- Spotify needs to crack down on labels snatching user data
- SV Academy just landed $9.5 million to offer tuition-free training that puts people in tech jobs
- DoorDash double downs on controversial pay model
- Freemium’s public moment
- Apple Music surpasses 60 million subscribers
- Hans Zimmer is composing the sound for BMW’s electric vehicles
- Pepsi is going to start putting its Aquafina water in aluminum cans
- Police body-cam maker Axon says no to facial recognition, for now
- NASA’s Dragonfly will fly across the surface of Titan, Saturn’s ocean moon
- Jony Ive is leaving Apple to launch a new firm
- The rise of the new crypto “mafias”
- Google launches a new portal for small businesses
- Nio recalls nearly 5,000 ES8 electric SUVs over fire risk
- Videos lead brand creative growth with 3x increase since 2017
- Amazon files suit against more counterfeiters
- My six months with $30/month email service Superhuman
- Niantic is throwing a Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fan festival this summer
- AT&T’s 5G network hits (parts of) Las Vegas
- Tiny Robobee X-Wing powers its flight with light
- Ornikar raises $40 million for its driving school marketplace
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 05:28 PM PDT
Spotify seems to have learned little from the Facebook developer platform’s scandals despite getting a huge boost from the social network in its early days. Spotify has been caught allowing record labels to grab tons of unnecessary user data and permissions to even control their accounts just so people can “pre-save” upcoming song releases.
An investigation by Billboard’s Micah Singleton found major label Sony’s app for pre-saving demanded access to users’ email address, what you’ve listened to and saved to your library, playlists you’ve made or subscribed to, artists you follow, and what you’re playing right now. It also asks to be able to take actions on your behalf including change who you follow, add or remove songs from your library, create/edit/follow playlists, and even control Spotify on your devices.
This means that by agreeing to use a pre-save feature, a record label could index you music tastes and determine your current mood for marketing purposes, subscribe you to all of their artists and playlists, force you to create playlists that include their artists or add them to your existing playlists, and delete or unfollow any music or artists represented by their competitors.
Since users often speed through platform app permission screens assuming they’re just asking for what’s required, many likely gave up valuable data about themselves and the ability to manipulate their accounts without fully understanding what was happening. Other major labels like Warner and Universal’s pre-save apps like this one similarly ask for 10 types of permission — most extraneous.
In reality, the only permission a pre-save app should need is to be able to add the song you wanted to pre-save to your library. Anything else is theoretically prohibited by Spotify’s developer policy section 5.2: “You will only request the data you need to operate your Spotify Developer Application.” If you’ve used these apps, you can go into your Spotify account settings here to remove their access.
In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, platforms like Spotify should know better than to let developers run amok without proper oversight. That’s why I was so disappointed when Spotify refused to provide a statement, explanation, or even talk with me about the issue.
Offering a flexible developer platform has plenty of advantages for users. Apps for DJing with streaming music, discovering new bands, or synchronizing playback with friends could be built with rightful and transparent use of Spotify’s APIs. But for something as simple and common as volunteering to have a new song from your favorite band show up in your library on the day it’s released shouldn’t become a lure for an exploitative data grab.
That’s why Spotify should build its own in-house pre-save app that labels could all use to pre-promote their releases. Approved labels and their artists should be able to punch in their upcoming single’s Spotify URL and get a shareable link back that they can distribute through social media or wherever that only grants permission to pre-save that specific song, and that expires once that action is completed.
Otherwise, Spotify risks losing all the goodwill its built up with listeners by being a music-first company compared to competitors like Apple and Google where music is a rounding error. Apple Music provides app developers with less data about users.
Just today Apple Music announced it has 60 million subscribers, lagging increasingly further behind Spotify which now has 100 million subscribers and 217 million total monthly users. Spotify already dominates cultural mind share for streaming, having used the playlists it controls to become a hit-maker and gain leverage over the labels for royalty negotiations. But turning a blind eye to shady developers just because they own the music it streams could make listeners question their loyalty and stray to Apple, which is notoriously serious about privacy.
If Spotify is unwilling to push back on data abuse by its record label partners, then it’s undeserving of users’ ears and subscription dollars.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 05:20 PM PDT
When you live in Silicon Valley, it feels like nearly everyone works in tech and that entry into the industry is wide open. Of course, the reality is very different. Even as software eats the world, not everyone has the training or connections to land a high-paying job in either the traditional tech industry or with a company that’s actively embracing its digital future.
In fact, it would be challenging to interest an executive recruiter in someone who doesn’t have a tech background and didn’t go to college, yet a company called SV Academy is doing just that. According to cofounder and CEO Rahim Fazal, the nearly two-and-a-half-year-old, Bay Area company is currently helping 100 people every 30 days — or 1,200 per year — land jobs at companies like SurveyMonkey, Palo Alto Networks, and PayPal.
Very notably, it costs these job candidates nothing. Employers pay SV Academy between $12,000 to $15,00 per hire; all the prospects really need to do is convince SV Academy that they have the drive required to take a 12-week, training program that teaches the skills necessary for tech-based sales roles, plus a year of ongoing training and mentorship for a year after they graduate.
It sounds like a great deal, and it is, which is why SV Academy says it has more interest than it can handle. Fazal tells us that the company, which received 1,000 applications over eight months in its first year of operations, is now receiving 1,000 applications a week from people who’ve largely heard of the company through word of mouth.
Because it’s focused on grooming candidates who are serious about developing new careers (and will stay in their jobs), SV Academy is loath to scale up to accommodate that kind of demand. Still, a new round of funding should help widen the funnel a bit. Until recently, the company was backed by $2 million that it raised a couple of years ago from Bloomberg Beta, Rethink Education, Precursor Ventures, Uprising Ventures, 500 Startups and WTI.
The money was enough for SV Academy to achieve profitability and get to the point of placing employers on a waiting list. But with demand beginning to more seriously outpace its supply of candidates, SV Academy recently hit the market again, sharing exclusively that it has just closed on $9.5 million in Series A funding led by Owl Ventures with participation from Kapor Capital, Strada Education Network, and several earlier backer participating, namely Bloomberg, Rethink, and Uprising.
It isn’t the first time that Fazal has started a company that has taken off. He cofounded a company a decade ago that sold to Oracle, where he spent the next two and a half years. But SV Academy is even closer to his heart, given that he is exactly the kind of person the SV Academy wants to lift up — someone smart but lacking resources. Fazal himself grew up in government housing. He didn't go to college. He knows firsthand that with determination and right amount of guidance and support, apparent obstacles like a lack of financial stability or a fancy degree can fall away.
Fazal also recognizes the importance of having the right cofounder, which he seems to have landed on with Joel Scott, who is also the company’s COO. A Stanford-trained lawyer, Scott was previously VP of operations at Hewlett Packard, and according to Fazal has trained upwards of 500 SaaS salespeople since college.
Indeed, Scott played a major role in creating SV Academy’s curriculum, which is very focused on training people for SaaS jobs (for now) and that is entirely virtual, from the 12-week-training period, to the coaching that comes afterward. The reason: it enables it to reach students in the U.S. wherever they may be, and whatever their experience might be.
Though some of the applicants who it accepts are college graduates, many are also “working full-time jobs, or they’re caretakers, and it’s impossible for them to drive into the city several times a week for classes,” Fazal explains.
Whatever the case, it seems to be working. Fazal says that 100% of the individuals who complete the program are not only receiving median job offers of $79,000 plus benefits and, in many cases, equity, but 70% of them are also receiving promotions within their first year. Yes, the law of small numbers is a factor, but it’s also easy to understand investors’ enthusiasm for what they are seeing — including the cautious approach SV Academy is taking to expanding.
“Real transformation is difficult,” says Fazal. “You can’t create outcomes like this by throwing software at the problem.”
Above, left to right: Joel Scott and Rahim Fazal of SV Academy
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 04:28 PM PDT
There’s seemingly no end in sight for DoorDash’s compensation model where it subsidizes driver wages with customer tips. The mildly bright side, however, is that DoorDash is now providing more transparency after each completed delivery, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu wrote in a blog post today.
“With our current pay model, Dashers see a guaranteed minimum — including tips — prior to accepting a delivery,” Xu wrote. “The guaranteed minimum is based on the estimated time and effort required to complete the delivery. Providing this guarantee upfront means that Dashers are more likely to accept all kinds of deliveries because they know what their earnings will be even if the customer provides little or no tip.”
That means DoorDash’s base pay is sometimes just $1.
“Talking about transparency is good,” labor rights group Working Washington said in a statement to TechCrunch. “And admitting you pay $1/job is better than denying it. But $1 is still $1.”
In light of pay controversies at Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates, Working Washington formed the Pay Up Campaign, which unites thousands of workers across all those gig economy platforms.
“They continue to subtract tips from worker pay,” the organization said in its statement. “And they continue to mislead customers about where their tips are going. When a customer tips more, DoorDash pays less — in other words, the customer is tipping the company.”
Despite what DoorDash said in its blog post about what workers want, the Pay Up campaign says it wants a minimum pay floor of $15 per hour plus expenses for time with an active job, tips, and a detailed breakdown of pay.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 04:00 PM PDT
Slack's recent direct listing marks a momentous 15-month stretch for freemium SaaS businesses. With Slack joining the public company ranks, six companies will have tapped the public markets since Dropbox's IPO last March. This group of companies now has a collective market value of more than $50 billion.
When Zoom filed its public S-1, the tech industry fawned over the company's financial profile. Here was a company growing revenue over 100% that had somehow managed to be cash flow positive. Conventional wisdom among many Silicon Valley investors has recently been that profits and rapid growth are mutually exclusive.
Uber and other high-growth tech companies aspire to be the next Amazon, foregoing profits into the foreseeable future to establish a dominant market position. This land grab mentality has held sway with most of the SaaS businesses that go to market with a traditional enterprise sales force. In contrast, the recent crop of public freemium businesses show they can actually make money while sustaining attractive growth rates.
How can this flavor of enterprise software business run so much more efficiently than their traditional enterprise brethren? The answer heavily lies in their approach to sales and marketing. Despite similar growth rates, traditional enterprise SaaS businesses spend an average of 10% more of their revenue on sales and marketing than their freemium comparables.
Freemium vs. enterprise: Different paths to sales success
A common criticism of freemium businesses is that their retention rates dramatically lag those of traditional enterprise software businesses. Customer relationships for freemium businesses usually begin online. An individual employee wants to use a product for her/his own productivity and simply charges a credit card to pay for a subscription. In contrast to larger-ticket enterprise relationships with multiple stakeholders that tend to renew at 90%+ annually, the retention profile of these individual users often resembles consumer subscription businesses — usually in the 60-80% range. When it comes time to renew the subscription a year later, the person may have changed jobs, changed credit cards or only used the product episodically.
It's less well understood that many of these business models are evolving in real time as they leverage widespread individual adoption to establish broader enterprise customer relationships. When sales reps for freemium products call on enterprise buyers, they usually have hundreds, or even thousands, of their employees already using the product individually or in small teams.
Their products and brands are already widely known and loved, with power-users clamoring for broader internal support and acting as advocates in the sales process. This internal validation makes it much easier to convince an enterprise buyer that the product will deliver compelling value to end users. While some hands-on sales support is usually required to land a contract over $5,000, this job can be done by less-experienced and lower-cost sales reps. If you visit the offices of freemium businesses and ask to walk their sales floor, you'll see a sea of millennials closing sizeable contracts over the phone.
Legacy enterprise players have historically successfully fended off competition from freemium businesses by accusing them of not being "enterprise-grade" technology. It can take years to build out robust security infrastructure, deep integration into other systems and administration and reporting capabilities, all of which are needed in the enterprise procurement process. This was a muscle that freemium businesses, whose product orientation was around end-user design rather than back-end infrastructure capabilities, needed to build. They also had to build sales motions to navigate the longer, complex sales cycles that come with six and seven-figure annual recurring revenue (ARR) deals.
However, the financial results of these public freemium companies show just how well this is now working, and there are many more private companies following their lead.
Freemium's enterprise traction
Most public companies don't report granular renewal rates for their larger enterprise relationships, but the unit economics of these businesses are incredibly compelling.
Lucid Software now has more than 3,000 enterprise customers, which generates more than 60% of the company's revenue, up from just 350 and 15% when we invested in the company three years ago. The logo renewal rate for their 3,000+ enterprise customers is more than 95% and net revenue retention is more than 130% annually, because end user seat growth more than outstrips any customer losses.
At Spectrum Equity, we're watching with interest as these early freemium leaders emerge as successful public companies and the broader industry better understands how these business models work. Since leading SurveyMonkey's first financing more than 10 years ago, Spectrum has invested in Lucid Software, Bitly, Litmus and Prezi, which are all charting a similar course from freemium online through to the enterprise. A number of Spectrum's content businesses, such as Lynda.com, Teachers Pay Teachers, Headspace, DataCamp, Offensive Security and Digital Marketing Institute, have also successfully built hybrid individual and enterprise distribution strategies.
We believe companies that create the most compelling end-user experiences will win over the long term, and this trend of the consumerization of enterprise technology has only just begun.
(Note from Spectrum Equity: The specific companies identified above may not represent all of Spectrum's investments, and no assumptions should be made that any investments identified were or will be profitable. View the complete list of our portfolio companies.)
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 03:44 PM PDT
Today’s major Apple news may be the departure of its design guru Jony Ive, but the even as the company stomachs the executive loss, their software plows ahead. Today, in an interview with French news site Numerama, Apple honcho Eddy Cue revealed that the number of Apple Music subscribers has now climbed to 60 million.
The company seems to give updates every time it surpasses another additional 10 million subscribers, we last heard that they had crossed the 50 million mark back in April.
Now, the company’s music service is well past the halfway market in its mission to surpass Spotify which currently has 100 million subscribers.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 03:29 PM PDT
Hans Zimmer, the film score composer behind dozens of Hollywood movies including The Lion King and Inception, is shaping what the next generation of BMW electric vehicles sound like.
Zimmer and Renzo Vitale, an acoustic engineer and sound designer at the BMW Group, recently composed the sound for the BMW Vision M NEXT, the concept that had its world debut June 25.
BMW’s project with Zimmer ties into its new “BMW IconicSounds Electric” sound brand.
"We want to get BMW IconicSounds Electric in position for customers who value emotional sound. With BMW IconicSounds Electric they will be able to experience the joy of driving with all their senses”, Jens Thiemer, senior vice president of the BMW brand, said in a statement.
The pair composed the drive sounds and sound signs for the BMW Vision M NEXT together in Zimmer's studios in London and Los Angeles. Watch the video below and listen for the wooshing sound that is produced as the vehicle accelerates. Sadly, it’s not the soundtrack of Inception playing on repeat.
The vehicle, which debuted at the NEXTGen event in Munich, will not be in your local BMW dealership any time soon. It’s a concept that should show where the automaker is headed in terms of design, electric vehicle plans and technology like its next generation adaptive cruise control system, which will be able to detect and automatically stop at red lights.
But customers can expect the next generation of electric vehicles to come with special acoustics meant to mimic the feeling a driver might get when they’re behind an M5 or other BMW with an internal combustion engine. It appears BMW’s next slate of electric vehicles could arrive sooner than originally planned.
The automaker announced at the NEXTGen event that it’s running ahead of schedule in its efforts to produce least 25 electrified vehicles. BMW, which was aiming for 2025, now says that it will offer these 25 vehicles by 2023.
The idea isn’t to make an electric car sound like an ICE vehicle. Instead, the sound is meant to match the power and speed of the electric vehicle.
It turns out that BMW has been working on artificially generated sound since at least 2009. Engineers wanted to increase awareness of the traditional quiet electric vehicles, which at the time include the MINI E test fleet.
Since the launch of the BMW i3, customers have been able to choose acoustic pedestrian protection as optional equipment. Legislation has required automakers to adopt acoustic pedestrian protection, a feature being rolled out as standard in all plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles from BMW. The aim in the development was to fulfill the warning function without disturbing pedestrians.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 03:21 PM PDT
The move is part of a broader initiative from the company to reduce its plastic use as a consumer backlash against plastic use grows across the country. Microplastics, found in both air and water, block up the guts of animals and insects and can potentially have incredibly harmful consequences on ocean ecosystems.
The move could be calamitous for startups like Liquid Death, the direct to consumer retail startup pitching canned “tallboys” of water with a metal message and a veneer of environmental responsibility.
Aluminum is nearly 100% recyclable and has a better overall environmental footprint as a packaging material than plastic, according to some advocates.
For now, Pepsi’s canned water will only be available at food vendors who stock its products, but the company is considering a broader transition to aluminum cans across its supply chain.
The company also announced that its LIFEWTR brand would only be sold in 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate and its bubly product will no longer be packaged in plastic.
The changes, which the company said will go into effect next year, will eliminate 8,000 metric tons of virgin plastic and roughly 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Pepsi has set a goal of using nothing but recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025, the company said.
“As one of the world’s leading food and beverage companies, we recognize the significant role PepsiCo can play in helping to change the way society makes, uses, and disposes of plastics,” said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta, in a statement. “We are doing our part to address the issue head on by reducing, recycling and reinventing our packaging to make it more sustainable, and we won’t stop until we live in a world where plastics are renewed and reused.”
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 03:01 PM PDT
Facial recognition is a controversial enough topic without bringing in everyday policing and the body cameras many (but not enough) officers wear these days. But Axon, which makes many of those cameras, solicited advice on the topic from and independent research board, and in accordance with its findings has opted not to use facial recognition for the time being.
The company, formerly known as Taser, established its “AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board” last year, and the group of 11 experts from a variety of fields just issued their first report, largely focused (by their own initiative) on the threat of facial recognition.
The advice they give is unequivocal: don’t use it — now or perhaps ever.
More specifically, their findings are as follows:
The full report may be read here; there’s quite a bit of housekeeping and internal business, but the relevant part starts on page 24. Each of the above bullet points gets a couple pages of explanation and examples.
Axon, for its part, writes that it is quite in agreement: “The first board report provides us with thoughtful and actionable recommendations regarding face recognition technology that we, as a company, agree with… Consistent with the board’s recommendation, Axon will not be commercializing face matching products on our body cameras at this time.”
Not that they won’t be looking into it. The idea, I suppose, is that the technology will never be good enough to provide the desired benefits if no one is advancing the science that underpins it. The report doesn’t object except to advise the company that it adhere to the evolving best practices of the AI research community to make sure its work is free from biases and systematic flaws.
One interesting point that isn’t always brought up is the difference between face recognition and face matching. Although the former is the colloquial catch-all term for what we think of as being potentially invasive, biased, and so on, in the terminology here it is different from the latter.
Face recognition, or detection, is just finding the features that make up a face in the picture — this can be used by a smartphone to focus its camera or apply an effect, for instance. Face matching is taking the features of the detected face and comparing it to a database in order to match it to one on file — that could be to unlock your phone using Face ID, but it could also be the FBI comparing everyone entering an airport to the most wanted list.
Axon uses face recognition and tracking to process the many, many hours of video that police departments full of body cams produce. When that video is needed as evidence, faces other than the people directly involved may need to be blurred out, and you can’t do that unless you know where the faces are. (Update: This paragraph originally stated that Axon was using a “lesser form of face matching,” which matches faces within videos but not with any central database, that it calls face re-identification. In fact this technology is not currently deployed commercially and is only in the research phase.)
That particular form of the technology seems benign in its current form, and no doubt there are plenty of other applications that it would be hard to disagree with. But as facial recognition techniques grow more mainstream it will be good to have advisory boards like this one keeping the companies that use them honest.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 02:20 PM PDT
NASA has just announced its next big interplanetary mission: Dragonfly, which will deliver a Mars Rover-sized flying vehicle to the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn with tantalizing life-supporting qualities. The craft will fly from place to place, sampling the delicious organic surface materials and sending high-resolution pictures back to Earth.
Dragonfly will launch in 2026, taking eight years to reach Titan and land (if all goes well) in 2034. So there will be plenty more updates after this one!
The craft will parachute through Titan’s hazy atmosphere and land among its dune-filled equatorial region. It’s equipped with drills and probes to investigate the surface, and of course cameras to capture interesting features and the surrounding alien landscape, flying from place to place using a set of rotors like a drone’s.
We’ve observed Titan from above via the Cassini mission, and we’ve even touched down on its surface briefly with the Huygens probe — which for all we know is still sitting there. But this will be a much more in-depth look at this fascinating moon.
Titan is a weird place. With rivers, oceans, and abundant organic materials on the surface, it’s very like Earth in some ways — but you wouldn’t want to live there. The rivers are liquid methane, for one thing, and if you’re familiar with methane, you’ll know that means it’s really cold there.
Nevertheless, Titan is still an interesting analogue to early Earth.
“We know that Titan has rich organic material, very complex organic material on the surface; there’s energy in the form of sunlight; and we know there’s been water on the surface in the past. These ingredients, that we know are necessary for the development life as we know it are sitting on the surface on Titan,” said principal investigator Elizabeth Turtle. “They’ve been doing chemistry experiments, basically, for hundreds of millions of years, and Dragonfly is designed to go pick up the results of those experiments.”
Don’t expect a flourishing race of methane-dwelling microbes, though. It’s more like going back in time to pre-life Earth to see what conditions may have resulted in the earliest complex self-replicating molecules: the origin of the origin of life, if you will.
To do so Dragonfly, true to its name, will be flitting around the surface to collect data from many different locations. It may seem that something the size of a couch may have trouble lifting off, but as Turtle explained, it’s actually a lot easier to fly around Titan than to roll. With a far thicker atmosphere (mostly nitrogen, like ours) and a fraction of Earth’s gravity, it’ll be more like traveling through water than air.
That explains why its rotors are so small — for something that big on Earth, you’d need huge powerful rotors working full time. But even one of these little rotors can shift the craft if necessary (though they’ll want all eight for lift and redundancy).
We’ll learn more soon, no doubt. This is just the opening salvo from NASA on what will surely be years of further highlights, explanations, and updates on Dragonfly’s creation and launch.
“It's remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment,” said NASA associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen. “Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission.”
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 02:03 PM PDT
The man who won over decades of Apple fans with iconic product design and his pronunciation of "aluminum" is out at the company. Sir Jonathan Paul “Jony” Ive told The Financial Times today that he's leaving Apple after 27 years.
Ive led a design team that created an army of consumer electronics' most iconic devices, including the iPhone, iPod and various Mac models. The executive will begin transitioning away from the company at the end of 2019, launching a new project titled LoveFrom next year.
Ive says the firm’s name was inspired by late-Apple founder, Steve Jobs. Per the interview, “There was an employee meeting a number of years ago and Steve [Jobs] was talking . . . He [said] that one of the fundamental motivations was that when you make something with love and with care, even though you probably will never meet . . . the people that you’re making it for, and you’ll never shake their hand, by making something with care, you are expressing your gratitude to humanity, to the species.
Apple confirmed the move in a press release, noting that it will remain a client of his new design firm.
"Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple's revival cannot be overstated, from 1998's groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care," said Tim Cook said in the release. "Apple will continue to benefit from Jony's talents by working directly with him on exclusive projects, and through the ongoing work of the brilliant and passionate design team he has built. After so many years working closely together, I'm happy that our relationship continues to evolve and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future."
Ive echoed the sentiment, telling the site, "While I will not be an [Apple] employee, I will still be very involved — I hope for many, many years to come. This just seems like a natural and gentle time to make this change."
VP Industrial Design Evans Hankey and VP Human Interface Design Alan Dye, will be stepping up to take the reins from Ive, who joined the company full time in September 1992.
Before ascending to the role of Chief Design Officer, Ive made a name for himself at the company with the design of the PowerBook while still at the London-based design firm, Tangerine. In recent years, he had increasingly become one of Apple’s most prominent faces, regularly appearing in design videos for the company.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 01:48 PM PDT
In the early 2000s, journalists popularized the term “PayPal mafia” to describe the PayPal founders and employees who left to start their own wildly successful tech companies, including Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk. Drawing from that idea, this article seeks to cover the formation and flow of talent within the crypto landscape today.
The crypto world is in a constant state of flux, with new startups entrants joining the industry every single day. These new startups have the potential either to be superstars within a portfolio company or to start the next Coinbase. Additionally, there are already impressive spin-outs from some of the more established crypto companies.
For ease of framing, I've separated these early-forming mafias into four categories: Crypto, Tech, Wall Street, and Academia. Since 2009, there have been 186 spinout companies originating from those four categories (33% from Academia, 28% from Crypto, 24% from Tech, and 15% from Wall Street).
Obvious but important disclaimer: this article does not intend to promote organized crime within crypto.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 01:27 PM PDT
The Google for Small Business portal was announced today at the Grow with Google Learning Center in New York City, where the company offers a variety of workshops and classes. During a break in the event, Kim Spalding, Google’s global product director for small business ads, told me that the website “gives everyone a place to start with Google products.”
After all, she said, “small business owners struggle with time” and particularly don’t have time to become experts on digital marketing.
So on the new site, they can enter their company name and website (assuming they have one), then answer a few questions about their business and their goals. Google will then create a customized, prioritized list of actions, which may involve launching ad campaigns, or building up their online presence, or installing Google Analytics.
Spalding suggested that this could be particularly useful for small businesses that are “just getting started,” as well as more established business that are starting to develop a digital strategy.
While Google for Small Business can recommend a wide range of products, Spalding pointed to two “hero tools” that are part of the lineup — Google my Business, which allows business owners to create their own profiles and websites, and is “a complete free product from start to finish,” as well as Smart Campaigns, which Google launched last year to automate the ad-buying process for small businesses.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 01:19 PM PDT
Chinese automotive startup Nio is recalling nearly 5,000 of its ES8 high-performance electric SUVs after a series of battery fires in China and a subsequent investigation revealed a vulnerability that created a safety risk.
The recall affects a quarter of the ES8 vehicles it has sold since they went on sale in June 2018.
A Nio-led team of experts that included the supplier of the battery pack module, investigated a reported fire involving an ES8 in Shanghai. The team concluded there was a vulnerability in the design of the battery pack that could cause a short circuit.
The battery packs in the vehicles involved were equipped with a module specification NEV-P50. These packs were pressing up against voltage sampling cable harness due to improper positioning, Nio said. The insulation on the cable may wear out due to this repeated contact and cause a short circuit, Nio determined.
Nio said other ES8 vehicles that have experienced issues had the same battery pack.
The recall affects 4,803 models produced from April 02, 2018 to October 19, 2018 that are equipped with NEV-P50 batteries. The company will be replace the battery packs, a process that could take up to two months.
All NEV-P50 batteries in the battery swap network will also be replaced to ensure, Nio said.
Vehicles with 70kWh battery packs produced after October 20, 2018 are equipped with the NEV-P102 modules and have different internal structural designs. These packs don’t have the same risk, Nio said.
The recall comes at an inauspicious time for Nio. Nio began deliveries of the ES8 in China in June 2018. And while deliveries initially surpassed expectations, they have since slowed in 2019. The company reported loss of $390.9 million in the first quarter.
Nio said it would shift its vehicle production plans, reduce in R&D spending and cut to its workforce by 4.5% in response to the weak quarter.
Other automakers with electric vehicles have issued recalls over fire risk. Earlier this month, Audi issued a voluntary recall in the U.S. for the E-Tron SUV due to the risk of battery fire. No fires had been reported in the 1,644 E-Trons that Audi has sold. The company issued the recall after it found that moisture can seep into the battery cell through a wiring harness. There have been five cases worldwide where this has caused a battery fault warning.
In May, Tesla started pushing out a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs following a fire in a parked vehicle in Hong Kong. The software update, which Tesla said at the time was being done out of "an abundance of caution," is supposed to "protect the battery and improve its longevity." The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 12:27 PM PDT
As brands pursue audiences online, they are producing more creative content than ever — particularly around Instagram.
In the past twelve months, Brandfolder's Brand Index (check out the full Brand Index Report at the end of this article) tracked an 80% increase in videos and other creative material targeted for the platform.
With the Instagram community being a highly engaged group, brands rely on rich, visual content to connect to them. With the proliferation of new Instagram features, like video, Stories, multi-photo carousels, and IGTV, each subset requires its own content, further inflating the need for more brand creative.
The growth in brand creative isn't just due to audience demands, however. The shelf life of brand assets has fallen as more brands compete with other content (and each other) for user attention.
In 2016-2017, the average asset shelf life was 395 days. From 2017-2018, it was 280 days, with varying lifespans across file type and industry. That's a 29% decrease in lifespan. Over the next few years, we predict this number will continue to decrease.
Which means, as brands are becoming increasingly dynamic and getting serious about personalization, the need for brand creative, more frequently, will continue to skyrocket in order to stay current and relevant.
To bring this to life, think about the last professional sports game you watched. You noticed one team on the field was wearing a throwback jersey with an old school logo. At a different game, they were back to wearing their normal jerseys with the most current logo.
Later in the season, however, the team is wearing pink jerseys for Breast Cancer awareness. This is a prime example of a dynamic brand expressing their creativity while adapting to varying circumstances, events, and audiences. All of this necessitates fluid brand creative.
But what exactly is brand creative? In the broadest sense, it refers to the all-encompassing collection of online and offline creative assets that a business uses to represent its brand. When we refer to brand creative, we refer to assets of all types–like videos, social media posts, product photography, lifestyle imagery, sales materials, logos, fonts, 3d renderings, and much more.
At Brandfolder, we are focused on delivering intelligence about our customer's brand creative. We house and manage millions of creative assets from companies of all sizes–anyone from small-scale mom-and-pop shops to large-scale Fortune 10 companies.
And within this massive creative data set, our data science team extracts actionable insights through asset scoring algorithms, prediction formulas, collections, classification tools, and uniqueness analysis, to name a few.
Through these analyses mentioned above, our data science team created the Brand Index– a collection of high-level brand creative trends that CMOs, brand managers, agency professionals, and designers should use to guide their strategic campaigns and deliverables. It was built on discoveries from tens of thousands of creative assets stored in our digital asset management platform from more than 6,000 brands between 2016-2019.
Some brands house asset counts as low as 60, while others house as many as 38,000 assets or more. Specific information analyzed within the Brand Index includes amounts of assets, file formats, asset orientation, asset shelf life, event-based interactions with assets, and more. This information was then combined with the customer's industry and anonymized to remove any identifying and brand-specific information.
In the Brand Index, companies can learn things like why and how brands' digital footprints are growing exponentially. From 2017-2018, total asset count on a by-brand basis skyrocketed by 81%. And, it's on track to continue climbing.
A major factor for this digital asset boom could be the increasing demand for rich and personalized media on multiple channels, putting an even greater emphasis on the need for a robust digital asset management platform.
Additionally, as CMOs and design directors are putting more time and effort into their brand creative, the need for understanding which assets perform better, when and where, will continue to rise. Brands are already taking advantage of optimizing their creative content based on rich insights.
Thus, by integrating testing data with a platform that provides asset-specific performance insights, brands will have the competitive edge they need to continue retaining and building equity in the minds of their consumers.
Our findings also show that companies should take note of the shift in file type and how brand creative needs to become increasingly dynamic in order to keep delighting their customers. Rich media files used for engaging and dynamic advertising are on the rise–with video being a key player.
Videos have become the go-to file format supporting a variety of marketing and business goals like sales, retention, upsell opportunities, customer experience, education, thought leadership, and more. JPGs still tend to be a brand favorite, however, gone are the days that these JPGs only live in one place. Asset versatility and responsiveness are critical for the increase of digital channels. Which leads me to my next point: brand identity.
Most brands now have at least four logo orientation and color variations that contribute to consistency and cohesion across their growing portfolio of channels. The brands that are succeeding in the marketplace have animated logos and other engaging asset types that they can switch out on any channel with the snap of a finger.
And as mentioned earlier, if the average shelf life of an asset differs by file type with a current average being 280 days or less, which file formats should brands continue to invest in order to maximize their ROI?
But, what does asset shelf life really mean? Asset shelf life is defined as the number of days between when an asset was created and its latest event date (the last time it was accessed, viewed, downloaded, distributed, etc.). An asset is just like a living, breathing creature. It moves from creation through purpose and finally reaches retirement or its, sometimes timely, archival.
Not all assets are created equal, however. With the creation of AI & ML technologies, brands are getting smarter about their content's performance. High-performing brands are quicker to remove underperforming content from their arsenal and generate new brand creative to keep things fresh.
And with video on the rise, that also takes a big chunk of change out of marketing and creative budgets. Thankfully, but not ironically, we're seeing that the asset types that take a larger investment also have longer shelf lives.
Companies should invest in a management solution for more expensive assets to ensure they are generating the maximum reach and profitability throughout their lives.
As brands look to scale their identities and creative asset production, as well as their distribution and delivery strategies, companies should take advantage of the Brandfolder Brand Index in order to ensure they aren't left behind with the constantly evolving landscape.
Read the full Brandfolder Brand Index below:
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 12:10 PM PDT
Amazon along with Boulder company Nite Ize, a maker of specialty lights and phone mounts under the STEELIE brand, filed suit on Wednesday in a Seattle federal court against a group of counterfeiters who have been ripping off Nite Ize products. The issue was brought to Amazon’s attention in October 2018, following a tip from the United States Customers and Border Protection agency, which had seized a shipment of 300 counterfeit STEELIE brand car mounts, Amazon lawsuit explains.
The agency alerted Nite Ize, which then, in turn, alerted Amazon.
“Defendants have deceived Amazon’s customers and Amazon, infringed and misused the IP rights of Nite Ize, and harmed the integrity of Amazon’s store, and tarnished Amazon’s and Nite Ize’s brands,” the lawsuit states.
The suit goes on to identify eleven individuals and businesses who operated third-party seller accounts on Amazon’s online store where they would advertise and sell counterfeit versions of Nite Ize products.
Nite Ize may not be a household name, but you may be familiar with some of its products.
The company began back in 1989 with the invention of a headband mini flashlight holder. It introduced its STEELIE line in 2014, which is a family of products designed to make phone mounting easier. Its patented magnetic mounting system is a two-part ball and socket system that’s particularly popular as a hands-free viewing platform in cars, home, and elsewhere.
Above: STEELIE Original Dash Kit; credit: Nite Ize
That popularity, of course, attracted the knock-offs.
The defendants, Amazon and Nite Ize allege, marketed and sold items they claimed to be genuine STEELIE products in violation of Amazon’s Business Solutions Agreement. The suit names individuals living in Minnesota, Maryland, and Ontario as defendants, along with businesses based in China.
Nite Ize had been aware of the counterfeiting problems for some time.
It ordered test purchases from the defendants over the course of 2018, then reviewed the products they received and found them to be counterfeited, the suit explains.
Nite Ize and Amazon are now looking to recover actual and statutory damages as a result of the counterfeiters’ illegal business operations, along with other relief, including the ability to recover the defendants’ profits.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of efforts by Amazon to crack down on the rampant counterfeit trade taking place online. While some brands have accused Amazon of turning a blind eye to issues with its third-party sellers, their illegal activity is ultimately damaging to Amazon’s brand, as well.
“Each day, millions of consumers use Amazon’s store to purchase a wide range of products across dozens of product categories from Amazon and third-party sellers,” the company said, in the filing. “Amazon recognizes that consumer trust is hard to win and easy to lose, so Amazon invests significant resources and effort into building and preserving its customers’ trust.”
The retailer also claimed that only a “small number of bad actors” seek to abuse that trust by selling counterfeit goods.
In more recent months, Amazon has become more active in its fight against counterfeiters.
Last year, for example, it filed three other lawsuits in partnership with fashion designer Vera Bradley and mobile accessories maker Otterbox over counterfeit goods.
And in February, Amazon launched a suite of new tools for brands and manufacturers that help them to proactively go after counterfeiters. As part of a program called “Project Zero,” brands can provide Amazon with logos, trademarks, and other key data. Amazon then scans its 5 billion product listings per day, looking for any suspicious items.
Another set of tools allows brands to work with Amazon to introduce product serialization capabilities. This puts a unique code on the manufactured units which Amazon scans at purchase to verify authentic sales.
But as this new lawsuit demonstrates, the counterfeiting business can be complex. With just this one company’s brand, there were people based across three countries involved with the illegal activity.
Amazon says in the filing it has more than 250 million active consumers and millions of third-party sellers. It’s a lot to police.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 12:03 PM PDT
A $30-per-month email service capturing the adoration of investors and founders in Silicon Valley is perhaps an unsurprising story in a subscription-obsessed landscape, yet we’re only now hearing how stealth-y startup Superhuman has captured investor $$$.
The New York Times reports that the SF startup closed a $33 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz last month, raising at a $260 million valuation. The company has been oddly tight-lipped about its funding for a startup that people won’t stop talking about, though CEO Rahul Vohra has justified this as a desire to keep the story on the product not the money.
Superhuman has little need for a marketing budget when every VC’s twitter is spreading the gospel of luxury email.
The startup has seemed to have grown at its own pace, the service’s members frequently reference the 100,000+ people on the waiting list to pay for the email app though the company seems most intent on growing by word of mouth referrals which allow you to hop the line. (Roose’s story details that list is actually 180k people long, and that the company has less than 15k on-boarded subscribers)
The service is designed around helping people that spend several hours in email every day to find areas to cut down on friction. What’s it like though?
I spent about 6 months paying for the service (thanks for the referral Niv) before eventually unsubscribing a couple months ago. There’s certainly plenty to love, though the price can be a bit to stomach when you realize how much you’re paying for email compared to other services.
Superhuman’s central strength is speed. Its other strength is that it feels like an exclusive club, though its members probably have nicer things to say about it than The Battery.
More on its functional differentiators in a bit, but the culture surrounding the app is a little fascinating. It’s a luxury app icon to have on your phone. You won’t find the Superhuman app in the App Store, you have to be approved for the service in iOS’s TestFlight where constant beta updates are delivered.
Other founders I’ve chatted with have been inspired by how Superhuman’s on-boarding process helps users feel like they’re getting a product custom-built for them. I met with Vohra during my 30-minute meeting where he walked me through the product and asked me about my own email habits as he helped me set up my account. The result is a bizarre connection with the product and team.
Example: for 30 days after you set up your account, you get an email from Vohra detailing some tips and tricks for using the service. Not only did I not immediately unsubscribe from these messages, I read almost all of them. When I filled out a survey at the end surrounding what I thought about the service, an employee at the startup shot me an email a few days later with a full response, I responded to that.
But honestly, how many paid services would expect its users to include a line in their signature plugging the service “Sent via Superhuman” and never disable it? And yet, the cult of Superhuman led me to keep it for awhile until my eyes were opened that flexing my $30/month email in my signature made me look like an asshole. Yes, it did.
What all of these interaction earn Superhuman is that when reality eventually beamed on me that I was not making VC money and I should probably end this little experiment, I almost felt like I had to apologize to the startup for cancelling my subscription. I felt so coddled as a member of the service with every new little update feeling like a new membership perk.
Okay, okay, yes, there are other ways to feel special that aren’t a $30/month electronic mail service. What is so nice about using it?
Speed is the top-line item. The desktop experience is the platform’s key differentiator, it’s structured entirely around keyboard shortcuts and the app is constantly training you to move through your email more quickly.
A couple of months in, I truly was spending far less time combing through pitches and tips, particularly thanks to the custom buckets that Superhuman sorts your mail into. The “Important” tab in your inbox differentiates newsletters and mailing list emails and only sucks in messages that were sent directly to you. It is miles better than the rudimentary sorting that Gmail pulls off.
If you aren’t used to the cult of “inbox-zero,” the service will drag you into it. The app prompts you to archive, snooze or delete every email in your inbox, transforming the utility of the service from a simple mailbox into a to-do list.
Other features like the souped up email tracking lets you know when your email was opened and does this much better than the free Gmail extensions I’ve tried. When a founder tried to claim he hadn’t seen my email asking him about some problems at his startup, I checked the app and saw he had opened it no less than 17 times on his phone and PC. Hmmm…
Before starting Superhuman, Vohra founded Rapportive which LinkedIn later bought. He kind of recreated that service for Superhuman which really allows you to get into people’s inboxes more easily. If you can guess someone’s email, a sidebar in the app will populate with a bio of the person if you’re correct. This is obviously pretty useful to a journalist, but if you’re trying to cold email your way into new opportunities it can be pretty great as well.
I’m perhaps not enough of a power user to get the most of snippets, which allow you to quickly inject canned responses that you can stylize, but they seem like they’d be amazing for intros though I rarely ended up using them.
When it comes to shortcomings, Superhuman is a desktop experience first-and-foremost. I’m a heavy mobile email user and the Superhuman app may have better than most other iOS email apps I had used, but it is still iterative on mobile and I think I was left thinking about the subscription costs most when I was swiping through emails there.
Even in the six months that I was a subscriber the mobile app made some hefty advances, though getting people to continually justify a subscription over what would otherwise be free is a challenge that won’t go away as long as it holds its price tag.
The issue for Superhuman is that in a lot of ways the app just trains you how to use email more effectively. Since cancelling my subscription, I’ve dialed in my Gmail keyboard shortcuts and shifted how I flag and archive messages and I’d say I’m operating fairly close to the efficiency I pulled off on the premium service.
The mental load of spending $30 month on email is admittedly heavy and is undoubtedly a barrier for Superhuman scaling to different echelons of users, but with $33 million from Andreessen Horowitz, the startup certainly has some options for how it grows from here. I do still dearly miss the “Important” tab, email tracking and sidebar profiles and perhaps I will eventually return though I imagine that will happen when the service costs less than what I put into Apple Music and Netflix combined.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 12:01 PM PDT
Niantic had already been hinting at plans to throw a big festival for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite players — something in the same vein as its Pokémon GO Fest events, but with less Pokémon and more virtual witchcraft and wizardry. I mentioned it back when the game first got a launch date.
Now it’s a bit more official. Niantic says it will be throwing a two day Wizards Unite festival in Indianapolis, Indiana later this summer.
Details are still a bit light, but here’s what we know:
At this point, it would’ve been a bit surprising if Niantic didn’t do a real-world gathering for Wizards Unite. They’ve been doing in-person “anomaly” events around the world for their first title, Ingress, for years, and have held dozens of real-world events for Pokémon GO.
Niantic uses these events as an opportunity to bring their most hardcore fans together, with tens of thousands of players taking over these parks for days. Attendees are sometimes rewarded with early access to something new — at GO Fest 2018, for example, players were given the opportunity to catch a new, extra rare Pokémon (Celebi) nearly a full month before anyone else.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 12:00 PM PDT
Hey, so remember earlier today when I said that new 5G cities still qualify as news, for a little while longer, at least? AT&T is making it under the wire with the addition of Las Vegas to its growing portfolio of 5G business cities.
The addition of Sin City brings the carrier's total up to 20 cities for its 5G+ — a confusing branding it gave to avoid confusion with its purposefully confusing 5G E branding. Confused? Good. That was kind of the point.
Anyway, AT&T's certainly adding cities at a rapid clip and outpacing the competition with the sheer number of locations. Of course, it's important to note two things.
The second bit is in line with the rest of AT&T's 5G offerings. It also goes for Verizon's including the recent additions of Denver and Providence. AT&T hasn't specified which parts yet (Verizon, on the other hand, was EXTREMELY specific). In both cases, though, I'd anticipate spending plenty of time switching back and forth between 5G and LTE.
If that sounds good, AT&T offers the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G for doing just that.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 11:52 AM PDT
We’ve seen Harvard’s Robobee flying robot evolve for years: After first learning to fly, it learned to swim in 2015, then to jump out of the water again in 2017 — and now it has another trick up its non-existent sleeve. The Robobee X-Wing can fly using only the power it collects from light hitting its solar cells, making it possible to stay in the air indefinitely.
Achieving flight at this scale is extremely hard. You might think that being small, it would be easy to take off and maintain flight, like an insect does. But self-powered flight actually gets much harder the smaller, which puts insects among the most bafflingly marvelous feats of engineering we have encountered in nature.
Oh, it’s easy enough to fly when you have a wire feeding you electricity to power a pair of tiny wings — and that’s how the Robobee and others flied before. It’s only very recently that researchers have accomplished meaningful flight using on-board power or, in one case, a laser zapping an attached solar panel.
The new Robobee X-Wing (named for its 4-wing architecture) achieves a new milestone with the ability to fly with no battery and no laser — only plain full-spectrum light coming from above. Brighter than sunlight, to be fair — but close to real-world conditions.
The team at Harvard’s Microrobotics Laboratory accomplished this by making the power conversion and wing mechanical systems incredibly lightweight — the whole thing weighs about a quarter of a gram, or about half a paper clip. Its power consumption is likewise lilliputian:
That last bit is some shade thrown at its competitors, which by nature can’t quite achieve “sustained untethered flight,” though what constitutes that isn’t exactly clear. After all, this Dutch flapping flyer can go a kilometer on battery power. If that isn’t sustained, I don’t know what is.
In the video of the Robobee you can see that when it is activated, it shoots up like a bottle rocket. One thing they don’t really have space for on the robot’s little body (yet) is sophisticated flight control electronics and power storage that could let it use only the energy it needs, flapping in place.
That’s probably the next step for the team, and it’s a non-trivial one: adding weight and new systems completely changes the device’s flight profile. But give them a few months or a year and this thing will be hovering like a real dragonfly.
The Robobee X-Wing is exhaustively described in a paper published in the journal Nature.
Posted: 27 Jun 2019 11:38 AM PDT
French startup Ornikar is raising a $40 million Series B round (€35 million) from Idinvest and Bpifrance. The company competes with traditional driving schools in Europe with an online marketplace of students and teachers.
And Ornikar has been a massive success in France. Overall, 35 percent of driving school registrations in 2019 are handled by Ornikar.
There are many advantages in choosing Ornikar. For driver students, Ornikar is much more flexible than a traditional driving school. Driving schools in France are usually pretty small with only a handful of employees. It's sometimes hard to book lessons, especially if you have a full-time work.
When you sign up to Ornikar, you can connect to your Ornikar account and book an hour or two from there. Ornikar works with a pool of 650 instructors so that you get to study at your own pace.
Ornikar is also cheaper than a traditional driving school. By automating the administration work as much as possible, the startup says that it is 35 percent cheaper than a traditional driving school. It currently costs €750 for 20 hours of lessons.
"We've been profitable in 2018 and very profitable in 2019 for the French market," Ornikar co-founder and CEO Benjamin Gaignault told me.
Here are some numbers. Every month, 30,000 people sign up to Ornikar in France. The startup manages 70,000 hours of lessons per month on its marketplace.
Ornikar works with qualified instructors who got a license to work in a driving school. They get paid €15 per hour, which is theoretically more than in a normal driving school.
With today's funding round, the startup wants to expand to more countries. Ornikar is already live in Germany and Spain, but the company wants to grow the product there. Eventually, the company will also expand to Italy and the U.K.
In addition to new countries, Ornikar wants to sell other car-related products. The company is partnering with third-party companies for car insurance products, and there will be more products down the road.
Ornikar had previously raised an $11.3 million Series A (€10 million) and a $1.3 million seed round (€1 million). Existing investors include Brighteye, Partech, Elaia, Xavier Niel, Jacques-Antoine Granjon and Marc Simoncini.
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