Acorns, the financial management service for micro-investments, is adding a rewards debit card to its arsenal of tools aimed at getting Americans to create balanced stock portfolios for economic health.
The company has already racked up 10,000 pre-orders for its new (gorgeous) payment card that offers perks like investments into Acorns accounts when users purchase with the card at certain online and brick and mortar retailers.
The debit card comes with Acorns micro-investment and its retirement account built into the card’s services. According to the company, it’s the next step in its mission to build an easy, automated system to spend and save money in a way that benefits average consumers.
The card comes with real-time round-ups on all purchases so that consumers are automatically putting money into their Acorns accounts every time they spend.
Linked with Acorns customers’ bank accounts, the card also offers digital direct deposit, mobile check deposit and check sending, free bank-to-bank transfers and unlimited free or fee-reimbursed withdrawals from automatic teller machines around the country.
In addition to those features, the company said users can get up to 10 percent of every purchase made at local merchants deposited into an Acorns account.
Card users get a bundle of the card, Acorns and the Acorns later account for $3 per month. The Acorns portfolio management service costs $1 on its own; coupled with the retirement account, the service is $2.
The debit card works as an Acorns checking account, which is secured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for up to $250,000.
For Acorns chief executive Noah Kerner, the card’s physical design was just as important as the services it offers.
“The design is important to us because this card is a badge of honor,” said Kerner. “By choosing it, people are choosing to save, invest and earn while they spend. They’re handling their business and they deserve a card that reflects that — a card made of tungsten metal, the heaviest non-radioactive element, and designed together with the visionary behind Apple’s design group.”
According to Kerner, the company has already received 10,000 pre-orders for the card. Only 100,000 cards will be available initially, and the first cards will be mailed by November 1, 2018.
Existing Acorns customers can sign up here. New customers must create an Acorns account and then are eligible to sign up for the debit card.
While a lot of travel startups (Airbnb, Ctrip, Kayak, to name a few) have made waves by disrupting how people search for and buy accommodation, flights and other travel services, the ongoing interest in building out strong content plays to attract audiences is also being played out in the travel sector.
In the latest development, Culture Trip, a London-based travel site founded by a psychiatrist and built mainly not on selling travel services, but travel writing, has raised $80 million on the heels of strong traction with its mostly-millennial audience.
In the last four months, traffic to stories has increased 400 percent, founder Dr Kris Naudts said, with the site currently racking up 15 million uniques, the app hitting 850,000 downloads, and video views growing 4,000 percent.
Now, the intention will be to keep building out that audience while also starting to gradually introduce ways of monetising it, mainly through branded content and links through to buying travel services and experiences based on the clear intent signals that Culture Trip is amassing among 20-30-something user base.
The Series B was led by PPF Group out of the Netherlands, which also has stakes in the Mall Group and O2 and led Culture Trip’s previous round of $20 million. The startup has raised around $103 million to date, and it is not disclosing its valuation.
Naudts tells TechCrunch that he founded the company as a second career, after a “solid academic” stint as a psychiatrist. “I’ve always loved storytelling and culture, and I’ve always wanted to build something,” he said.
Culture Trip, which became that something, is a little like a mix between Conde Nast Traveller, and the multitude of sites that have sprung up across the web, built on writing from a wide range of contributors, which publish stories that have strong traction either on social media or search engines and links from other sites — ideally all three.
Not “content farms”, Naudts replied emphatically in an interview when I floated the phrase, and not exactly like the many digital publishers that have built themselves on clickable stories spread through social media — both of which have seen some strong casualties (like this and this) when their main traffic referrers have changed up their algorithms.
In the case of Culture Trip, the startup works with some 300 paid contributors globally, who write light stories, take pictures and make videos on everything under the bigger umbrella of local culture, just no politics and current affairs, Naudts said. There have been some 75,000 articles published since 2011, with the rate currently at 3,000 articles per month.
The anything-goes approach makes for a curious mix of high and low, mainstream and intellectual, which is perhaps how we like things today — or, just as likely, perhaps speaks to how Culture Trip is more about visits from outside than a community inside the site itself. Articles include “The 10 most affordable Michelin restaurants in Paris” and “8 things to know before you go to Thailand,” but also “Brexit literature: a quiet form of dystopian fiction,” (hmm) and actually, despite Naudts’ exception, even a few shots of politics and current affairs: the first story that comes up on Google currently for Culture Trip is a post from yesterday about the latest member of the royal family in England.
If you come in through Google — and Naudts said search engines are currently its biggest traffic referrer — Culture Trip hopes you’ll stay through its own AI-based recommendation algorithm, which presents, Taboola-style, a list of related stories you might like at the bottom of each ad-free post.
Yes, you read that right: in my many looks through the site, I didn’t come across a single advertisement.
Naudts said that this has been intentional. “We’ve focused on audience growth almost exclusively to get our proposition out there, and to see if there is an appetite for what we are publishing.” Now, he added, comes the recruitment of sales teams, which will look at introducing branded content and bookable experiences and travel services.
These, in turn, will come by way of partnerships with third party providers like Airbnb and Hotels.com, and in part through Culture Trip’s own devising: Naudts said that the plan will be to get its global network of contributors involved in helping to devise and run local experiences for people. (Not unlike the local experts that Airbnb has been bringing together on its own platform for its own experiences.)
Alongside the funding, the company is bringing on some new executives to build out these business plans — with a pedigree that seems to speak to where Culture Trip hopes to go next. Mike Fox, who helped build Facebook’s advertising business, is joining as CMO, while ex-YouTube global head of sales Dick Soule is joining as CRO. Before this, Culture Trip had also hired Nick Jakobi as chief product officer, another Google and Facebook alum that has been pushing the company’s use of AI in its recommendation engine. Board members at the startup include Dr. Nelson Mattos, former VP of Engineering for EMEA at Google, and Yariv Adan, product lead on the Google Assistant.
Natural Cycles, a Swedish startup which touts its body temperature-based algorithmic method for tracking individual fertility as an effective alternative to hormonal birth control, has been wrapped by the UK advertising regulator which today upheld three complaints that an advert the company ran last year via Facebook’s platform was misleading.
The regulator has banned Natural Cycles from running the advert again, and warned it against exaggerating the efficacy of its product.
The ad had stated that “Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app that adapts to every woman’s unique menstrual cycle. Sign up to get to know your body and prevent pregnancies naturally”, and in a video below the text it had also stated: “Natural Cycles officially offers a new, clinically tested alternative to birth control methods”.
The company has leaned heavily on social media marketing to target its ‘digital contraception’ app at young women.
“We told Natural Cycles Nordic AB Sweden not to state or imply that the app was a highly accurate method of contraception and to take care not to exaggerate the efficacy of the app in preventing pregnancies,” said the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) handing down its decision.
While Natural Cycles gained EU certification for its app as a contraceptive in February 2017, and most recently FDA clearance for marketing the app as a contraception in the US (with the regulator granting its De Novo classification request this month), those regulatory clearances come with plenty of caveats about the complexity of the product.
The FDA, for example, warns that: “Users must be aware that even with consistent use of the device, there is still a possibility of unintended pregnancy.”
At the same time, Natural Cycles has yet to back up the efficacy claims it makes for the product with the scientific ‘gold standard’ of a randomized control trial. So users wanting to be able to compare the product’s efficacy against other more tried and tested birth control methods (such as the pill or condoms) are not able to do so.
No birth control method (barring abstention) is 100% effective of course but, as we’ve reported previously, Natural Cycles’ aggressive marketing and PR has lacked nuance and attempted to downplay concerns about the complexity of its system and the chance of failure even though the product’s performance is impacted by multiple individual factors — from illness, to irregular periods. Which risks being irresponsible.
In the ruling, the ASA flags up the relative complexity of Natural Cycles’ system vs more established forms of contraception — pointing out that:
The Natural Cycles app required considerably more user input than most forms of contraception, with the need to take and input body temperature measurements several times a week, recording when intercourse had taken place, supplemented with LH measurements, abstention or alternative methods of contraception during the fertile period.
The company also remains under investigation in Sweden by the medical regulator after a local hospital reported a number of unwanted pregnancies among users of the app. A spokesperson for the Medical Products Agency told us that it has finalized its investigation and plans to publish the findings next week.
Despite all that, Natural Cycles’ website bills its product as “effective contraception”, claiming the app is “93% effective under typical use” and making the further (and confusingly worded) claim that: “With using the app perfectly, i.e. if you never have unprotected intercourse on red days, Natural Cycles is 99% effective, which means 1 woman out of 100 get pregnant during one year of use.”
Perfect use of the app actually means a woman would accurately perform daily measurement of her body temperature without fail or fault, and before she’s even sat up in bed, at least several times a week, correctly inputting the data. Forgetting to do so once because — say — you got up to go to the toilet or were otherwise interrupted before taking or inputting a reading could constitute imperfect use.
The BBC spoke to a women who says she made the decision to use the app after seeing that 99% effective claim in Natural Cycles’ marketing on Instagram — and subsequently fell pregnant while using it. “I was sort of sucked into this “99% effective” [claim],” she told the broadcaster. “You know “even more effective than the pill”… What could possibly go wrong?”
In its ruling, the regulator said it investigated two issues related to the advert run by Natural Cycles on Facebook on July 20, 2017, and both issues were upheld.
The complaints were that Natural Cycles’ advert included misleading and unsubstantiated claims — specifically that the product was: 1. “Highly accurate contraceptive app”; and 2. “Clinically tested alternative to birth control methods”.
Natural Cycles told the ASA that the latter claim is in fact a quote from a Business Insider article which it “considered to be correct” and had thus reproduced in its marketing.
After taking expert evidence, and reviewing three published papers on accumulated data obtained from the app, the regulator deemed the combination of the two claims to be misleading.
We considered that in isolation, the claim “clinically tested alternative to birth control methods” was unlikely to mislead. However, when presented alongside the accompanying claim “Highly accurate contraceptive app”, it further contributed to the impression that the app was a precise and reliable method of preventing pregnancies which could be used in place of other established birth control methods, including those which were highly reliable in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Because the evidence did not demonstrate that in typical-use it was “highly accurate” and because it was significantly less effective than the most reliable birth control methods, we considered that in the context of the ad the claim was likely to mislead.
The ASA also found the advert to have breached rules for substantiation and exaggeration of marketing messages in the Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products category, as well as being misleading.
At the time of writing Natural Cycles had not responded to requests for comment. Update: A spokeswoman has now emailed us the following statement in response to the ASA ruling:
We respect the outcome of the investigation by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into one Facebook advertisement, which ran for approximately 4 weeks in mid-2017. The investigation was initiated nearly 12 months ago and the advertisement was removed as soon as we were notified of the complaint.
This investigation triggered an internal review of all our advertisements and the way that we communicate more broadly, to ensure our message is clear and provides women with the information they need to determine if Natural Cycles is right for them.
As part of these efforts, every advertisement now undergoes a strict approval process by a dedicated taskforce to ensure that it gives an accurate overall impression to the viewer. We actively seek feedback from Natural Cycles users to help us improve the quality of our communications and, moving forwards, we plan to work even more closely with HCPs, women and our user community to test and refine our marketing approach.
Natural Cycles has been independently evaluated and cleared by regulators in Europe and the US based on clinical evidence demonstrating its effectiveness as a method of contraception.
This report was updated with comment from the Swedish medical products regulator, and with comment from Natural Cycles
William ("Whurley") Hurley
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William Hurley, commonly known as whurley, is an American entrepreneur and the founder of Chaotic Moon Studios, Honest Dollar, and Equals: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. He is currently chairing the Quantum Computing Working Group for the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), and is the founder and chief executive of Strangeworks.
The word “quantum” gained currency in the late 20th century as a descriptor signifying something so significant, it defied the use of common adjectives. For example, a “quantum leap” is a dramatic advancement (also an early ’90’s television series starring Scott Bakula).
At best, that is an imprecise (though entertaining) definition. When “quantum” is applied to “computing,” however, we are indeed entering an era of dramatic advancement.
Quantum computing is technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature of energy and matter on the atomic and subatomic level. It relies on the existence of mind-bending quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement.
Erwin Schrödinger’s famous 1930’s thought experiment involving a cat that was both dead and alive at the same time was intended to highlight the apparent absurdity of superposition, the principle that quantum systems can exist in multiple states simultaneously until observed or measured. Today quantum computers contain dozens of qubits (quantum bits), which take advantage of that very principle. Each qubit exists in a superposition of zero and one (i.e., has non-zero probabilities to be a zero or a one) until measured. The development of qubits has implications for dealing with massive amounts of data and achieving previously unattainable level of computing efficiency that are the tantalizing potential of quantum computing.
While Schrödinger was thinking about zombie cats, Albert Einstein was observing what he described as “spooky action at a distance,” particles that seemed to be communicating faster than the speed of light. What he was seeing were entangled electrons in action. Entanglement refers to the observation that the state of particles from the same quantum system cannot be described independently of each other. Even when they are separated by great distances, they are still part of the same system. If you measure one particle, the rest seem to know instantly. The current record distance for measuring entangled particles is 1,200 kilometers or about 745.6 miles. Entanglement means that the whole quantum system is greater than the sum of its parts.
If these phenomena make you vaguely uncomfortable so far, perhaps I can assuage that feeling simply by quoting Schrödinger, who purportedly said after his development of quantum theory, “I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”
Various parties are taking different approaches to quantum computing, so a single explanation of how it works would be subjective. But one principle may help readers get their arms around the difference between classical computing and quantum computing. Classical computers are binary. That is, they depend on the fact that every bit can exist only in one of two states, either 0 or 1. Schrödinger’s cat merely illustrated that subatomic particles could exhibit innumerable states at the same time. If you envision a sphere, a binary state would be if the “north pole,” say, was 0, and the south pole was 1. In a qubit, the entire sphere can hold innumerable other states and relating those states between qubits enables certain correlations that make quantum computing well-suited for a variety of specific tasks that classical computing cannot accomplish. Creating qubits and maintaining their existence long enough to accomplish quantum computing tasks is an ongoing challenge.
IBM researcher Jerry Chow in the quantum computing lab at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center.
Humanizing Quantum Computing
These are just the beginnings of the strange world of quantum mechanics. Personally, I’m enthralled by quantum computing. It fascinates me on many levels, from its technical arcana to its potential applications that could benefit humanity. But a qubit’s worth of witty obfuscation on how quantum computing works will have to suffice for now. Let’s move on to how it will help us create a better world.
Quantum computing’s purpose is to aid and extend the abilities of classical computing. Quantum computers will perform certain tasks much more efficiently than classical computers, providing us with a new tool for specific applications. Quantum computers will not replace their classical counterparts. In fact, quantum computers require classical computer to support their specialized abilities, such as systems optimization.
Quantum computers will be useful in advancing solutions to challenges in diverse fields such as energy, finance, healthcare, aerospace, among others. Their capabilities will help us cure diseases, improve global financial markets, detangle traffic, combat climate change, and more. For instance, quantum computing has the potential to speed up pharmaceutical discovery and development, and to improve the accuracy of the atmospheric models used to track and explain climate change and its adverse effects.
I call this “humanizing” quantum computing, because such a powerful new technology should be used to benefit humanity, or we’re missing the boat.
Intel’s 17-qubit superconducting test chip for quantum computing has unique features for improved connectivity and better electrical and thermo-mechanical performance. (Credit: Intel Corporation)
An Uptick in Investments, Patents, Startups, and more
That’s my inner evangelist speaking. In factual terms, the latest verifiable, global figures for investment and patent applications reflect an uptick in both areas, a trend that’s likely to continue. Going into 2015, non-classified national investments in quantum computing reflected an aggregate global spend of about $1.75 billion USD,according to The Economist. The European Union led with $643 million. The U.S. was the top individual nation with $421 million invested, followed by China ($257 million), Germany ($140 million), Britain ($123 million) and Canada ($117 million). Twenty countries have invested at least $10 million in quantum computing research.
At the same time, according to a patent search enabled by Thomson Innovation, the U.S. led in quantum computing-related patent applications with 295, followed by Canada (79), Japan (78), Great Britain (36), and China (29). The number of patent families related to quantum computing was projected to increase 430 percent by the end of 2017
The upshot is that nations, giant tech firms, universities, and start-ups are exploring quantum computing and its range of potential applications. Some parties (e.g., nation states) are pursuing quantum computing for security and competitive reasons. It’s been said that quantum computers will break current encryption schemes, kill blockchain, and serve other dark purposes.
I reject that proprietary, cutthroat approach. It’s clear to me that quantum computing can serve the greater good through an open-source, collaborative research and development approach that I believe will prevail once wider access to this technology is available. I’m confident crowd-sourcing quantum computing applications for the greater good will win.
If you want to get involved, check out the free tools that the household-name computing giants such as IBM and Google have made available, as well as the open-source offerings out there from giants and start-ups alike. Actual time on a quantum computer is available today, and access opportunities will only expand.
In keeping with my view that proprietary solutions will succumb to open-source, collaborative R&D and universal quantum computing value propositions, allow me to point out that several dozen start-ups in North America alone have jumped into the QC ecosystem along with governments and academia. Names such as Rigetti Computing, D-Wave Systems, 1Qbit Information Technologies, Inc., Quantum Circuits, Inc., QC Ware, Zapata Computing, Inc. may become well-known or they may become subsumed by bigger players, their burn rate – anything is possible in this nascent field.
Developing Quantum Computing Standards
Another way to get involved is to join the effort to develop quantum computing-related standards. Technical standards ultimately speed the development of a technology, introduce economies of scale, and grow markets. Quantum computer hardware and software development will benefit from a common nomenclature, for instance, and agreed-upon metrics to measure results.
Currently, the IEEE Standards Association Quantum Computing Working Group is developing two standards. One is for quantum computing definitions and nomenclature so we can all speak the same language. The other addresses performance metrics and performance benchmarking to enable measurement of quantum computers’ performance against classical computers and, ultimately, each other.
The need for additional standards will become clear over time.
Last year, when tech-company database Crunchbase (once a part of TechCrunch but since spun out) announced a funding round of $18 million, it previewed plans for a new marketplace where it would sell access to third-party data to supplement its own information. Now nearly one year later, it’s taking the wraps off that project. Read More
Even if you never log into Facebook itself these days, the other apps and services you use might be impacted by Facebook’s latest big, bad news.
In a follow-up call on Friday’s revelation that Facebook has suffered a security breach affecting at least 50 million accounts, the company clarified that Instagram users were not out of the woods — nor were any other third-party services that utilized Facebook Login. Facebook Login is the tool that allows users to sign in with a Facebook account instead of traditional login credentials and many users choose it as a convenient way to sign into a variety of apps and services.
Third-party apps and sites affected too
Due to the nature of the hack, Facebook cannot rule out the fact that attackers may have also accessed any Instagram account linked to an affected Facebook account through Facebook Login. Still, it’s worth remembering that while Facebook can’t rule it out, the company has no evidence (yet) of this kind of activity.
“So the vulnerability was on Facebook, but these access tokens enable someone to use [a connected account] as if they were the account holder themselves — this does mean they could have access other third party apps that were using Facebook login,” Facebook Vice President of Product Management Guy Rosen explained on the call.
“Now that we have reset all of those access tokens as part of protecting the security of people’s accounts, developers who use Facebook login will be able to detect that those access tokens has been reset, identify those users and as a user, you will simply have to log in again into those third party apps.”
Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data breach affecting 50M users
Rosen reiterated that there is plenty Facebook does not know about the hack, including the extent to which attackers manipulated the three security bugs in question to obtain access to external accounts through Facebook Login.
“The vulnerability was on Facebook itself and we’ve yet to determine, given the investigation is really early, [what was] the exact nature of misuse and whether there was any access to Instagram accounts, for example,” Rosen said.
Anyone with a Facebook account affected by the breach — you should have been automatically logged out and will receive a notification — will need to unlink and relink their Instagram account to Facebook in order to continue cross-posting content to Facebook.
How to relink your Facebook account and do a security check
To do relink your Instagram account to Facebook, if you choose to, open Instagram Settings > Linked Accounts and select the checkbox next to Facebook. Click Unlink and confirm your selection. If you’d like to reconnect Instagram with Facebook, you’ll need to select Facebook in the Linked Accounts menu and login with your credentials like normal.
If you know your Facebook account was affected by the breach, it’s wise to check for suspicious activity on your account. You can do this on Facebook through the Security and Login menu.
There, you’ll want to browse the activity listed to make sure you don’t see anything that doesn’t look like you — logins from other countries, for example. If you’re concerned or just want to play it safe, you can always find the link to “Log Out Of All Sessions” by scrolling toward the bottom of the page.
While we know a little bit more now about Facebook’s biggest security breach to date, there’s still a lot that we don’t. Expect plenty of additional information in the coming days and weeks as Facebook surveys the damage and passes that information along to its users. We’ll do the same.
Boom, boom, boom! We’re announcing another big name for our upcoming blockchain event in Zug, Switzerland, on July 6 after Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan joined the line-up.
The event — TC: Sessions Blockchain — will be TechCrunch’s first show dedicated to blockchain, it takes place in the world’s “Crypto Valley” and we’ll be joined by a host of top names. Some of those include Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, Roham Gharegozlou, the founder of smash-hit blockchain game CryptoKitties, Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project, and OmiseGo CEO Jun Hasegawa.
Don’t miss it! Tickets are priced at 495 Swiss Francs — or around $500 — and they’re available from the event website here.
Fresh from announcing Buterin’s participation, we’re excited to host Srinivasan, who is another massively-respected thinker and visionary in the blockchain space.
Srinivasan became the first-ever CEO at Coinbase, the U.S. crypto giant that is now reportedly valued as high as $8 billion, in April after it bought Earn.com, where he had been CEO, in a deal priced at over $100 million.
Beyond the day job, Srinivasan is a board member at influential VC firm Andreessen Horowitz — which is planning its first dedicated crypto fund — and he holds a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University. He previously founded genetic testing company Counsyl, and occasionally teaches at Stanford.
TechCrunch will sit down for a one-on-one interview with Srinivasan, a long-time blockchain advocate in Silicon Valley, to discuss a multitude of topics, some of which may include his plans for Coinbase, the blockchain talent war, blockchain adoption among Silicon Valley’s tech community, how he turned Earn.com around from a debt-plagued business into a Coinbase acquisition and more.
One thing we do know is he is charged with bringing more innovation to Coinbase, a company that only trades four cryptocurrencies — so he is keeping a keen eye on what is happening on the blockchain space.
“There’s a lot of amazing stuff happening,” he said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “Atomic swaps, sharding, plasma, proof of stake, etc, and a big part of my job will be to take all of that stuff, and rank it based on whether we can use it to create new products for our users.”
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, pictured below at TechCrunch Disrupt London in 2014, called Srinavasan “one of the most respected technologists in the crypto field and… one of the technology industry’s few true originalists.”
Blockchain is the most disruptive new technology in technology today, and we’re excited to host our first show that is solely dedicated to the blockchain. The event takes place in the Swiss city of Zug — widely known as “Crypto Valley” due to its sizable number of crypto companies and a progressive approach to regulation — and it will bring together top figures from the blockchain space, developer community and business and startup worlds.
Other prominent speakers confirmed for the July 6 event include:
Roham Gharegozlou, the founder of smash-hit blockchain game CryptoKitties
Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project
Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger
Jun Hasegawa, CEO and founder of Omise and OmiseGo
Mona El Isa, CEO and co-founder of Melonport
Colin Hanna, associate at Balderton Capital
Galia Benartzi, co-founder and head of Business Development at Bancor
Gert Sylvest, co-founder of Tradeshift and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers
You can get your hands on tickets now — they’re priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — from the event website here.
If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, please contact us via this link.
Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.
Every tech founder worth their title knows that investors, customers and media exposure form the life blood of every early-stage startup. And there’s no better way to place your startup in front of these three essential groups than to exhibit in Startup Alley at Disrupt San Francisco 2018. The conference takes place on September 5-7, but if you want to secure your spot you need to apply to purchase a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package before the application window closes.
Startup Alley at Disrupt SF ’18 will feature more than 1,200 highly vetted, early-stage startups showcasing the very latest in tech products, platforms and services spanning the tech spectrum. You can expect more than 10,000 attendees to pass through the Alley, including more than 400 media outlets.
Exhibit your company in the Alley’s energetic atmosphere of networking, collaboration and possibility. According to Crunchbase, Startup Alley exhibitors at Disrupt SF 2017 raised more than $37 million in seed and Series A funding within the four months following the conference.
The Startup Alley Exhibitor package includes a one-day 4’x6′ exhibit space, three Disrupt SF Founder passes (as long as you apply before July 25) and you get to use CrunchMatch — our curated investor-to-startup matching platform.
Plus, you can take advantage of the Startup Alley exhibitor lounge and receive access to the full Disrupt press list. Your company also will have the chance to be selected as a Wildcard entry to the Startup Battlefield pitch competition. Did we mention that we doubled this year’s prize to $100,000? Yeah, we did that.
The Startup Alley Exhibitor Package offers enormous value at $1,995. But here’s the thing — you can apply to exhibit in Startup Alley for free as a TC Top Pick. Here’s what you need to know:
Companies vying for a free TC Top Pick spot must fit in one of these 12 categories: AI, AR/VR, Blockchain, Biotech, Fintech, Gaming, Healthtech, Privacy/Security, Space, Mobility, Retail or Robotics.
TechCrunch editors will review every TC Top Pick application and select only five companies for each category. Each of the 60 companies receives one free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and will also score sweet media coverage in the form of a recorded three-minute interview on the Startup Alley Showcase Stage — and TechCrunch will promote that video across its social media platforms.
Now pay close attention to these three deadlines. If you want to be considered for a TC Top Pick, you must apply by June 29. If you want your Startup Alley Exhibitor Package to include three Disrupt SF Founder passes, you must apply before July 25. And finally, the last-chance application deadline for a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package is August 8.
Disrupt San Francisco takes place on September 5-7, and you simply won’t find a better opportunity to showcase your early-stage startup to the most influential industry movers and shakers. One more thing. We believe in rewarding action, and early applicants will be eligible to score special offers, so apply today. We can’t wait to see you there!
YouTube announced new measures today to stem the spread of conspiracy theory videos and fake news on its platform, including inserting context from trustworthy sources into search results about hot topics. In a blog post, YouTube also said it is working with the Google News Initiative, which was launched by its parent company earlier this year to support journalists and publishers.
This includes earmarking $25 million in Google News Initiative funding to create a working group of news organizations and media experts that will advise YouTube on new features. Members already include Vox Media, Brazilian radio station Jovem Pan and India Today, with more to be added in the coming weeks. Part of the funding will also be used for grants that will be awarded to news organizations through an application process to help them train staff and build their video production capabilities. The money will also be used on expanding the YouTube team that works with news publishers.
YouTube has been blamed for the proliferation of conspiracy theories about historical topics including the moon landing and news events like the 2016 presidential election and Sandy Hook and Parkland, Florida school shootings, with its search and recommendation algorithms cited in particular for pushing problematic videos to more viewers. In March, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki promised new features to make YouTube a more reliable source of information during a South by Southwest panel, stating that “this has been a year of fake news and misinformation and we have seen the importance of delivering information to our users accurately.”
Similar to Facebook’s attempts to fight fake news by adding information about publishers and articles to News Feed, YouTube said it is will add context to search results about breaking news topics to help people quickly see if a video is from a trustworthy source. Search results will also include linked previews of news articles, since journalists usually write about breaking news first before producing more labor-intensive videos, and reminders that information about developing events can change quickly.
To combat conspiracy theories, YouTube will start displaying information from third-party sources like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica next to videos about “well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation,” including the Oklahoma City bombing and the moon landing.
Other new features include ones that will surface local news in the YouTube app for TV screens across 25 American media markets and the addition of Top News and Breaking News shelves (the row of videos users see at the top of their screens) that will highlight videos from news organizations on YouTube’s homepage. The Top News and Breaking News features are already available in 17 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, Japan, India, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria. YouTube says that number will double in the coming months.
The platform is also supporting MediaWise, a non-profit led by the Poynter Institute to help teens develop media and online awareness, and working with six YouTube Creators popular with young audiences, including John Green, Ingrid Nilsen and Mark Watson “to bring awareness to digital literacy and help educate teens.”
It’s almost time for SpaceX to launch NASA’s TESS, a space telescope that will search for exoplants across nearly the entire night sky. The launch has been delayed more than once already: originally scheduled for March 20, it slipped to April 16 (Monday), then some minor issues pushed it to today — at 3:51 PM Pacific time, to be precise. You can watch the launch live below.
TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is basically a giant wide-angle camera (four of them, actually) that will snap pictures of the night sky from a wide, eccentric and never before tried orbit.
NASA’s planet-hunting TESS telescope launches Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket (Update: Wednesday)
The technique it will use is fundamentally the same as that employed by NASA’s long-running and highly successful Kepler mission. When distant plants pass between us and their star, it causes a momentary decrease in that star’s brightness. TESS will monitor thousands of stars simultaneously for such “transits,” watching a single section of sky for a month straight before moving on to another.
By two years, it will have imaged 85 percent of the sky — hundreds of times the area Kepler observed, and on completely different stars: brighter ones that should yield more data.
TESS, which is about the size of a small car, will launch on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket by having it land on a drone ship, and the nose cone will, hopefully, get a gentle parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic, where it too can be retrieved.
The feed below should go live 15 minutes before launch, or at about 3:35.
Along with the launch of the all-new Echo Show, the Alexa-powered device with a screen, Amazon also introduced a new design language for developers who want to build voice skills that include multimedia experiences.
Called Alexa Presentation Language, or APL, developers will be able to build voice-based apps that also include things like images, graphics, slideshows and video, and easily customize them for different device types – including not only the Echo Show, but other Alexa-enabled devices like Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and the small screen of the Alexa alarm clock, the Echo Spot.
In addition, third-party devices with screens will be able to take advantage of APL through the Alexa Smart Screen and TV Device SDK, arriving in the months ahead. Sony and Lenovo will be putting this to use first.
Voice-based skill experiences can sometimes feel limited because of their lack of a visual component. For example, a cooking skill would work better if it just showed the steps as Alexa guided users through them. Other skills could simply benefit from visual cues or other complementary information, like lists of items.
Amazon says it found that Alexa skills that use visual elements are used twice as much as voice-only skills, which is why it wanted to improve the development of these visual experiences.
The new language was built from the ground up specifically for adapting Alexa skills for different screen-based, voice-first experiences.
At launch, APL supports experiences that include text, graphics, and slideshows, with video support coming soon. Developers could do things like sync the on-screen text and images with Alexa’s spoken voice. Plus, the new skills built with this language could allow for both voice commands, as well as input through touch or remote controls, if available.
The language is also designed to be flexible in terms of the placement of the graphics or other visual elements, so companies can adhere to their brand guidelines, Amazon says. And it’s adaptable to many different types of screen-based devices, including those with different sized screens or varying memory or processing capabilities.
When introducing the new language at an event in Seattle this morning, Amazon said that APL will feel familiar to anyone who’s used to working with front-end development, as it adheres to universally understood styling practices and using similar syntax.
Amazon is also providing sample APL documents to help developers get started, which can be used as-is or can be modified. Developers can choose to build their own from scratch, as well.
These APL documents are JSON files sent from a skill to a device. The device will then evaluate the document, import the images and other data, then render the experience. Developers can use elements like images, text, and scrollviews, pages, sequences, layouts, conditional expressions, speech synchronization, and other commands. Support for video, audio and HTML5 are coming soon.
“This year alone, customers have interacted with visual skills hundreds of millions of times. You told us you want more design flexibility -in both content and layout – and the ability to optimize experiences for the growing family of Alexa devices with screens,” said Nedium Fresko, VP of Alexa Devices and Developer Technologies, in a statement. “With the Alexa Presentation Language, you can unleash your creativity and build interactive skills that adapt to the unique characteristics of Alexa Smart Screen devices,” he said.
A handful of skills have already put APL to use, including a CNBC skill that shows a graph of stock performance; Big Sky that shows images to accompany its weather forecasts; NextThere, which lets you view public transit schedules; Kayak, which shows slideshows of travel destinations; Food Network, which shows recipes, and several others.
Alexa device owners will be able to use these APL-powered skills starting next month. The Developer Preview for APL starts today.
Check out our full coverage from the event here.
When consumers think of search, they mainly think of Google, but under the hood of enterprises and other organizations, there are hundreds of other kinds of challenges that require search technology. Today, one of the bigger companies providing search functionality, Elastic, saw just how valuable that business can be, by way of a very strong debut as a public company. Elastic today opened up at $70, a pop of 94 percent on its initial public offering at $36 on Thursday night, and after an active day of trades, $70 is where it closed, too.
Founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands, but with an office also in Mountain View, Elastic raised $252 million at a market capitalization of around $2.5 billion in that IPO, before commencing trading as ESTC on the New York Stock Exchange.
Its stock went as high as $74.20 today, more than 100 percent over its IPO price. The lowest it went is $66.17/share, evidence of strong demand for shares in the company.
Although Google has long dominated the market for consumer search queries, Elastic has taken the approach of providing a set of strong search tools to organizations to help them both with tackling their own internal data troves, but also to help them build products for their customers to use.
This is no small thing: the tech world is built on big data, and there are absolutely troves of it being created and that goes into making services work, but it’s only valuable if it can be harnessed, controlled and shaped to whatever purpose you need, and that’s where Elastic comes in, covering both customer-facing and internal requirements.
“When you hail a ride home from work with Uber, Elastic helps power the systems that locate nearby riders and drivers. When you shop online at Walgreens, Elastic helps power finding the right products to add to your cart. When you look for a partner on Tinder, Elastic helps power the algorithms that guide you to a match. When you search across Adobe’s millions of assets, Elastic helps power finding the right photo, font, or color palette to complete your project,” the company noted in its IPO prospectus.
“As Sprint operates its nationwide network of mobile subscribers, Elastic helps power the logging of billions of events per day to track and manage website performance issues and network outages. As SoftBank monitors the usage of thousands of servers across its entire IT environment, Elastic helps power the processing of terabytes of daily data in real time. When Indiana University welcomes a new student class, Elastic helps power the cybersecurity operations protecting thousands of devices and critical data across collaborating universities in the BigTen Security Operations Center. All of this is search.”
The company says its portfolio of search products — based on open source and existing under the brand Elastic Stack (which includes Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats, and Logstash) — have been downloaded over 350 million times since the company launched in 2013 — a mixture of paid and free products.
The strength of Elastic’s message/mission and customer base has been enough to entice investors despite the fact that the company is not profitable.
It has 5,500 customers across over 80 countries and in a wide range of industries, and it posted sales of $159.9 million in fiscal 2018, versus $88.2 million the year before, growth of 81 percent. It is also loss-making. Elastic posted net losses of $52.7 million in FY 2018, with a net loss of $52.0 million the year before, while operating cash flow was negative $20.8 million in FY 2018.
Dutch startups have had a strong little run in the market in the last couple of months. Adyen, the payments company, popped 67 percent when it made its debut in June. For some further context, Elastic had hoped to raise $100 million when it first filed its IPO in September. Overall for the tech IPO market, this is a big bounce back after the lacklustre performance of Funding Circle last week.