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Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of the last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.
The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”
“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.
The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the ‘Show’ video screen, a subwoofer and more.

Echo Wall Clock review

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Xiaomi teases a double-folding smartphone… ohhai digital triptych!

China’s Xiaomi has become the latest smartphone maker to tease a folding smartphone, dropping the below video clip of its president and co-founder, Bin Lin, fondling the device on social media today.
The twist is the tablet does not have a single center parting but rather two folds that divide it into three panels, with Xiaomi claiming in a tweet: “It is the world’s first ever double folding phone.”
The video shows Bin contemplating a tablet-sized touchscreen device before quickly turning it on its side, taking it into landscape orientation, where he performs the party trick — folding two panels of screen, one at each side, back behind the tablet to form a slightly chunky looking phablet.

Excited to share this video of a special Xiaomi smartphone from our President and Co-founder Bin Lin . It is the world’s first ever double folding phone — that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? #xiaomi #foldingphone #technology pic.twitter.com/iBj0n3vIbW
— Wang Xiang (@XiangW_) January 23, 2019

The video is edited so it cuts from front view to back at the moment of the fold so the actual folding action is not seen from the front. But from the back the two folded wings go dark after being folded.
When the video cuts back to the front there’s a slight spinning of the screen, as the software appears to grapple momentarily with the new form factor, before it stablizes in portrait orientation.
The phablet form of the device resembles the bezel-less ‘infinity display’ design of a handset like the 2018 Samsung Galaxy S8. Albeit more squat looking than the tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio of the S8.
Xiaomi’s tweet teaser does not include any details about how near (or indeed far off) a market launch of the device might be. We’ve reached out to the company with questions about the prototype and any launch plans.
In recent months a handful of folding smartphone prototypes have been demoed by mobile makers, including a booklet-style folding slab from Samsung — trailed as incoming for years but finally teased officially last fall — which also appears to transforms into a rather chunky handset.
An invite to a February 20 Samsung launch event for the forthcoming Galaxy S10, sent out to press two weeks ago, also included a conspicuous centerfold in its graphic teaser. Ergo, a commercial launch looks imminent.
While, at CES, a little known Chinese OEM called Royole beat others to the punch by showing off a folder in the flesh. In tablet form the Android powered FlexPai, as the device was christened, is 7.8-inches. But once folded in half the gizmo is left with an unsightly gap between the screen pieces, bulking up the resulting smartphone.
Xiaomi’s triptych looks to offer a more pleasing design for handling the inevitable air gap created by a folding screen by concealing the ends in the middle of the dual folded panels. Side tucks certainly look more visually pleasing.
That said, two folds could mean a higher risk of screen problems — if the folding mechanism isn’t robust enough to handle lots of bending back and forth.
It’s also far from clear whether consumers will generally take to folding phones, or snub them as fiddly and gimmicky.
In recent years smartphone design has converged around a phablet-sized touchscreen and little else. So adding any fresh mechanical complication is a bit of a risk given how smooth and hermetically sealed smartphones have otherwise become.
But a clutch of Android OEMs are going to try their luck, regardless. And with a saturated smartphone market, stalled growth and competition fiercer than ever you can see why they’re pushing the boat out — or, well, bending the screen back — to try and stand out.

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Groww, an investment app for millennials in India, raises $6.2M

Groww, a startup hoping to make saving and investment opportunities more widely available to young people in India, has closed a $6.2 million Series A to grow its business.
Founded in 2017, the Bengaluru-based company was part of Y Combinator in the U.S. last year and it went on to raise a $1.6 million “pre-Series A” round in June of last year. Groww was started by four ex-Flipkart staffers — Lalit Keshre, Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal — who realized how difficult investing in India is, particularly among young people.
This new money is led by Sequoia India with participation from Y Combinator, Propel Venture Partners and Kauffman Fellows. The company also counts Singapore’s Insignia Ventures Partners, Lightbridge Partners and Kairos among its backers.
Groww lets its users invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings scheme. It claims over one million registered users, most of whom are aged under 40 and mobile-first, according to the company. Available on iOS, Android and the web, it offers over 5,000 mutual funds which can be invested in directly from its app.
Keshre, who is Groww’s CEO and previously led Flipkart’s logistics platform, told TechCrunch that the new money will be spent on hiring and developing tech to support the launch of new products. That could include direct investments and ETFs while, further down the line, Keshre said there’s an ambition to offer insurance and more.
“We’re used across India not just in metros,” Keshre said in an interview. “Our users are spread across all the major cities… [they’re] working-class, young millennials straight across India.”
Groww’s founding team [left to right]: Ishan Bansal, Lalit Keshre, Neeraj Singh and Harsh JainKeshre said the focus is on keeping the app and its design simple but, like Robinhood in the U.S, he said that the broader goal is to democratize investing, particularly among younger segments of the population in India. For now, he added, there is no plan to venture overseas since Groww is just scratching the surface of what it could become in India.
“There are 200 million people with investable income in India, but only 20 million investors. The only way to bring the next 180 million onboard is by making investing simple,” he said in a statement.
Note: Article updated to correct that Groww is available on iOS and the web as well as Android.

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VCs give us their predictions for startups and tech in Southeast Asia in 2019

The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019.
The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet access continues to shoot up among Southeast Asia’s cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers.
There are other factors, including economic growth and emerging middle classes, but with more than 3.8 million people becoming first-time internet users each month — thanks to smartphones — Southeast Asia’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to more than triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. That leaves plenty of opportunity for tech and online businesses and, by extension, venture capitalists.
With a VC corpus that now numbers dozens of investment firms, TechCrunch asked the people who write the checks what is on the horizon for 2019.
The only rule was no more than three predictions — below, in no particular order, is what they told us.

Albert Shyy, Burda

Funds will continue to invest aggressively in Southeast Asia in the first half of this year but capital will tighten up by Q4 as funds and companies prepare for a possible recession. I think we will see a lot of companies opportunistically go out to fundraise in Q1/Q2 to take advantage of a bull market.
We will see two to three newly-minted unicorns from the region this year, after a relative lull last year.
This will (finally) be the year that we start to see some consolidation in the e-commerce scene

Dmitry Levit, Cento
A significant portion of capital returned by upcoming U.S. IPOs to institutional investors will be directed to growth markets outside of China, with India and Southeast Asia being the likeliest beneficiaries. Alternative assets such as venture and subsets of private equity in emerging markets will enter their golden age.

The withdrawal of Chinese strategic players held back by weakened domestic economy, prudent M&A by local strategics and ongoing caution among Japanese, Korean and global corporates, combined with ongoing valuations exuberance by late-stage investors allocating funds to Southeast Asia, will continue holding back large liquidity events. Save perhaps for a roll-up of a local champion or two into a global IPO. Fundraising will get more troublesome for some of Southeast Asia’s larger unprofitable market leaders. Lack of marquee liquidity events and curtailed access to late-stage capital for some will lead to a few visible failures (our money is on the subsidy-heavy wallets!) and a temporary burst of short-term skepticism around Southeast Asia as an investment destination towards the end of 2019.
The trend towards the emergence of value-chain specific funds and fund managers will continue, as digitalization is reaching ever further into numerous industry sectors and as Southeast Asia hosts an increasing portion of global supply chains. We foresee at least dozen new venture firms and vehicles emerging in 2019 with clear sector-led investment thesis around the place of Southeast Asian economies in the global value chains of fashion industry, agriculture and food; labour, healthcare services; manufacturing, construction tech and so on, with investment teams that have the necessary expertise to unravel this increasing complexity.

Willson Cuaca, East Ventures
Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount.

As Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines (in market priority order).
Southeast gets two new unicorns.

Rachel Lau, RHL Ventures
North Asian companies will provide well-needed liquidity as they withdraw capital from developed American and European markets due to the Federal Reserve’s actions. The FED raised interest rates and reduced the size of its balance sheet (by not replacing the bonds that were maturing at a rate of $50 billion a month). This has been seen in the recent fundraising exercise by Southeast Asian unicorns. Grab has recently seen an impressive list of North Asian investors such as Mirae, Toyota and Yamaha . A recent stat stated that 85 percent of the funding of Southeast Asia startups have gone to billion dollar unicorn such as Grab and Gojek, bypassing the early stage startups that are more in need for funding, this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, we will see early-stage companies and venture capitalists becoming more focused on generating cash flow from operating operations instead as fundraising activities become more difficult.
A growth in urbanization in Southeast will create new job opportunities in small/medium businesses, as evident in China. Currently, only 12 percent of Asia’s urban population live in megacities, while four percent live in towns of fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. New companies will see the blurred lines between brick and mortar businesses vs pure online businesses. In the past year or so, we have seen more and more offline businesses going online and more online businesses going offline.
Fertility rates in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam exceed 2.1 births per woman — the level that sustains a population — but rates below 1.5 in Singapore and Thailand mean their populations will decline without immigration. As we see more startup activities coming to Southeast Asian countries, we expect to see more qualified foreign talent moving to the region vs staying in low growth American and European countries.

Kay-Mok Ku, Gobi Ventures
First Chinese “Seaward” Unicorn in Southeast Asia. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese startups are targeting overseas markets from the get go (known as Chuhai 出海 or “Seaward”). These Chinese entrepreneurs typically bring with them best practices in consumer marketing and product development honed by a hyper-competitive home market, supported by strong, dedicated technical team based out of China and increasingly capitalized by Chinese VCs which have raised billion-dollar funds.

Consolidation among ASEAN Unicorns. While ASEAN now boasts 10 unicorns, they are duplicative in the sense that more than one exists in a particular category, which is unsustainable for winner-takes-all markets. For example, in the ASEAN ride-hailing space, while one unicorn is busy with regional geographic expansion, the other simply co-exists by staying focused on scope expansion within its home market. This will never happen in a single country market like China but now that the ASEAN ride hailing unicorns are finally locking horns, the stage may be set for a Didi-Kuadi like scenario to unfold.
ASEAN jumps on Chinese 5G bandwagon. The tech world in the future will likely bifurcate into American and Chinese-led platforms. As it is, emerging markets are adopting Chinese business models based on bite-sized payment and have embraced Chinese mobile apps often bundled with cheap Chinese smartphones. Looking ahead, 5G will be a game changer as its impact goes beyond smartphones to generic IoT devices, having strategic implications for industries such as autonomous driving. As a result, the US-China Trade War will likely evolve into a Tech War and ASEAN will be forced to choose side.

Daren Tan, Golden Equator Capital
We are excited by growth in the AI and deep tech sectors. The focus has generally been on consumer-focused tech in Southeast Asia as an emerging market, but we are starting to see proprietary solutions emerge for industries such as medtech and fintech. AI also has great applicability across a wide range of consumer sectors in reducing reliance on manpower and creating cost savings.

Data analytics to uncover organizational efficiencies and customer trends will continue to be even more widely used, but there will also be greater emphasis on securing such data especially confidential information in light of multiple high-profile data breaches in 2018. Tools enabling the collection, storage, safe-keeping and analysis of data will be essential.
We are seeing the emergence of more institutional funds from North Asia. So far it has predominantly been Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, now we are starting to see Korean and Japanese institutions placing greater emphasis on investment in the Southeast Asian region.

Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures
Even more capital flowing from U.S. and China into Southeast Asia, with VCs from both locations soon to open offices in the region
A fresh wave of Series A investments into Vietnam.
Ten exits over $100 million.

Amit Anand, Jungle Ventures
The emergence of a financial services super app, think the Meituan or WeChat but only for financial services: The Southeast Asian millennial is one of the most underserved customer from a financial services perspective whether it is payments, consumer goods loans, personal loans, personal finance management, investments or other financial services. We will see the emergence of digital platforms that will aggregate all these related services and provide a one stop financial services shop for this digitally native consumer.

Digitisation of SMEs will be new fintech: Southeast Asia is home to over 100 million SMEs that are at the cusp of digital transformation. Generational change in ownership, local governments push for digitization and increased globalization have created a perfect storm for these SMEs to adopt cloud and other digital technologies at neck-breaking pace. Startups focussing on this segment will get mainstream attention from the venture community over the next few years as they look for new industries that are getting enabled or disrupted by technology.

Kuo-Yi Lim and Peng T. Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures
Lyft and Uber go public and show the path to profitability for other rideshare businesses. This has positive effect for the regional rideshare players but also puts pressure on them to demonstrate the same economics in ridesharing. Regional rideshare players double down on super-app positioning instead, to demonstrate value in other ways as rideshare business alone may not reach profitability — ever.

The trade war between China and the US reaches a truce, but a general sense of uncertainty lingers. This is now the new norm — things are less certain and companies have to plan for more adverse scenarios. In the short term, Southeast Asia benefits. Companies — Chinese, American etc — see Southeast Asia as the neutral ground. Investment pours in, creating jobs across industries. Acquisition of local champions intensifies as foreign players jostle for the lead positions.
“Solve the problem” – tech companies will become more prominent… tech companies that are real-estate brokers, recruiters, healthcare providers, food suppliers, logistics… why: many industries are very inefficient.

Hian Goh, Openspace Ventures
Fight to quality will happen. Fundraising across all stages from seed to Series C and beyond will be challenging if you don’t have the metrics. Investors will want to see a path to profitability, or an ability to turn profitable if the environment becomes worse. This will mean Saas companies with stable cash flows, vertical e-commerce with strong metrics will be attractive investment opportunities.

Investor selection will become critical, as investors take a wait and see approach. Existing or new investors into companies will be judged upon their dry powder in their funds and their ability to fund further rounds
The regulatory risk for fintech lenders will be higher this year, rising compliance cost and uncertainty on licensing, which would lead to consolidation in the market.

Heang Chhor, Qualgro
Southeast Asia: an intensifying battlefield for tech investments
There has never been so much VC money in Southeast Asia chasing interesting startups, at all life cycle stages. The 10 most active local and regional VCs have raised their second or third funds recently, amassing at least two times more money than a few years ago, probably reaching a total amount close to $1 billion. In addition, international VCs have also doubled down on their allocation into the region, while top Chinese VCs have visibly stated their intent not to miss the dynamic momentum. Several growth funds have recently built a local presence in order to target Southeast Asia tech companies at Series C and beyond. Not counting the amount going to the unicorns, there might be now more than $3-4 billion available for seed to growth stages, which may be 3-4 times the amount of three years ago. There are, of course, many more good startups coming up to invest into. But the most promising startups will be in a very favorable position to negotiate higher valuation and better terms. However, they should not forget that, eventually, what creates value is how they make a difference with their tech capabilities or their business model, how they acquire and retain the best talent, with the funds raised, not only how much money they will be able to raise. Most local and regional corporate VCs are likely to lose in this more intense investment game.

Significant VC money investing into so-called ‘AI-based startups’, but are there really much (deep) Artificial Intelligence capabilities around?
A good portion of the SEA startups claim they have ‘something-AI’. Investors are overwhelmed, if not confused, by the ‘AI claim’ that they find in most startup pitches. While there is no doubt that Southeast Asia will grow its own strong AI-competence pool in the future, unfortunately today most ‘AI-based’ business models from the region would still be just ‘good algorithms or machine learning’ that can process some amount of data to come up with good-enough outcomes, that do not always generate substantial business value to users/customers. The significant budget that some of the very-well-funded Southeast Asia unicorns are putting into their ‘AI-based apps’ or ‘AI platform’ is unlikely to make a real difference for the consumers, for lack of deep AI competences in the region. 2019 may be another year of AI-promise, not realized. Hopefully, public and private research labs, universities and startups will continue to be (much more) strongly supported (especially by governments) to significantly build bigger AI talent pool, which means growing and attracting AI talent into the region.
Bigger Series A and Series B rounds to fuel more convincing growth trajectory, towards growth-stage fundraising.
Although situations vary a lot: typical Series A in Southeast Asia used to be around $5 million, and Series B around $10-15 million. Investors tended to accept that normally companies would raise money after 18 months or so, between A and B, and between B and C. There has been an increasing number of larger raises at A and B recently, and very likely this trend will accelerate. The fact that VCs now have much more money to deploy into each investment will contribute to this trend. However, the required milestones for raising Series C have become much more around: minimum scale and very solid growth (and profit) drivers. Therefore, entrepreneurs will have to look for getting as much funding reserve as possible, irrespective of time between raises, to build growth engines that take their companies past the milestones of the next Series, be it B or C. In the future, we will see more Series A of $10 million and more Series B of well-above $20 million. Compelling businesses will not have too much difficulties for doing so, but most Southeast Asia entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to more effectively master fundraising skills for capturing much bigger amounts than in the past. Of course, this assumes that their businesses are compelling enough in the eyes of investors.

Vicknesh R Pillay, TNB Aura
Out-sized valuations will be less commonplace in 2019 as Southeast Asian investors learn from experience and become more sophisticated. Therefore, we do see opportunities at Series A/B for undervalued deals due to lack of early-stage funding while we expect to continue to see the trend of the majority of venture capital investments going into later stage companies (Series C and beyond) due to lower risk appetite and ‘herd’ mentality.

2018 has also seen the rapid emergence of many corporate venture capital funds and innovation programs. But, 2019 will see large corporations cutting back on their allocation towards startup investing which would be the easiest option for them in case of adverse news to the jittery public markets in 2019.
With the growth of AI, the need for API connections and increased thought leadership to embrace tech, Southeast Asia is going to see an upsurge in SaaS startups and existing startups moving to a Saas business model. Hence, we expect increased investments into Saas companies focused on IoT and cybersecurity as hardware data and software are moved onto the cloud.

Chua Kee Lock, Vertex Ventures
Southeast Asia VC investment pace has grown steadily and significantly since 2010 where it started from less than $100 million in VC investment in the region. For the first eight months of 2018, the region’s VC investment was over $5.4 billion. For the whole of 2018, it will likely end around $8 billion. For 2019, we expect the VC investment pace to surpass 2018 level and record between $9-10 billion. Southeast Asia will continue to attract more VC investments because:
(1) Governments in Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, continue their support policy to encourage startups.
(2) young demographics and the fast technology adoption in Southeast Asia give rise to more innovative and disruptive ideas.
(3) global investors looking for a better return and will naturally focus on growing emerging market like Southeast Asia.
The trend towards gig economy will begin to have an impact in the region. In developed economies like the U.S, gig economy is expected to reach over 40 percent by 2020. The young population will look for more freelance opportunities as a way to increase income levels while still maintaining flexibility. This will include white-collar work like computer programming, accounting, customer service, etc. and also blue-collar work like delivery services, ride-sharing, home services, etc. We believe that the gig economy will grow to over 15 percent in Southeast Asia by 2019.
AI-heavy or -driven startups will begin to make inroads into Southeast Asia.

Victor Chua, Vynn Capital
The BIG convergence — there will more integration between industries and sectors. Traveloka went into car rental, Blibli went into travel business and these are only some examples. There is a lot of synergistic value between travel startups and food startups or between property startups and automotive startups. Imagine a future where you travel to a city where you stay in an apartment you rented through a marketplace (like Travelio, my portfolio company), and when you need to book a restaurant you can make the reservation through a platform that is integrated with the property manager, and when you need to move around you go down to the car park to drive a car you rent from an automotive marketplace. There is clear synergy between selective industries and this leads to an overall convergence between companies, between industries.

More channels to raise Series B/C, early-stage companies find fundraising more challenging — We have seen a number of VC funds raising or already raised growth funds, this means that there are now more channels for Series A or B companies to raise growth rounds. As the market matures, there will be more competition for investments amongst growth funds as there is considerably more growth in the number of growth funds than companies that are raising at growth-stage. On the flip side, the feel is that there is a consistent growth in the number of early-stage companies, yet the amount of capital in early-stage funds is not growing as much as more VCs prefer bigger and later stages, due to the maturity of their existing portfolio companies.
Newcomers gaining weight — there will be at least 10 companies that will hit a valuation of at least $100 million. These valuations will not be based on a single market exposure. Companies that raise larger rounds will need to show that they are regional.

Thanks to all the VCs who took part, I certainly felt like the class teacher collecting assignments.

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Google launches clean energy project in Taiwan, its first in Asia

Google has launched its first clean energy project in Asia. The company announced today that it struck a long-term agreement to buy the output of a 10-megawatt solar array in Tainan City, Taiwan, about 100 km south of its data center in the country. Google already has solar and wind projects across North and South America, as well as Europe.
The agreement is a collaboration between Google, several Taiwanese energy companies, and the country’s government, which recently revised Taiwan’s Electricity Act to enable non-utility companies to purchase renewable energy directly. The revisions are part of Taiwan’s new energy policy, aimed at phasing out nuclear energy by 2025 and increasing the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 20 percent.
Google is the first corporate power buyers to take advantage of the revised law. Its development partners are Diode Ventures, Taiyen Green Energy, J&V Energy, and New Green Power.
The solar array will be connected to the same regional power grid at Google’s Chuanghua County data center, one of two in Asia (the other is in Singapore). The poles supporting the solar panels will be mounted into commercial fishing ponds, an arrangement that Marsden Hanna, Google’s senior lead of energy and infrastructure, said in a blog post will maximize land-use efficiency and respect the local ecology because “fish and solar panels can coexist peacefully.” Fishing pond owners will also be compensated for hosting the panels.
The agreement means Google will get a long-term, fixed electricity price for its operations in Taiwan.
“As the Taiwanese government pursues further measures to remove market barriers and reduce renewable energy costs, we’re hopeful that more companies will purchase renewable energy, driving even larger projects across Taiwan,” said Hanna.

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Uber Rewards is rolling out. Here’s how the perks work

Did you blow enough money on Uber to get Diamond status? A lot of users are finding out tonight as Uber rolls out its rider loyalty Rewards program to San Francisco and a slew of other cities. The feature calculates how much you’ve spent on Uber and Uber Eats in the last six months awards you perks like no-fee cancellations if you rebook, guaranteed prices between your two favorite spots, and free car upgrades. Uber confirms to TechCrunch that Rewards will roll out to the entire US soon but now is available in 25 places across the country.
Uber Rewards is still a bit complicated to be easy enough for everyone to quickly understand, but it does a good job of offering powerful perks and a way for everyone to earn $5 rebates. The program could discourage users from checking other ride hailing apps if their Uber’s ETA or price seems too high.
Meanwhile, Lyft’s loyalty program remains unseen. The competitor tried to steal the spotlight by announcing its own rewards system just two days before Uber, yet it seems like that was vaporware as it still hasn’t launched. Uber was far from first here, as Southeast Asia’s Grab has had rewards since 2016. But Uber could flex its deep pockets and cultural cache here by using slick product design to differentiate itself in a crowded market of lookalikes.

Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

How To Use Uber Rewards
Luckily, almost everything in Uber Rewards happens automatically. All you have to do is look out for the invitation to join at the bottom of the home screen and activate it. You’ll then see your tier and the associated perks that you’ll get to keep for the next six months.
The only non-retroactive perk is the $5 credits you get for each 500 points you earn going forward. You get 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. The one perk you have to configure yourself is if you’re platinum, you’ll have to choose which route to get price protection for. You probably want to pick your home and your most frequent destination or one of reasonable distance that you often travel to or from during rush hour.
Uber Rewards is now available in Boston, Dallas, Orange County, Houston, New Orleans, Kansas City, Indianapolis, LA, SF, Fort Collins, Rockies, Pittsburgh, Lehigh valley, Gettysburg, Erie, and Western Massachusetts. That’s on top of the launch cities of Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, and anywhere in New Jersey. Once Uber has nailed the experience in the US, it plans to roll it out to international locales.
Uber Rewards Levels
Now, here’s a breakdown of the Uber Rewards tiers, the best perks, and how much Ubering it takes to earn them (from our November post announcing the feature):
Blue: $5 credits
The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations
Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection
At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades
At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

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Juniper Networks invests $2.5M in enterprise tech accelerator Alchemist

Alchemist, which began as an experiment to better promote enterprise entrepreneurs, has morphed into a well-established Silicon Valley accelerator.
To prove it, San Francisco-based Alchemist is announcing a fresh $2.5 million investment ahead of its 20th demo day on Wednesday. Juniper Networks, a networking and cybersecurity solutions business, has led the round, with participation from Siemens’ venture capital unit Next47.
Launched in 2012 by former Draper Fisher Jurvetson investor Ravi Belani, Alchemist provides participating teams with six months of mentorship and a $36,000 investment. Alchemist admits companies whose revenue stream comes from enterprises, not consumers, with a bent toward technical founders.
According to numbers provided by the accelerator, dubbed the “Y Combinator of Enterprise,” 115 Alchemist portfolio companies have gone on to raise $556 million across several VC deals. Another 25 have been acquired, including S4 Capital’s recent $150 million acquisition of media consultancy MightyHive, Alchemist’s largest exit to date.
Other notable alums include Rigetti Computing, LaunchDarkly, which helps startups soft-launch features and drone startup Matternet.
Alchemist has previously raised venture capital funding, including a $2 million financing in 2017 led by GE and an undisclosed investment from Salesforce.
Nineteen companies will demo products onstage tomorrow. You can live stream Alchemist’s 20th demo day here.

A look at all the companies participating in 500 Startups’ 24th accelerator program

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Jupiter Networks invests $2.5M in enterprise tech accelerator Alchemist

Alchemist, which began as an experiment to better promote enterprise entrepreneurs, has morphed into a well-established Silicon Valley accelerator.
To prove it, San Francisco-based Alchemist is announcing a fresh $2.5 million investment ahead of its 20th demo day on Wednesday. Jupiter Networks, a networking and cybersecurity solutions business, has led the round, with participation from Siemens’ venture capital unit Next47.
Launched in 2012 by former Draper Fisher Jurvetson investor Ravi Belani, Alchemist provides participating teams with six months of mentorship and a $36,000 investment. Alchemist admits companies whose revenue stream comes from enterprises, not consumers, with a bent toward technical founders.
According to numbers provided by the accelerator, dubbed the “Y Combinator of Enterprise,” 115 Alchemist portfolio companies have gone on to raise $556 million across several VC deals. Another 25 have been acquired, including S4 Capital’s recent $150 million acquisition of media consultancy MightyHive, Alchemist’s largest exit to date.
Other notable alums include Rigetti Computing, LaunchDarkly, which helps startups soft-launch features and drone startup Matternet.
Alchemist has previously raised venture capital funding, including a $2 million financing in 2017 led by GE and an undisclosed investment from Salesforce.
Nineteen companies will demo products onstage tomorrow. You can live stream Alchemist’s 20th demo day here.

A look at all the companies participating in 500 Startups’ 24th accelerator program

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Watch Blue Origin’s 10th New Shepard mission launch a science-loaded capsule to space

Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is about to undertake the 10th launch of its New Shepard launch vehicle, with its capsule chock full of experiments. The launch, which was originally scheduled for a month ago but delayed for various reasons, will take place tomorrow at 6:50 AM Pacific time.
New Shepard is a sub-orbital space-visiting platform, not a satellite-launching one. But it uses a very traditional method of getting to the edge of space compared with Virgin Galactic’s rather involved mothership-spaceship combo, which scraped the very edge of space in its fourth test launch last month.
The rocket shoots straight up, as rockets do, reaches escape velocity, then pops its capsule off the top just before the Karman line that officially, if somewhat arbitrarily, delineates space from Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule, after exhausting its upward momentum, gently floats back to the surface under a parachute.
That’s the plan for Wednesday’s launch, which you can watch live here starting half an hour or so before T-0. But instead of taking a dummy load or “Mannequin Skywalker,” as the company calls its human stand-in during tests of the crew capsule, mission 10 has a whole collection of experiments on board.
There are nine experiments total, all flying through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. They’re detailed here. Most have already been up in other vehicles or even a Blue Origin one, but obviously repetition and iteration is important to their development.
“The opportunity to re-fly our payload is helping us not only validate and compare data for different flight profiles, but also test modifications and upgrades,” said NASA’s Kathryn Hurlbert, who heads up the Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2 project at Johnson Space Center.
More Flight Opportunities spots will be available on future NASA-sponsored launches, so if your lab has an experiment it would like to test on a sub-orbital rocket, get at the administrators as soon as the shutdown ends.

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Elon Musk says Tesla vehicles will soon get a ‘Sentry Mode’

Tesla owners may soon have a way to see (and record) damage that happens to their vehicles when they’re unattended.
Tesla will roll out “Tesla Sentry Mode” for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot, CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet Tuesday. Musk didn’t provide any more information about when this feature might be available and how it might work.
TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for more details.
The name suggests that this feature would stand guard, so to speak, by either keeping the dash cam on while parked or having it automatically turn on if the car is hit or being tampered with. It could operate similar to aftermarket product Owl security camera; although, again, details are scant.

Tesla Sentry Mode coming soon for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot https://t.co/x2buQWiABX
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 22, 2019

Almost ready to roll out. Regulators just approved.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 22, 2019

In October, Tesla released version 9.0 of its software, which featured a number of updates, including a new UI on the center display and the ability to use the built-in forward-facing cameras as a dash cam. The dash cam feature is available only in Tesla vehicles built after August 2017.
The dash cam feature currently lets owners record and store onto a USB flash drive video footage captured by their car’s forward-facing camera. Owners first must configure a USB flash drive in Windows or MS-DOS file architecture and add a base-level folder in the flash drive called TeslaCam. The configured USB flash drive can then be inserted into either one of the USB ports in the front of the vehicle. When properly configured, the dash cam icon pops up on the status bar with a red dot indicating that it is recording.
Owners can tap the icon to save a 10-minute video clip or press and hold to pause recording. Recordings that aren’t downloaded are automatically deleted.

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Viacom buys the free video streaming service Pluto.tv for $340 million

Viacom is bucking the trend of launching new premium subscription-based entertainment offerings with its bid to acquire Pluto TV for $340 million in cash.
It’s a way to distribute the company’s once mighty-with-millennial properties like Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, MTV and BET to an audience that doesn’t pay for cable and boost the audience and reach for its recent acquisitions Awesomeness and Whosay.
Launched in 2013, Pluto TV has built a catalog of titles by licensing movies and television shows from studios as well as content from YouTube and other short-form digital media distributors. The company now offers more than 100 channels from 130 content partners that it distributes to roughly 12 million monthly active users — 7.5 million who access it through connected televisions.

“Today marks an important step forward in Viacom’s evolution, as we work to move both our company and the industry forward. Pluto TV’s unique and market-leading product, combined with Viacom’s brands, content, advanced advertising capabilities and global scale, creates a great opportunity for consumers, partners and Viacom,” said Bob Bakish, Viacom president and chief executive, in a statement. “As the video marketplace continues to segment, we see an opportunity to support the ecosystem in creating products at a broad range of price points, including free. To that end, we see significant white space in the ad-supported streaming market and are excited to work with the talented Pluto TV team, and a broad range of Viacom partners, to accelerate its growth in the U.S. and all over the world.”
Pluto Tv will operate as an independent subsidiary of Viacom and its chief executive and co-founder, Tom Ryan, will continue to serve as CEO of the independent entity.
“Since our launch less than five years ago, and particularly over the past year, Pluto TV has enjoyed explosive growth and become the category leader in free streaming television,” said Pluto TV CEO and co-founder Tom Ryan. “Viacom’s portfolio of global, iconic brands and IP, advanced advertising leadership and international reach will enable Pluto TV to grow even faster and become a major force in streaming TV worldwide. Viacom is the perfect partner to help us accomplish our mission of entertaining the planet.”
The deal is also a win for Pluto TV’s venture capital investors. Since its founding, Pluto TV had raised $51.8 million from investors, including USVP, ProSiebenSat.1 Media, Scripps Networks Interactive, Sky, United Talent Agency, Luminari Capital, Chicago Ventures, Pritzker Group and others.

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Rocket Lab snags DARPA launch contract for first 2019 mission

Launch startup Rocket Lab is following the success of its first couple commercial launches by adding a prestigious (and deep-pocketed) new client: DARPA. The New Zealand-based company will send an experimental satellite called R3D2 into low Earth orbit sometime in late February if all goes well.
DARPA is of course the Defense Department’s research wing, and it probably has whole file folders filled with experiments it would like to send up to orbit but has deferred because of cost or timing restrictions. Rocket Lab’s whole business model is to make launches cheap and frequent so neither of those apply, and DARPA seems willing to give it a shot.

After first commercial launch, Rocket Lab announces $140 million in funding

“The Department of Defense has prioritized rapid acquisition of small satellite and launch capabilities. By relying on commercial acquisition practices, DARPA streamlined the R3D2 mission from conception through launch services acquisition,” explained DARPA’s Fred Kennedy, director of the Tactical Technology Office, in a news release.
“The ability to rapidly space-qualify new technology and deploy space-based assets with confidence on short notice is a service that didn’t exist for dedicated small satellites until now,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck in his company’s corresponding release.
Apparently it’s nicknamed “Wallaby,” perhaps because it keeps things in a pouch.
The satellite itself is actually more of a short-term science experiment. It’s a “membrane antenna,” a thin layer of Kapton folded up into a tiny space that, upon reaching orbit, will unfurl to its full 7-foot diameter. The larger surface area may make for better signal reception and transmission, and packing into a smaller area of course makes more room for other components. (R3D2 stands for Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration, by the way.)
The whole thing weighs 150 kilograms, or about 330 pounds; that doesn’t leave a lot of space for ride sharing, so DARPA is paying for the whole Electron rocket. The plan is to launch in late February from Rocket Lab’s facility in New Zealand on the Māhia Peninsula. The exact date will only become clear once weather and other variables for that period are determined.
Fingers crossed for Rocket Lab on this one. It’s already done launches for private companies and for NASA; adding DARPA to the Rolodex would be a big coup for a company looking to build up its profile.

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