Jan
10
2019
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Daily Crunch: How the government shutdown is damaging cybersecurity and future IPOs

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. How Trump’s government shutdown is harming cyber and national security
The government has been shut down for nearly three weeks, and there’s no end in sight. While most of the core government departments — State, Treasury, Justice and Defense — are still operational, others like Homeland Security, which takes the bulk of the government’s cybersecurity responsibilities, are suffering the most.

2. With SEC workers offline, the government shutdown could screw IPO-ready companies
The SEC has been shut down since December 27 and only has 285 of its 4,436 employees on the clock for emergency situations. While tech’s most buzz-worthy unicorns like Uber and Lyft won’t suffer too much from the shutdown, smaller businesses, particularly those in need of an infusion of capital to continue operating, will bear the brunt of any IPO delays.

3. The state of seed 

In 2018, seed activity as a percentage of all deals shrank from 31 percent to 25 percent — a decade low — while the share and size of late-stage deals swelled to record highs.

4. Banking startup N26 raises $300 million at $2.7 billion valuation

N26 is building a retail bank from scratch. The company prides itself on the speed and simplicity of setting up an account and managing assets. In the past year, N26’s valuation has exploded as its user base has tripled, with nearly a third of customers paying for a premium account.

5. E-scooter startup Bird is raising another $300M 

Bird is reportedly nearing a deal to extend its Series C round with a $300 million infusion led by Fidelity. The funding, however, comes at a time when scooter companies are losing steam and struggling to prove that its product is the clear solution to last-mile transportation.

6. AWS gives open source the middle finger 

It’s no secret that AWS has long been accused of taking the best open-source projects and re-using and re-branding them without always giving back to those communities.

7. The Galaxy S10 is coming on February 20 

Looks like Samsung is giving Mobile World Congress the cold shoulder and has decided to announce its latest flagship phone a week earlier in San Francisco.

Jan
08
2019
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Amid a legal fight in LA, IBM’s Weather Company launches hyperlocal weather forecasts globally

While IBM is getting sued by the city of Los Angeles, accusing it of covertly mining user data in the Weather Channel app in the US, it’s testing the waters for another hyperlocal weather feature that — coincidentally — relies on data that it picks up from sensors on app users’ smartphones, among other devices, combined with AI at IBM’s end to help model the information.

Today at CES, the company announced new service called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System — GRAF for short — a new weather forecasting system that says it will provide the most accurate weather for anywhere in the world, running every hour, and in increments of every three kilometers everywhere by way of crunching around 10 terabytes of data every day.

The new hyperlocal weather data will start to become available in 2019.

This is a key piece of news particularly for the developing world. There has been some effort already to create and use hyperlocal weather information in the US market using things like in-built sensors that can pick up information on, for example, barometric pressure — the very feature that is now the subject of a lawsuit — but there have been fewer efforts to bring that kind of service to a wider, global audience.

“If you’re a farmer in Kenya or Kansas, you will get a way better weather prediction,” said Ginny Rometty, the CEO of IBM, announcing the service today at CES.

She added that other potential end users of the data could include airlines to better predict when a plane might encounter turbulence or other patterns that could affect a flight; insurance companies managing recovery operations and claims around natural disasters; and utility companies monitoring for faults or preparing for severe weather strains on their systems.

Rometty said that the Weather Channel app’s 100 million users — and, in an estimation from Mary Glackin, the Weather Channel’s VP of business solutions, 300 million monthly active users when considering the wider network of places where the data gets used including Weather.com and Weather Underground — will be providing the data “with consent”. Data sourced from businesses will be coming from customers that are partners and are also likely to become users of the data.

That data in turn will be run through IBM’s Power9 supercomputers, the same ones used in the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra  supercomputers, and modelled using suplementary data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The news represents a big step change for the Weather Company and for meteorology research, Glackin said in an interview.

“This is going to be the first significant implementation of GPUs at the Weather Company,” she told me. “The weather community has been slow to adopt to technology, but this is providing much improved performance for us, with higher resolutions and a much finer scale and focus of short-term forecasts.”

The new service of providing hyperlocal data also underscores an interesting turn for IBM as it turns its efforts to building the Weather Channel business into a more global operation, and one that helps deliver more business returns for IBM itself.

Glackin said the Weather Channel app was the most-downloaded weather app in India last year, underscoring how it, like other consumer apps, is seeing more growth outside of the US at the moment after already reaching market saturation in its home market.

Saturation, and some controversy. It’s not clear how the lawsuit in LA will play out, but the fact that it’s been filed definitely points to changing opinions and sensibilities when it comes to the use of personal data, and more generally how consumers and authorities are starting to think about how all that data that we are generating every day on our connected devices is getting used.

IBM is by far not the only company, nor the most vilified, when it comes to this issue, but at a time when the company is still trying to capitalise on the potential of how to commercialise the trove of information and customer connections in its wider business network, this will be something that will impact it as well.

Notably, Rometty closed off her keynote today at CES with a few parting words that reference that.

“As we work on these technologies, all that data that we talked about, that ownership, they belong to the user, and with their permission, we use that,” she said, adding, “These technologies also need to be open and explainable.”

Jan
08
2019
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Daily Crunch: The age of quantum computing is here

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

The 20-qubit system combines the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications into a single package. While it’s worth stressing that the 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most commercial applications, IBM sees this as the first step towards tackling problems that are too complex for classical systems.

2. Apple’s trillion-dollar market cap was always a false idol

Nothing grows forever, not even Apple. Back in August we splashed headlines across the globe glorifying Apple’s brief stint as the world’s first $1 trillion company, but in the end it didn’t matter. Fast-forward four months and Apple has lost more than a third of its stock value, and last week the company lost $75 billion in market cap in a single day.

3. GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

Starting today, free GitHub users will now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators. Previously, GitHub had a caveat for its free users that code had to be public if they didn’t pay for the service.

Photo credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

4. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

Uber’s public debut later this year is undoubtedly the most anticipated IPO of 2019, but the company’s lofty valuation (valued by some as high as $120 billion) has some investors feeling uneasy.

5. Amazon is getting more serious about Alexa in the car with Telenav deal

Amazon has announced a new partnership with Telenav, a Santa Clara-based provider of connected car services. The collaboration will play a huge role in expanding Amazon’s ability to give drivers relevant information and furthers the company’s mission to bake Alexa into every aspect of your life.

6. I used VR in a car going 90 mph and didn’t get sick

The future of in-vehicle entertainment could be VR. Audi announced at CES that it’s rolling out a new company called Holoride to bring adaptive VR entertainment to cars. The secret sauce here is matching VR content to the slight movements of the vehicle to help those who often get motion sickness.

7. Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Nothing like some CES drama to start your day. AT&T recently shared a shady marketing campaign that labeled its 4G networks as 5G and rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are having none of it.

Dec
15
2018
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The limits of coworking

It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

The co-working of everything

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

… Or just the co-working of some things

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

Dec
04
2018
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Cove.Tool wants to solve climate change one efficient building at a time

As the fight against climate change heats up, Cove.Tool is looking to help tackle carbon emissions one building at a time.

The Atlanta-based startup provides an automated big-data platform that helps architects, engineers and contractors identify the most cost-effective ways to make buildings compliant with energy efficiency requirements. After raising an initial round earlier this year, the company completed the final close of a $750,000 seed round. Since the initial announcement of the round earlier this month, Urban Us, the early-stage fund focused on companies transforming city life, has joined the syndicate comprised of Tech Square Labs and Knoll Ventures.

Helping firms navigate a growing suite of energy standards and options

Cove.Tool software allows building designers and managers to plug in a variety of building conditions, energy options, and zoning specifications to get to the most cost-effective method of hitting building energy efficiency requirements (Cove.Tool Press Image / Cove.Tool / https://covetool.com).

In the US, the buildings we live and work in contribute more carbon emissions than any other sector. Governments across the country are now looking to improve energy consumption habits by implementing new building codes that set higher energy efficiency requirements for buildings. 

However, figuring out the best ways to meet changing energy standards has become an increasingly difficult task for designers. For one, buildings are subject to differing federal, state and city codes that are all frequently updated and overlaid on one another. Therefore, the specific efficiency requirements for a building can be hard to understand, geographically unique and immensely variable from project to project.

Architects, engineers and contractors also have more options for managing energy consumption than ever before – equipped with tools like connected devices, real-time energy-management software and more-affordable renewable energy resources. And the effectiveness and cost of each resource are also impacted by variables distinct to each project and each location, such as local conditions, resource placement, and factors as specific as the amount of shade a building sees.

With designers and contractors facing countless resource combinations and weightings, Cove.Tool looks to make it easier to identify and implement the most cost-effective and efficient resource bundles that can be used to hit a building’s energy efficiency requirements.

Cove.Tool users begin by specifying a variety of project-specific inputs, which can include a vast amount of extremely granular detail around a building’s use, location, dimensions or otherwise. The software runs the inputs through a set of parametric energy models before spitting out the optimal resource combination under the set parameters.

For example, if a project is located on a site with heavy wind flow in a cold city, the platform might tell you to increase window size and spend on energy efficient wall installations, while reducing spending on HVAC systems. Along with its recommendations, Cove.Tool provides in-depth but fairly easy-to-understand graphical analyses that illustrate various aspects of a building’s energy performance under different scenarios and sensitivities.

Cove.Tool users can input granular project-specifics, such as shading from particular beams and facades, to get precise analyses around a building’s energy performance under different scenarios and sensitivities.

Democratizing building energy modeling

Traditionally, the design process for a building’s energy system can be quite painful for architecture and engineering firms.

An architect would send initial building designs to engineers, who then test out a variety of energy system scenarios over the course a few weeks. By the time the engineers are able to come back with an analysis, the architects have often made significant design changes, which then gets sent back to the engineers, forcing the energy plan to constantly be 1-to-3 months behind the rest of the building. This process can not only lead to less-efficient and more-expensive energy infrastructure, but the hectic back-and-forth can lead to longer project timelines, unexpected construction issues, delays and budget overruns.

Cove.Tool effectively looks to automate the process of “energy modeling.” The energy modeling looks to ease the pains of energy design in the same ways Building Information Modeling (BIM) has transformed architectural design and construction. Just as BIM creates predictive digital simulations that test all the design attributes of a project, energy modeling uses building specs, environmental conditions, and various other parameters to simulate a building’s energy efficiency, costs and footprint.

By using energy modeling, developers can optimize the design of the building’s energy system, adjust plans in real-time, and more effectively manage the construction of a building’s energy infrastructure. However, the expertise needed for energy modeling falls outside the comfort zones of many firms, who often have to outsource the task to expensive consultants.

The frustrations of energy system design and the complexities of energy modeling are ones the Cove.Tool team knows well. Patrick Chopson and Sandeep Ajuha, two of the company’s three co-founders, are former architects that worked as energy modeling consultants when they first began building out the Cove.Tool software.

After seeing their clients’ initial excitement over the ability to quickly analyze millions of combinations and instantly identify the ones that produce cost and energy savings, Patrick and Sandeep teamed up with CTO Daniel Chopson and focused full-time on building out a comprehensive automated solution that would allow firms to run energy modeling analysis without costly consultants, more quickly, and through an interface that would be easy enough for an architectural intern to use.

So far there seems to be serious demand for the product, with the company already boasting an impressive roster of customers that includes several of the country’s largest architecture firms, such as HGA, HKS and Cooper Carry. And the platform has delivered compelling results – for example, one residential developer was able to identify energy solutions that cost $2 million less than the building’s original model. With the funds from its seed round, Cove.Tool plans further enhance its sales effort while continuing to develop additional features for the platform.

Changing decision-making and fighting climate change

The value proposition Cove.Tool hopes to offer is clear – the company wants to make it easier, faster and cheaper for firms to use innovative design processes that help identify the most cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions for their buildings, all while reducing the risks of redesign, delay and budget overruns.

Longer-term, the company hopes that it can help the building industry move towards more innovative project processes and more informed decision-making while making a serious dent in the fight against emissions.

“We want to change the way decisions are made. We want decisions to move away from being just intuition to become more data-driven.” The co-founders told TechCrunch.

“Ultimately we want to help stop climate change one building at a time. Stopping climate change is such a huge undertaking but if we can change the behavior of buildings it can be a bit easier. Architects and engineers are working hard but they need help and we need to change.”

Nov
21
2018
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LinkedIn cuts off email address exports with new privacy setting

A win for privacy on LinkedIn could be a big loss for businesses, recruiters and anyone else expecting to be able to export the email addresses of their connections. LinkedIn just quietly introduced a new privacy setting that defaults to blocking other users from exporting your email address. That could prevent some spam, and protect users who didn’t realize anyone who they’re connected to could download their email address into a giant spreadsheet. But the launch of this new setting without warning or even a formal announcement could piss off users who’d invested tons of time into the professional networking site in hopes of contacting their connections outside of it.

TechCrunch was tipped off by a reader that emails were no longer coming through as part of LinkedIn’s Archive tool for exporting your data. Now LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that “This is a new setting that gives our members even more control of their email address on LinkedIn. If you take a look at the setting titled ‘Who can download your email’, you’ll see we’ve added a more detailed setting that defaults to the strongest privacy option. Members can choose to change that setting based on their preference. This gives our members control over who can download their email address via a data export.”

That new option can be found under Settings & Privacy -> Privacy -> Who Can See My Email Address? This “Allow your connections to download your email [address of user] in their data export?” toggle defaults to “No.” Most users don’t know it exists because LinkedIn didn’t announce it; there’s merely been a folded up section added to the Help center on email visibility, and few might voluntarily change it to “Yes” as there’s no explanation of why you’d want to. That means nearly no one’s email addresses will appear in LinkedIn Archive exports any more. Your connections will still be able to see your email address if they navigate to your profile, but they can’t grab those from their whole graph.

Facebook came to the same conclusion about restricting email exports back when it was in a data portability fight with Google in 2010. Facebook had been encouraging users to import their Gmail contacts, but refused to let users export their Friends’ email addresses. It argued that users own their own email addresses, but not those of their Friends, so they couldn’t be downloaded — though that stance conveniently prevented any other app from bootstrapping a competing social graph by importing your Facebook friend list in any usable way. I’ve argued that Facebook needs to make friend lists interoperable to give users choice about what apps they use, both because it’s the right thing to do but also because it could deter regulation.

On a social network like Facebook, barring email exports makes more sense. But on LinkedIn’s professional network, where people are purposefully connecting with those they don’t know, and where exporting has always been allowed, making the change silently seems surreptitious. Perhaps LinkedIn didn’t want to bring attention to the fact it was allowing your email address to be slurped up by anyone you’re connected with, given the current media climate of intense scrutiny regarding privacy in social tech. But trying to hide a change that’s massively impactful to businesses that rely on LinkedIn could erode the trust of its core users.

Nov
20
2018
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LinkedIn launches its own Snapchat Stories: ‘Student Voices’

The social media singularity continues with the arrival of Snapchat Stories-style slideshows on LinkedIn as the app grasps for relevance with a younger audience. LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that it plans to build Stories for more sets of users, but first it’s launching “Student Voices” just for university students in the U.S. The feature appears atop the LinkedIn home screen and lets students post short videos to their Campus Playlist. The videos (no photos allowed) disappear from the playlist after a week while staying permanently visible on a user’s own profile in the Recent Activity section. Students can tap through their school’s own slideshow and watch the Campus Playlists of nearby universities.

LinkedIn now confirms the feature is in testing, with product manager Isha Patel telling TechCrunch “Campus playlists are a new video feature that we’re currently rolling out to college students in the US. As we know, students love to use video to capture moments so we’ve created this new product to help them connect with one another around shared experiences on campus to help create a sense of community.” Student Voices was first spotted by social consultant Carlos Gil, and tipped by Socially Contented’s Cathy Wassell to Matt Navarra.

A LinkedIn spokesperson tells us the motive behind the feature is to get students sharing their academic experiences like internships, career fairs and class projects that they’d want to show off to recruiters as part of their personal brand. “It’s a great way for students to build out their profile and have this authentic content that shows who they are and what their academic and professional experiences have been. Having these videos live on their profile can help students grow their network, prepare for life after graduation, and help potential employers learn more about them,” Patel says.

But unfortunately that ignores the fact that Stories were originally invented for broadcasting off-the-cuff moments that disappear so you DON’T have to worry about their impact on your reputation. That dissonance might confuse users, discourage them from posting to Student Voices or lead them to assume their clips will disappear from their profile too — which could leave embarrassing content exposed to hirers. “Authenticity” might not necessarily paint users in the best light to recruiters, so it seems more likely that students would post polished clips promoting their achievements… if they use it at all.

LinkedIn seems to be desperate to appeal to the next generation. Social app investigator and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong today spotted 10 minor new features LinkedIn is prototyping that include youth-centric options like GIF comments, location sharing in messages and Facebook Reactions-style buttons beyond “Like” such as “Clap,” “Insightful,” “Hmm,” and “Support.”

When users post to Student Stories, they’ll have their university’s logo overlaid as a sticker they can move around. LinkedIn will generate this plus a set of suggested hashtags like #OnCampus based on a user’s profile, including which school they say they attend, though users can also overlay their own text captions. Typically, users in the test phase were sharing videos of around 30 to 45 seconds. “Students are taking us to their school hackathons, showing us their group projects, sharing their student group activities and teaching us about causes they care about,” Patel explains. You can see an example video here, and watch a sizzle reel about the feature below.

For now, LinkedIn tells me it has no plans to insert ads between clips in Student Voices. But if the Stories content assists with discovering and vetting job candidates, it could make LinkedIn more unique and indispensable to recruiters who do pay for premium access. And if these Stories get a ton of views simply by being emblazoned atop the LinkedIn feed, users might return to the app more frequently to share them. As we’ve seen with the steady increase in popularity of Facebook Stories, if you give people a stage for narcissism, they will fill it.

LinkedIn’s start as a dry web tool for seeking jobs has made for a rocky transition as it tries to become a daily habit for users. Some tactical advice in its feed can be helpful, but much of LinkedIn’s content feels blatantly self-promotional, boring or transactional. Meanwhile, it’s encountering new competition as Facebook integrates career listings and job applications for blue-collar work into its social network that already sees over a billion people visit each day. It’s understandable why LinkedIn would try to latch on to the visual communication trend, as Facebook estimates Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all apps in 2019. But Student Voices nonetheless feels unabashedly “how do you do, fellow kids?”

Nov
15
2018
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Airtable, maker of a coding platform for non-techies, raises $100M at a $1.1B valuation

If data is the new oil, you might think of apps are the cars that need it to move. Now, a startup that has built a platform to let everyone — not just those with technical expertise — make and drive their own “cars” has raised a significant round of funding to grow its business. Airtable — which uses a simple interface built on spreadsheets and other tools familiar to knowledge workers as a frontend to produce apps and other web-based experiences — has raised $100 million in funding to expand its business with more talent and offices outside the US. Along with the funding, the company has now catapulted to a $1.1 billion valuation.

Catapult is the key word here: according to PitchBook the company was only valued at $152 million in its last round — eight months ago.

Airtable’s tools are now in use by some 80,000 businesses today, the company said, representing a real growth spurt. To put that into some context, when the company raised $52 million eight months ago, it said it had only 30,000 customers.

This latest round — a Series C — was led by Josh Kushner at Thrive Capital, Peter Fenton at Benchmark, and Philippe and Thomas Laffont at Coatue Management. Delphine Arnault, Emily Weiss, Alexa Von Tobel, Sarah Smith, Dan Rose, and previous investors CRV and Caffeinated Capital also participated — bringing the total raised by Airtable to $170 million.

Howie Liu, the CEO who co-founded Airtable with Emmett Nicholas (now CTO) and Andrew Ofstad, said that the initial idea for the product came out of their own experience. The tech world had already identified that many tools for building apps and other products were potentially too technical for the vast majority of knowledge workers in the tech industry (who might not have coding experience), but the solutions in the market for making things like apps were still “too expensive and complicated to use.”

“The vision was to democratise the value proposition,” he said. A database, the founders decided, “in its most flexible form, can be customised to what you need, and that would be better than using someone else’s existing database model.”

Airtable is not the only company that has identified the problem and tried to solve it by building powerful macros under the hood of otherwise standard-looking database interfaces.

DashDash is building a similar concept out of Europe focused specifically on spreadsheets, and we’re even seeing Microsoft and partners building more functionality into the world’s leading spreadsheet provider, Excel.

Indeed, that’s not seen as stiff competition, but a sign for Airtable’s investors of just how much opportunity there is in the space. “Airtable has established itself as the leader in what will become a very large market,” Josh Kushner, managing partner at Thrive Capital, said in a statement.

One of the important aspects of Airtable is its Slack-like approach to the task of using its platform to build things.

The company has a platform called Blocks that not only lets its users bring in data from a number of sources, but also to select a number of different kinds of outputs for how and where would like the data to be used, whether it is in a marketing campaign across text messaging, an AI-based bot, or a VR experience. Liu confirmed for me that for now Excel is not one of its integration partners, for now.

Another notable point is that Airtable is yet another example of how the most promising startups are racking up funding in rapid rounds at the moment.

Just yesterday, no less than four different startups — Service Titan, UiPath, Nikola, and SAM — announced rounds of funding coming on the heels of fundraising mere months earlier. It’s a sign of how the market is very hot at the moment: VCs and other investment firms have raised fuelled by large sums of cash that now need to be put to use, and they are all looking for strong bets to do just that.

Fast-growing startups in areas that are on the rise present safe harbours to these investors, and with tens and hundreds of billions of dollars at these funds still in play, we’ll probably continue to witness this funding trend for some time to come.

Nov
01
2018
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Foursquare partners with TripAdvisor

Foursquare, the former location-based social network turned enterprise location data platform, has today announced a new partnership with TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor will be using Foursquare’s Pilgrim SDK, launched in March 2017, to help the platform better serve users with contextually relevant, real-time information based on their location.

Alongside the 13 billion check-ins accumulated on Foursquare’s apps since inception, the company also has analytics based on a consumer panel of more than 70 million people in the U.S. — 10 million of whom have opted into always-on location sharing. This data is the same data that powers Foursquare’s own apps, like, for example, when you get a push notification with a menu tip as you sit down for dinner at a restaurant.

Pilgrim SDK and Foursquare’s other enterprise products give other apps the ability to communicate with users with contextual relevance, and that’s what TripAdvisor is looking to do through this partnership.

TripAdvisor recently launched a new app and website that focuses on social sharing and personalized recommendations. Foursquare’s Pilgrim SDK complements TripAdvisor technology, ensuring that hyper-personalized recommendations are truly accurate.

TripAdvisor reaches more than half a billion users worldwide, which significantly increases the pool of user data Foursquare can potentially access.

This comes on the heels of Foursquare’s Series F financing round, which was announced last month.

Oct
10
2018
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Shared inbox startup Front launches a complete redesign

Front is launching a major revamp today. And it starts with a brand new design. Front is now powered by React for the web and desktop app, which should make it easier to add new features down the road.

Front hasn’t pivoted to become something else. At heart, it remains a multiplayer email client. You can share generic email addresses with your coworkers, such as sales@yourcompany or jobs@yourcompany. You can then assign emails, comment before replying and integrate your CRM with your email threads.

But the company is also adding a bunch of new features. The most interesting one is the ability to start a thread with your team without having to send an email first. If a client sends you an email, you can comment on the thread and mention your coworkers just like on a Facebook post.

Many companies already use emails for internal communications. So they started using Front to talk to their coworkers. Before today, you had to send an original email and then people could comment on it. Now, you can just create a post by giving it a title and jumping to the comment section. It’s much more straightforward.

“We aren’t planning for all internal conversations to move to Front, but a lot of them very well could. A tool like Slack is often used for questions that don’t require the immediate response that Slack demands,” co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me. “By bringing these messages into Front, we aim to reduce disruptions and help people stay focused.”

In other words, a Slack message feels like a virtual tap on the shoulder. You have to interrupt what you’re doing to take a minute and answer. Front can be used for asynchronous conversations and things that don’t need an immediate response. That’s why you can now also send Slack messages to Front so that you can deal with them in Front.

With this update, Front is making sharing more granular. Front isn’t just about shared addresses. You can assign your personal emails to a coworker — this is much more efficient than forwarding an email. Now, you can easily see who can read and interact with an email thread at the top of the email view.

If somebody sends an email to Sarah and Sam, they’ll both have a copy of this email in their personal inboxes. If Sarah and Sam start commenting and @-mentioning people, Front will now merge the threads.

As a user, you get a unified inbox with all your personal emails, emails that were assigned to you and messages assigned to your team inbox.

Finally, Front has improved its smart filtering system. You can now create more flexible rules. For instance, if an email matches some or all criteria, Front can assign an email to a team or a person, send an automated reply, trigger another rule and more.

The new version of Front will be available later this month. Once again, Front remains focused on its core mission — making work conversations more efficient and more flexible. The company doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and still relies heavily on emails.

Many people (myself included) say that email is too often a waste of time. Dealing with emails doesn’t necessarily mean getting work done. Front wants to remove all the pains of this messaging protocol so that you can focus on the content of the messages.

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