Immersive Labs, a cybersecurity skills platform founded by former GCHQ researcher James Hadley, has raised $8 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Goldman Sachs, with participation from a number of unnamed private investors.
Operating in the cybersecurity training space, Immersive Labs helps enterprise IT and other cybersecurity teams acquire the latest security skills by combining up to date threat data with what is described as “gamified” learning. This sees the startup use real-time feeds of the latest attack techniques, hacker psychology and technological vulnerabilities to quickly create “cyber war games” for IT and security teams to learn from.
The idea is that the platform can up-skill people within hours of a threat emerging, in addition to being used more generally to help identify and remedy less immediate weaknesses in a company’s cybersecurity team.
“First, there is a big picture problem that the world is crying out for cybersecurity talent and is currently struggling to fill that gap,” Immersive Labs founder and CEO James Hadley tells me. “Secondly, the way that cyber skills are being taught is massively obsolete and puts the companies they work for at risk. On many occasions, what is taught is out of date before people leave the classroom.”
The inspiration for Immersive Labs was born out of Hadley’s experience running a summer school at GCHQ. It was while running the course that he came to the realisation that “passive classroom-based learning doesn’t suit the people, or pace, of cybersecurity.”
“Not only does the content date quickly, but the lack of challenge is just not enough for the curious and creative minds required to be good in cyber. You can’t dictate, they have to teach themselves through exploration,” he says.
“We let technical and security teams learn cyber skills like an attacker, allowing them to keep pace by combining breaking threat data with short browser-based war games. This takes the form of a series of stories that encourage people to research, analyse and build their own attacks and solutions. Whilst doing this, they learn in a fun and compelling way.”
To that end, Immersive Labs says its Series A funding will be used to grow its offering for enterprise IT and cybersecurity teams. This will include investing in headcount and infrastructure to develop the platform further, and to support the company’s go-to-market strategy. Current clients include global corporates with complex cybersecurity needs, such as BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton.
Immersive Labs, a cyber security skills platform founded by James Hadley, who used to be a researcher at GCHQ, has raised $8 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Goldman Sachs, with participation from a number of unnamed private investors.
Operating in the cyber security training space, Immersive Labs helps enterprise IT and other cyber security teams acquire the latest security skills by combining up to date threat data with what is describes as “gamified” learning. This sees the startup use real-time feeds of the latest attack techniques, hacker psychology and technological vulnerabilities to quickly create “cyber wargames” for IT and security teams to learn from.
The idea is that the platform can up-skill people within hours of a threat emerging, in addition to being used more generally to help identify and remedy less immediate weaknesses in a company’s cyber security team.
“First, there is a big picture problem that the world is crying out for cyber security talent and is currently struggling to fill that gap,” Immersive Labs founder and CEO James Hadley tells me. “Secondly, the way that cyber skills are being taught is massively obsolete and puts the companies they work for at risk. On many occasions, what is taught is out of date before people leave the classroom”.
The inspiration for Immersive Labs was born out of Hadley’s experience running a summer school at GCHQ. It was while running the course that he came to the realisation that “passive classroom-based learning doesn’t suit the people, or pace, of cyber security”.
“Not only does the content date quickly, but the lack of challenge is just not enough for the curious and creative minds required to be good in cyber. You cant dictate, they have to teach themselves through exploration,” he says.
“We let technical and security teams learn cyber skills like an attacker, allowing them to keep pace by combining breaking threat data with short browser-based wargames. This takes the form of a series of stories that encourage people to research, analyse and build their own attacks and solutions. Whilst doing this, they learn in a fun and compelling way”.
To that end, Immersive Labs says its Series A funding will be used to grow its offering for enterprise IT and cyber security teams. This will include investing in headcount and infrastructure to develop the platform further, and to support the company’s go-to-market strategy. Current clients include global corporates with complex cyber security needs, such as BAE Systems, Sophos and Grant Thornton.
Instagram has found something it likes more than a Kardashian-Jenner family baby, and it’s an egg.
This weekend, a photo of a plain egg became the most-liked photo on Instagram, the social app owned by Facebook with more than one billion users that’s reflective of internet culture.
The photo, which you can see below in its full glory, currently had more than 23 million likes at the time of writing. That has seen it surpass a February 18 photo from Kylie Jenner — the sister of Kim Kardashian and a reality TV star in her own right — which announced the birth of her baby with rapper Travis Scott and has 18.2 million likes.
View this post on Instagram
Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram. Beating the current world record held by Kylie Jenner (18 million)! We got this #LikeTheEgg #EggSoldiers #EggGang
A post shared by EGG GANG (@world_record_egg) on Jan 4, 2019 at 9:05am PST
Unlike Jenner, who has 21 million Instagram followers, the egg account — “world_record_egg” — is a newcomer that seems to have been created in early January. Nothing is known of its ownership, although it had 2.4 million followers at the time of writing, which could — and I can’t believe I’m writing this… — make it an influencer account.
While much can be said about Jenner’s rise to fame, she’s a pretty successful entrepreneur. Her two-year-old “Kylie Cosmetics” brand is estimated to gross over $600 million in annual revenue. While it is funny that a photo of an egg can take the record on Instagram, there might be more to it. Jenner’s company trades on her brand, the egg could be a rejection or protest of today’s reality TV culture… which is best embodied by the Kardashians and, in particular, Kylie Jenner. That certainly seems the case looking at the splurge in new and egg-related comments on Jenner’s birth post from last year.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking and this is just another internet phenomenon that can’t be explained. It could simply be a joke that blew up, but don’t discount the potential that this is a stunt from a company launching a new product or wanting to make a splash.
Showing that she might have a sense of humor, 21-year-old Jenner acknowledged the new record in a video of her smashing an egg.
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Take that little egg
A post shared by Kylie (@kyliejenner) on Jan 13, 2019 at 6:04pm PST
This is the second social media record set this year after Twitter got a new most-retweeted tweet — however, the roles were very much different.
Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who is paying Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a trip to the moon, saw a tweet that offered nearly $1 million in prize money for retweets surpass a true internet phenomenon, U.S. teen Carter Wilkerson. Back in April 2017, Wilkerson took to Twitter to plead for free chicken nuggets; his original tweet now has around 3.6 million retweets.
Samsung will launch its new lower-priced Galaxy M series in India before the smartphones roll out globally. Asim Warsi, senior vice president of Samsung India’s smartphone business, told Reuters that three devices will be available through its website and Amazon India at the end of January and are intended to help the company double online sales.
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, when Xiaomi’s sales in India overtook Samsung for the first time, according to data from both Canalys and Counterpoint.
Xiaomi’s budget Redmi series gave it an advantage since Samsung had a dearth of competitors in the same price bracket, but analysts noted the Korean electronics giant maintains an edge in terms of R&D and supply chain expertise. Samsung leaned into those strengths last year, opening what it describes as the world’s largest mobile phone factory in Noida, just outside of New Delhi.
Specs about the three Galaxy M smartphones emerged last month, with details appearing on platform benchmark Geekbench about devices called M10, M20 and M30, the latter of which may be powered by an Exynos 7885 chip with 4GB ram.
Warsi told Reuters that “the M series has been built around and incepted around Indian millennial consumers.” The price range of Indian-first smartphones will be from less than 10,000 rupees (about $142) to 20,000 rupees. TechCrunch has emailed Samsung for more information about the new phones.
The company will debut the latest version of its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S10, in San Francisco on Feb. 20.
Apple is finally launching HomePod in China, but the timing is tricky as the premium device will have to wrestle with local competitors and a slowing economy. The firm 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 US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain.
The Amazon Echo competitor, which launched in mid-2017, is already available to Chinese buyers through third-party channels like “daigou”, or shopping agents who bring overseas products into China. What separates the new model is that it supports Mandarin, the official language on Mainland China and Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong and China’s most populated province Guangdong. Previously, Chinese-speaking users had to converse with HomePod in English until a system update in December that added Siri support for the two Chinese dialects.
A main selling point of HomePod is its focus on music, so the China version comes with Airplay support of a range of local music streaming apps like Tencent’s QQ Music for Mainland users and JOOX which is more popular in Hong Kong.
In its home market, HomePod remains an underdog with 5 percent market share while Amazon Echo and Google Home command 66 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
The question is how many Chinese shoppers are willing to shell out 2799 yuan, or $414, for the Siri-controlled speaker. A host of much cheaper options from local giants are available, such as Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, Xiaomi’s Mi AI and several models from Baidu.
Analysts have cited relatively high price — on top of a softening economy — as a major culprit for iPhones’ low sales in China, which have prompted Apple to lower its quarterly revenue forecast for the first time in over a decade and Chinese retailers to slash iPhone prices. It remains to see how Chinese shoppers react to HomePod, which is already about 17 percent higher than its normal $349 price in the US.
Correction: (January 14, 2018, 14:00 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that HomePod in non-China markets began supporting Chinese in December.
Winter is coming this spring.
HBO is finally revealing when season 8 of Game of Thrones will begin. On Sunday, HBO released a new teaser for Games of Thrones that announced the first episode will air April 14. The season 8 teaser, called Crypts of Winterfell, was released on YouTube and played before the third season premiere of True Detective.
The teaser depicts Jon Snow, Sansa and Arya Stark walking through a crypt that includes three statutes bearing their likeness. TechCrunch won’t spoil what comes next. Watch below.
Fans of Games of Thrones have been waiting more than a year for the HBO series based on George R. R. Martin novels to return. Last January, HBO broke it to dedicated fans that Game of Thrones wouldn’t be returning until 2019.
The season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” aired on August 27, 2017.
HBO didn’t provide any other details about season 8, including if episodes would be longer than 60 minutes. HBO has previously said the final season would have six episodes.
Cadillac revealed Sunday what will likely be the first electric vehicle in the luxury brand’s portfolio. And surprise, it’s a crossover.
The images of the full-size crossover SUV, which was unveiled during a debut party for the 2020 Cadillac XT6 in Detroit, kicks off a transformation of GM’s luxury brand. On Friday, GM announced plans to turn Cadillac into its lead electric vehicle brand in a bid to compete against Tesla as well as a host of other automakers bringing EVs onto the market.
Not much is known about this crossover yet. Cadillac said the name of the electric crossover and additional details about the vehicle will be revealed closer to launch.
This vehicle will not be based on the electric architecture found on GM’s Chevrolet models, the Volt or the Bolt EV. GM is starting with a clean slate and developing a new battery electric architecture, which Cadillac will be the first to use.
The most advanced components within the platform are the drive units and battery cells, which will be used throughout GM vehicle lineups in different countries, according to the automaker. The EVs can be configured in front-, rear- or all-wheel drive, and the output of their battery systems will be adjustable based on vehicle and customer needs, GM said.
The battery system also will be adjustable, based on vehicle and customer requirements.
This appears to be the beginning of an aggressive product acceleration for Cadillac. Fresh off of the XT6 crossover reveal, Cadillac also hinted at both a future Escalade and an upcoming performance sedan. Cadillac said it plans to introduce new models at the rate of roughly one every six months through 2021.
Twitter has made a name for itself, at its most basic level, as a platform that gives everyone who uses it a voice. But as it has grown, that unique selling point has set Twitter up for as many challenges — harassment, confusing way to manage conversations — as it has opportunities — the best place to see in real time how the public reacts to something, be it a TV show, a political uprising, or a hurricane.
Now, to fix some of the challenges, the company is going to eat its own dogfood (birdfood?) when it comes to having a voice.
In the coming weeks, it’s going to launch a new beta program, where a select group of users will get access to features, by way of a standalone app, to use and talk about new features with others. Twitter, in turn, will use data that it picks up from that usage and chatter to decide how and if to turn those tests into full-blown product features for the rest of its user base.
We sat down with Sara Haider, Twitter’s director of product management, to take a closer look at the new app and what features Twitter will be testing in it (and what it won’t), now and in the future.
The company today already runs an Experiments Program for testing, as well as other tests, for example to curb abusive behavior, to figure out how to help the service run more smoothly. This new beta program will operate differently.
While there will only be around a couple thousand participants, those accepted will not be under NDA (unlike the Experiments Program). That means they can publicly discuss and tweet about the new features, allowing the wider Twitter community to comment and ask questions.
And unlike traditional betas, where users test nearly completed features before a public launch, the feedback from the beta could radically change the direction of what’s being built. Or, in some cases, what’s not.
“Unlike a traditional beta that is the last step before launch, we’re bringing people in super early,” Haider said.
The first version of the beta will focus on a new design for the way conversation threads work on Twitter. This includes a different color scheme, and visual cues to highlight important replies.
“It’s kind of a new take on our thinking about product development,” explains Haider. “One of the reasons why this is so critical for this particular feature is because we know we’re making changes that are pretty significant.”
She says changes of this scale shouldn’t just be dropped on users one day.
“We need you to be part of this process, so that we know we’re building the right experience,” Haider says.
Once accepted into the beta program, users will download a separate beta app – something that Twitter isn’t sure will always be the case. It’s unclear if that process will create too much friction, the company says, so it will see how testers respond.
Here are some of the more interesting features we talked and saw getting tested in the beta we were shown:
During the first beta, participants will try out new conversation features which offer color-coded replies to differentiate between responses from the original poster of the tweet, those from people you follow, and those from people you don’t follow.
In a development build of the beta app, Haider showed us what this looked like, with the caveat that the color scheme being used has been intentionally made to be overly saturated – it will be dialed down when the features launch to testers.
When you click into a conversation thread, the beta app will also offer visual cues to help you better find the parts of the thread that are of interest to you.
One way it’s doing so is by highlighting the replies in a thread that were written by people you follow on Twitter. Another change is that the person who posted the original tweet will also have their own replies in the thread highlighted.
In the build Haider showed us, replies from people she followed were shown in green, those from non-followers were blue, and her own replies were blue.
Algorithmically sorted responses
One of the big themes in Twitter’s user experience for power and more casual users is that they come up with workarounds for certain features that Twitter does not offer.
Take reading through long threads that may have some interesting detail that you would like to come back to later, or that branches off at some point that you’d like to follow after reading through everything else. Haider says she marks replies she’s seen with a heart to keep her place. Other people use Twitter’s “Tweets & Replies” section to find out when the original poster had replied within the thread, since it’s hard to find those replies when just scrolling down.
The same kind of algorithmic sorting that Twitter has applied to your main timeline might start to make its way to your replies. Already, replies on Twitter may be shown in a ranked order, so the important ones — like those from your Twitter friends — are moved to the top, and what two people see in a group of replies may differ. Now, those replies and the branches of conversation that come off them may start to become easier to follow, also based on algorithms.
A later test may involve a version of Twitter’s Highlights, summaries of what it deems important, coming to longer threads, Haider said.
The time-based view is not going to completely leave, however. “The buzz, that feeling and that vibe [of live activity] that is something that we never want to lose,” CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey said last week on stage at CES. “Not everyone will be in the moment at the exact same time, but when you are, it’s an electrifying feeling…. Anything we can do to make a feeling of something much larger than yourself [we should].”
Removing hearts + other engagement icons
Another experiment Twitter is looking at is what it should do with its engagement buttons to streamline the look of replies for users. The build that we saw did not have any hearts to favorite/like Tweets, nor any icons for retweets or replies, when the Tweets came in the form of replies to another Tweet.
The icons and features didn’t completely disappear, but they would only appear when you tapped on a specific post. The basic idea seems to be: engagement for those who want it, a more simplified view for those who do not.
The heart icon has been a subject of speculation for some time now. Last year, the company told us that it was considering removing it, as part of an overall effort to improve the quality of conversation. This could be an example of how Twitter might implement just that.
Twitter may also test other things like icebreakers (pinned tweets designed to start conversations), and a status update field (i.e. your availability, location, or what you are doing, as on IM).
The status test, in fact, points to a bigger shift we may see in how Twitter as a whole is used, especially by those who come to the platform around a specific event.
One of the biggest laments has been that on-boarding on the app — the experience for those who are coming to Twitter for the first time — continues to be confusing. Twitter admits as much itself, and so — as with its recent deal with the NBA to provide a unique Twitter experience around a specific game — it will be making more tweaks and tests to figure out how to move Twitter on from being fundamentally focused around the people you follow.
“We have some work to do to make it easier to discover,” Dorsey said, adding that right now the platform is “more about people than interests.”
While all products need to evolve over time, Twitter in particular seems a bit obsessed with continually changing the basic mechanics of how its app operates.
It seems that there are at least a couple of reasons for that. One is that, although the service continues to see some growth in its daily active users, its monthly active users globally have been either flat, in decline, or growing by a mere two percent in the last four quarters (and in decline in the last three of the four quarters in the key market of the US).
That underscores how the company still has some work to do to keep people engaged.
The other is that change and responsiveness seem to be the essence of how Twitter wants to position itself these days. Last week, Dorsey noted that Twitter itself didn’t invent most of the ways that the platform gets used today. (The “RT” (retweet), which is now a button in the app; the hashtag; tweetstorms; expanded tweets, and even the now-ubiquitous @mention are all examples of features that weren’t created originally by Twitter, but added in based around how the app was used.)
“We want to continue our power of observation and learning… what people want Twitter to be and how to use it,” Dorsey said. “It allows us to be valuable and relevant.”
While these continual changes can sometimes make things more confusing, the beta program could potentially head off any design mistakes, uncover issues Twitter itself may have missed, and help Twitter harness that sort of viral development in a more focused way.
Investors are still pouring millions into scooter startups, albeit sometimes at flat valuations. At the same time a little cash is flowing the other way, in cases where cities have realized the importance of prioritizing the needs of the local environment and its citizens, over and above the ambitions of VCs for a swift and lucrative exit.
Scooter startups affected by such regulatory bumps in the road are, unsurprisingly, rather less keen to shout about this sort of policy friction and the negative cash and ride flow it generates.
In one recent incident in Spain, in the Catalan capital of Barcelona, El Pais reported that the town hall fined a local scooter startup, called Reby, for contravening urban mobility rules.
The startup is so new it doesn’t even have scooters available for public hire yet. But it’s already had some of its ‘test’ rides removed by police and been fined for breaking scooter sharing rules.
If it was hoping to copy-paste from an Uber 1.0 playbook, things aren’t looking good for Reby. (Indeed, that’s a very tatty manual in most places these days.)
Spain’s capital city Madrid also forced a temporary suspension on scooter sharing startups recently, as we reported last month, after changes to mobility laws that tighten the screw on scooter sharing — requiring already operational startups to tweak how their rides operate in order to come into compliance.
While Madrid authorities haven’t banned scooter sharing entirely, they have imposed more limits on where and how they can be used, thereby injecting fresh friction into the business model.
But compared to Barcelona that’s actually a free ride. Things aren’t so much bumpy as roadblocked entirely for scooter sharing in the latter city where regulations adopted by Barcelona town hall in 2017 essentially ban the on-demand scooter model, at least as startups prefer to operate it.
These rules require companies that wanting to offer scooters for hire must provide a guide with the ride (one guide per maximum two people), as well as a helmet. They must also verify that the person to whom the vehicle is hired has the ability to ride it properly.
Rides might scale if you’re able to litter enough cheap and easy scooters all over the urban place but a (human) guide per two rides definitely does not.
Yet, as we’ve written before, there’s no shortage of patinetes electronics weaving around Barcelona’s often narrow and crowded streets. Most of these are locally owned though. And the town hall appears to prefer it that way. After all, people who own high tech scooters aren’t usually in a rush to ditch them in stupid places.
In its 2017 by-law regulating various personal mobility vehicles (PMVs) — including, but not limited to, two-wheeled electric scooters — the city council said it wanted to foster safer and sustainable usage of scooters and other PMVs, pointing to “the growing presence of this new mobility which is taking up more and more road space”.
“Barcelona City Council is committed to a sustainable city mobility model which gives priority to journeys on foot, by bicycle or on public transport,” it added, setting out what it dubbed a “pioneering regulation” that forbids e-scooter use on pavements; imposes various speed restrictions; and gives priority to pedestrians at all times.
Scooters can also only be parked in authorized parking places, with the council emphasizing: “It is forbidden to tie them to trees, traffic lights, benches or other items of urban furniture when this could affect their use or intended purpose; in front of loading or unloading zones, or in places reserved for other users, such as persons with reduced mobility; in service areas or where parking is prohibited, such as emergency exits, hospitals, clinics or health centres, Bicing [the local city bike hire scheme] zones and on pavements where this might block the path of pedestrians.”
There’s more though: The regulation also targets scooter sharing startups seeking to exploit PMVs as a commercial opportunity — with “special conditions for economic activities”.
These include the aforementioned guide, helmet and minimum skill level rule. There’s also a registration scheme for PMVs being used for economic activity which allows city police to scan a QR code that must be displayed on the ride to check it conforms to the regulation’s technical requirements. How’s that for a smart use of tech?
“There may be specific restrictions in specific areas and districts where there is a lot of pressure from these kinds of vehicles or they pose a specific problem,” the council also warns, giving itself further leeway to control PMVs and ensure they don’t become a concentrated nuisance.
Despite what are clear, strict and freshly imposed controls on scooter sharing, that hasn’t stopped a couple of smaller European startups from trying their luck at getting rentable rubber on Catalan carrers anyway — perhaps encouraged by demonstrable local appetite to scoot (that and the lack of any big Birds).
The opportunity probably looks tantalizing; a dense urban environment that’s also a tourist hotspot with clement weather, lots of two-wheel-loving locals and a small but vibrant tech scene.
In Reby’s case, the very early stage Catalan startup, whose co-founders’ LinkedIn profiles suggests the business was founded last July, has a website and not much else at this point, aside from its ambitions to follow in the wheeltracks of Bird, Lime et al.
Nonetheless it has racked up fines worth €5,300 (just over $6,000), according to town hall sources, after being deemed to have breached the city’s PMV rules.
Reby had put out up to a hundred scooters in Barcelona for ten days, according to El Pais, padlocking them to bike anchors (with a digital password for unchaining delivered via app) — presumably in the hopes of locating a grey area in the regulation and unlocking the pile em’ high, rent em’ cheap dockless on-demand scooter model that’s disrupted cities elsewhere.
But the Ayuntamiento de Barcelona was unimpressed. Its new by-law brought in a penalty system with fines of up to €100 for minor infringements, up to €200 for serious infringements and up to €500 for very serious infringements. (We understand Reby received 53 sanctions for minor infringements — costing €100 apiece).
Penalties are levied per infringement, so essentially per scooter deployed on the street. And while a few thousand euros might not sound that much of a big deal, the more scooters you scatter the higher the fine scales. And of course that’s not the kind of scaling these startups are scooting for.
We asked Reby for its version of events but it didn’t want to talk about it. A spokesman told us it’s still very early days for the business, adding: “We are a very small team and haven’t launched yet officially. We are doing some tests in Barcelona.”
A more established European scooter startup, Berlin-based Wind, has also clashed with city hall. El Pais reports it had around 100 scooters seized by police last August, also after abortively trying to put them on the streets for hire.
Town hall sources told us that, in Wind’s case, the company’s rides were removed immediately by police, not even lasting a day — so there wasn’t even the chance for a fine to be issued. (We contacted Wind for comment on the incident but it did not respond.)
The bottom line is legislative hurdles won’t simply vanish because startups wish it.
Where scooters are concerned city authorities aren’t dumb and can also move surprisingly fast. The dumping grounds some urban spaces have become after being flooded with unwanted dockless rides by overfunded startups chasing scale via max disruption (and minimum environmental sensitivity) certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
At the same time, keeping streets flowing, uncluttered and safe is the bread and butter business of city councils — naturally pushing PMVs up the regulatory agenda.
You also don’t have to look far for tragic stories vis-a-vis scooters. Last summer a 90-year-old pedestrian was killed in a suburb of Barcelona after she was hit by two men riding an electric scooter. In another incident in a nearby town a 40-year-old scooter rider also reportedly died after falling off her ride and being run over by a truck.
The risks of PMVs mingling with pedestrians and more powerful road vehicles are both clear and also not about to disappear. Not without radical action to expel most non-PMV vehicles from city centers to expand the safe (road) spaces where lower powered, lighter weight PMVs could operate. (And no major cities are proposing anything like that yet).
Add to that, in European cities like Barcelona, where there has already been major investment in public transport infrastructure, there’s a clear incentive to funnel residents along existing tracks, including by tightly controlling new and supplementary forms of micro-mobility.
If the Barcelona city council has one potential blind spot where urban mobility is concerned it’s air pollution. Like most dense urban centers the city often suffers terribly from this. And savvy scooter companies would do well to be pressing on that policy front.
But there’s little doubt that would-be fast-follower scooter clones have their work cut out to scale at all, let alone go the distance and get big enough to attract acquisitive attention from the category’s beefed up early movers.
Even then, for the Birds and Limes of the scooter world, multi-millions in funding may buy runway and the opportunity to scoot for international growth but policy roadblocks aren’t the kind of thing that money alone can shift.
Scooter startups need to sell cities on the potential civic benefits of their technology, by demonstrating how PMVs could replace dirtier alternatives that are already clogging roads and having a deleterious impact on urban air quality, as part of a modern and accessible mobility mix.
But that kind of lobbying, while undoubtedly benefiting from local connections, takes money and time. So there’s no shortage of challenge and complexity in the road ahead for scooter startups, even as — as we wrote last month — the investment opportunity is shrinking, with investors having now placed their big bets.
In some cities, scooter ownership also appears to be growing in popularity which will also eat into any sharing opportunities.
One regional investor from an early stage Madrid-based fund that we spoke to about scooters had no qualms at having passed over the space. “We’ve looked at various companies in the space and in Spain but we’re not very attracted by the market given our fund size, competition and regulation question marks,” KFund‘s Jamie Novoa told us.
So those entrepreneurs still dreaming of fast following the likes of Bird, Lime and Spin may find the race they were hoping to join is already over and park gates being padlocked shut.
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Henrique Dubugras is the founder Brex, the billion-dollar corporate credit provider for startups.
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Lessons from building Brex into a billion-dollar startup
When I hear protesters shout, “Immigrants are welcome here!” at the San Francisco immigration office near my startup’s headquarters, I think about how simple a phrase that is for a topic that is so nuanced, especially for me as an immigrant entrepreneur.
Growing up in Brazil, I am less familiar with the nuances of the American debate on immigration legislation, but I know that immigrants here add a lot of jobs and stimulate the local economy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, I’ve tried to check all of those boxes, and really prove my value to this country.
My tech startup Brex has achieved a lot in a short period of time, a feat which is underscored by receiving a $1 billion dollar valuation in just one year. But we didn’t achieve that high level of growth in spite of being founded by immigrants, but because of it. The key to our growth and to working towards building a global brand is our international talent pool, without it, we could never have gotten to where we are today.
So beyond Brex, what do the most successful Silicon Valley startups have in common? They’re also run by immigrants. In fact, not only are 57% of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers immigrants, they also make up 25% of business founders in the US. You can trace the immigrant entrepreneurial streak in Silicon Valley from the founders of SUN Microsystems and Google to the Valley’s most notorious Twitter User, Tesla’s Elon Musk.
Immigrants not only built the first microchips in Silicon Valley, but they built these companies into the tech titans that they are known as today. After all, more than 50% of billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants, and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/jvoves
While it might sound counterintuitive, immigrants create more jobs and make our economy stronger. Research from the National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years. According to the research, “WeWork went from 1,200 to 6,000 employees between 2016 and 2018, Houzz increased from 800 to 1,800 employees the last two years, while Cloudflare went from 225 to 715 employees.”
We’ve seen the same growth at Brex. In just one year we hired 70 employees and invested over $6 million dollars in creating local jobs. Our startup is not alone, as Inc. recently reported, “50 immigrant-founded unicorn startups have a combined value of $248 billion, according to the report [by NFAP], and have created an average of 1,200 jobs each.”
One of the fundamental drivers of our success is our international workforce. Many of our key-hires are from all over Latin America, spanning from Uruguay to Mexico. In fact, 42% of our workforce is made up of immigrants and another 6% are made up of children of immigrants. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams are more productive and work together better, but that’s only part of the reason why you should bet on an international workforce. When you’re working with the best and brightest from every country, it inspires you to bring forth your most creative ideas, collaborate, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It motivates you to be your best.
With all of the positive contributions immigrants bring to this country, you’d think we’d have less restrictive immigration policies. However, that’s not the case. One of the biggest challenges that I face is hiring experienced, qualified engineers and designers to continue innovating in a fast-paced, competitive market.
This is a universal challenge in the tech industry. For the past 10 years, software engineers have been the #1 most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers. Yet, we’re still projected to have a shortage of two million engineering jobs in the US by 2022. How can you lead the charge of innovation if you don’t have the talent to do it?
What makes matters worse is that there are so few opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants. This is limiting job growth, knowledge-sharing, and technological breakthroughs in this country. And we risk losing top talent to other nations if we don’t loosen our restrictive visa laws.
H1-B visa applications fell this year, and at the same time, these visas have become harder to obtain and it has become more expensive to acquire international talent. This isn’t the time to abandon the international talent pool, but to invest in highly specialized workers that can give your startup a competitive advantage.
Already, there’s been a dramatic spike in engineering talent moving to Canada, with a 40% uptick in 2017. Toronto, Berlin, and Singapore are fastly becoming burgeoning tech hubs, and many fear (rightfully) that they will soon outpace the US in growth, talent, and developing the latest technologies.
This year, U.S. based tech companies generated $351 billion of revenue in 2018. The U.S. can’t afford to miss out on this huge revenue source. And, according to Harvard Business School Professor William R. Kerr and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, “Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”
Immigrants have made Silicon Valley the powerhouse that it is today, and severely limiting highly-skilled immigration benefits no-one. Immigrants have helped the U.S. build one of the best tech hubs in the world— now is the time for startups to invest in international talent so that our technology, economy, and local communities can continue to thrive.
The Gillmor Gang — Keith Teare, Esteban Kolsky, Doc Searls, Michael Markman and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Saturday January 12, 2019. OK, it’s 2019 and we’re talking yet again about RSS, the social decline, and whatever micronetworks is supposed to mean.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@kteare, @ekolsky, @fradice, @mickeleh, @stevegillmor
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We in the West love our apocalyptic science fiction, in which cartoonishly evil authorities ruthlessly oppress all who so much as wonder about their absolute power, enforced via ubiquitous surveillance technology. Think The Hunger Games, Blade Runner 2049, V for Vendetta, just to pick a few. Well — to trot out that infamous William Gibson line, the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.
Yearly reminder: unless you're over 60, you weren't promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.
— Kyle Marquis (@Moochava) July 10, 2013
I’m thinking of Xinjiang, northwest China, which, according to panoply of reports over the last year, has become an oppressive surveillance police state: Georgetown professor James Millward conjures it:
While on your way to work or on an errand, every 100 meters you pass a police blockhouse. Video cameras on street corners and lamp posts recognize your face and track your movements. At multiple checkpoints, police officers scan your ID card, your irises and the contents of your phone. At the supermarket or the bank, you are scanned again, your bags are X-rayed and an officer runs a wand over your body […] The system crunches all of this into a composite score … [Based on it] you may or may not be allowed to visit a museum, pass through certain neighborhoods, go to the mall, check into a hotel, rent an apartment, apply for a job or buy a train ticket. Or you may be detained to undergo re-education.
It’s the little details which really drive home the real-life dehumanization of the surveillance state. “Installing cameras in some people’s homes.” “Officers recorded their voices, took pictures of their heads at different angles and collected hair and blood samples.” Targeting “people who have received a phone call from overseas.” (Both from the NYT.)
Fuel stations are surrounded by barbed wire. Passengers must dismount outside the station; only the driver is allowed inside after strict ID and security checks […] One tourist who tried to buy a knife uploaded a video on how the knife was registered to the buyer’s ID, the ID number was then laser-emblazoned onto the blade, and his face recognition recorded
— Suhasini Haidar, in excellent travelogue piece in The Hindu.
The first thing that strikes you on arrival to Xinjiang, driving from the airport into the city, is the propaganda. It’s everywhere […] The other thing that is always in your field of sight is the police. Oh, the police. They are literally (literally) everywhere […] Xinjiang is a police state, and it’s open about it. Blatant […] “your conversations are being listened to, your GPS is being recorded. If you do anything stupid on the phone, police will come in less than 30 minutes and take you away” […] Inside both entries and exits, there is a metal scanner, an ID card reader, and in some (not many) places a facial recognition camera. All places have a computer and a small box which is reportedly used to download all information from smartphones […] (Xinjiang still uses 3G signals, not LTE, I wonder why) […] if [restaurants] want to keep things private by blocking the windows, they have to have surveillance cameras inside […] We saw life under a complete, multi-layered surveillance system that has basically no blind spots at all.
— Vadim Mikhailov, in another fantastic first-person travelogue published in Palladium
There exist “many credible reports that China had detained a million or more ethnic Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang and forced as many as two million to submit to re-education and indoctrination.” “The Australian Strategic Policy Institute analysed 28 camps across Xinjiang and found they had expanded 465% in size since 2016,” reports The Guardian.
Wait, it gets worse: “Highly educated intellectuals and academics and scientists and software engineers are being held in these facilities,” says Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch. “Satellite images and previously unreported official documents indicate that growing numbers of detainees are being sent to new factories, built inside or near the camps, where inmates have little choice but to accept jobs and follow orders,” according to the NYT.
Why the crackdown? Partly because Xinjiang is a key hub of China’s massive new “Belt and Road Initiative,” the $900 billion project to improve infrastructure connections and spur trade with other nations. (See also the NYT report on McKinsey in China, and their choice of Xinjiang for a corporate retreat last year last year.) Partly because two years ago Xinjiang’s leader was replaced by notorious soldier-turned-politician Chen Quanguo.
(It’s easy to imagine that this appointment was to some extent a strategy directly out of Machiavelli’s The Prince: “To clear himself in the minds of the people, and win them over to himself, he desired to show that, if any cruelty had been practised, it had not originated with him, but in the cruel nature of his minister.”)
But also, partly because they can: because this dystopian surveillance police-state technology is now cheap enough and reliable enough to roll out at massive scale. Hard not to be chilled by that … or by visions of what the next generation(s) of scalable technology will be used for. Xinjiang isn’t just a humanitarian crisis, it’s a living warning for us all.