product is a bit more deliberate in encouraging users to select the parts of a conversation that are relevant for their needs, rather than delivering a whole bolus of text that no one is ever actually going to read.

“Collaboration from now and the future is going to be primarily digital … in-person is forever going to be the exception and not the rule,” Caplan explained. Longer term, the company wants to add additional voice commands to the product and continue building an audio-first (and really, an audio-only) environment. Audio “very uniquely helps people focus on the conversation at hand,” he said, noting that video fatigue is a very real phenomenon today for workers. To that end, more audio features like smarter muting are coming. When a participant isn’t talking, their background noise will automatically melt away.

Before Spot Meetings, Caplan was the CEO and co-founder of Remote Year, a startup that was designing a service for company employees to take working trips overseas. I first covered it back in 2015, and it went on to raise some serious venture dollars before the pandemic hit last year and the company laid off 50% of its workforce. Caplan left as CEO in April last year, and the company was ultimately sold to Selina, which offers co-working spaces to travelers, in October.

Caplan’s co-founder who leads product and engineering at Spot Meetings is Hans Petter “HP” Eikemo. The duo met each other during the very first Remote Year cohort. “He has been a software engineer for two decades [and was] literally the first person I called,” Caplan said. The team will grow further with the new funding, and the company hopes to start opening its beta to its 6,000 waitlist users over the next 3-4 weeks.

#audio, #chapter-one, #chicago, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greg-caplan, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile, #remote-year, #spot-meetings, #tc, #zoom

Otter.ai’s new assistant can automatically transcribe your Zoom meetings

A.I.-powered voice transcription service Otter.ai wants to make it even easier for its business users to record their meetings. The company is today introducing a new feature, Otter Assistant, which can automatically join the Zoom meetings on your calendar, transcribe the conversations, and share the notes with other participants. Though Otter.ai is already integrated with Zoom, the assistant is designed to make using transcription something you don’t have to constantly remember to enable at the meeting’s start or stop at the end, while also serving as a place where participants can collaborate by asking questions, sharing photos and more, as the meeting is underway.

The feature also works around the earlier limitation with Zoom, where only the meeting host could use the Otter.ai integration directly.

The idea to automate meeting transcription makes sense for the remote work environment created by the pandemic, where people have been splitting their time between work, parenting, homeschooling and other duties. This can often lead to meetings where users are pulled away and miss things that had been said. That’s one area where Otter.ai can help. But it can also help with issues like overlapping meetings, or larger meetings were only a few topics are directly relevant to your work — but where you’d like to be able to review the rest of the meeting discussion later, instead of in real-time.

To use the new Otter Assistant, users first synchronize their Google Calendar or Microsoft Calendar with Otter’s service. The assistant will then automatically join all Zoom meetings going forward, where it appears as an additional meeting participant, for transparency’s sake.

The assistant also posts a link to the transcription in the Zoom chat for everyone to access. In other words, this is not a feature to use to skip meetings without your boss knowing — it’s designed for those times when everyone has already agreed the meeting will be transcribed.

As the meeting continues, attendees can use Otter’s live transcript to highlight key parts, add photos, and make notes. They can also ask questions via the commenting feature, as opposed to speaking up — which may be helpful if you’re in a noisy place at the time of the meeting.

Once the assistant is enabled, you don’t have to remember to turn on Otter.ai for each meeting, and you can even use your headphones to listen to the meeting in progress. The Otter Assistant will still be able to record both sides of the conversation.

However, you are able to turn Otter Assistant off on a per-meeting basis via the “My Agenda” section on the Otter website, which will include new toggles next to each meeting you have scheduled.

When meetings wrap, you can also have Otter.ai configured to automatically share the meeting notes with all the attendees.

The Otter Assistant is available to Otter.ai Business users, which are upgraded plans that start at $20 per month, and include features like two-factor authentication, SOC2 compliance, advanced search, export, custom vocabulary, shared speaker identification, centralized data and billing, and more.

To date, Otter.ai says it has transcribed over 150 million meetings, up from 100 million in the beginning of 2021 . The company doesn’t provide details on its total subscriber base, but did note earlier it saw a sizable 8x increase in revenues in 2020, leading up to its $50 million Series B, announced in February.

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #hybrid-office, #meeting, #meetings, #office, #otter, #otter-ai, #productivity, #remote-work, #speaker, #startups, #voice, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Emergence Capital cofounder Jason Green on transitioning out of the firm, and what’s next

Succession is a major issue for many venture firms. Institutional investors, founders — even reporters — often get attached to individual members of a team, and when one of those individuals, particularly a firm cofounder, decides to hang up his cleats, it can be tricky for the rest of the partnership if it hasn’t planned far enough ahead.

For its part, Emergence, a highly successful enterprise-focused venture firm, has been thinking about succession for at least the last decade, suggests Jason Green, who cofounded the outfit with Gordon Ritter and Brian Jacobs in the winter of 2002. While Jacobs spun out a few years ago to cofound a seed-stage fund called Moai Capital, Green says been very focused on hiring the right younger investors who Emergence expects will one day steward the firm.

Certainly, that planning seems to be paying off. Emergence’s institutional investors just committed $950 million collectively to the firm, which yesterday announced it had closed two new funds. And they did this even though Green, who has enjoyed the highest profile of the team, let them know he is ready to move on to new endeavors. We talked with Green about that decision, and what’s he’s planning next, earlier this week. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: A lot of your peers are starting to segue out of their longtime venture roles, but a lot are sticking around. What was the impetus for you?

JG: Well, I’m not leaving; I would say I’m transitioning to a different role. I’m still on eight boards and going to be actively involved in mentoring. But it’s the kind of thing we planned when we started the firm. We wanted to build an enduring franchise and grow from within and ultimately have the founders kind of step aside and let the next generation take over. Gordon is obviously still fully engaged, but it felt like the right time [for me to do this]. The firm is in such a great position, and you know, for me personally, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve achieved a lot — probably more than I expected, frankly — and I’m interested in having an impact in some other ways going forward.

TC: What’s the plan?

JG: I started a family foundation that’s going to be doing philanthropic work in a few areas of interest — climate change, ending mass incarceration, working on homelessness, working on educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth. I’m also excited to become an LP in emerging funds run by diverse managers. I’ve [invested in] half a dozen teams with African American leads or female leads or Latino leads, but while our industry has made some progress over the last, whatever, 10 to 15 years, it’s not nearly enough.

When I think about how slow it is to hire somebody and groom them from within — generally that’s the way we’ve done it in Emergence — the only way to really accelerate [the creation of more] firms that are started and led by diverse folks who are likely to invest in diverse founders [is to actively help them] and that’s somewhere where I think I can move the needle. I’ve been at three venture firms and started one from scratch, so for me, in some ways I feel even more confident [in] coaching and mentoring other emerging managers than I do entrepreneurs.

TC: Are you modeling this transition after anyone you know and admire?

JG:  A guy who has been a mentor of mine for many years is Russ Carson, who started [the private equity firm] Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. He has kind of become a role model of what I’d like to do for the next phase of my career. He’s on the boards of Rockefeller University and funded charter schools and been really impactful in the community.

I definitely have interest in supporting the local community in the Bay Area, but I also think some of these [areas I’ll be focusing on] are almost global in scope, and part of [leaving Emergence] is having the freedom to just be curious and learn about things as I go and then figure out where where I can make a difference and have some fun along the way.

TC: Did you and Gordon arm wrestle over who’d get to bounce first? 

JG: [Laughs.] Yeah, we’re around the same age. I think the difference is that I’ve been in the venture business 30 years and he’s been in the business 15 years; he really started in the venture business with Emergence and I think he’s totally jazzed to stay totally in the game for the foreseeable future [whereas] I’m reading to shift from hunting to farming.

TC: Any advice for other firms that are contemplating how to handle succession?

JG: We hired somebody every couple of years and we made the decision not to hire multiple people at the same level. We basically said, Everybody that we hire in this firm can be successful long term here, and your job is to make other people around you successful. That’s the best way of ensuring your own success.’ And so there was this shared sense of success and failure that I think that we institutionalize in the firm.

At a lot of firms, it’s a little bit more of an eat-what-you- kill kind of mentality. I think in the venture business that’s a little bit misplaced, because there’s so much luck involved in the business. You never know which partner is going to have that big home run. It can take 10 years to actually figure out what were the big wins [in a fund] so you’re going to judge somebody based on the deals they’ve done in the first two years or three years of the business? So we tend to focus a lot more on the inputs than the outputs because the outputs are very variable and have a lot of uncertainty associated with them, but the inputs you can control and, I mean, this is a long term game. It’s a marathon.

TC: What fun thing are going to pick up now that you’ll maybe have more time? 

JG: I’m trying to squeeze as much time as I can with my kids, who are juniors and senior in high school right now. They’ll be off to college soon and spending time with them is a priority, for sure. Health and wellness is also important and  something that tends to take a backseat given how busy we all are, so that’s going to become more of a priority. But also just building and spending time with great friends and hopefully having more opportunities to create some great memories. I have no doubt my plate will be full.

#box, #diversity, #emergence-capital, #jason-green, #limited-partner, #philanthropy, #saas, #succession, #tc, #veeva, #venture-capital, #zoom

Live video platform Bright lets you Zoom with your favorite creators

What if you could Zoom with your favorite creator and ask them questions? That’s the promise of Bright, the new live video platform launching today from co-founders Guy Oseary and early YouTube product manager Michael Powers. The service, built on top of Zoom, allows fans to engage in live, face-to-face video sessions with creators, ask questions and even join creators on a virtual stage for a more personal and direct learning experience.

Though the startup has some similarities to voice chat apps like Clubhouse, as it also democratizes access to big-name talent at times, the co-founders explain that Bright’s focus will be very different. Besides being a video-on experience, Bright is solely focused on educational content — that is, learning from people who are sharing their expertise with the community. In addition, the sessions hosted on Bright are ticketed events, where the creator decides how many tickets they want to sell and how much they’re charging.

Image Credits: Bright

“Twenty percent of the content on YouTube was learning. It was the second-biggest area next to music. And that was true the first year of YouTube and it’s true now at scale,” explains Bright CEO Michael Powers, as to why Bright has chosen to focus on learning. Powers knows the creator industry firsthand, having launched the YouTube Channels feature while at YouTube, and later managed YouTube’s first revenue-generating opportunities for creators. More recently, he served as SVP and GM at CBS Interactive.

Powers says he saw how powerful educational and learning content could be, but also how difficult it was for creators earning a rev share off an ad network, like YouTube’s, to become self-sustainable.

“I watched that over the past five years, especially, as the different platforms have scaled up,” Powers says, and became inspired to launch a better way for creators to monetize their expertise. “We’ve got to empower [creators] so they can go beyond just being a personal brand or social brand, and be an actual business,” he adds.

Oseary, meanwhile, was tooling around with a similar concept, having also had direct experience with creators in the music industry and through his investments. The founder of Maverick music management company, Oseary continues to manage Madonna and U2, but these days has his hands in numerous startups as the co-founder of Sound Ventures and A-Grade Investments with actor Ashton Kutcher.

Though Oseary and Powers have yet to meet in person, they connected over the web — much like Bright’s creators will now do — to get the new startup off the ground during a pandemic.

With today’s launch, Bright is promising a lineup of more than 200 prominent creators, many from the arts, including Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Naomi Campbell, Shawn Mendes, Amy Schumer, D-Nice, the D’Amelio Sisters, Laura Dern, Judd Apatow, Deepak Chopra, Diplo, Kenny Smith, Kane Brown, Drew and Jonathan Scott (Property Brothers), Lindsey Vonn, Rachel Zoe, Diego Boneta, Tal Fishman, Ryan Prunty, Demi Skipper, Charlotte McKinney, Jason Bolden, Yris Palmer, Cat & Nat, Ronnie2K, Chef Ludo Lefebvre and Jonathan Mannion, among others.

And it has another 1,500 creators on a waitlist, ready to begin hosting their own sessions when Bright opens up further.

Image Credits: Bright session example

Although Bright’s lineup implies it’s aiming at a high-profile creator crowd, Oseary insists Bright will be for anyone with an audience of their own — not just famous names.

“This is not elitist…If you’ve got an audience and you have something to offer your audience, we would like you on the platform,” he says.

Today, creators can go to other social networks, like Facebook Live or Instagram Live, if they want to just chat with fans more casually. But people will come to Bright to be educated, Oseary notes. And short of getting a creator to FaceTime you directly, he believes this will be the next best way to reach them — and one people are familiar with using, thanks to the Zoom adoption that grew out of the pandemic’s impact to business culture and remote work.

“The best way to connect is to use a platform that we’ve all learned how to use this last year,” Oseary says, referring to Bright’s Zoom connection. “We all already have the app. We already know how to navigate through it. We’ve added a bunch of features to make it more interesting,” he adds.

Image Credits: Bright

At launch, fans will be able to visit Bright’s website, view the array of upcoming events and purchase tickets. Some of the first sessions include Laura Dern leading a “Tell Your Story” session about personal growth; Kenny Smith will interview favorite athletes and discuss their mindsets at turning points in their careers; Property Brothers Jonathan & Drew Scott will host “Room by Room,” focused on home improvement; recording artist Kane Brown will host “Record This: Nashville Edition” about the country music industry; and Ronnie2K will host a series about building a career in gaming.

Bright’s model will see it taking a 20% commission on creator revenue, which is lower than the traditional marketplace split of 30/70 (platform/creator), but higher than the commission-free payments on Clubhouse (at least for the time being!). Further down the road, Bright envisions building out more tools to help creators with other aspects of their business — like the sale of physical or digital goods, for example.

Though there are numerous creator platforms to choose from these days, Bright aims to give creators direct access to their own analytics about their biggest fans, their content and fans’ contact information, like names and emails. This allows them to continue their relationship with their community beyond Bright into other areas of their business — whether that’s email newsletters or Shopify stores.

To make all this work, LA-based Bright has recruited a team with deep expertise in both the creator economy and tech.

This includes Bright’s VP of Talent & Partnership, Kaitlyn Powell, former head of Talent at Caffeine; Bright’s lead Creator & Product Strategy, Sadia Harper, formerly a UX Strategist at Instagram; Bright’s director of Creative Programming, Jeben Berg, previously of YouTube & Maker Studios; Design lead Heather Grates, previously of Pinterest; and Bright’s finance lead Jarad Backlund, previously in roles at Apple and Facebook.

The startup has raised an undisclosed amount funding from Oseary’s own Sound Ventures, as well as RIT Capital, Norwest, Globo and other investors.

#apps, #ashton-kutcher, #bright, #creator-economy, #creators, #guy-oseary, #michael-powers, #social-media, #sound-ventures, #tc, #video, #zoom

Telegram to add group video calls next month

Group video calls will be coming to Telegram’s messaging platform next month with what’s being touted as a fully featured implementation, including support for web-based videoconferencing.

Founder Pavel Durov made the announcement via a (text) message posted to his official Telegram channel today where he wrote “we will be adding a video dimension to our voice chats in May, making Telegram a powerful platform for group video calls”.

“Screen sharing, encryption, noise-cancelling, desktop and tablet support — everything you can expect from a modern video conferencing tool, but with Telegram-level UI, speed and encryption. Stay tuned!” he added, using the sorts of phrases you’d expect from an enterprise software maker.

Telegram often taunts rivals over their tardiness to add new features but on video calls it has been a laggard, only adding the ability to make one-on-one video calls last August — rather than prioritizing a launch of group video calls, as it had suggested it would a few months earlier.

In an April 2020 blog post, to mark passing 400M users, it wrote that the global lockdown had “highlighted the need for a trusted video communication tool” — going on to dub video calls in 2020 “much like messaging in 2013”.

However it also emphasized the importance of security for group video calling — and that’s perhaps what’s caused the delay.

(Another possibility is the operational distraction of needing to raise a large chunk of debt financing to keep funding development: Last month Telegram announced it had raised over $1BN by selling bonds — its earlier plan to monetize via a blockchain platform having hit the buffers in 2020.)

In the event, rather than rolling out group video calls towards the latter end of 2020 it’s going to be doing so almost half way through 2021 — which has left videoconferencing platforms like Zoom to keep cleaning up during the pandemic-fuelled remote work and play boom (even as ‘Zoom fatigue’ has been added to our lexicon).

How secure Telegram’s implementation of group video calls will be, though, is an open question.

Durov’s post mades repeat mention of “encryption” — perhaps to make a subtle dig at Zoom’s own messy security claims history — but doesn’t specify whether it will use end-to-end encryption (we’ve asked).

Meanwhile Zoom does now offer e2e — and also has designs on becoming a platform in its own right, with apps and a marketplace, so there are a number of shifts in the comms landscape that could see the videoconferencing giant making deeper incursions into Telegram’s social messaging territory.

The one-to-one video calls Telegram launched last year were rolled out with its own e2e encryption — so presumably it will be replicating that approach for group calls.

However the MTProto encryption Telegram uses is custom-designed — and there’s been plenty of debate among cryptography experts over the soundness of its approach. So even if group calls are e2e encrypted there will be scrutiny over exactly how Telegram is doing it.

Also today, Durov touted two recently launched web versions of Telegram (not the first such versions by a long chalk, though) — adding that it’s currently testing “a functional version of web-based video calls internally, which will be added soon”.

He said the Webk and Webz versions of the web app are “by far the most cross-platform versions of Telegram we shipped so far”, and noting that no downloads or installs are required to access your chats via the browser.

“This is particularly good for corporate environments where installing native apps is now always allowed, but also good for users who like the instant nature of web sites,” he added, with another little nod toward enterprise users.

#cryptography, #e2e-encryption, #encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #group-video-calls, #noise-cancelling, #pavel-durov, #social, #telegram, #video-conferencing, #web-app, #zoom

This is your brain on Zoom

We all know these constant video calls are doing something to our brains. How else could we get tired and frazzled from sitting around in your own home all day? Well, now Microsoft has done a little brain science and found out that yeah, constant video calls do increase your stress and brain noise. Tell your boss!

The study had 14 people participate in eight half-hour video calls, divided into four a day — one day with ten-minute breaks between, and the other all in one block. The participants wore EEG caps: brain-monitoring gear that gives a general idea of types of activity in the old grey matter.

What they found is not particularly surprising, since we all have lived it for the last year (or more for already remote workers), but still important to show in testing. During the meeting block with no breaks, people showed higher levels of beta waves, which are associated with stress, anxiety, and concentration. There were higher peaks and a higher average stress level, plus it increased slowly as time went on.

Taking ten-minute breaks kept stress readings lower on average and prevented them from rising. And they increased other measurements of positive engagement.

Graph showing how breaks keep stress low during video calls.

Image Credits: Microsoft/Valerio Pellegrini

It’s certainly validating even if it seems obvious. And while EEG readings aren’t the most exact measurement of stress, they’re fairly reliable and better than a retrospective self-evaluation along the lines of “How stressed were you after the second meeting on a scale of 1-5?” And of course it wouldn’t be safe to take your laptop into an MRI machine. So while this evidence is helpful, we should be careful not to exaggerate it, or forget that the stress takes place in a complex and sometimes inequitable work environment.

For instance: A recent study published by Stanford shows that “Zoom Fatigue,” as they call it (a mixed blessing for Zoom), is disproportionately suffered by women. More than twice as many women as men reported serious post-call exhaustion — perhaps because women’s meetings tend to run longer and they are less likely to take breaks between them. Add to that the increased focus on women’s appearance and it’s clear this is not a simple “no one likes video calls” situation.

Microsoft, naturally, has tech solutions to the problems in its Teams product, such as adding buffer time to make sure meetings don’t run right into each other, or the slightly weird “together mode” that puts everyone’s heads in a sort of lecture hall (the idea being it feels more natural).

Stanford has a few recommendations, such as giving yourself permission to do audio only for a while each day, position the camera far away and pace around (make sure you’re dressed), or just turn off the self-view.

Ultimately the solutions can’t be entirely individual, though — they need to be structural, and though we may be leaving the year of virtual meetings behind, there can be no doubt there will be more of them going forward. So employers and organizers need to be cognizant of these risks and create policies that mitigate them — don’t just add to employee responsibilities. If anyone asks, tell them science said so.

#microsoft-teams, #science, #teams, #video-calling, #zoom