If you’re an experienced traveler, you know that plenty of your delays are due to your plane being stuck somewhere else or because the weather at your local or arrival airport isn’t ideal (I’m looking at you, fogged-in SFO in the morning). So you also know to check on your incoming flight, even when the airline tells you everything is fine, and the FAA’s airspace status pages.
But maybe you are not a frequent flier (be glad and rejoice) or don’t care to go through that process. In that case, you’ll be happy to hear that Google today announced that its Assistant will soon proactively notify you on your phone when its algorithms predict that your flight will be late. This feature is rolling out now and should be available to all users in the next few weeks.
It’s worth noting that flight delay predictions from Google aren’t new. It introduced its first iteration of this in January. At the time, it didn’t proactively alert you of those delays, though. You first had to search for your flight. So unless you knew this feature existed, you probably never saw it in action.
Google says it mostly uses machine learning algorithms trained on historic flight data to predict delays. In addition, though, the company also clearly looks at some other information, given that it knows about delays of incoming flights, too.
The airlines aren’t kidding when they tell you that you should still be at the gate at the original time, by the way. If you’re flying through a hub, they could still swap in another plane, after all. If you’re like me, though, instead of taking to the friendly skies, you will likely have to sit in Newark until well after midnight before the plane finally arrives. That’ll be right as your crew times out and with the next available reserve crew hours away. Chances are Google wouldn’t have been able to alert me of those delays, though, given that incompetence isn’t something it can predict yet, after all.
There’s NSFW language in the video above. Enjoy.
Far from Apple’s troubles in emerging markets and China, the company is attracting the ire of what should really be a core supporter demographic naturally aligned with the pro-privacy stance CEO Tim Cook has made into his public soapbox in recent years — but which is instead crying foul over perceived hypocrisy.
The problem for this subset of otherwise loyal European iPhone users is that Apple isn’t offering enough privacy.
These users want more choice over key elements such as the search engine that can be set as the default in Safari on iOS (Apple currently offers four choices: Google, Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, all U.S. search engines; and with ad tech giant Google set as the default).
It is also being called out over other default settings that undermine its claims to follow a privacy by design philosophy. Such as the iOS location services setting which, once enabled, non-transparently flip an associated sub-menu of settings — including location-based Apple ads. Yet bundled consent is never the same as informed consent…
6/ and @Apple also defaults to ON, approx 13 location settings the moment a user enables location settings that includes using YOUR location to support APPLE’s advertising business interests & $$$. By ‘enabling location based services’ you give your consent to this @tim_cook pic.twitter.com/scYSg94QgY
— Privacy Matters (@PrivacyMatters) October 19, 2018
As the saying goes you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But the new normal of a saturated smartphone market is imposing new pressures that will require a reconfiguration of approach.
Certainly the challenges of revenue growth and user retention are only going to step up from here on in. So keeping an otherwise loyal base of users happy and — crucially — feeling listened to and well served is going to be more and more important for the tech giant as the back and forth business of services becomes, well, essential to its fortunes going forward.
(At least barring some miracle new piece of Apple hardware — yet to be unboxed but which somehow rekindles smartphone-level demand afresh. That’s highly unlikely in any medium term timeframe given how versatile and capable the smartphone remains; ergo Apple’s greatest success is now Apple’s biggest challenge.)
With smartphone hardware replacement cycles slowing, the pressure on Cook to accelerate services revenue naturally steps up — which could in turn increase pressure on the core principles Cupertino likes to flash around.
Yet without principles there can be no brand premium for Apple to command. So that way ruin absolutely lies.
It’s true that controlling the iOS experience by applying certain limits to deliver mainstream consumer friendly hardware served Apple well for years. But it’s also true iOS has grown in complexity over time having dropped some of its control freakery.
Elements that were previously locked down have been opened up — like the keyboard, for instance, allowing for third party keyboard apps to be installed by users that wish to rethink how they type.
This shift means the imposed limit on which search engines users can choose to set as an iOS default looks increasingly hard for Apple to justify from a user experience point of view.
Though of course from a business PoV Apple benefits by being able to charge Google a large sum of money to remain in the plum search default spot. (Reportedly a very large sum, though claims that the 2018 figure was $9BN have not been confirmed. Unsurprisingly neither party wants to talk about the terms of the transaction.)
The problem for Apple is that indirectly benefiting from Google eroding the user privacy it claims to champion — by letting the ad tech giant pay it to suck up iOS users’ search queries by default — is hardly consistent messaging.
Not when privacy is increasingly central to the premium the Apple brand commands.
Cook has also made a point of strongly and publicly attacking the ‘data industrial complex‘. Yet without mentioning the inconvenient side-note that Apple also engages in trading user data for profit in some instances, albeit indirectly.
In 2017 Apple switched from using Bing to Google for Siri web search results. So even as it has stepped up its rhetoric around user privacy it has deepened its business relationship with one of the Western Internet’s primary data suckers.
All of which makes for a very easy charge of hypocrisy.
Of course Apple offers iOS users a non-tracking search engine choice, DuckDuckGo, as an alternative choice — and has done so since 2014’s iOS 8.
Its support for a growing but still very niche product in what are mainstream consumer devices is an example of Apple being true to its word and actively championing privacy.
The presence of the DDG startup alongside three data-mining tech giants has allowed those ‘in the know’ iOS users to flip the bird at Google for years, meaning Apple has kept privacy conscious consumers buying its products (if not fully on side with all its business choices).
But that sort of compromise position looks increasingly difficult for Apple to defend.
Not if it wants privacy to be the clear blue water that differentiates its brand in an era of increasingly cut-throat and cut-price Android -powered smartphone competition that’s serving up much the same features at a lower up-front price thanks to all the embedded data-suckers.
There is also the not-so-small matter of the inflating $1,000+ price-tags on Apple’s top-of-the-range iPhones. $1,000+ for a smartphone that isn’t selling your data by default might still sound very pricy but at least you’d be getting something more than just shiny glass for all those extra dollars. But the iPhone isn’t actually that phone. Not by default.
Apple may be taking a view that the most privacy sensitive iPhone users are effectively a captive market with little option but to buy iOS hardware, given the Google-flavored Android competition. Which is true but also wouldn’t bode well for the chances of Apple upselling more services to these people to drive replacement revenue in a saturated smartphone market.
Offending those consumers who otherwise could be your very best, most committed and bought in users seems short-sighted and short-termist to say the least.
Although removing Google as the default search provider in markets where it dominates would obviously go massively against the mainstream grain that Apple’s business exists to serve.
This logic says Google is in the default position because, for most Internet users, Google search remains their default.
Indeed, Cook rolled out this exact line late last year when asked to defend the arrangement in an interview with Axios on HBO — saying: “I think their search engine is the best.”
He also flagged various pro-privacy features Apple has baked into its software in recent years, such as private browsing mode and smart tracker prevention, which he said work against the data suckers.
Albeit, that’s a bit like saying you’ve scattered a few garlic cloves around the house after inviting the thirsty vampire inside. And Cook readily admitted the arrangement isn’t “perfect”.
Clearly it’s a trade off. But Apple benefitting financially is what makes this particular trade-off whiff.
It implies Apple does indeed have an eye on quarterly balance sheets, and the increasingly important services line item specifically, in continuing this imperfect but lucrative arrangement — rather than taking a longer term view as the company purports to, per Cook’s letter to shareholders this week; in which he wrote: “We manage Apple for the long term, and Apple has always used periods of adversity to re-examine our approach, to take advantage of our culture of flexibility, adaptability and creativity, and to emerge better as a result.”
If Google’s search product is the best and Apple wants to take the moral high ground over privacy by decrying the surveillance industrial complex it could maintain the default arrangement in service to its mainstream base but donate Google’s billions to consumer and digital rights groups that fight to uphold and strengthen the privacy laws that people-profiling ad tech giants are butting hard against.
Apple’s shareholders might not like that medicine, though.
More palatable for investors would be for Apple to offer a broader choice of alternative search engines, thereby widening the playing field and opening up to more pro-privacy Google alternatives.
It could also design this choice in a way that flags up the trade-off to its millions of users. Such as, during device set-up, proactively asking users whether they want to keep their Internet searches private by default or use Google?
When put like that rather more people than you imagine might choose not to opt for Google to be their search default.
Non-tracking search engine DDG has been growing steadily for years, for example, hitting 30M daily searches last fall — with year-on-year growth of ~50%.
Given the terms of the Apple-Google arrangement sit under an NDA (as indeed all these arrangements do; DDG told us it couldn’t share any details about its own arrangement with Apple, for e.g.) it’s not clear whether one of Google’s conditions requires there be a limit on how many other search engines iOS users can pick from.
But it’s at least a possibility that Google is paying Apple to limit how many rivals sit in the list of competitors iOS users can pick out an alternative default. (It has, after all, recently been spanked in Europe for anti-competitive contractual limits imposed on Android OEMs to limit their ability to use alternatives to Google products, including search. So you could say Google has history where search is concerned.)
Equally, should Google actually relaunch a search product in China — as it’s controversially been toying with doing — it’s likely the company would push Apple to give it the default slot there too.
Though Apple would have more reason to push back, given Google would likely remain a minnow in that market. (Apple currently defaults to local search giant Baidu for iOS users in China.)
So even the current picture around search on iOS is a little more fuzzy than Cook likes to make out.
China is an interesting case, because if you look at Apple’s growth challenges in that market you could come to a very different conclusion vis-a-vis the power of privacy as a brand premium.
In China it’s convenience, via the do-it-all ‘Swiss army knife’ WeChat platform, that’s apparently the driving consumer force — and now also a headwind for Apple’s business there.
At the same time, the idea of users in the market having any kind of privacy online — when Internet surveillance has been imposed and ‘normalized’ by the state — is essentially impossible to imagine.
Yet Apple continues doing business in China, netting it further charges of hypocrisy.
Its revised guidance this week merely spotlights how important China and emerging markets are to its business fortunes. A principled pull-out hardly looks to be on the cards.
All of which underscores growing emerging market pressures on Apple that might push harder against its stated principles. What price privacy indeed?
It’s clear that carving out growth in a saturated smartphone market is going to be an increasingly tricky business for all players, with the risk of fresh trade-offs and pitfalls looming especially for Apple.
Negotiating this terrain certainly demands a fresh approach, as Cook implies is on his mind, per the shareholder letter.
Arguably the new normal may also call for an increasingly localized approach as a way to differentiate in a saturated and samey smartphone market.
The old Apple ‘one-sized fits all’ philosophy is already very outdated for some users and risks being caught flat-footed on a growing number of fronts — be that if your measure is software ‘innovation’ or a principled position on privacy.
An arbitrary limit on the choice of search engine your users can pick seems a telling example. Why not offer iOS users a free choice?
Or are Google’s billions really standing in the way of that?
It’s certainly an odd situation that iPhone owners in France, say, can pick from a wide range of keyboard apps — from mainstream names to superficial bling-focused glitter and/or neon LED keyboard skins or indeed emoji and GIF-obsessed keyboards — but if they want to use locally developed pro-privacy search engine Qwant on their phone’s native browser they have to tediously surf to the company’s webpage every time they want to look something up.
Google search might be the best for a median average ‘global’ (excluding China) iOS user but in an age of increasingly self-focused and self-centred technology, with ever more demanding consumers, there’s really no argument against letting people who want to choose for themselves.
In Europe there’s also the updated data protection framework, GDPR, to consider. Which may yet rework some mainstream ad tech business models.
On this front Qwant questions how even non-tracking rival DDG can protect users’ searches from government surveillance given its use of AWS cloud hosting and the U.S. Cloud Act. (Though, responding to a discussion thread about the issue on Github two years ago, DDG’s founder noted it has servers around the world, writing: “If you are in Europe you will be connected to our European servers.” He also reiterated that DDG does not collect any personal data from users — thereby limiting what could be extracted from AWS via the Act.)
Asked what reception it’s had when asking about getting its search engine on the Safari iOS list, Qwant told us the line that’s been (indirectly) fed back to it is “we are too European according to Apple”. (Apple declined to comment on the search choices it offers iOS users.)
“I have to work a lot to be more American,” Qwant co-founder and CEO Eric Leandri told us, summing up the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino.
“I understand that Apple wants to give the same kind of experience to their customers… but I would say that if I was Apple now, based on the politics that I want to follow — about protecting the privacy of customers — I think it would be great to start thinking about Europe as a market where people have a different point of view on their data,” he continued.
“Apple has done a lot of work to, for example, not let applications give data to each by a very strict [anti-tracking policy]; Apple has done a lot of work to guarantee that cookies and tracking is super difficult on iOS; and now the last problem of Apple is Google search.”
“So I hope that Apple will look at our proposal in a different way — not just one-fits-all. Because we don’t think that one-fits-all today,” he added.
Qwant too, then, is hoping for a better Apple to emerge as a result of a little market adversity.
Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming platform, has brought on its first head of diversity and inclusion, as well as a new chief financial officer and chief human resources officer.
Katrina Jones, who will start next month as Twitch’s head of diversity and inclusion, is the former head of diversity at Vimeo. At Vimeo, Jones created the company’s diversity strategy, and worked on disrupting bias and fostering inclusion.
Meanwhile, Michelle Weaver and Sudarshana Rangachary are coming on board as CFO and CHRO, respectively.
From the diversity and inclusion front, Twitch has a history of struggling. The platform itself, for example, was called out in 2015 for being mostly white and male.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Twitch hosted a panel at its annual convention dubbed “Diversify Twitch.” That didn’t turn out very well for Twitch, as its African-American panelists were subjected to racism, insults and slurs. Just last year, Twitch hosted a site-wide “holiday” to celebrate diversity and inclusion on its streams, chats, apps and community.
People hate hubris and hypocrisy more than they hate evil, which is, I think, why we’re seeing the beginnings of a bipartisan cultural backlash against the tech industry. A backlash which is wrongly conceived and wrongly targeted … but not entirely unfounded. It’s hard to shake the sense that, as an industry, we are currently abdicating some of our collective responsibility to the world.
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk do a ton of objectively bad stuff, but I just want to be clear that the mere act of holding onto that much money in a world with this much inequality is in itself a brutally evil action, and alone makes them bad people.
— Joseph Fink (@PlanetofFinks) June 13, 2018
I don’t want to overstate the case. The tech industry remained the single most trusted entity in America as recently as last year, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest man in the world, and Elon Musk probably its highest-profile billionaire; of course they’re going to attract flak from all sides.
Furthermore, tech has become enormously more powerful and influential over the last decade. The Big Five tech companies now occupy the top five slots on the Fortune 500, whereas in 2008, Hewlett-Packard was tech’s lone Top Ten representative at #9. Power breeds resentment. Some kind of backlash was inevitable.
And yet — the tech industry is by some distance the least objectionable of the world’s power centers right now. The finance industry has become, to paraphrase Rolling Stone, a vampire squid wrapped around the our collective economic throat, siphoning off a quarter of our lifeblood via increasingly complex financial structures which provide very little benefit to the rest of us. But a combination of learned helplessness and lack of hypocrisy — in that very few hedge fund managers pretend to be making the world a better place for anyone but their clients — shields them from anything like the rancor they deserve.
Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of the worldwide right-wing populist uprising which has led governments around the world to treat desperate refugees like nonhuman scum; turning them away by the boatload in Europe; imprisoning them on a godforsaken remote island in Australia; tearing children from their parents and caging them in America.
Tesla and Amazon’s treatment of factory and warehouse workers is at best questionable and at worst egregiously wrong … though if they were all replaced by robots, that would eliminate those complaints but also all of those jobs, which makes the complaints look pretty short-sighted. But it’s not whataboutism to suggest that outrage should be proportional to the relative scale of the offense in question. If it isn’t, then that indicates some seriously skewed priorities. What is it about the tech industry’s relatively venial sins, compared to those of finance and government, which so sticks in the craw of its critics?
Partly it’s the perceived hubris and hypocrisy — that we talk about “making the world a better place” when in fact we sometimes seem to only be making it a better place for ourselves. Life is pretty nice for those of us in the industry, and keeps getting nicer. We like to pretend that slowly, bit by bit, life is getting better for everyone else, too, while or sometimes even because we focus on our cool projects, and the rest of the world will get to live like us too.
Which is even true, for a lot of people! I was in China a couple of months ago: it has changed almost inconceivably since my first visit two decades ago, and overwhelmingly for the better, despite all of the negative side effects of that change. The same is true for India. That’s 2.6 billion people right there whose lives have mostly been transformed for the better over the last couple of decades, courtesy of capitalism and technology. The same is true for other, smaller populations around the world.
However. There are many, many millions of people, including throngs in our own back yards, for whom the world has gotten decidedly worse over the last ten years, sometimes as a result of those same changes or related ones (such as increasing inequality, which is at least arguably partly driven by technology.) Many more have been kept out of, or driven away from, our privileged little world for no good reason. Why is it somehow OK for us to shrug and turn our backs on them? The tech industry is enormously powerful now, and Peter Parker was on to something when he said: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
So why is it that we’re only willing to work on really cool long-term goals like electric cars and space exploration, and not the messy short-term stuff like inequality, housing, and the ongoing brutal oppression of refugees and immigrants? Don’t tell me it’s because those fields are too regulated and political; space travel and road transportation are heavily regulated and not exactly apolitical in case you haven’t noticed.
That painful, difficult stuff is for governments, we say. That’s for international diplomacy. That’s some one else’s problem. Until recently — and maybe even still, for now — this has been true. But with growing power comes growing responsibility. At some point, and a lot of our critics think we have already passed it, those problems become ours, too. Kudos to people like Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, who says “But we cannot delegate these complex problems off to the government and say, “We’re not all part of it,”” for beginning to tackle them.
Today in "private provision of public goods", Salesforce founder Marc Benioff pledges to shelter or house all the homeless people in SF in five years; https://t.co/5fO7y8Gyct
— Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) June 16, 2018
Let’s hope he’s only among the first. And let’s hope we find a way for technology to help with the overarching problem of incompetent and/or malevolent governments, while we’re at it.
After spending the last couple of weeks closing the deal to buy TimeWarner for $85 billion and buying ad firm AppNexus for up to $2 billion, today AT&T announced a key distribution move in its new bid to be a media powerhouse: it’s taking a strategic investment into Magic Leap, the high profile augmented reality startup, which will include becoming the exclusive “wireless distributor” of Magic Leap products in the U.S. starting this summer.
“When available for consumers, AT&T customers will be among the first to experience it in select AT&T stores in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with more markets to follow,” AT&T said today.
The two companies have not revealed the financial terms of the stake. But Magic Leap last raised in a round in March of led by Sinapore’s Temasek that valued the startup at $6.3 billion, and the companies have confirmed that this completes the Series D round. The value of that round was ultimately $963 million, says PitchBook.
The two have also laid out some of the strategic terms. In addition to exclusive distribution when the first device, the Magic Leap One, Creator Edition, the investment gives AT&T exclusive rights to work with Magic Leap across a range of areas covering network access, content distribution and devices.
“AT&T is excited to pair our pioneering technologies, unmatched network, content platform, and vast customer ecosystem with Magic Leap’s efforts to build the next generation of computing,” said AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan, in a statement. “We’re designing and offering the future of entertainment and connectivity, and this exclusive arrangement – in combination with our 5G leadership position – will open up new opportunities and experiences.” Donovan becomes a board observer with this investment.
Magic Leap has raised more than $2 billion to develop its hardware and software, but it has yet to launch a product. However, that could be about to change. Magic Leap today streamed a demo and specs of the Magic Leap One, Creator Edition, the first commercial fruit of its labor, today at 11am Eastern time.
“We’ve joined with AT&T because we believe in a combined vision of expanding high-speed networks, edge computing, and deep integration with creative content,” said Rony Abovitz, Founder, President and CEO of Magic Leap, in a statement. “Coupling the strength of the evolving AT&T network with Magic Leap’s spatial computing platform can transform computing experiences for people.”
The partnership looks like it is set to coincide with the launch of Magic Leap’s first product, the Magic Leap One, which the company describes as a “lightweight, wearable computer that will enrich real world experience with digital content.” The Creator edition, a limited edition designed for developers and designers, is scheduled to ship later this year.
Magic Leap has raised $2.35 billion to date, and in that mix it has taken a number of strategic backers including Google (which has invested via GV and Alphabet), Alibaba and Axel Springer. With all of them wanting a piece of the action — assuming it will be a winner — AT&T is providing something specific in the mix.
Carriers play a key role in helping get portable devices into the hands of consumers. When the device is a hit — for example, as was the case with AT&T and the first generations of the iPhone, which it carried exclusively — the deal can be a huge win for both companies, as a partnership not only provides the carrier with a draw for new customers, but for the device maker, it’s able to offer its devices bundled with mobile subscriptions to actually use them. For both sides, reducing friction for consumers is tantamount.
But AT&T is playing on a couple of levels here. It and all telecoms carriers really lost out on the smartphone boom when it come to value-added services on top of basic mobile data connectivity and selling subsidised devices. Handset makers, those who make mobile operating systems and app makers have held the keys when it came to services and “owning” customers — by which I mean owning their wallets and spend.
AT&T — along with other carriers like Verizon (which owns us) — has been trying to take a different approach with media more recently though. Tapping into the fact that many media companies have not been run as well as they could have been, carriers are using their healthy balance sheets to buy up content assets so that they can try to have another go at winning over customers and their services spend, to offset their stagnating network access businesses.
Selling equity to buy Facebook and Google ads is a bad deal for startups. Clearbanc offers a fundraising alternative. For fast-growing businesses reliably earning sales from their marketing spend, Clearbanc offers funding from $5,000 to $10 million in exchange for a steady revenue share of their earnings until it’s paid back plus a 6 percent fee. Clearbanc picks what merchants qualify by developing tech that scans their Stripe, Facebook ads, and other accounts to assess financial health and momentum. It’s already doled out $100 million this year.
“As a business successfully scales, we continue to provide them ongoing capital” co-founder and CEO Andrew D’Souza tells me. “Our goal is the be the first and last backer of a successful business and save the entrepreneur from having to take hundreds of pitch meetings to keep their company funded.”
After largely flying under the radar since being found in 2015, now Clearbanc has some big funding news of its own. It’s now raised $70 million from a seed and new Series A round from Emergence Capital, Social Capital, CoVenture, Founders Fund, 8VC, and more with Emergence’s Santi Subotovsky joining the board.
“Venture capital has shifted. Instead of funding true research and development, today 40% of venture capital goes directly to buying Google and Facebook ads” D’Souza claims (that may be true for some ecommerce startups but TechCrunch could not verify that stat for all startups). “Equity is the most expensive way to fund digital ad spend and repeatable growth. So we created something new.”
Clearbanc emerged from an angel investing alliance between two serial entrepreneurs. D’Souza had built Andreessen Horowitz-funded social recruiting site Top Prospect, USV-backed education tech company Top Hat, and Mastercard portfolio biometric authentication wearable startup Nymi. He’d helped raise over $300 million in venture after a stint at McKinsey when he begun co-investing with Michele Romanow, a VC from Canada’s version of the TV show Shark Tank called Dragons’ Den. She’d bootstrapped shopping hub Buytopia that acquired 10 other ecommerce companies, and discount-finder SnapSaves that she sold to Groupon in 2014.
“We started investing together in some of the deals we would see from Dragons’ Den and often found that an equity investment wasn’t the right structure for these consumer product companies. They had great economics and had found a niche of customers, but often didn’t want to exit the business at any point” D’Souza recalls. “They needed money to acquire more customers, scale up their marketing efforts and online ad spend. So we started to do these revenue share deals.”
Both engineers, they built tech to automate the due diligence and find companies with healthy unit economics and customer acquisition costs. The partnership blossomed into Clearbanc, and romance. “We’re also a couple, so we spend a lot of time together” D’Souza writes. Inter-startup dating can be problematic but so far seems to be working for Clearbanc.
Now Clearbanc has poured over $100 million into 500 companies in 2018 like Vinebox. The subscription wine box company used Clearbanc to grow its membership numbers while raising a Series A for developing new products. Clearbanc’s companies pay out 5 percent in revenue share until the investment plus 6 percent is paid back. That’s a great deal for companies that are already proven money makers like Hunt A Killer, a murder mystery game subscription box that had raised $10,000 and was selling swiftly. Derisked, it didn’t need venture, and has now taken $8 million from Clearbanc to ramp its business.
Clearbanc co-founders Andrew D’Souza and Michele Romanow
Clearbanc is rising up at a time when organic growth channels are shutting down. The ruthless optimization of algorithmic feeds by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter suppress marketing content unless businesses are willing to pay. Without free virality opportunities, companies must rely on venture funding or loans just to turn around and pay that money to big ad platforms. With the new cash that also comes from iNovia Capital, Real Ventures, Portag3, Precursor, WTI, Berggruen, and FJ Labs, Clearbanc plans to expand abroad after doing deals in the US and Canada. It’s also going to invest in building awareness as well as its data science capabilities.
D’Souza and Romanow must have confidence in their tech, as a wrong investment means they might never get their cash back. “We pay a lot of attention to our underwriting and decision-making process because if we make a mistake, we can lose a lot of money. Unlike a VC, we don’t expect the majority of our companies to fail and have the winners make up for the losses” says D’Souza. One big misstep could wipe out the gains from a bunch of other investments.
Meanwhile, it has to break the norms of how businesses find funding. Startups immediately seek traditional venture or debt financing that can depend on the flashy names already on their cap table, while merchants turn to exploitative online lenders that require a personal guarantee and base their decisions on the founders’ own credit history instead of the business.
While riskier hard tech startups that will take years to get to market will still need venture, a new crop of direct-to-consumer products and other fast-monetizing startups that are already humming can avoid diluting their team and investors by using Clearbanc. D’Souza concludes, “We’ve spent our entire careers as entrepreneurs and wanted to build a new asset class to help entrepreneurs grow.”
It’s time to saddle up and ride, startup fans. Registration for Disrupt SF 2019 is officially up, running and open for business. TechCrunch’s flagship event — focused on early-stage tech startups — takes place on October 2-4 at Moscone North Convention Center, and 10,000+ people are expected to attend.
We also believe in rewarding action with savings. Register now and you’ll receive the super early-bird pass prices on all four pass levels — Innovator, Founder, Investor, Expo — and on the Startup Alley Exhibitor Package, too. Pricing starts at $145 and, depending on which option you select, you could save up to $1,800.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a founder, investor, hacker, marketer or tech leader. Disrupt has plenty to offer startuppers of every stripe. It’s tough to beat Startup Battlefield, the renowned pitch competition, for pure excitement. Only the best startups get to compete head-to-head and vie for investor and media attention, the coveted Disrupt Cup and — crikey — $100,000 in equity free cash. Think your startup has what it takes to make the cut? Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield right here.
Head over to the Startup Alley exhibition hall and explore hundreds of early-stage startups demonstrating the latest innovative tech and a boat-load of talent. Or buy a Startup Alley Exhibition package and place your startup in front of thousands of attendees — including hundreds of media outlets and eager investors.
Startup Alley is also where you’ll find TC Top Picks. In an intensely curated process, TechCrunch editors will comb through hundreds of applications to find up to five outstanding startups in each of these tracks: Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, BioTech/HealthTech, Blockchain, FinTech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/eCommerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS, and Social Impact & Education.
All TC Top Picks receive a free Startup Alley Exhibition package, prime exhibiting space in Startup Alley and the VIP treatment during the show. The competition is fierce, but you have nothing to lose. Why not toss your founder’s hat in the ring? Apply right here.
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According to a report from The Information, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told its employees that the company is aiming to go public by late 2020.
Airbnb’s IPO has been a source of frustration for employees as many of them need to stay at the company to vest and sell their stock grants. An IPO would mean much more liquidity when it comes to buying and selling Airbnb shares.
In addition to the new timeframe, Airbnb is also offering more bonus options. Employees can now choose to get bonuses in cash instead of stock. This could improve employee retention as many employees probably don’t need more Airbnb stock if they’ve been around since the early days of the company.
Last year, Airbnb closed a $1 billion round at a $31 billion valuation. The stakes are now quite high for the IPO given the last valuation.
Twitter is already working with the NBA to stream video of pre-game warm-ups, in-game and post-game highlights and post-game behind-the-scenes content. Now, the company will for the first time ever stream live NBA action — with a twist. In partnership with the NBA, Twitter will introduce an alternate camera angle view during the second half of the live game, one that’s focused on a single player.
That’s right: NBA fans on Twitter won’t get to hear commentary, or watch the full game — the stream will only go live in the second half.
And they’re not watching the full game action — the stream will be focused on a single player in an isolated camera view.
That may sound like those watching Twitter are getting short-changed, but that is not the full story, according to Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA who spoke about the deal today onstage at CES in Las Vegas alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
A key goal with this deal is to make the experience less like tuning into a live sporting event and more like a social activity, tapping into more platforms where younger users are spending time in a moment where, by many accounts, traditional TV is dying.
“There are a lot of people out there who may not be accessing our games,” said Silver.
“Many of them don’t subscribe to cable TV and that is the transition,” he added. The deal, he said, aims at “cord cutters who aren’t subscribing to pay TV… but still consume massive amounts of NBA content. This gives them the opportunity to see live video” in another place, in complement to the other places such as live streams online. “The best position we can be in is to say here is our content, go at it.”
Dorsey highlighted how basketball was a fitting first-go for this kind of sports content on Twitter, given some of Twitter’s own DNA.
`The NBA fits so well because of the quick pace and how fast things can change,” he said. “The real-time aspect has been a core to almost everything we do.”
There will also be, of course, a social element to how the content is utilized.
The NBA will hold a vote on Twitter to ask fans which player the camera will focus on during the second half.
The way this will work is that fans will be given choices of players for the camera to follow in the second half. They’ll have through halftime to place their votes.
And then, while the camera follows the player during the second half, there will be additional NBA commentary from talent who will provide Twitter commentary.
“Twitter conversation has always been a complement to live action on TV. This groundbreaking partnership makes that complementary experience even richer, bringing additional views fans want to see, and the conversation around the game all together in one place,” said Laura Froelich, senior director, head of U.S. Content Partnerships at Twitter, speaking at CES.
It sounds like this could be laying the groundwork for how Twitter might potentially offer a credible alternative to broadcasting a full game of basketball, or other sports, for that matter. At a time when getting full-game streaming (not broadcast) rights comes with a multi-billion-dollar price tag, any way that Twitter can find to bypass that but still capture some of that audience, while helping sports organizations figure out how to grow their own audiences, is worth exploring.
Twitter will license the streams from the NBA and Turner, which holds the rights to the full, live games. It’s not disclosing the price it’s paying to do this, but it will try to recoup and profit on whatever the value is: Twitter will also attempt to sell advertising around them, on a revenue-share basis with the organizations.
The deal makes Twitter the first social platform to live-stream games in the U.S. — even if it’s only the second half.
“For us, [Twitter has been] an amazing innovation partner. And I also think, just given the fact that it’s such a real-time platform, it’s where the crux of all our conversations are happening. It just makes too much sense,” said Sam Farber, VP, Digital Media at the NBA.
Musical.ly, the short video app that’s popular among teens and young people, is going away. Kinda.
The app and all user data and accounts is being merged with Tiktok, a sister app that’s owned by ByteDance, the Chinese company that acquired Musical.ly for around $1 billion last year.
The switch-over happens today (Thursday) and it should be relatively seamless. Users of Musical.ly will see their app switch to TikTok once they update the app, and they should find their account, videos and personal settings inside the new app as per usual.
One notable new addition is a setting that alerts a user when they have been active in the app for two hours that day. Its addition comes just a day after Facebook added similar ‘well-being’ features to its core social network and Instagram.
ByteDance is making the move to consolidate its audiences on both apps. Four-year-old Musical.ly, which is particularly popular in the U.S., has around 100 million users while TikTok, which was created in 2016 and operates worldwide minus China, claims 500 million monthly active users. In China, the sister product is Douyin, while the company also offers news apps Toutiao in China and TopBuzz across the rest of the world.
“TikTok, the sound of a ticking clock, represents the short nature of the video platform. We want to capture the world’s creativity and knowledge under this new name and remind everyone to treasure every precious life moment. Combining musical.ly and TikTok is a natural fit given the shared mission of both experiences,” said Alex Zhu, co-founder of Musical.ly and Senior Vice President of TikTok, in a statement.
The app merger follows the closure of Musical.ly’s standalone live-streaming app Live.ly in June. That was part of the deal agreed to for the Musical.ly acquisition, and the company directed its users to Live.me, an app that counts ByteDance among its investors.
It makes sense that ByteDance is consolidating its sibling apps since Facebook is stalking out the short video space. The social network giant has tested a Musical.ly style app and just this week we found hints that it is planning to launch “Talent Show,” which would allow users to compete by singing popular songs then submitting their audition for review.
There’s also the revenue side. A global platform plays better for advertisers rather than forcing them to pick either Musical.ly or TikTok, or going through the added rigmarole of working on both.
After a string of executive departures over the past several months that continued Friday with the resignations of two people in high-profile positions, CEO Elon Musk announced a series of promotions and job updates in an email sent to employees. To be clear, these are not new hires and some of these promotions were already finalized before the most recent resignations reported earlier Friday.
In other words, Musk didn’t suddenly promote a bunch of executives in response to the negative market reaction Friday to the resignations or his marijuana-sampling during a live-streamed podcast with Joe Rogan.
Still, the promotions are notable because it gives rarely provided insight into the structure of the company — as well as who is left. It also shows the increasing workload placed on a few people.
For example, Kevin Kassekert previously headed up infrastructure development, a job that included leading the construction and development of Tesla’s gigafactory near Reno, Nevada. His new title is vice president of people and places, a position that gives him responsibility of human resources — a job that was once filled by Gaby Toledano — as well as facilities, construction and infrastructure. Tesla has more than 37,000 employees and facilities all over the world, including its factory in Fremont, California.
Musk also promoted Jérôme Guillen to president of automotive. Guillen, a former Daimler Freightliner executive, will oversee all automotive operations and program management, as well as coordinate Tesla’s supply chain. Guillen previously headed up Tesla’s truck program and worldwide sales and service.
Other promotions and position updates include:
Felicia Mayo, who was senior HR director and head of Tesla’s diversity and inclusion program, has been promoted to vice president level and will report to both Kassekert and Musk.
Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s vice president of environmental, health and safety will now report directly to Musk.
Cindy Nicola, who heads global recruiting at Tesla, will report to both Kassekert and Musk.
Dave Arnold has been promoted to head of communications. Arnold fills the role after Sarah O’Brien left this month.
The letter contained a few other forward-looking statements ahead of the company’s next quarterly earnings report.
“We are about to have the most amazing quarter in our history, building and delivering more than twice as many cars as we did last quarter,” Musk wrote. “For a while, there will be a lot of fuss and noise in the media. Just ignore them. Results are what matter and we are creating the most mind-blowing growth in the history of the automotive industry.”
Tesla produced 53,339 vehicles in the second quarter. If Tesla does build and deliver more than “twice” as many as cars as it did last quarter, that means the company would hit something like 107,000 vehicles.