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

0

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

0

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

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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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

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

0

Tom Brady and Salesforce Ventures pour millions into Class, a Zoom-friendly edtech startup

Class, an edtech startup that integrates exclusively with Zoom to make remote teaching more elegant, has raised $12.25 million in new financing. The round brings Salesforce Ventures, Sound Ventures and Super Bowl champion Tom Brady onto its capital table.

CEO and founder Michael Chasen said that Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, approached the company about investing in Class. Salesforce Ventures launched a $100 million Impact Fund in October 2020, a month after Class launched, to back edtech companies and cloud enterprises businesses with an impact lens.

As for Tom Brady entering the edtech world, Chasen said that the famous football player has made tech investments in the past and, “as the father of three is passionate about helping people through education.”

“Tom Brady and I are both fathers to three kids and like all parents, we get the need to add teaching and learning tools to Zoom,” Chasen added.

Class has now raised $58 million in less than a year, with a $30 million Series A in February 2021 and a $16 million seed round in September 2020. Today’s raise is less than its Series A round, which signals it was likely more done strategically to bring on investors than out of necessity.

The money will be used to help roll out Class to K-12 and higher-ed institutions across the world. The startup’s software publicly launched on the Mac a few months ago, and will exit beta for Windows, iPhone, Android and Chromebook in the next few weeks, Chasen said. The larger public launch will help scale the some 7,500 schools that have shown interest in adopting Class.

The big hurdle for Class, and any startup selling e-learning solutions to institutions, is post-pandemic utility. While institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt software due to red tape, Chasen says that both of Class’ customers, higher ed and K-12, are actively allocating budget for these tools. The price for Class ranges between $10,000 to $65,000 annually, depending on the number of students in the classes.

“We have not run into a budgeting problem in a single school,” Chasen said in February. “Higher ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step, whereas K-12, this is the first step they’re taking.” So far, Class has more than 125 paying clients with even-split between K-12 and higher ed, and 10% of customers using it for corporate teams.

It’s not the only startup that is trying to reinvent Zoom University. A number of companies are trying to serve the same market of students and teachers who are fatigued by current video conferencing solutions which — at best — often look like a gallery view with a chat bar. Three companies that are gaining traction include Engageli, Top Hat and InSpace.

While each startup has its own unique strategy and product, the founders behind them all need to answer the same question: Can they make digital learning a preferred mode of pedagogy and comprehension — and not merely a backup — after the pandemic is over?

As that question continues to get explored, today’s news shows that Class isn’t having any trouble recruiting people to believe the answer is yes. In just nine months, the company has gone from two to more than 150 employees and contractors.

#edtech, #education, #michael-chasen, #recent-funding, #salesforce-ventures, #startups, #tc, #tom-brady, #zoom

0

Zoom launches $100M Zoom Apps investment fund

When Zoom launched Zoom Apps and the Marketplace as a place to sell them last year, it was a big signal that the company wanted to be more than just a popular video conferencing application. It wanted to be a platform, which developers could use to build applications on top of Zoom.

Today the company announced a $100 million investment fund to encourage the most promising startups using the Zoom toolset to launch a business by giving them funding, while using that as a springboard to encourage other developers to take advantage of the tooling on the platform.

“We’re looking for companies with a viable product and early market traction, and a commitment to developing on and investing in the Zoom ecosystem,” Zoom’s Colin Born wrote in a blog post announcing the new program.

The company’s corporate development team with heavy involvement from the Zoom executive team will be in charge of selecting and managing the portfolio companies. The company plans to invest between $250,000 and $2.5 million in each startup in the portfolio.

“A big part of this is helping facilitate those early companies and giving them the access to resources and connections within Zoom, so that they can grow and succeed,” Zoom CTO Brendan Ittelson told me.

While the company wants to invest successfully, a big part of this is using the fund to encourage developers to take advantage of the platform offerings from Zoom. “We feel we’ll help [these startups] build these valuable and engaging experiences and by having that and by investing, we’re helping bring solutions and further expand the ecosystem and our customers should benefit from that,” he said.

Zoom has a number of developer tools that budding entrepreneurs can use to build applications that take advantage of Zoom functionality. In March the company introduced an SDK (software development kit) designed to help programmers embed Zoom functionality inside other applications.

The company also provides tools for embedding an application inside of Zoom, such as one designed for a specific purpose like education or healthcare, and it has created a centralized place to learn about all of them at developer.zoom.us.

Zoom is not alone in investing in companies building applications on its platform. Firms like Sequoia, Maven Ventures and Emergence Capital have already started investing in startups building companies on top of Zoom including Mmhmm, Docket and ClassEdu.

The fund gives startup founders one more option to get some funding to get their idea off the ground. Ittelson says all of the investments will be seed level investments for starters and they will be providing developer and business resources to help the young startups build and distribute their products.

While he says that the company will be on the lookout for promising startups to bring into the portfolio, interested entrepreneurs can apply directly at zoom.com/fund.

#apis, #cloud, #corporate-investment-arms, #developer, #sdks, #startups, #tc, #video-conferencing, #zoom

0

PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look towards hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a non-starter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.

#ceo, #enterprise, #groupware, #operating-systems, #pingpong, #slack, #software, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting, #web-conferencing, #y-combinator, #zoom

0

Salesforce updates includes sales info overlay for Zoom meetings

The pandemic has clearly had an impact on the way we work, and this is especially true for salespeople. Salesforce introduced a number updates to Sales Cloud this morning including Salesforce Meetings, a smart overlay for Zoom meetings that gives information and advice to the sales team as they interact with potential customers in online meetings.

Bill Patterson, EVP and General Manager of CRM applications at Salesforce says that the company wanted to help sales teams manage these types of interactions better and take advantage of the fact they are digital.

“There’s a broad recognition, not just from Salesforce, but really from every sales organization that selling is forever changed, and I think that there’s been a broad understanding, and maybe a surprise in learning how effective we can be in the from anywhere kind of times, whether that’s in office or not in office or whatever,” Patterson explained.

Salesforce Meetings gives that overlay of information, whether it’s advice to slow down the pace of your speech or information about the person speaking. It can also compile action items and present a To Do list to participants at the end of each meeting to make sure that tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

This is made possible in part through the Einstein intelligence layer that is built across the entire Salesforce platform. In this case, it takes advantage of a new tool called Einstein Intelligent Insights, which the company is also exposing as a feature for developers to build their own solutions using this tool.

For sales people who might find the tool a bit too invasive, you can dial the confidence level of the information up or down on an individual basis, so that you can get a lot of information or a little depending on your needs.

For now, it works with Zoom and the company has been working closely with the Zoom development team to provide the API and SDK tooling it needs to pull something like this off, according to Patterson. He notes that plans are in the works to make it compatible with WebEx and Microsoft Teams in the future.

While the idea was in the works prior to the pandemic, COVID created a sense of urgency for this kind of feature, as well as other features announced today like Pipeline Inspection, which uses AI to analyze the sales pipeline. It searches for changes to deals over time with the goal of finding the ones that could benefit most from coaching or managerial support to get them over the finish line.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that this ability to capture information in online meetings is changing the way we think about CRM.

“The thing the caught my attention is how tightly integrated video meetings/collaboration is now into sales process. This is really compelling because meeting interactions that may not find their way into the CRM system are now automatically captured,” Leary told me.

Salesforce Meetings is available today, while Pipeline Inspection is expected to be available this summer.

#cloud, #crm, #enterprise, #saas, #sales-tools, #salesforce, #tc, #zoom

0

Zoom introduces new SDK to help developers tap into video services

One clear sign of a maturing platform is when the company exposes the services it uses for its own tools to other developers. Zoom has been doing that for some time introducing Zoom Apps last year and the Marketplace to distribute and sell these apps. Today, the company introduced a new SDK (software development kit) to help developers embed Zoom video services inside another application.

“Our Video SDK enables developers to leverage Zoom’s industry-leading HD video, audio, and interactive features to build video-based applications and desktop experiences with native user interfaces,” Zoom’s Natalie Mullin wrote in a blog post announcing the new SDK.

If you want to include video in your app, you could try and code it yourself, or you could simply take advantage of Zoom’s expertise in this area and use the SDK to add video to the application and save a lot of time and effort.

The company envisions applications developers embedding video in social, gaming or retail applications where including video could enhance the user experience. For example, a shop owner could show different outfits to an online shopper in a live video feed, and discuss their tastes in real time.

Zoom CTO Brendan Ittelson said the SDK is actually part of a broader set of services designed to help developers take advantage of all the developer tooling that the company has been developing in recent years. As part of that push, the company is also announcing a central developer portal.

“We want to be able to have a single point where developers can go to to learn about all of the tools and resources that are available for them in the Zoom platform for their work in development, so we’re launching developer.zoom.us as that central hub for all developer resources,” Ittelson told me.

In addition, the company said that it wanted to give developers more data about how people are using the Zoom features in their applications, so they will be providing a new analytics dashboard with usage statistics.

“We are adding additional tools and actually providing developers with analytic dashboards. So folks that have developed apps for the Zoom ecosystem are able to see information about the usage of those apps across the platform,” Ittelson said.

He believes these tools combined with the new video SDK and existing set of tools will provide developers with a variety of options for building Zoom functionality into their applications, or embedding their application into Zoom as they see fit.

#cloud, #developer, #developer-tools, #saas, #sdks, #tc, #video, #zoom

0

Slapdash raises $3.7M seed to ship a workplace apps command bar

The explosion in productivity software amid a broader remote work boom has been one of the pandemic’s clearest tech impacts. But learning to use a dozen new programs while having to decipher which data is hosted where can sometimes seem to have an adverse effect on worker productivity. It’s all time that users can take for granted, even when carrying out common tasks like navigating to the calendar to view more info to click a link to open the browser to redirect to the native app to open a Zoom call.

Slapdash is aiming to carve a new niche out for itself among workplace software tools, pushing a desire for peak performance to the forefront with a product that shaves seconds off each instance where a user needs to find data hosted in a cloud app or carry out an action. While most of the integration-heavy software suites to emerge during the remote work boom have focused on promoting visibility or re-skinning workflows across the tangled weave of SaaS apps, Slapdash founder Ivan Kanevski hopes that the company’s efforts to engineer a quicker path to information will push tech workers to integrate another tool into their workflow.

The team tells TechCrunch that they’ve has raised $3.7 million in seed funding from investors that include S28 Capital, Quiet Capital. Quarry Ventures and Twenty Two Ventures. Angels participating in the round include co-founders at companies like Patreon, Docker and Zynga.

Kanevski says the team sought to emulate the success of popular apps like Superhuman which have pushed low-latency command line interface navigation while emulating some of the sleek internal tools used at companies like Facebook where he spent nearly six years as a software engineer.

Slapdash’s command line widget can be pulled up anywhere, once installed, with a quick keyboard shortcut. From there, users can search through a laundry list of indexable apps including Slack, Zoom, Jira and about twenty others. Beyond command line access, users can create folders of files and actions inside the full desktop app or create their own keyboard shortcuts to quickly hammer out a task. The app is available on Mac, Windows, Linux and the web.

“We’re not trying to displace the applications that you connect to Slapdash,” he says. “You won’t see us, for example, building document editing, you won’t see us building project management, just because our sort of philosophy is that we’re a neutral platform.”

The company offers a free tier for users indexing up to five apps and creating ten commands and spaces, any more than that and you level up into a $12 per month paid plan. Things look more customized for enterprise-wide pricing. As the team hopes to make the tool essential to startups, Kanevski see the app’s hefty utility for individual users as a clear asset in scaling up.

“If you anticipate rolling this out to larger organizations, you would want the people that are using the software to have a blast with it,” he says. “We have quite a lot of confidence that even at this sort of individual atomic level, we built something pretty joyful and helpful.”

#ceo, #computing, #docker, #enterprise, #jira, #linux, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-app, #patreon, #productivity-software, #quiet-capital, #recent-funding, #s28-capital, #saas, #software, #software-engineer, #startups, #tc, #technology, #zoom, #zynga

0

Whereby, which allows more collaboration over video calls, raises $12M from Point Nine and 20 Angels

Zoom, Microsoft and Google all rocketed to the top of the charts in the virtual meetings stakes during the pandemic but a plucky startup from Norway had others ideas. Video meeting startup Whereby has now raised $12 million from German VC Point Nine, SaaStr fund and a group of more than 20 angel investors.

Angels investors include Josh Buckley(CEO, Producthunt), Elizabeth Yin (Hustlefund) and Jason M. Lemkin (founder of Saastr).

Øyvind Reed, CEO at Whereby said in a statement: “The past year has led many of us to question the future of work, with video meetings set to remain a big part of our lives. More than ever, the tools we use to connect have to enable effective and enjoyable meetings, providing focus, collaboration and wellbeing. .”

Whereby’s platform has three pricing plans (including free) and allows users to embed tools like Google Docs, Trello and Miro directly in their meetings, unlike other video platforms.

Whereby was demonstrated to me by co-founder Ingrid Ødegaard on a coffee table during 2016’s Oslo Innovation Week. I immediately set-up my username, which has existed even as the startup changed it name from Appear.in. Ingrid told me during an interview that they “tried to be much more human-centric and really focus on some of the human problems that come with collaborating remotely. One of the big mistakes that a lot of people making is just replicating the behavior that they had in the office… whereas we think that you actually need to work in a fundamentally different way. We want to help people do that and by making it really easy to jump in and have a meeting when you need to. But our goal is not to push people to have more meetings, quite the opposite.”

The startup’s secret weapon is enterprise integrations. If you had a video meeting with a UK GP over video in the last year it was probably over Whereby (indeed, mine was!). Whereby won a contract with the NHS for its remote video patient consultations during the pandemic. Competitors for this include Jitsi and AccurX. The company claims it saw a 450% increase in users across 150 countries last year.

“Last year we saw the mass adoption of video meetings,” said Christoph Janz, Partner at Point Nine. “Now it’s about taking the user experience to the next level and Whereby will be leading that charge. It’s amazing to see a Scandinavian startup playing in the same league as the tech giants.”

#ceo, #christoph-janz, #co-founder, #elizabeth-yin, #europe, #founder, #free-software, #google, #ingrid, #jitsi, #josh-buckley, #microsoft, #miro, #nhs, #norway, #point-nine, #producthunt, #reed, #saastr, #shakil-khan, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #trello, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

Superpowered lets you see your schedule and join meetings from the Mac menu bar

A newly launched Mac app called Superpowered aims to make it easier to stay on top of all your Zoom calls and Google Meets, without having to scramble to find the meeting link in your inbox or calendar app at the last minute. Instead of relying on calendar reminders, Superpowered offers a notification inbox for the Mac menu bar that alerts you to online meetings just before they start, which you can then join with a click of a button.

To use Superpowered, you first download the app then authorize it to access to your Google Calendar. The app currently works with any Google account, including G Suite, as well as your subscribed calendars.

Once connected, Superpowered pulls all your events into the menu bar, which you can view at any time throughout the day with a click or by using the keyboard shortcut Command + Y.

When you have a meeting coming up, Superpowered will display a dropdown to alert you, or you can opt for a more subtle halo effect instead to have it get your attention. You can also configure other preferences — like whether you want a chime to sound, how far in advance you want to be alerted, whether you want a meeting reminder as text to appear in the menu bar ahead of the meeting, and so on.

When it’s time for the meeting, all you have to do is click the button it displays to join your Zoom call or Google Meet. The solution is simple, but effective. The startup plans to add support for more integrations going forward, including Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and others.

The idea for the app comes from four computer science and software engineering students from the University of Waterloo, who previously interned at tech companies like Google, Facebook, Asana and Spotify.

Image Credits: Superpowered team photo

Wanting to build a startup of their own, the team applied to the accelerator Y Combinator with an idea to build a lecture platform for professors. But they soon faced issues in keeping up with their own calendar appointments as they began to conduct user research interviews.

“We were struggling to keep up with each other’s calendars and balance all these meetings throughout the day,” explains Superpowered co-founder Jordan Dearsley, who built the service alongside teammates Nikhil Gupta, Ibrahim Irfan, and Nick Yand. “We would be at lunch and be like, ‘oh shoot, we have a meeting now — I have to run!’ or just completely miss it altogether,” he says.

Irfan had the idea to just put a button in the Mac menu bar to make it easier to join Zoom meetings, and soon the team pivoted to work on Superpowered instead.

The product itself is very new. Development work began roughly two months ago and Superpowered opened up to users just last month — a quick pace that Dearsley says was possible because three of the four team members are engineers, and the other, Yand, is the designer.

Image Credits: Superpowered

Although it’s a paid product offered at $10 per month, Superpowered already has hundreds of users who are interacting with the app, on average, 10 times per day. Busier users, like product managers, are clicking on Superpowered as many as 20 to 40 times per day — an indication that it’s found a place in users’ workflows. In the month since its launch, the app has connected users with over 10,000 online meetings, the company says.

Superpowered is not the first to add calendar appointments to the Mac’s menu bar. It competes with a range of products, like MeetingBar, Meeter, Next Meeting, and others. But users have been responding to Superpowered’s sleek, clean design.

The company also has a vision for the product’s future that extends beyond meetings. After solving this particular pain point, Superpowered plans to broaden its scope to fix other annoyances for knowledge workers — like Slack notifications, for example.

“It’s really annoying to be pinged all the time when I’m while I’m coding…and I don’t know if it’s something that’s worth seeing because Slack doesn’t really give me those controls or ability to peek,” explains Dearsley. Meanwhile, Mac’s built-in Notification Center isn’t smart enough to show you just those items that you really need to know about.

To address this, the team is now working on a Slack integration that will let you quickly check your messages and reply without having to launch the Slack app. Further down the road, the team wants integrate support for other platforms — like Google Docs, JIRA and GitHub — which would all be pulled into Superpowered’s universal notification inbox.

For the time being, Superpowered is $10 per month for Mac users, or $8 per month for those who sign up with a team. Annual pricing is not yet available.

#apps, #calendar, #google-calendar, #mac-app, #online-meetings, #productivity, #slack, #startups, #web-conferencing, #y-combinator, #zoom

0

Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

0

A16z doesn’t invest, it manifests

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

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. In very good Show News™, Chris is back! He’s working on the next iteration of the show, something that you will be able to see starting Very Soon. Get hype!

Today though, we had a delectable dish of dynamic doings, namely news items of the following persuasion:

And that’s our show! We are back early Monday morning for a packed week. So keep your podcast app warm, we’re coming for it.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #alloy, #ally-io, #atelier-ventures, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #circle, #coinbase, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #li-jin, #outsystems, #passion-economy, #pipe17, #public, #startups, #stir, #talkshoplive, #tc, #zoom, #zoom-university

0

Tired of ‘Zoom University’? So is edtech

The rise of “Zoom University” was only possible because edtech wasn’t ready to address the biggest opportunity of the past year: remote learning at scale. Of course, the term encapsulates more than just Zoom, it’s a nod to how schools had to rapidly adopt enterprise video conferencing software to keep school in session in the wake of closures brought on by the virus’ rapid spread.

Now, nearly a year since students were first sent home because of the coronavirus, a cohort of edtech companies is emerging, emboldened with millions in venture capital, ready to take back the market.

The new wave of startups are slicing and dicing the same market of students and teachers who are fatigued by Zoom University, which — at best — often looks like a gallery view with a chat bar. Four of the companies that are gaining traction include Class, Engageli, Top Hat and InSpace. It signals a shift from startups playing in the supplemental education space and searching to win a spot in the largest chunk of a students day: the classroom.

While each startup has its own unique strategy and product, the founders behind them all need to answer the same question: Can they make digital learning a preferred mode of pedagogy and comprehension — and not merely a backup — after the pandemic is over?

Answering that question begins with deciding whether videoconferencing is what online, live learning should look like.

Ground up

“This is completely grounds up; there is no Zoom, Google Meets or Microsoft Teams anywhere in the vicinity,” said Dan Avida, co-founder of Engageli, just a few minutes into the demo of his product.

Engageli, a new startup founded by Avida, Daphne Koeller and Serge Plotkin, raised $14.5 million in October to bring digital learning to college universities. The startup wants to make big lecture-style classes feel more intimate, and thinks digitizing everything from the professor monologues to side conversations between students is the way to go.

Engageli is a videoconferencing platform in that it connects students and professors over live video, but the real product feature that differentiates it, according to Avida, is in how it views the virtual classroom.

Upon joining the platform, each student is placed at a virtual table with another small group of students. Within those pods, students can chat, trade notes, screenshot the lecture and collaborate, all while hearing a professor lecture simultaneously.

“The FaceTime session going on with friends or any other communication platform is going to happen,” Avida said. “So it might as well run it through our platform.”

The tables can easily be scrambled to promote different conversation or debates, and teachers can pop in and out without leaving their main screen. It’s a riff on Zoom’s breakout rooms, which let participants jump into separate calls within a bigger call.

There’s also a notetaking feature that allows students to screenshot slides and live annotate them within the Engageli platform. Each screenshot comes with a hyperlink that will take the student back to the live recording of that note, which could help with studying.

“We don’t want to be better than Zoom, we want to be different than Zoom,” Avida said. Engageli can run on a variety of products of differing bandwidth, from Chromebooks to iPads and PCs.

Engageli is feature-rich to the point that it has to onboard teachers, its main customer, in two phases, a process that can take over an hour. While Avida says that it only takes five minutes to figure out how to use the platform to hold a class, it does take longer to figure out how to fully take advantage of all the different modules. Teachers and students need to have some sort of digital savviness to be able to use the platform, which is both a barrier to entry for adoption but also a reason why Engageli can tout that it’s better than a simple call. Complexity, as Avida sees it, requires well-worth-it time.

The startup’s ambition doesn’t block it from dealing with contract issues. Other video conferencing platforms can afford to be free or already have been budgeted into. Engageli currently charges $9.99 or less per student seat for its platform. Avida says that with Zoom, “it’s effectively free because people have already paid for it, so we have to demonstrate why we’re much better than those products.”

Engageli’s biggest hurdle is another startup’s biggest advantage.

Built on top of Zoom

Class, launched less than a year ago by Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen, integrates exclusively with Zoom to offer a more customized classroom for students and teachers alike. The product, currently in private paid beta, helps teachers launch live assignments, track attendance and understand student engagement levels in real time.

While positioning an entire business on Zoom could lead to platform risk, Chasen sees it as a competitive advantage that will help the startup stay relevant after the pandemic.

“We’re not really pitching it as pandemic-related,” Chasen said. “No school has only said that we’re going to plan to use this for a month, and very few K-12 schools say we’re only looking at this in case a pandemic comes again.” Chasen says that most beta customers say online learning will be part of their instructional strategy going forward.

Investors clearly see the opportunity in the company’s strategy, from distribution to execution. Earlier this month, Class announced it had raised $30 million in Series A financing, just 10 weeks after raising a $16 million seed round. Raising that much pre-launch gives the startup key wiggle room, but it also gives validation: a number of Zoom’s earliest investors, including Emergence Capital and Bill Tai, who wrote the first check into Zoom, have put money into Class.

“At Blackboard, we had a six to nine month sales cycle; we’d have to explain that e-learning is a thing,” Chasen said, who was at the LMS business for 15 years. “[With Class] we don’t even have to pitch. It wraps up in a month, and our sales cycle is just showing people the product.

Unlike Engageli, Class is selling to both K-12 institutions and higher-education institutions, which means its product is more focused on access and ease of use instead of specialized features. The startup has over 6,000 institutions, from high schools to higher education institutions, on the waitlist to join.

Image Credits: Class

Right now, Class software is only usable on Macs, but its beta will be available on iPhone, Windows and Android in the near future. The public launch is at the end of the quarter.

“K-12 is in a bigger bind,” he said, but higher-ed institutions are fully committed to using synchronous online learning for the “long haul.”

“Higher-ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step,” he said. “Whereas with a lot of K-12, I’m actually seeing that this is the first step that they’re taking.”

The big hurdle for Class, and any startup selling e-learning solutions to institutions, is post-pandemic utility. While institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt software due to red tape, Chasen says that both of Class’ customers, higher ed and K-12, are actively allocating budget for these tools. The price for Class ranges between $10,000 to $65,000 annually, depending on the number of students in the classes.

“We have not run into a budgeting problem in a single school,” he said. “Higher ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step, whereas K-12, this is the first step they’re taking.”

Asynchronously, silly

Engageli and Class are both trying to innovate on the live learning experience, but Top Hat, which raised $130 million in a Series E round this past week, thinks that the future is pre-recorded video.

Top Hat digitizes textbooks, but instead of putting a PDF on a screen, the startup fits features such as polls and interactive graphics in the text. The platform has attracted millions of students on this premise.

“We’re seeing a lot of companies putting emphasis on creating a virtual classroom,” he said. “But replicating the same thing in a different medium is never a good idea…nobody wants to stare at a screen and then have the restraint of having to show up at a previous pre-prescribed time.”

In July, Top Hat launched Community to give teachers a way to make class more than just a YouTube video. Similar to ClassDojo, Community provides a space for teachers and students to converse and stay up to date on shared materials. The interface also allows students to create private channels to discuss assignments and work on projects, as well as direct message their teachers.

CEO Mike Silagadze says that Top Hat tried a virtual classroom tool early on, and “very quickly learned that it was fundamentally just the wrong strategy.” His mindset contrasts with the demand that Class and Engageli have proven so far, to which Silagadze says might not be as long-term as they think.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest that’s generated in people signing up to beta lists and like wanting to try it out. But when people really get into it, everyone pretty much drops off and focuses more on asynchronous, small and in-person groups.”

Instead, the founder thinks that “schools are going to double down on the really valuable in-person aspects of higher education that they couldn’t provide before” and deliver other content, like large lecture-style classes or meetings, through asynchronous content delivery.

This is similar to what Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of Coursera, told TechCrunch in November: Colleges are going to re-invest in their in-person and residential experiences, and begin offering credentials and content online to fill in the gaps.

“We’ve been on the journey to create a more and more complete platform that our customers can use since almost day one,” Silagadze said. “What the pandemic has brought is much more comprehensive testing functionality that Top Hat has rolled out and better communication tooling so basically better chat and communication tooling for professors.”

Community costs $30 per semester, per student. Currently Top Hat has most of its paying customers coming in through its content offering, the digital textbooks, instead of this learning platform.

College spin-out

InSpace, a startup spinning out of Champlain college, is similarly focused on making the communication between professors and students more natural. Dr. Narine Hall, the founder of the startup, is a professor herself who just wanted class to “feel more natural” when it was being conducted.

InSpace is similar to some of the virtual HQ platforms that have popped up over the past few months. The platforms, which my colleague Devin Coldewey aptly dubbed Sims for Enterprise, are trying to create the feel of an office or classroom online but without a traditional gallery view or conference call vibe. The potential success of inSpace and others could signal how the future of work will blend gaming and socialization for distributed teams.

InSpace is using spatial gaming infrastructure to create spontaneity. The technology allows users to only hear people within their nearby proximity, and get quieter as they walk, or click, away. When applied to a virtual world, spatial technology can give the feeling of a hallway bump-in.

Similar to Engageli, inSpace is rethinking how an actual class is conducted. In inSpace, students don’t have to leave the main call to have a conversation during inSpace, which they do in Zoom. Students can just toggle over to their own areas and a professor can see teamwork being done in real time. When a student has a question, their bubble becomes bigger, which is easier to track than the hand-raise feature, says Hall.

InSpace has a different monetization strategy than other startups. It charges $15 a month per-educator or “host” versus per-student, which Hall says was so educators could close contracts “as fast as possible.” Hall agrees with other founders that schools have a high demand for the product, but she says that the decision-making process around buying new tooling continues to be difficult in schools with tight budgets, even amid a pandemic. There are currently 100 customers on the platform.

So far, Hall sees inSpace working best with classes that include 25 people, with a max of 50 people.

The company was born out of her own frustrations as a teacher. In grad school, Hall worked on research that combined proximity-based interactions with humans. When August rolled around and she needed a better solution than WebEx or Zoom, she turned to that same research and began building code atop of her teachings. It led to inSpace, which recently announced that it has landed $2.5 million in financing led by Boston Seed Capital.

The differences between each startup, from strategy to monetization to its view of the competition, are music to Zoom’s ears. Anne Keough Keehn, who was hired as Zoom’s Global Education Lead just nine months ago, says that the platform has a “very open attitude and policy about looking at how we best integrate…and sometimes that’s going to be a co-opetition.”

“In the past there has been too much consolidation and therefore it limits choices,” Keehn said. “And we know everybody in education likes to have choices.” Zoom will be used differently in a career office versus a class, and in a happy hour versus a wedding; the platform sees opportunity in it all beyond the “monolithic definition” that video-conferencing has had for so long.

And, despite the fact that this type of response is expected by a well-trained executive at a big company in the spotlight, maybe Keehn is onto something here: Maybe the biggest opportunity in edtech right now is that there is opportunity and money in the first place, for remote learning, for better video-conferencing and for more communication.

#class, #classdojo, #edtech, #education, #engageli, #enterprise, #inspace, #remote-work, #startups, #tc, #top-hat, #zoom

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We’re talking startup sales with Zoom CRO Ryan Azus at TechCrunch Early Stage

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Zoom chief revenue officer (CRO) Ryan Azus is joining us at TechCrunch Early Stage on April 1.

Azus has worked at Cisco, RingCentral and most recently Zoom. In his previous roles he held a number of sales titles, including his final role at RingCentral where he was its executive vice president of global sales and services.

Zoom needs little introduction, having crossed over from enterprise software success story to consumer phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time companies, groups, individuals and families leaned on the video chat provider to stay in touch.

Azus has been at the helm of Zoom’s money engine since mid-2019, which means that he has sat atop it during one of the most impressive periods of sales growth at any software company — ever.

So we’re glad that he’ll be at TC Early Stage this year, where we’ll pepper him with questions. Bring your own, of course, as we’ll be reserving around half our time for audience Q&A.

But the TechCrunch crew has a plethora of things we want to chat about too, including the importance of bottom-up sales during the pandemic, especially in contrast to the more traditional sales bullpen model that many startups have historically used; how to balance self-service sales and human-powered sales at a tech company that presents both options to customers, and their relative strength in 2021; changes to sales incentive metrics at Zoom over time from which startups might be able to learn; and how to maintain order and culture in a quickly scaling, remote sales organization.

We’re also curious how Zoom managed to adapt to the pandemic itself, like how long it took the company to reach full-strength from a sales perspective as it moved to remote work and customers that were also out of the office. The simple answer is that his company simply used more of its own product, but there’s more to the story that we want to hear.

Often at TechCrunch events we round up a cadre of executives from well-known technology companies and then hammer them for news. Early Stage is a bit different, focusing instead on extracting knowledge, tips and what-pitfalls-to-avoid from tech folks interested in helping startups do more, more quickly.

Azus won’t be coming alone. Bucky Moore from Kleiner will be in the house, along with Neal Sales-Griffin (a managing director at Techstars) and Eghosa Omoigui (a managing general partner at EchoVC Partners). The list goes on, as you can see here. (We’re also having a big pitch-off, so make sure to come to both days of the event.)

TC Early Stage continues TechCrunch’s recent spate of virtual events, so no matter where you are, you can tune in and learn. Register today to take advantage of early bird pricing, don’t forget to bring your best questions, and we’ll see you in early April!

#early-stage-2021, #events, #fundings-exits, #ryan-azus, #startups, #zoom

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The digital divide is giving American churches hell

The digital divide is giving American churches hell

Enlarge (credit: Leon Neal | Getty Images)

For Clay Scroggins, preaching on Zoom was never part of the plan. As lead pastor at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, he was accustomed to services in a 3,000-seat auditorium, with live music and a jumbotron for people in the back. But God’s plan is often mysterious, so when the city of Atlanta forced him to shut the church’s doors last spring, Scroggins faithfully moved his ministry online. “Ultimately, we were really informed by Jesus’ calling for us to love our neighbors,” he says, “and the most loving thing we could do was to continue to meet virtually.”

And continue to meet virtually they have. Sunday sermons are broadcast live and posted to the church’s YouTube channel for congregants to watch anytime. Bible study and small group meetings have moved to Zoom. Buckhead has even managed to replicate spontaneous church lobby “bump-ins” with video chat breakout rooms for some events. Donations, which provide all of the church’s operating income, remain the same, they just come via a digital collection plate. At Buckhead Church, virtual worship is going so well that some parts of it might be here for good. But not every congregation has been so blessed.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#christianity, #gaming-culture, #pandemic, #policy, #religion, #zoom

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Class adds $30 million to its balance sheet for a Zoom-friendly edtech solution

Class, launched less than a year ago by Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen, integrates exclusively with Zoom to offer a more customized classroom for students and teachers alike. The inaugural product, Class for Zoom, uses both management and instruction tools to bolster the video conferencing call experience.

Formerly named ClassEDU, the startup announced today that it has added $30 million to its balance sheet, upping its total funding secured to $46 million. Raising that much pre-launch gives the startup key wiggle room, but it also gives validation: a number of Zoom’s earliest investors, including Emergence Capital and Bill Tai, who wrote the first check into Zoom, have put money into Class.

The money will be used to grow Class’ 60-person team to 100, as well as meet international demand for its product. More than 6,000 institutions from the United States, Dubai, Japan and Europe are on Class’ waitlist.

On the instruction side, Class for Zoom helps teachers launch live assignments, quizzes and tests, which can be completed by students in real time. On the management side, tools range from attendance trackers to features that allow a teacher to see how much time a student is participating in activities. Currently, ClassEDU is in a private, paid beta with more than 60 customers.

Image Credits: Class

Right now, Class software is only usable on Macs, but its beta will be available on iPhone, Windows and Android in the near future. The public launch is at the end of the quarter.

The startup is built entirely atop the Zoom platform, but functions as a standalone business versus a third-party integration, like what one would find on Zoom apps. Class is using the Zoom SDK, which is free, to use its back-end audio and video capabilities but build front-end interface and experience. Like any early-stage startup that relies on another business to work, the platform risk is notable.

At the same time, the risk comes with reward: Zoom is a household name, which helps Class reduce significant friction when selling to schools, says Chasen. Instead of a school having to replace the technology they have been using for the last year, Chasen says that Class can simply make it better.

“We’re going for the broader, larger deployments that just need to know that they have the stability and the scalability of Zoom, with just teaching learning tools built on top of that,” Chasen said. Over 125,000 schools use Zoom already, he said, which is enough to build a big business. The startup has no current plans to integrate with Teams or WebEx.

The startup sees the changing tide in edtech boiling down to a difference in sales, similar to Udemy’s new president’s sentiment with enterprise sales earlier this week.

“At Blackboard, we had a six to nine month sales cycle, we’d have to explain that e-learning is a thing,” Chasen said, who was at the LMS business for 15 years. “[With Class] we don’t even have to pitch. It wraps up in a month, and our sales cycle is just showing people the product.

The big hurdle for Class, and any startup selling e-learning solutions to institutions, is post-pandemic utility. While institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt software due to red tape, Chasen says that both of Class’ customers, higher ed and K-12, are actively allocating budget for these tools. The price for Class ranges between $10,000 to $65,000 annually depending on the number of students in the classes.

“We have not run into a budgeting problem in a single school,” he said. “Higher ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step, whereas K-12, this is the first step they’re taking.”

#class, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #funding, #michael-chasen, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #zoom

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Remote workers are greener, but their tech still has a real carbon cost

The massive shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has resulted in a huge reduction in emissions from vehicles and other sources, but it comes with costs of its own. A new study puts tentative carbon costs on the connectivity and data infrastructure that make working from home possible — and gives you an excuse to leave the camera off.

The researchers, from Perdue, Yale, and MIT, attempted to analyze the carbon, land, and water costs of internet infrastructure.

“In order to build a sustainable digital world, it is imperative to carefully assess the environmental footprints of the Internet and identify the individual and collective actions that most affect its growth,” they write in the paper’s introduction.

Using a single metric is too reductive, they argue: carbon emissions are a useful metric, but it’s also important to track the sources of the power, the water cost (derived from what’s needed to cool and operate datacenters), and the theoretical “land cost” needed to produce the product. If it sounds a little hand-wavy, that’s because any estimate along these lines is.

“In any calculation of this type at this global scale, you need to make a lot of assumptions and a lot of the data that you need are missing,” said lead study author, Yale’s Kaveh Madani, in an email to TechCrunch. “But it is a good start and best we could do using the available data.” (Madani noted that a lack of transparency in the industry, rather than a lack of statistical and scientific rigor, is the greater hindrance to the study’s accuracy.)

An example of their findings is that an hour of HD video streaming produces up to 440 grams of Carbon Dioxide emissions — up to 1,000g for YouTube or 160g for Zoom and video conferencing due differing video quality. For comparison, the EPA says a modern car produces 8,887 grams per gallon of gas. If you’re taking an hour of video meetings a day instead of commuting 20 miles to work, you’re definitely in the green, as it were, by an order of magnitude or more.

Chart showing costs of digital services in carbon emissions

Image Credits: Madani et al

But no one is arguing that the work from home shift or increase in digital consumption is a bad thing. “Of course, a virtual meeting is better for the environment than driving to a meeting location, but we can still do better,” said Madani.

The issue is more that we think of moving bits around as having marginal environmental cost — after all, it’s bits being flipped or sent along fiber, right? Yes, but it’s also powered by enormous datacenters, transmission infrastructure, and of course the wasteful eternal cycle of replacing our devices — though that last one doesn’t figure into the paper’s estimates.

If we don’t know the costs of our choices, we can’t make them in an informed way, the researchers warn.

“Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality. So without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint,” Madani said in a Perdue news release.

Leaving your camera off for a call you don’t need to be visible for makes for a small — but not trivial — savings in carbon emissions. Similarly, lowering the quality on your streaming show from HD to SD could save almost 90 percent of the energy used to transmit it (though of course your TV and speakers won’t draw any less power).

That doomscrolling habit, already a problem, seems even worse when you think that every flick of the thumb indirectly leads to a puff of hot, gross air out of a datacenter somewhere and a slight uptick in the air conditioning bill. Social media in general doesn’t use as much data as HD streaming, but the rise of video-focused networks like TikTok means they could soon catch up.

Madani explained that, puff pieces writing misleading summaries of their research aside, the study does not prescribe any simple remedies like turning off your camera. Sure, you can and should, he argues, but the change we should be looking for is systemic, not individual. What are the chances millions of people will independently and regularly decide to turn off their cameras or lower the streaming quality from 4K to 720p? Pretty low.

But on the other hand, if the costs of these services are made clear, as Madani and his team attempt to do in a preliminary way, perhaps pressure can be applied to the companies in question to make changes on the infrastructure side that save more energy in a day with an improved algorithm than 50 million people would with conscious decisions that they faintly resent.

“Consumers deserve to know more about what is happening. People currently don’t know what is going on when they press the Enter button on their computers. When they don’t know, we can’t expect them to change behavior,” Madani said. “[Policy makers] should step in, raise concerns about this sector, try to regulate it, force increased transparency, impose pollution taxes and develop incentive mechanisms if they do not want to see another unsustainable, uncontrollable sector in the future.”

The change to digital has created some amazing efficiencies and reduced or eliminated many wasteful practices, but in the process it has introduced new ones. That’s just how progress works — you hope the new problems are better than the old ones.

The study was published in the journal Resources, Conservation, and Recylcling.

#environment, #remote-work, #science, #tc, #work-from-home, #zoom

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Google’s Nest Hub Max smart screen can now make Zoom calls

The Nest Hub Max is getting Zoom . Google outlined the arrival of the popular teleconferencing platform in a blog post today, noting that it has started to roll out for users in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia.

The much-requested feature is arriving as an “early preview,” essentially meaning that users will have to opt-in to receive the firmware prior to wide release — though the company insists that it’s not a software beta, offering essentially the same experience as the wide release version.

To use it, Nest Hub Max owners need a free or paid Zoom account. Users need to link their account to the device and add the invite to Google Calendar to host a meeting. The feature will also take advantage (where applicable) of a new feature for Google and Nest Wifi that prioritizes teleconferencing for wireless bandwidth.

Zoom is one of many video conferencing services already available on Facebook’s Portal line. Amazon announced in August that the software would be arriving on its Echo Show devices before the end of the year, but has yet to give a firm date. As for the standard Nest Hub, that Google display doesn’t have a camera for privacy reasons.

#apps, #google, #nest-hub-max, #zoom

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Google, Intel, Zoom and others launch a new alliance to get enterprises to use more Chrome

A group of industry heavyweights, including Google, Box, Citrix, Dell, Imprivata, Intel, Okta, RingCentral, Slack, VMware and Zoom, today announced the launch of the moderncomputing.com.

The mission for this new alliance is to “drive ‘silicon-to-cloud’ innovation for the benefit of enterprise customers — fueling a differentiated modern computing platform and providing additional choice for integrated business solutions.”

Whoever wrote this mission statement was clearly trying to see how many words they could use without actually saying something.

Here is what the alliance is really about: even though the word Chrome never appears on its homepage and Google’s partners never quite get to mentioning it either, it’s all about helping enterprises adopt Chrome and Chrome OS. “The focus of the alliance is to drive innovation and interoperability in the Google Chrome ecosystem, increasing options for enterprise customers and helping to address some of the biggest tech challenges facing companies today,” a Google spokesperson told me.

I’m not sure why it’s not called the Chrome Enterprise Alliance, but Modern Computing Alliance may just have more of a ring to it. This also explains why Microsoft isn’t part of it, though this is only the initial slate of members and others may follow at some point in the future.

Led by Google, the alliance’s focus is on bringing modern web apps to the enterprise, with a focus on performance, security, identity management and productivity. And all of that, of course, is meant to run well on Chrome and Chrome OS and be interoperable.

“The technology industry is moving towards an open, heterogeneous ecosystem that allows freedom of choice while integrating across the stack. This reality presents both a challenge and an opportunity,” Google’s Chrome OS VP John Solomon writes today.

As enterprises move to the cloud, building better web applications and maybe even Progressive Web Applications that work just as well as native solutions is obviously a noble goal and it’s nice to see these companies work together. Given the pandemic, all of this has taken on a new urgency now, too. The plan is for the alliance to release products — though it’s unclear what form these will take — in the first half of 2021. Hopefully, these will play nicely with any browser. A lot of these ‘alliances’ fizzle out quite quickly, so we’ll keep an eye on what happens here.

Bonus: the industry has a long history of alliance like these. Here’s a fun 1991 story about a CPU alliance between Intel, IBM, MIPS and others.

#chrome, #chrome-os, #citrix, #citrix-systems, #cloud-computing, #computing, #dell, #google, #google-chrome, #ibm, #identity-management, #intel, #microsoft, #mips, #okta, #operating-systems, #os, #ringcentral, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #vmware, #web-applications, #web-apps, #web-browsers, #zoom

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Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’

Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

#apps, #classes, #creators, #events, #online-classes, #online-events, #pinterest, #social, #social-media, #zoom

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Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

When Zoom announced Zapps last month — the name has since been wisely changed to Zoom Apps — VC Twitter immediately began speculating that Zoom could make the leap from successful video conferencing service to becoming a launching pad for startup innovation. It certainly caught the attention of former TechCrunch writer and current investor at Signal Fire Josh Constine, who tweeted that “Zoom’s new ‘Zapps’ app platform will crush or king-make lots of startups.”

As Zoom usage exploded during the pandemic and it became a key tool for business and education, the idea of using a video conferencing platform to build a set of adjacent tooling makes a lot of sense. While the pandemic will come to an end, we have learned enough about remote work that the need for tools like Zoom will remain long after we get the all-clear to return to schools and offices.

We are already seeing promising startups like Mmhmm, Docket and ClassEdu built with Zoom in mind, and these companies are garnering investor attention. In fact, some investors believe Zoom could be the next great startup ecosystem.

Moving beyond video conferencing

Salesforce paved the way for Zoom more than a decade ago when it opened up its platform to developers and later launched the AppExchange as a distribution channel. Both were revolutionary ideas at the time. Today we are seeing Zoom building on that.

Jim Scheinman, founding managing partner at Maven Ventures and an early Zoom investor (who is credited with naming the company) says he always saw the service as potentially a platform play. “I’ve been saying publicly, before anyone realized it, that Zoom is the next great open platform on which to build billion-dollar businesses,” Scheinman told me.

He says he talked with Zoom leadership about opening up the platform to external developers several years ago before the IPO. It wasn’t really a priority at that point, but COVID-19 pushed the idea to the forefront. “Post-IPO and COVID, with the massive growth of Zoom on both the enterprise and consumer side, it became very clear that an app marketplace is now a critical growth area for Zoom, which creates a huge opportunity for nascent startups to scale,” he said.

Jason Green, founder and managing director at Emergence Capital (another early investor in Zoom and Salesforce) agreed: “Zoom believes that adding capabilities to the core Zoom platform to make it more functional for specific use cases is an opportunity to build an ecosystem of partners similar to what Salesforce did with AppExchange in the past.”

Building the platform

Before a platform can succeed with developers, it requires a critical mass of users, a bar that Zoom has clearly passed. It also needs a set of developer tools to connect to the various services on the platform. Then the substantial user base acts as a ready market for the startup. Finally, it requires a way to distribute those creations in a marketplace.

Zoom has been working on the developer components and brought in industry veteran Ross Mayfield, who has been part of two collaboration startups in his career, to run the developer program. He says that the Zoom Apps development toolset has been designed with flexibility to allow developers to build applications the way that they want.

For starters, Zoom has created WebViews, a way to embed functionality into an application like Zoom. To build WebViews in Zoom, the company created a JS Kit, which in combination with existing Zoom APIs enables developers to build functionality inside the Zoom experience. “So we’re giving developers a lot of flexibility in what experience they create with WebViews plus using our very rich set of API’s that are part of the existing platform and creating some new API’s to create the experience,” he said.

#app-stores, #developer, #emergence-capital, #enterprise, #startup-ecosystems, #startups, #tc, #video, #video-conferencing, #zoom

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Zoom lied to users about end-to-end encryption for years, FTC says

Zoom founder Eric Yuan speaking at Nasdaq.

Enlarge / Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan speaks before the Nasdaq opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019, in New York City as the company announced its IPO. (credit: Getty Images | Kena Betancur )

Zoom has agreed to upgrade its security practices in a tentative settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which alleges that Zoom lied to users for years by claiming it offered end-to-end encryption.

“[S]ince at least 2016, Zoom misled users by touting that it offered ‘end-to-end, 256-bit encryption’ to secure users’ communications, when in fact it provided a lower level of security,” the FTC said today in the announcement of its complaint against Zoom and the tentative settlement. Despite promising end-to-end encryption, the FTC said that “Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ meetings, and secured its Zoom Meetings, in part, with a lower level of encryption than promised.”

The FTC complaint says that Zoom claimed it offers end-to-end encryption in its June 2016 and July 2017 HIPAA compliance guides, which were intended for health-care industry users of the video conferencing service. Zoom also claimed it offered end-to-end encryption in a January 2019 white paper, in an April 2017 blog post, and in direct responses to inquiries from customers and potential customers, the complaint said.

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#biz-it, #ftc, #policy, #security, #zoom, #zoomopener

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