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YouTube just changed how you navigate videos in its mobile app

YouTube is updating its mobile app to make it easier to navigate through videos. The company announced it will this week roll out a new horizontal swiping gesture that lets you move forward and backward through the videos you’re watching. Swiping forward takes you to the next recommended video, while swiping back will take you to the last video you watched.
The video will also resume where you left off, in that case, says YouTube.
The change is designed to give users more control over video playback on mobile — the platform where now 70 percent of YouTube viewing is taking place.

It’s not the only adjustment YouTube has made for mobile users in recent months. The company last year added other features aimed at mobile users, including short-form creator content called Stories, screen time controls, a dark mode, autoplaying videos on the mobile app’s homepage and more. It also in 2017 added in-app video sharing and messaging, and began its work to better support different video formats when viewed in the app.
Plus, YouTube has been thinking of ways to better use gestures on mobile. For example, in 2017 it first introduced a feature that let you double-tap a video to jump forward or back by 10 seconds. The swipe feels like a natural extension of this earlier feature.
With horizontal left-right navigation, YouTube is making it easier to move through its app, which, in turn, may increase user engagement with its video content. It also could see people start to use the app for longer periods of time every time they launch it — which means more opportunity to monetize users through advertising and other in-app purchases, like merch and virtual currency (Super Chat).
The new feature is rolling out this week to iOS users, YouTube says. The company declined to say when the feature would hit Android.

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The graceful QX Inspiration Concept previews Infiniti’s electric lineup

Today at the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, Mich., Infiniti revealed its latest electric concept vehicle. Called the QX Inspiration Concept, this crossover is a preview of what’s to come from Infiniti.
The concept is built on Infiniti’s upcoming EV platform that will reportedly be used in all of Infiniti’s initial electric vehicles.
This concept is about the size of the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Infiniti’s QX50. And for good reason. That size is a proven winner with buyers. It’s the same reason Audi and Jaguar’s first EVs are around the size. Right now, consumers are looking for the height of small SUVs with the ride of a mid-size sedan. This platform is set to deliver both in an electric flavor.
QX Inspiration concept combines an electrified all-wheel-drive powertrain with SUV body, and introduces a new INFINITI form language for the electrified era
The platform is said to sport electric motors on each axle, providing direct power and all-wheel drive. This arrangement can be tuned in several fashions and does not necessarily speak to the potential performance of the vehicle. If coded as such, the dual motors could deliver blistering torque and 0-60 numbers or tuned in such a way to maximize range by preventing ludicrous speeds.
Infiniti didn’t release expected range of the upcoming platform or power numbers, as the automaker is still a few years away from releasing its EVs to dealers. Pricing will likely be in line with competitors, making the sticker price around $75,000 – $85,000.

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Freelancer banking service Shine switches to paid subscriptions

French startup Shine wants to be the only professional bank account you need if you’re a freelancer. So far, 25,000 people have signed up to the service, and the company recently raised a $9.3 million funding round.
Shine wants to help freelancers in France all steps of the way. After signing up, the app helps you fill out all the paperwork to create your freelancer status. You then get a card and banking information.
This way, you can generate invoices, accept payments and also pay for stuff. Creating an account and basic transactions have been free so far, but starting on January 21st, freelancers will have to pay €4.90 to €7.90 per month depending on their status.
Freelancers who generate less than €70,000 (so-called “auto-entrepreneurs”) will pay €4.90 per month, while others will pay more. This is still cheaper than most professional bank accounts. Existing users won’t have to pay anything.
The company mentioned premium plans in the past, but Shine now wants to create a single plan with a unified feature set for everyone. If you’re more serious about your indie lifestyle and generate a lot of revenue, you’ll pay a bit more.
In addition to that change, the startup is working on some new features. Soon, you’ll be able to generate better exports for accounting purposes. You’ll be able to deposit checks, control your account from a web browser, generate better invoices and more.
But Shine doesn’t just want to build an endless list of bullet points with as many features as possible. The company wants to create the best banking assistant for freelancers. You get notifications for admin tasks and you can ask the support team any question you have when it comes to the administrative part of your work.
It’s not just customer support for the product — it’s customer support for French paperwork. And that has some value by itself.

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Computer vision startup AnyVision pulls in new funding from Lightspeed

While there have been a few massive surveillance startups in China that have raised funds on the back of computer vision advances, there’s seemed to be less fervor outside of that market. Tel Aviv-based AnyVision is aiming to leverage its computer vision chops in tracking people and objects to create some pretty clear utility for the enterprise world.
After announcing a $28 million Series A in mid-2018, the computer vision startup is bringing Lightspeed Venture Partners into the raise, closing out the round at $43 million.
“When you have a company with the technology AnyVision has, and the market need that I’m hearing from across industries, what you need to do is push the gas pedal and build an organization which can monetize and take on this opportunity to grow massively,” Lightspeed partner Raviraj Jain told TechCrunch.
Right now the 200-person company has its eyes on the security and identity markets as it aims to bring its computer vision technology into more industry-tailored solutions.
The company’s “Better Tomorrow” product delivers camera-agnostic surveillance insights from its object and human-tracking tech. “Sesame” is the company’s consumer-facing play for bringing mobile banking authentication to hundreds of millions of phones. The company is still looking to release a retail analytics platform to customers, as well.

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A group of Google employees plans to educate people about forced arbitration

A group of Google employees is taking to Twitter and Instagram tomorrow in an attempt to educate the public about forced arbitration, Recode first reported. From 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. EST, this group will share stories and facts about forced arbitration, as well as interviews from survivors and experts.
This comes about one month after this same group of 35 employees banded together to demand Google end forced arbitration as it relates to any case of discrimination. The group also called on other tech workers to join them.
Forced arbitration ensures workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. These types of agreements effectively prevent employees from suing companies.
Following the massive, 20,000-person walkout at Google in November, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit.
But optional arbitration at Google is only granted for full-time employees, which does not include the thousands of contract workers at the company. As the employees noted on Medium in December, arbitration is still forced for discrimination cases pertaining to race, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, age and ability. Additionally, employee contracts in the U.S. still have an arbitration waiver, the employees wrote.
“The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity … nor any actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters,” the group wrote on Medium today. “(As of this publication, we have confirmed Google is still sending out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.)”
TechCrunch has reached out to Google and will update this story if we hear back.

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A group of Google employees plan to educate people about forced arbitration

A group of Google employees is taking to Twitter and Instagram tomorrow in an attempt to educate the public about forced arbitration, Recode first reported. From 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. EST, this group will share stories and facts about forced arbitration, as well as interviews from survivors and experts.
This comes about one month after this same group of 35 employees banded together to demand Google end forced arbitration as it relates to any case of discrimination. The group also called on other tech workers to join them.
Forced arbitration ensures workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. These types of agreements effectively prevent employees from suing companies.
Following the massive, 20,000-person walkout at Google in November, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit.
But optional arbitration at Google is only granted for full-time employees, which does not include the thousands of contract workers at the company. As the employees noted on Medium in December, arbitration is still forced for discrimination cases pertaining to race, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, age and ability. Additionally, employee contracts in the U.S. still have an arbitration waiver, the employees wrote.
“The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity … nor any actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters,” the group wrote on Medium today. “(As of this publication, we have confirmed Google is still sending out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.)”
TechCrunch has reached out to Google and will update this story if we hear back.

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Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures targets $350M for new funds

Valar Ventures, one of the three venture funds co-founded by Peter Thiel, has filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $350 million across two new funds. The PayPal co-founder and billionaire investor in Facebook and SpaceX is also behind Founders Fund and Mithril Capital Management.
Valar, a New York-based firm, plans to raise $150 million for its fifth flagship venture fund and an additional $200 million for its first opportunity fund, presumably for follow-on investments in its most high-growth investments, according to the documents.
Led by general partners Andrew McCormack and James Fitzgerald, Valar tends to invest in financial services companies. Its portfolio includes fintech startups N26, which recently raised a $300 million round at a $2.6 billion valuation, banking application Even and peer-to-peer currency exchange TransferWise.
Valar closed its debut fund on $32 million in 2014 and has since set its sights on larger pools of capital. Valar IV, the firm’s largest fund yet, brought in $133.4 million in 2018. Founders Fund, Thiel’s San Francisco venture firm, closed on more than $1 billion for its last effort, and Mithril, his growth equity firm, secured more than $800 million for its sophomore fund in 2017.

Banking startup N26 raises $300 million at $2.7 billion valuation

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More investors are betting on virtual influencers like Lil Miquela

Brud, the company behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela, is now worth at least $125 million thanks to a new round of financing the company is currently closing. Meanwhile, new venture-backed companies like the superstealthy Shadows, SuperPlastic and Toonstar are all developing virtual characters that will launch via social media channels like Snap and Instagram, or on their own platforms.
It’s all an effort to test whether audiences are ready to embrace even more virtual avatars — including ones that don’t try to straddle the uncanny valley quite as blatantly as Miquela and her crew.
The investors backing these companies say it’s the rise of a new kind of studio system — one that’s independent of the personalities and scandals that have defined a generation of Vine, YouTube and Instagram stars — and it’s attracting serious venture dollars.
“The way I look at it… a lot of it is going to be like any kind of content studio,” says Peter Rojas, a partner at the New York investment firm Betaworks Ventures. “In 2019 and 2020 we’re going to see a lot of these… we’re going to see a lot of people putting out a lot of stuff.”
Los Angeles-based Brud is by far the most established of this new breed in the U.S. (at least in terms of the amount of money it has raised). Last year the company scored at least $6 million from investors, including Sequoia Capital, BoxGroup and other, undisclosed, investors.

The makers of the virtual influencer, Lil Miquela, snag real money from Silicon Valley

And the company has done it again, and is in the process of closing on somewhere between $20 million and $30 million at a pre-money valuation of at least $125 million led by Spark Capital, according to people with knowledge of the round. Miquela “herself” teased that “she” had something to “share” with her roughly 1.5 million followers. Brud declined to comment.
If Miquela is arguably the most successful U.S. version of this new breed of entertainer, the collective behind the account is far from the only one.
Experiments in avastardom have been percolating in popular culture since at least the rise of the Gorillaz — the Damon Albarn assembled musical supergroup that released their first EP “Tomorrow Comes Today” in late 2000. Or, depending on your definition, perhaps as early as Space Ghost Coast to Coast, the mid-1990s Cartoon Network series featuring an animated superhero interviewing real celebrities.

And that success spawned imitators like Hatsune Miku, who’ve capture the imagination and hearts of audiences globally. In November, a Japanese fan named Akihiko Kondo spent $18,000 to wed the avatar. And he’s not alone. Gatebox, the company that manufactures hardware to display holograms of various anime characters in homes, has issued at least 3,700 marriage licenses to fans like Kondo.
At Betaworks, the firm is exploring the popularity of these virtual characters — and the role that artificial intelligence and new content creation technologies will play in reshaping entertainment and social media platforms. The company’s Synthetic Camp, which launches in mid-February, is around what Rojas calls “synthetic reality,” including the rise of avatar-driven media like Miquela.
“We’re looking more broadly at the issues around manipulated or faked content and how do you address that,” says Rojas. “Algorithmically generated content and how things like generative adversarial networks are being used to create and synthesize new photo and video content.”
For Rojas, the development of powerful new tools that enable the creation of new characters in minutes that, in the past, would have taken humans hundreds of thousands of hours, can unlock all sorts of possibilities for entertainment.
“The celebrity part comes into play where we’re now at a point where you can create these photorealistic avatars and put them into videos and have them wearing clothes without having to spend millions of dollars on CGI,” he says.
Betaworks is betting on the content studio aspect through companies like SuperPlastic, a new startup launched by Paul Budnitz, the founder of the alternative social network ello and Budnitz Bicycles. Budnitz is perhaps best known for Kidrobot, a manufacturer of branded collectibles and toys for adults and kids everywhere. But the company also believes there are opportunities in backing the content creation toolkits that can power this new kind of media star, like its investment in the media creation tool, Facemoji.
“There’s no reason why you won’t see it across the board. Our appetite for fresh content and this stuff is kind of limitless,” says Rojas. “And I don’t see it as zero sum. YouTube didn’t kill television, it just became Netflix… Things can move in two different directions at the same time. More high brow and more complex and higher level and also more democratized and lowbrow and dumb. There’ll be avatar tools and apps and games and then we’ll see stuff that’s top of the pyramid stuff like Lil Miquela and Shudu.”
At Toonstar, co-founders John Attanasio and Luisa Huang went from developing a platform to developing a studio. The two met at the Digital Media Group within Warner Brothers and were tasked with trying to experiment with technologies at the intersection of media generation and distribution.
“Daily, snackable and interactive are the three things that you need to be successful in the world,” says Attanasio. “We saw the impact that the rise of mobile was having on linear. We sat through a lot of meetings where you looked at audience trends and you saw that going in the wrong direction in the wrong color.”
So the two founders began contemplating what a new, low-cost, high-touch media network might look like. “We looked at mobile and we saw the massive animation gap. Animation takes a long time and it’s expensive, the average season can cost $3 million to $5 million and bringing a new series to life can take three to four years.”
For Attanasio and Huang, those timelines were too slow to take advantage of the mobile content revolution. So the two built a platform that initially focused on letting user-generated content flourish — a kind of YouTube for animated, avatar-driven storytelling that could be distributed on any social media platform or on Toonstar’s own site and app.

Toonstar lets you bring cartoon characters to life thanks to facial recognition

Since that launch, the company has refined its business model to become more of a traditional animation studio. “We do daily pop culture cartoons… and partner with creators and influencers,” says Attanasio. “Our whole thing is driven by proprietary tech that allows us to do things really fast and at low cost… 50 times faster and 90 percent cheaper than typical animation.”
Attanasio also realized the importance of creative talent. “We had no shortage of content, but it was shitty content,” Attanasio says. “That’s when you realize… what we’re doing… there’s three ingredients… One is tech, one is process and the third is creative… if you have tech and process and you take away creative what you have is an ocean of shit.”
Now, they’re also experimenting with creating their own animated influencer. Leveraging the popularity of the Musical.ly app (now rebranded under its new owner, TikTok), Toonstar launched Poppy.tv.
“We launched a channel called Poppy.tv. It was a blue chicken [and] she became musically famous,” Attanasio said. “Within three months Poppy had 300,000 followers and had an avid fan base for Poppy and her cast of characters.”
The content was episodic and ranged from 15 seconds to 30 seconds — and it was based on cartoon music videos. “That validated the thesis of can you create a cartoon influencer and can you have a broad audience be super engaged?… and the answer was ‘Yes,'” said Attanasio.
Then, taking a page from the early Cartoon Network playbook, Attanasio and Huang made the show interactive in a callback to the “Space Ghost” phenomenon. “We started doing cartoon live streams and the founders of Musical.ly asked us to do a weekly show that they would feature,” Attanasio says. “It was Poppy the Blue Chicken and we would broadcast for an hour every week. Famous musers on Musical.ly come in with a FaceTime… And there were games and all of it was live, in real time.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of working with virtual characters, according to Attanasio. “We understand how much money you can make from the IP. When we’re working with creators or influencers they understand that you have this shelf life as an influencer, but as IP, that can go on in perpetuity. There is something to be said about building a character. We’re all children of Saturday morning cartoons.”
And Toonstar is building an audience. Its show, the Danogs, has 4.5 million weekly viewers, and the company recently launched Black Santa — a show developed in partnership with the former NBA All-Star and tech investor Baron Davis. The NBA star and studio analyst also committed capital to Toonstar’s recent seed funding, a round led by Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister. In all, Toonstar said it has about 45 million weekly viewers for all of its shows.
Lil Miquela and fellow brud avatar Blawko22
Those kinds of numbers are music to the ears, of Dylan Flinn, a former agent at the Los Angeles powerhouse Creative Artists Agency, who left to start his own company.
Flinn has partnered with the producers of BoJack Horseman on a new venture called Shadows, which has already launched two virtual avatars into the wild.
Flinn got exposure to the virtual media world while at Rothenberg Ventures, the now defunct fund that invested in virtual reality and augmented reality. “I still had that lens of looking at innovation and virtual worlds and I’ve always been fascinated by what social media is doing.”
For Flinn, the virtual element of what’s being created is vitally important to the success of these ventures. “We’re not trying to create humans,” he says. “We look up to the Mickey Mouses and Looney Tunes and the Bugs Bunnies of the world. When I look at these 3D, [computer generated] human-based characters, it’s so close to the uncanny valley. We want to develop characters and we want to tell fictional stories rooted in reality.”
Like Attanasio at Toonstar, Flinn sees the speed at which digital content can be created and brought to market as a critical component of its success. “When I was at CAA you see how much money is wasted on development every year. This was an approach which was like, ‘What if you can develop in public and the best content can win?'” Flinn says.
Shadows already has two virtual avatars out in the wild, but he declined to identify which ones they were. Ultimately, he said, the goal is to have 20 characters a year, because once a couple of characters come to market and get traction with an audience, new characters can be introduced to old ones and the universe becomes a discovery engine of its own. That’s a strategy that Miquela and her crew are also employing, with varying degrees of success.
Ultimately, these types of entertainments aren’t going to go away — at least according to the investors and entrepreneurs who are creating the companies that are building them.
“People are totally fine with things that are artificial,” says Rojas. “People totally connect with Mario from Super Mario Bros. We always tell stories and have characters in whatever medium are available to us [like] Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube and Twitter. Thirty to 40 years ago it was television and radio and movies. People are going to express themselves and avatars end up being a form expression.”

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Daily Crunch: Twitter’s new app for testing new features

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. A first look at Twitter’s new beta app and its bid to remain ‘valuable and relevant’
In the coming weeks, Twitter’s going to launch a new beta program, where a select group of users will get access to new features, by way of a standalone app, and a way discuss new features with others. Twitter will then use data to decide how and if to turn those tests into full-blown product features for everyone else.
TechCrunch sat down with Sara Haider, Twitter’s director of product management, to take a closer look at the new app.
2. Apple HomePod comes to China at $400 amid iPhone sales woes
Apple said over the weekend that its smart speaker will be available in Mainland China and Hong Kong starting January 18, adding to a list of countries where it has entered including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain.
3. Some of the biggest web hosting sites were vulnerable to simple account takeover hacks
In some cases, clicking on a simple link would have been enough for Paulos Yibelo, a well-known and respected bug hunter, to take over the accounts of anyone using five large hosting providers — Bluehost, DreamHost, Hostgator, OVH and iPage.

4. Wiliot nabs $30M from Amazon, Avery Dennison, Samsung for a chip that runs on power from ambient radio frequencies
Wiliot makes semiconductors that harness ambient nanowatts of electromagnetic energy from cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks to work without batteries or other traditional wired power sources. (The startup has yet to manufacture or commercialize its chips, but TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden has seen a demo.)
5. Samsung’s new Galaxy M smartphones will launch in India first
Samsung is currently trying to recover its lead in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market behind China, after losing it to Xiaomi at the end of 2017.
6. How open-source software took over the world
Mike Volpi of Index Ventures argues that a number of fundamental changes have advanced the prospects of open-source businesses.
7. Scape Technologies raises $8M to let machines visually understand their surroundings
The technology will initially target augmented reality apps, but also can be used to power applications in mobility, logistics and robotics. More broadly, Scape wants to enable any machine equipped with a camera to understand its surroundings.

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Automattic announces Newspack to help news organizations publish and monetize

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, is announcing a new project called Newspack. While details are still thin, the company wants to help news organizations with an all-in-one solution to publish and monetize their content.
WordPress, the open-source project that lets you create websites on WordPress.com, is already a solid content management system (we use it at TechCrunch). But it becomes more difficult to use once you want to monetize your content using subscriptions, metered paywalls and user accounts. WordPress doesn’t have a native solution for that.
That’s why Automattic is working on a platform for news organizations — think about it as a version of WordPress specifically designed for news organizations. The company wants to help local news organizations more specifically, as those media companies don’t necessarily have a ton of development resources.
Media organizations can already apply to work with Automattic on this new platform. The service will be free during the development phase, and you can expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 per month after that.
Automattic, Spirited Media and News Revenue Hub have raised $2.4 million for this project. Google is spending $1.2 million through the Google News Initiative. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, blockchain organization ConsenSys, Civil Media and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation are also funding the project.
It’s an interesting move, as Medium has been trying to monetize online content for a while (with mixed results). Bigger players won’t necessarily move to Newspack. But many smaller websites covering a single topic or a small area could use multiple options on this front.

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Alibaba taps Kabbage to loan up to $150K to SMBs after it quietly acquired OpenSky to ramp in North America

Alibaba’s long-term ambition to grow its business in the U.S. is taking another step forward. To increase sales to U.S. small businesses, the company has partnered with Kabbage, the SoftBank-backed unicorn that provides loans to SMBs using big data and machine learning to determine eligibility faster than a traditional bank lender, to provide up to $150,000 of financing at the point of sale on Alibaba.com as part of a new program called Pay Later.
The move comes on the heels of an interesting, if slightly older, piece of news: Alibaba quietly made an acquisition in the U.S. last year to further its interests in the country as it continues to face-off with homegrown competition, with Amazon leading the charge.
In September 2018, with very little fanfare, Alibaba acquired a startup called OpenSky for an undisclosed amount to build out its business in North America.
Alibaba had originally taken a stake in OpenSky in 2015 as a part of a deal it struck for the startup to take over several sites it had tried to establish in the U.S., without much success.
Now, OpenSky runs Alibaba’s B2B business in North America (branded as Alibaba B2B and headed up by John Caplan, who had been the founder of OpenSky), and it is also the company’s main consumer face in the U.S., under the OpenSky brand, operating as a marketplace for various third-party merchants, and controlling a selection of the brands that Alibaba had offloaded back in 2015.
“Quietly” is the operative word with this acquisition. It seems the only announcement of the M&A was a post on LinkedIn, with the only media coverage being an edited version of the release on a small publishing blog. Meanwhile, there appears to be no reference whatsoever on OpenSky.com indicating Alibaba’s ownership of it.
While Alibaba is the undisputed king of commerce in Asia, its decision to work with Kabbage for financing in the U.S. — despite loans giant Ant Financial being an affiliate of Alibaba’s — underscores the giant’s current softly, softly approach in North America in the wake of some setbacks.
After failing to create much of a stir, and then offloading its group of U.S. consumer-focused sites, in 2017 the company made a big effort, led by CEO Jack Ma, to woo U.S. businesses to do more on Alibaba, starting with a big event in Detroit and a promise to President Trump that doing business on his site would lead to 1 million new jobs.
Now Ma says that won’t be possible because of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. Meanwhile, its affiliate Alipay’s attempted acquisition of Dallas-based MoneyGram for $1.2 billion got blocked by the U.S. government, citing national security concerns. And its ambitions to go head to head with AWS by way of Alibaba Cloud have also been scaled back.
But while the U.S. has remained an elusive market, it’s nonetheless a huge one where Alibaba wants to be. Considering both the Kabbage deal and the OpenSky acquisition, it seems that Alibaba has decided to take a less direct approach to growth in the U.S., tapping U.S.-built businesses to do it.
For Alibaba, offering a way to finance purchases is an essential component of courting small and medium businesses, which may not always have a large amount of working capital at hand to reinvest in equipment and other business services. The high $150,000 limit is a signal that this is not about buying small office supplies but making larger purchasing commitments.
“We recognized an opportunity to give our customers a convenient financing solution that allows them to improve their cash flow at competitive rates, so they can have the cash they need to grow their businesses,” said Caplan in a statement. “We are delighted to be partnering with Kabbage to empower our SMB customers to source at greater volumes, or improve their cash flow to invest in other areas of their businesses.”
On the part of Kabbage, appearing as an option at the point of sale is an obvious next step for a loans company, as it helps Kabbage connect directly with businesses looking for access to cash (one of the key reasons for loans being to buy goods for a business to run). The loans are constructed to be repaid over six months with interest rates starting at 1.25 percent.
Point of sale financing services like Pay Later aim to compete against other options that SMBs have when they are making larger purchases. In the case of Alibaba, other options include paying by credit cards, money transfers and e-checking. Pay Later will be the only one of these that is free to use (in that Alibaba itself won’t charge a transaction fee) after March of this year. It’s also potentially one of the faster options for completing the transaction if you don’t have immediate access to cash.
“When you are at the point of sale, you’re not going to stick around 48 hours waiting for a loan approval,” said Kabbage CEO and co-founder Rob Frohwein about the service.
Frohwein added that it had been working on a pilot of the service since the middle of last year and that Kabbage is Alibaba’s only partner for the service.
We asked and he confirmed Alibaba has not invested in Kabbage as part of the deal — both have a common investor in the form of SoftBank — and that they are not disclosing any financial terms of the arrangement. He also confirmed that Kabbage is likely to seek further equity funding in the near future.

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What3words breaks the world down into phrases

If you’re down in ///joins.slides.predict you may want to visit ///history.writing.closets, or if you’ve got a little money to spend, try the Bananas Foster at ///cattle.excuse.luggage. Either way, don’t forget to stop by ///plotting.nest.reshape before you fly out.
If things go what3words’ way, that’s how you’ll be sending out addresses in the future. Founded by musician Chris Sheldrick and Cambridge mathematician Mohan Ganesalingam, the company has cut the world into three meter boxes that are identified by three words. Totonno’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn is at ///cats.lots.dame, while the White House is at ///kicks.mirror.tops. Because there are only three words, you can easily find spots that have no addresses and without using cumbersome latitude and longitude coordinates.
The team created this system after finding that travelers found it almost impossible to find some out-of-the-way places. Tokyo, for example, is notoriously difficult to traverse via address, while other situations — renting a Yurt in Alaska, for example — require constantly updated addresses that do not lend themselves to GPS coordinates. Instead, you can tell your driver to take you to ///else.impulse.broom and be done with it.
The team has raised £40 million and is currently working on systems to add their mapping API to industrial and travel partners. You can browse the map here.
“I organized live music events around the world. Often in rural places. HeIfound equipment, musicians and guests got lost. We tried to give coordinates but they were impossible to remember and communicate accurately,” said Sheldrick. “This is the only address solution designed for voice, and the only system using words and not alphanumeric codes.”
Obviously this will take some getting used to. The three words might get mispronounced, leading to some fun problems, but in general it might be a good to way to get around the world in a post-modern way. After all, some of the spot names sound like poetry, and if you don’t like it you can always just go to ///drills.dandelions.bounds.

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