Months after a big round, African fintech startup Jumo has pulled in a fresh $12.5 million to add more fuel for its expansion into Asia Pacific.
The new investment comes from London-based investment fund Odey Asset Management, and it is an extension to a $52 million round that closed back in September. The deal takes Jumo, which recently moved its headquarters to Singapore, to $103 million raised from investors. Its backers include Goldman Sachs, Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — and Finnfund, and it was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year.
Founded in 2014, Jumo specializes in social impact financial products, such as microloans, savings and insurance. It started out in Tanzania, and today it claims to have originated over $1 billion on loans. Since September, when it announced a first expansion into Asia via Pakistan, it claims it has grown to 10 million people saving or borrowing from its platform from a previous nine million. The company has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia.
Over the last year, the company said it has doubled the number of financial service providers and telcos on its platform. Of those deals, one of its highest profile is a digital finance product for Uber drivers that’s live in Kenya. That collaboration is likely to expand in Africa and potentially beyond, Jumo said.
Expansion is very much the name of the game all round for the company. Jumo CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball told TechCrunch in September that there are plans to expand to more Asian markets next year but, for now, the company isn’t saying which ones.
Netatmo is announcing its first new product following its acquisition by Legrand — and it’s a connected doorbell. The company says that it is the first Apple HomeKit compatible doorbell but other companies could still beat Netatmo by releasing their product sooner.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a connected doorbell, the main issue is that Ring, August and other brands require a subscription to store video footage and more advanced feature. Netatmo doesn’t want to get in the subscription business and lets you access all features without a subscription.
The doorbell is called the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell — a very descriptive name that is going to work well in search engines. It requires a standard doorbell wire and connects to your Wi-Fi network. When somebody presses the button, you receive a notification on your phone and can view the video feed. You can press a button and talk to the person if you’re not home.
It also acts as an outdoor security camera by alerting you if somebody is in front of your house. You receive a “person detected” notification and can talk to the intruder. It also works in the dark using infrared. In other words, it can replace your Netatmo Presence security camera.
Video footage is stored on a microSD card on the device. The company never stores video on its servers, which is a big advantage if you care about privacy. You can optionally configure the device to automatically upload videos to your Dropbox account or a standard FTP server.
The doorbell is compatible with IFTTT and HomeKit. This way, you can view your camera from the Home app on your iPhone or Mac and you can create chained events. For instance, you can turn on your Philips Hue lights if somebody is detected outside your home.
The device will be available at some point during the second half of 2019. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet.
Drive.ai, the self-driving car startup with roots in Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, has partnered with Frisco, Texas and the Hall Group to deploy the first autonomous ride-hailing platform in the state of Texas.
Initially, the platform will be available to more than 10,000 members of Hall Group’s commercial and residential communities. Through the service, people will be able to hail free autonomous rides from fixed pickup locations to fixed drop-off locations.
“Self-driving cars are here, and can improve the way we live right now,” Drive.ai co-founder and CEO Sameep Tandon said in a press release. “Our technology is safe, smart, and adaptive, and we are ready to work with governments and businesses to solve their transportation needs. Working with the City of Frisco and Frisco TMA, this pilot program will take people to the places they want to go and transform the way they experience transportation.”
Before the July launch, Drive.ai will be collecting data along the routes and working with the city to educate people about self-driving technology. During this trial period, which starts in July and will run for six months, the service will be limited to employees, residents and patrons of Hall properties. Down the road, the goal is to open up the program to all residents of Frisco.
“Today definitely marks a mobility milestone for our entire region,” Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said in a press release. “It also gets us closer to achieving one of our council’s ‘Top Ten’ goals, which is to improve traffic throughout Frisco, one of the fastest growing cities in the country.”
In September, Drive.ai announced a partnership with Lyft to launch an autonomous ride-hailing program in the San Francisco Bay Area. That program has yet to launch.
“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook’ Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.
Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.
A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:
We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.
So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.
Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too so no need to pester me with a notification.
But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.
Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow”, and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about over use, we may be able to make swifter progress towards them respecting our attention.
Real estate-focused MetaProp NYC has been adding new programs on top of its core accelerator. The latest: The MetaProp Bridge at Columbia University.
It’s an international accelerator designed specifically for real estate and property tech-related startups from Europe, the Middle East and Africa that are looking to expand into North America. Participants get access to MetaProp mentors, advisory services and up to $250,000 in financing.
The 14-week program begins with eight weeks in London before moving to New York City and concluding with a two-week, five-city roadshow across North America.
“From our first days on the ground in London, it was clear that this is a critical time for PropTech in EMEA,” said MetaProp’s Leila Collins in a statement. “There is an abundance of compelling technology for the real estate industry emerging from the region. We are happy to now have the infrastructure to partner with and support some of the most promising EMEA PropTech startups as they launch in North America.”
MetaProp says that less than 4 percent of applicants were admitted to this inaugural cohort. Here are the four participating startups:
Airlite says it’s creating natural paint that also purifies odors, bacteria and other air pollution. (UK, Switzerland and Italy)
720° is a cloud-based analytics service for monitoring indoor air and environmental quality. (Finland)
Frontdoor offers business intelligence for real estate agents. (France)
YourWelcome is building a technology hub for vacation rental owners — specifically a tablet where they can provide instructions for their guests and earn money by offering tickets and deals. (UK)
WhatsApp has added a much-requested new feature after it began to allow users to make group voice and video calls.
It’s been just over three years since the company, which is owned by Facebook, introduced voice calls and later a video option one year later. Today, WhatsApp counts over 1.5 billion monthly users and it says they make over two billion minutes of calls via its service each day.
Starting this week, callers can now add friends by hitting the “add participant” button which appears in the top right corner of their screen. The maximum number of participants is four and, impressively, WhatsApp said the calls are end-to-end encrypted.
That’s not an easy thing to do. Telegram, a self-professed secure messaging app, hasn’t even gotten around to encrypting its group messaging chats, let alone group calls.
On the encryption side, WhatsApp has long worked with WhisperSystems to cover all messages and calls on its platform from prying eyes and ears. That said, the relationship between the two become a little more complicated this year when WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton donated $50 million of his wealth — accumulated from Facebook’s acquisition of his company in 2014 — to the Signal Foundation, which is associated with WhisperSystems.
Acton quit Facebook last year — this year he encouraged people to delete the social network for its data and privacy screw-ups — while his fellow WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum joined him in departing in May of this year.
Like Acton, Koum was apparently irked by scandals such as Cambridge Analytica, although his on record explanation for quitting was to “do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee.” Each to their own…
Facebook Watch has failed to capture viewers with its content, so it’s hoping to differentiate through the company’s core strength: social. Today Facebook fully launches Watch Party, its co-viewing feature where users can see and comment on the same video at the same time, to all profiles and Pages around the world.
Watch Party had previously launched in Groups and been in testing with other types of accounts. But now any profile or business can post a Watch party invite to sync up with other users and simultaneously view videos they’ve discovered on Facebook.
Watch’s content lineup is still lackluster compared to YouTube, Netflix, or even Snapchat Discover. CNBC reports Facebook is giving up on younger teens that are already ditching its app, and pivoting the video hub toward an older audience. Facebook is hoping a shared experience with users commenting together on clips could make Watch more appealing, but it’s a genuinely new behavior that may prove difficult to instill.
Facebook is also testing a few other tricks to breathe life into Watch. Pages and Groups will be able to schedule a Watch Party to draw more viewers, maybe by setting up a nightly gathering. Watch Parties with lots of activity will have their comments threaded so it’s easier to follow discussions.
And most interestingly, Facebook will try allowing Watch Party hosts to go Live picture-in-picture so they can commentate in real time. This could be a hit with celebrities, as it will make users feel like they’re sitting beside them watching TV together. Basketball star Shaq will test out the Live Commentating feature through his Page tomorrow.
Watch Party’s statistics sound impressive, with 12 million started from Groups so far, 7X more daily Watch Parties in Groups per day since its launch in July and 8X more commenting than on non-Live/synced videos. Pages are using it to let fans binge-watch playlists of their old videos, replay their TV content for users in different time zones and let fans ask each other and the hosts questions about recipes as they cook.
But given Facebook’s 2.2 billion total monthly users, billion-plus Groups users and the fact that measuring growth in multiples is easy when you start with a low number, the feature clearly hasn’t reached the zeitgeist yet.
Perhaps the best hope for Watch and Watch Party is a feature TechCrunch broke the news on last week: Facebook is now internally testing a Watch Party-like co-viewing feature inside Messenger. Baking the option into chat might be a lot more natural, especially in group texts.
Facebook has been desperately trying to shift video consumption behavior from passive zombie viewing to interactive and social engagement with fellow viewers. But that only works if the content is compelling.
Beyond a reboot of MTV’s The Real World, nothing on Watch truly stands out. Facebook may need to open up its wallet and pay big for more tent pole shows to pull in users and hope they get lost commenting on clips with friends and like-minds.
Google today announced an expansion of its educational initiatives with the Chromebook App Hub from Google for Education, due to launch later in 2019. The new resource is designed to offer teachers and other curriculum administrators an easier, more centralized means of finding the appropriate educational tools and apps they can use in the classroom.
Teachers often surf the web to find ideas and activities to help them with their lesson plans, while the school’s IT and other curriculum specialists regularly field app requests from teachers, but have to ensure the programs the teachers want to use are allowed by the district’s policies, explains Google.
Meanwhile, the companies that build edtech applications want to be able to reach teachers and educators to tell them about their software solutions.
That’s where the Chromebook App Hub would come in. But unlike a traditional app marketplace that offers only a searchable list of apps to try, the App Hub aims to show in a more concrete fashion how the apps can be used in the classroom.
Google says it worked with the EdTechTeam and other educators to author what it’s calling “idea sparks” — which are examples of how apps can be used, along with tips, differentiated instruction strategies and links to more resources that can help, like videos, activities and useful websites. The idea here is to provide more than a set of apps to choose from, but to offer a complete set of tools and information needed to actually put the apps to work in the classroom by allowing educators to learn from one another.
“In my experience, teachers learn about applications in two ways: learning about a new lesson idea that has the app integrated into it, or hearing about an app that sounds awesome and want to get ideas about how to use it,” explained Kate Petty, the director of Educational Learning at EdTechTeam, in an announcement. “Idea Sparks give teachers an opportunity to learn about new idea sparks and, even better, will provide an opportunity for teachers to share what they have created,” she said.
Google also worked with the nonprofit Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) to help app developers better consider the data privacy aspects of their products. This way, districts can search the App Hub for those solutions that match up with their own data privacy requirements.
The App Hub can also be searched and filtered by the idea category, subject, age range and learning goal.
The launch of App Hub, which is expected for later in the year, follows a series of moves by Google that focus on bringing to the classroom its Chromebook platform, tools and services — whether that’s upgraded devices designed for classroom use, or its browser-based software for teachers, like Classroom, Forms and Quizzes, as well as G Suite for Education.
Google said at the beginning of the year it now has 80 million educators and students using G Suite for Education, 40 million students and teachers on Google Classroom and 30 million more using Google Chromebooks both inside and outside the classroom.
YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Apple, Pinterest and now Vimeo have removed Infowars content from their services. The video streaming platform is the latest in a growing wave of tech companies pull videos from embattled right-wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones.
Jones has been under fire for years over conspiracy driven output, surrounding events like the Sandy Hook shooting and 9/11. In spite of what are largely regarded as fringe views, however, he’s amassed a massive viewership, and even scored an interview with Donald Trump in the lead up to the 2016 election.
Vimeo suddenly found itself at the center of the on-going Infowars debate after the show was barred from a number of competing sites. Earlier in the week, it was host to a handful of Jones-produced videos, but that number jumped suddenly when north of 50 more were uploaded to the service on Thursday and Friday.
Vimeo pulled the content over the weekend, citing a Terms of Service violation. The move, which was reported by Business Insider, has since been confirmed by TechCrunch.
“We can confirm that Vimeo removed InfoWars’ account on Sunday, August 12 following the uploading of videos on Thursday and Friday that violated our Terms of Service prohibitions on discriminatory and hateful content. Vimeo has notified the account owner and issued a refund,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Infowars is moving quickly from one platform to the next, as more sites remove content over TOS violations. Twitter remains steadfast in its decision not to remove Jones, however, instead holding journalists accountable for debunking his content. Jones has also apparently found some solace in the social ghost town that is Google+.
TechCrunch is pleased to announce that Nubank co-founder Cristina Junqueira and co-founder/CEO David Vélez will join us in a fireside chat at Startup Battlefield Latin America on November 8 at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo, Brazil.
Nubank’s product is a no-fee credit card managed through a mobile app. Investors like Sequoia, Kaszek, Tiger Global and Goldman Sachs bet on the company’s potential to challenge Brazil’s big banks. The São Paulo-based company raised a total of $527.6 million in funding over eight rounds, making it the most recent business to reach unicorn status in the region. The fintech passed the milestone of 4 million credit card clients on its platform in May 2018, up from 3 million in late 2017.
Fueled by mega rounds from Western players like Andreessen, Sequoia, Accel and SoftBank, venture investment into Latin America doubled in 2017, reaching an all-time high of $1.1 billion. The cash flow continued as more than $600 million was invested into Latin American companies in the first quarter of 2018. Market conditions like rapid smartphone adoption in highly populated countries like Brazil and a growing demand for digital services position Latin America for a big tech breakout.
Who better to speak to this trend and discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for early-stage companies in the region than one of the top-funded startups?
Before founding Nubank in 2013, Vélez was a partner at Sequoia Capital, helping the firm scout opportunities to invest in Latin America. He previously worked in investment banking and growth equity at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and General Atlantic. Junqueira is the co-founder and VP of Branding and Business Development at Nubank. Prior to Nubank, she worked for many years at Itaú Unibanco dealing with product and marketing for the bank’s consumer loan and credit card businesses.
The pair will take the stage in what will surely be a fascinating talk about disrupting big banks, securing funding and what’s next for early-stage startups in the Latin America region. You can catch the interview with Nubank’s founders, more panel discussions and, of course, the Startup Battlefield competition at Startup Battlefield Latin America on November 8 at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo, Brazil. Apply for your free spectator tickets here.
Uber is racing ahead to become the go-to multi-modal transportation service. On the heels of a multimillion-dollar acquisition of JUMP bikes, the launch of UberRENT, its permit application to deploy electric scooters in San Francisco and a partnership with public transit company Masabi, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has tapped Rachel Holt to lead the company’s New Modalities organization.
As head of New Modalities, Holt will be responsible for the ramp-up and onboarding of additional mobility services — be that public transit integration, scooters, car rentals, bikes and whatever else Uber has up its sleeves. That means she’ll also work closely with JUMP CEO Ryan Rzepecki.
“I’m excited to bring my learnings and experiences scaling Uber’s rides business to bear as we incubate and build new ways to move around the more than 600 cities we serve,” Holt said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.
Holt has worked at Uber since October 2011, when the company was live in just three cities. In May 2016, she became VP and regional general manager of Uber’s operations in the U.S. and Canada.
The move signals the seriousness of Uber’s efforts to expand beyond traditional ridesharing, and even autonomous ridesharing. Khosrowshahi has repeatedly voiced his intent for Uber to become a multi-modal transportation company, so the creating of a new department is not all that surprising. And as Uber gets closer to its 2019 initial public offering, the company is clearly trying to highlight its variety of potential revenue streams.
Uber CEO outlines mobility plans
Podcasting has grown tremendously in recent years, and a Stockholm-based company called Acast is looking to help all those podcasters make money.
Acast is announcing today that it has raised $35 million in Series C funding, bringing its total funding to more than $67 million. Investors in the round include AP1 (which manages some of the capital in Sweden’s national income pension system), as well as Swedbank Robur funds Ny Teknik and Microcap.
Ross Adams, who became Acast’s CEO last fall, told me that the money will allow Acast to expand, both in terms of its product offerings and the geographies where it operates.
The company has focused on bringing technology to the surprisingly old-fashioned world of podcast advertising. In fact, it pioneered the practice of dynamically inserting ads into podcasts — as opposed to the model where (as Adams put it), “When you listen to a five-year-old podcast, you’ll hear the host read a five-year-old ad.”
Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with the BBC, allowing the BBC’s podcasts to remain ad-free in the United Kingdom while inserting ads everywhere else.
“We don’t mind if your show is absolutely huge or absolutely tiny,” Adams said. “The model we have allows a serious mainstream publisher like the BBC to monetize — or a bedroom podcast hobbyist.”
At the same time, Adams wants Acast to support other business models. It’s already experimenting with paid, premium content through its Acast+ app, but it sounds like there are more paid podcast products in the works: “We want to be that central point of monetization, [whether] they make money through advertising or they’re looking at premium offerings.”
As for geographic expansion, Acast says it launched in Ireland, New Zealand and Denmark this year. It also plans to grow in the United States, which currently represents 25 percent of all listens on the platform.
Acast is also looking to bring podcast monetization into new hardware — Adams said the company has spent much of the past year focused on the smart speaker market. Those speakers present new opportunities for content (Adams said it’s less about “longer-form storytelling” and more “short-form shows for your daily consumption in the morning”), and new challenges for advertising.
Adams is hoping that if Acast can solve those challenges, it won’t just be monetizing the smart home market, but also moving into cars and anywhere else you might find “voice-enabled technology.”
What’s next for podcasting?