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Facebook fears no FTC fine

Reports emerged today that the FTC is considering a fine against Facebook that would be the largest ever from the agency. Even if it were 10 times the size of the largest, a $22.5 million bill sent to Google in 2012, the company would basically laugh it off. Facebook is made of money. But the FTC may make it provide something it has precious little of these days: accountability.
A Washington Post report cites sources inside the agency (currently on hiatus due to the shutdown) saying that regulators have “met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine.” We may as well say here that this must be taken with a grain of salt at the outset; that Facebook is non-compliant with terms set previously by the FTC is an established fact, so how much they should be made to pay is the natural next topic of discussion.
But how much would it be? The scale of the violation is hugely negotiable. Our summary of the FTC’s settlement requirements for Facebook indicate that it was:

barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information;
required to obtain consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences;
required to prevent anyone from accessing a user’s material more than 30 days after the user has deleted his or her account;
required to establish and maintain a comprehensive privacy program designed to address privacy risks associated with the development and management of new and existing products and services, and to protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers’ information; and
required, within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, to obtain independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers’ information is protected.

How many of those did it break, and how many times? Is it per user? Per account? Per post? Per offense? What is “accessing” under such and such a circumstance? The FTC is no doubt deliberating these things.
Yet it is hard to imagine them coming up with a number that really scares Facebook. A hundred million dollars is a lot of money, for instance. But Facebook took in more than $13 billion in revenue last quarter. Double that fine, triple it, and Facebook bounces back.
If even a fine 10 times the size of the largest it ever threw can’t faze the target, what can the FTC do to scare Facebook into playing by the book? Make it do what it’s already supposed to be doing, but publicly.
How many ad campaigns is a user’s data being used for? How many internal and external research projects? How many copies are there? What data specifically and exactly is it collecting on any given user, how is that data stored, who has access to it, to whom is it sold or for whom is it aggregated or summarized? What is the exact nature of the privacy program it has in place, who works for it, who do they report to and what are their monthly findings?
These and dozens of other questions come immediately to mind as things Facebook should be disclosing publicly in some way or another, either directly to users in the case of how one’s data is being used, or in a more general report, such as what concrete measures are being taken to prevent exfiltration of profile data by bad actors, or how user behavior and psychology is being estimated and tracked.
Not easy or convenient questions to answer at all, let alone publicly and regularly. But if the FTC wants the company to behave, it has to impose this level of responsibility and disclosure. Because, as Facebook has already shown, it cannot be trusted to disclose it otherwise. Light touch regulation is all well and good… until it isn’t.
This may in fact be such a major threat to Facebook’s business — imagine having to publicly state metrics that are clearly at odds with what you tell advertisers and users — that it might attempt to negotiate a larger initial fine in order to avoid punitive measures such as those outlined here. Volkswagen spent billions not on fines, but in sort of punitive community service to mitigate the effects of its emissions cheating. Facebook too could be made to shell out in this indirect way.
What the FTC is capable of requiring from Facebook is an open question, since the scale and nature of these violations are unprecedented. But whatever they come up with, the part with a dollar sign in front of it — however many places it goes to — will be the least of Facebook’s worries.

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Curious 23andMe twin results show why you should take DNA testing with a grain of salt

If you’ve ever enthusiastically sent your spit off in the mail, you were probably anxious for whatever unexpected insights the current crop of DNA testing companies would send back. Did your ancestors hang out on the Iberian peninsula? What version of your particular family lore does the science support?
Most people who participate in mail-order DNA testing don’t think to question the science behind the results — it’s science after all. But because DNA testing companies lack aggressive oversight and play their algorithms close to the chest, the gems of genealogical insight users hope to glean can be more impressionistic than most of these companies let on.
To that point, Charlsie Agro, host of CBC’s Marketplace, and her twin sister sent for DNA test kits from five companies: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.
As CBC reports, “Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.” That bit shouldn’t come as a surprise. Each company uses its own special sauce to analyze DNA, so it’s natural that there would be differences. For example, one company, FamilyTreeDNA, attributed 14 percent of the twins’ DNA to the Middle East, unlike the other four sets of results.
Beyond that, most results were pretty predictable — but things got a bit weird with the 23andMe data.
As CBC reports:
According to 23andMe’s findings, Charlsie has nearly 10 per cent less “broadly European” ancestry than Carly. She also has French and German ancestry (2.6 per cent) that her sister doesn’t share.
The identical twins also apparently have different degrees of Eastern European heritage — 28 per cent for Charlsie compared to 24.7 per cent for Carly. And while Carly’s Eastern European ancestry was linked to Poland, the country was listed as “not detected” in Charlsie’s results.

The twins shared their DNA with a computational biology group at Yale, which verified that the DNA they sent off was statistically pretty much identical. When questioned for the story, 23andMe noted that its analyses are “statistical estimates” — a phrase that customers should bear in mind.
It’s worth remembering that the study isn’t proper science. With no control group and an n (sample size) of one set of twins, nothing definitive can be gleaned here. But it certainly raises some interesting questions.
Update: A 23andMe spokesperson provided the following statement to TechCrunch to contextualize the results in question:
The variance in Charlsie’s and Carly’s 23andMe results are primarily within the “Broadly European” estimate. This category captures segments our algorithm could confidently identify as European, but not confidently classify more precisely, into countries for example. It’s not inconsistent for one twin to have more “Broadly European” than the other. It means that for one individual the algorithm was not confident enough to make more granular predictions. For example, for one twin we were able to identify 2.6% French and German, whereas for the other that portion of the genome was assigned to Broadly European.
The company also emphasized “the distinction that [23andMe’s] ancestry testing is different from our health report testing, which is regulated by the FDA and meets the agency’s standards for accuracy and clinical validity.”
Twin studies have played a vital role in scientific research for ages. Often, twin studies allow researchers to explore the effects of biology against those of the environment across any number of traits — addiction, mental illness, heart disease and so on. In the case of companies like 23andMe, twin studies could shed a bit of light on the secret algorithms that drive user insights and revenue.
Beyond analyzing the cold, hard facts of your DNA, companies like 23andMe attract users with promises of “reports” on everything from genetic health risks to obscure geographic corners of a family tree. Most users don’t care about the raw data — they’re after the fluffier, qualitative stuff. The qualitative reporting is where companies can riff a bit, providing a DNA-based “personal wellness coach” or advice about whether you’re meant to be a morning person or a night owl.
Given the way these DNA services work, their ancestry results are surprisingly malleable over time. As 23andMe notes, “because these results reflect the ancestries of individuals currently in our reference database, expect to see your results change over time as that database grows.” As many non-white DNA testing customers have found, many results aren’t nearly as dialed in for anyone with most of their roots beyond Europe. Over time, as more people of color participate, the pool of relevant DNA grows.
Again, the CBC’s casual experiment is by no means definitive science — but neither are DNA testing services. For anyone waiting with bated breath for their test results, remember that there’s still a lot we don’t know about how these companies come to their conclusions. Given the considerable privacy trade-off in handing over your genetic material to big pharma through a for-profit intermediary, it’s just some food for thought.

23andMe’s ancestry tools are getting better for people of color

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Curious 23andMe twin results show why you should take DNA testing services with a grain of salt

If you’ve ever enthusiastically sent your spit off in the mail, you were probably anxious for whatever unexpected insights the current crop of DNA testing companies would send back. Did your ancestors hang out on the Iberian peninsula? What version of your particular family lore does the science support?
Most people who participate in mail-order DNA testing don’t think to question the science behind the results — it’s science after all. But because DNA testing companies lack aggressive oversight and play their algorithms close to the chest, the gems of genealogical insight users hope to glean can be more impressionistic than most of these companies let on.
To that point, Charlsie Agro, host of CBC’s Marketplace, and her twin sister sent for DNA test kits from five companies: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.
As CBC reports, “Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.” That bit shouldn’t come as a surprise. Each company uses its own special sauce to analyze DNA so it’s natural that there would be differences. For example one company, FamilyTreeDNA, attributed 14% of the twins’ DNA to the Middle East, unlike the other four sets of results.
Beyond that, most results were pretty predictable — but things got a bit weird with the 23andMe data.
As CBC reports:
“According to 23andMe’s findings, Charlsie has nearly 10 per cent less “broadly European” ancestry than Carly. She also has French and German ancestry (2.6 per cent) that her sister doesn’t share.
The identical twins also apparently have different degrees of Eastern European heritage — 28 per cent for Charlsie compared to 24.7 per cent for Carly. And while Carly’s Eastern European ancestry was linked to Poland, the country was listed as “not detected” in Charlsie’s results.”

The twins shared their DNA with a computational biology group at Yale which verified that the DNA they sent off was statistically pretty much identical. When questioned for the story, 23andMe noted that its analyses are “statistical estimates” — a phrase that customers should bear in mind.
It’s worth remembering that the study isn’t proper science. With no control group and an n (sample size) of one set of twins, nothing definitive can be gleaned here. But it certainly raises some interesting questions.
Twin studies have played a vital role in scientific research for ages. Often, twin studies allow researchers to explore the effects of biology against those of the environment across any number of traits — addiction, mental illness, heart disease, and so on. In the case of companies like 23andMe, twin studies could shed a bit of light on the secret algorithms that drive user insights and revenue.
Beyond analyzing the cold hard facts of your DNA, companies like 23andMe attract users with promises of “reports” on everything from genetic health risks to obscure geographic corners of a family tree. Most users don’t care about the raw data — they’re after the fluffier, qualitative stuff. The qualitative reporting is where companies can riff a bit, providing a DNA-based “personal wellness coach” or advice about whether you’re meant to be a morning person or a night owl.
Given the way these DNA services work, their ancestry results are surprisingly malleable over time. As 23andMe notes, “because these results reflect the ancestries of individuals currently in our reference database, expect to see your results change over time as that database grows.” As many non-white DNA testing customers have found, many results aren’t nearly as dialed in for anyone with most of their roots beyond Europe. Over time, as more people of color participate, the pool of relevant DNA grows.
Again, the CBC’s casual experiment is by no means definitive science — but neither are DNA testing services. For anyone waiting with bated breath for their test results, remember that there’s still a lot we don’t know about how these companies come to their conclusions. Given the considerable privacy trade-off in handing your genetic material over to big pharma through a for-profit intermediary, it’s just some food for thought.

23andMe’s ancestry tools are getting better for people of color

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Curious 23andMe twin results show why you should take DNA analysis services with a grain of salt

If you’ve ever enthusiastically sent your spit off in the mail, you were probably anxious for whatever unexpected insights the current crop of DNA testing companies would send back. Did your ancestors hang out on the Iberian peninsula? What version of your particular family lore does the science support?
Most people who participate in mail-order DNA testing don’t think to question the science behind the results — it’s science after all. But because DNA testing companies lack aggressive oversight and play their algorithms close to the chest, the gems of genealogical insight users hope to glean can be more impressionistic than most of these companies let on.
To that point, Charlsie Agro, host of CBC’s Marketplace, and her twin sister sent for DNA test kits from five companies: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.
As CBC reports, “Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.” That bit shouldn’t come as a surprise. Each company uses its own special sauce to analyze DNA so it’s natural that there would be differences. For example one company, FamilyTreeDNA, attributed 14% of the twins’ DNA to the Middle East, unlike the other four sets of results.
Beyond that, most results were pretty predictable — but things got a bit weird with the 23andMe data.
As CBC reports:
“According to 23andMe’s findings, Charlsie has nearly 10 per cent less “broadly European” ancestry than Carly. She also has French and German ancestry (2.6 per cent) that her sister doesn’t share.
The identical twins also apparently have different degrees of Eastern European heritage — 28 per cent for Charlsie compared to 24.7 per cent for Carly. And while Carly’s Eastern European ancestry was linked to Poland, the country was listed as “not detected” in Charlsie’s results.”

The twins shared their DNA with a computational biology group at Yale which verified that the DNA they sent off was statistically pretty much identical. When questioned for the story, 23andMe noted that its analyses are “statistical estimates” — a phrase that customers should bear in mind.
It’s worth remembering that the study isn’t proper science. With no control group and an n (sample size) of one set of twins, nothing definitive can be gleaned here. But it certainly raises some interesting questions.
Twin studies have played a vital role in scientific research for ages. Often, twin studies allow researchers to explore the effects of biology against those of the environment across any number of traits — addiction, mental illness, heart disease, and so on. In the case of companies like 23andMe, twin studies could shed a bit of light on the secret algorithms that drive user insights and revenue.
Beyond analyzing the cold hard facts of your DNA, companies like 23andMe attract users with promises of “reports” on everything from genetic health risks to obscure geographic corners of a family tree. Most users don’t care about the raw data — they’re after the fluffier, qualitative stuff. The qualitative reporting is where companies can riff a bit, providing a DNA-based “personal wellness coach” or advice about whether you’re meant to be a morning person or a night owl.
Given the way these DNA services work, their ancestry results are surprisingly malleable over time. As 23andMe notes, “because these results reflect the ancestries of individuals currently in our reference database, expect to see your results change over time as that database grows.” As many non-white DNA testing customers have found, many results aren’t nearly as dialed in for anyone with most of their roots beyond Europe. Over time, as more people of color participate, the pool of relevant DNA grows.
Again, the CBC’s casual experiment is by no means definitive science — but neither are DNA testing services. For anyone waiting with bated breath for their test results, remember that there’s still a lot we don’t know about how these companies come to their conclusions. Given the considerable privacy trade-off in handing your genetic material over to big pharma through a for-profit intermediary, it’s just some food for thought.

23andMe’s ancestry tools are getting better for people of color

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Free to play games rule the entertainment world with $88 billion in revenue

They may be free, but they sure pay. Games with no upfront cost but a plethora of other ways to make money generated a mind-blowing $88 billion in 2018 according to SuperData’s year-end report — leaving traditional games (and indeed movies and TV) in the dust.
While it may not come as a surprise that F2P (as free to play is often abbreviated) is big business at the end of 2018, the Year of Fortnite, the sheer size of it can hardly fail to impress.
The total gaming market, as this report measures it, amounts to a staggering $110 billion, of which more than half (about $61 billion) came from mobile, which is of course the natural home of the F2P platform.
Credit: SuperData
The $88 billion in F2P revenue across all platforms is large enough to produce a dynamite top 10 and an enormously long tail. Fortnite, with its huge following and multi-platform chops, was far and away the top earner with $2.4 billion in revenue; after that is a jumble of PC, mobile, Asian and Western games of a variety of styles. The top 10 together brought in a total of $14.6 billion — leaving a king’s ransom for thousands of other titles to divide.
The vast majority of F2P revenue comes from Asia. Powerhouse companies like Tencent have been pushing their many microtransaction-based games
“Traditional” gaming, a term that is rapidly losing meaning and relevance, but which we can take to mean a game that you can pay perhaps $60 for and then play without significant further investment, amounted to about $16 billion across PCs and consoles worldwide.

Netflix thinks ‘Fortnite’ is a bigger threat than HBO

An exception is the immensely popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, one of the hits that touched off the “battle royale” craze, which took in a billion on its own — though how much of that is sales versus microtransactions isn’t clear. Amazingly, Grand Theft Auto V, a game that came out five years ago, generated some $628 million last year (mostly from its online portion, no doubt).
The top titles there are nearly all parts of a series, and all lean heavily toward the Western and console-based, with only pennies (comparatively) going to Asian markets. China is a whole different world when it comes to gaming and distribution, so this isn’t too surprising.
Lastly, it would be neglectful not to mention the explosion of viewership on YouTube and Twitch, which together formed half of all gaming video revenue, with Twitch ahead by a considerable margin. But the real winner is Ninja, by far the most-watched streamer on Twitch with an astonishing 218 million hours watched by fans. Congratulations to him and the others making a living in this strange and fabulous new market.

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FanDuel co-founder Tom Griffiths just closed a seed round for his decidedly noncontroversial new startup, Hone

Tom Griffiths has founded four companies, two of which “weren’t much to write home about,” he jokes. The third captured the world’s attention: FanDuel, the fantasy sports company that was routinely in the press — not always for desirable reasons — from nearly the day it launched, to its near merger with rival DraftKings, to its ultimate sale last May to the European betting giant Paddy Power Betfair in a deal that reportedly saw FanDuel’s founders, along with its employees, walk away with almost nothing at the end of their roller coaster ride.
Little wonder that Griffith’s new, fourth company, Hone, is targeting the comparatively undramatic world of workforce training. Specifically, Hone and his small team have built a platform for modern and distributed teams, inspired largely by FanDuel’s experience of becoming a unicorn at one point in just six years’ time, and growing its team from 5 to 500 people in the process. Looking back, says Griffiths, “We really didn’t have the manager training we wanted or needed.”
In fact, Griffiths had already left the company by the time it was acquired, around his 10th anniversary last year, to “go back to the start.” It was time, he says. FanDuel had grown like a weed. He was exhausted by the many regulators wrestling with whether FanDuel provided a legally acceptable form of gambling. He knew he wanted to work in education, too. “My mom was a teacher,” he offers simply.
Enter Griffith’s newest act, which is just 10 months old at this point. The goal of the San Francisco-based company is to improve people’s skills around leadership management and people management, specifically at companies that already have hundreds of employees and that are dealing with increasingly distributed and diverse teams.
Hone is obviously not the first company tackling the remote management training or team building. The market already attracts tens of billions of dollars each year. But he insists it will be one of the best, including because it’s unlike a lot of what’s available currently. For one thing, Hone is very anti-traditional workshop. Hone also eschews pre-recorded video, working instead with qualified professional coaches who have to audition for Hone and who are already teaching a growing number of customers 12 different modules, typically in online class sizes of eight to a dozen people.
A company simply signs up, chooses from the programs (these include an intensive manager bootcamp, for example, as well as a manager 101 program), then embarks on what are 60- to 90-minute sessions each week for seven weeks.
The idea, in part, is for the learnings to stick. According to Griffiths, trainees forget 70 percent of what they are taught within 24 hours of a training experience. Instilling new lessons and reiterating old ones produces a greater return on investment for Hone’s customers, he suggests.
Hone’s underlying platform is also a differentiator, he says. It contains a reporting interface, so companies can not only see who is in attendance, but they can measure learner feedback through students who are asked afterward to provide the company with details about what they’ve learned. Hone’s software can also track how many questions were asked to assess engagement.
The self-learning platform gives Hone an easier way to assess how successful, or not, a particular module proves to be, and it allows Hone to continue sharpening its products. In fact, Griffiths says that by working with early, paying customers that include WeWork, Clear, App Annie, Dashlane, Omada Health, SoulCycle and others, Hone has already learned much that it intends to bake into future products,.
“We were in pilot mode last year to get product-market fit.” Now, the company is ready for its close-up, he suggests.
Some new funding should help. In addition to taking the wraps off Hone and opening more widely for business, the company just raised $3.6 million in seed funding led by Cowboy Ventures and Harrison Metal. Other participants in the round include Slack Fund, Reach Capital, Rethink Education, Day One Ventures, Entangled Ventures and numerous relevant angel investors, like Masterclass CEO David Rogier and Guild Education CEO Rachel Carlson.
What the 10-month-old company isn’t sharing publicly just yet is its pricing, which may remain flexible in any case. Says Griffiths, “We work with customers to diagnose their needs, then we create a package, one that’s far more reasonable than classroom training. There’s no travel. No instructor having to come to you.”
Griffiths is more forthcoming when it comes to lessons learned at FanDuel. Among these is aligning one’s self with investors who share a company’s values. He points to Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, calling her a “towering pillar of progressive values, equality, inclusion and diversity.” What he saw at FanDuel, he says, is that “investors can influence culture. So from the board down, you want people who share your same values.”
Griffiths also stresses the “importance of establishing a strong culture and a vision from the start, and to live that every day as you grow.
“It’s something we did well at FanDuel at some times,” he says, “and not so well at other times.”
Hone founders, left to right: Savina Perez, who was formerly a VP of marketing at CultureIQ, a platform that aims to helps companies strengthen their culture; Tom Griffiths; and Jeremy Hamel, who was formerly the head of product at CultureIQ.

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FanDuel cofounder Tom Griffiths just closed a seed round for his decidedly noncontroversial new startup, Hone

Tom Griffiths has founded four companies, two of which “weren’t much to write home about,” he jokes. The third captured the world’s attention: FanDuel, the fantasy sports company that was routinely in the press — not always for desirable reasons— from nearly the day it launched, to its near merger with rival DraftKings, to its ultimate sale last May to the European betting giant Paddy Power Betfair in a deal that reportedly saw FanDuels’ founders, along with its employees, walk away with almost nothing at the end of their roller coaster ride.
Little wonder that with Griffith’s new, fourth company, Hone, is targeting the comparatively undramatic world of workforce training. Specifically, Hone and his small team have built a platform for modern and distributed teams, inspired largely by FanDuel’s experience of becoming a unicorn at one point in just six years’ time, and growing its team from 5 to 500 people in the process. Looking back, says Griffiths, “We really didn’t have the manager training we wanted or needed.”
In fact, Griffiths had already left the company by the time it was acquired, around his 10th anniversary last year, to “go back to the start.” It was time, he says. FanDuel had grown like a weed. He was exhausted by the many regulators wrestling with whether FanDuel provided a legally acceptable form of gambling. He knew he wanted to work in education, too. “My mom was a teacher,” he offers simply.
Enter Griffith’s newest act, which is just 10 months old at this point. The goal of the San Francisco-based company is to solve improve people’s skills around leadership management and people management, specifically at companies that already have hundreds of employees and that are wrestling with increasingly distributed and diverse teams.
Hone is obviously not the first company tackling the remote management training or team building. The market already attracts tens of billions of dollars each year. But he insists it will be one of the best, including because it’s unlike a lot of what’s available currently. For one thing, Hone is very anti-traditional workshop. Hone also eschews pre-recorded video, working instead with qualified professional coaches who have to audition for Hone and who are already teaching a growing number of customers 12 different modules, typically in online class sizes of eight to a dozen people.
A company simply signs up, chooses from the programs (these include a intensive manager bootcamp, for example, as well as a manager 101 program), then embarks on what are seven 60- to 90-minute-long sessions one week for seven weeks.
The idea, in part, is for the learnings to stick. According to Griffiths, trainees forget 70 percent of what they are taught within 24 hours of a training experience. Instilling new lessons and reiterating old ones produces a greater return on investment for Hone’s customers, he suggests.
Hone’s underlying platform is also a differentiator, he says. It contains a reporting interface, so companies can not only see who is in attendance, but they can measure learner feedback (including by gauging how many questions were asked), and through students who are asked afterward to provide the company with details about what they’ve learned.
The self-learning platform also gives Hone an easier way to create assess how successful, or not, a particular module proves to be and it allows Hone to continue sharpening its products. In fact, Griffiths says that by working with early, paying customers that include WeWork, Clear, App Annie, Dashlane, Omada Health, SoulCycle and others, Hone has already learned much that it intends to bake into future products,.
“We were in pilot mode last year to get product-market fit.” Now, the company is ready for its close-up, he suggests.
Some new funding should help. In addition to taking the wraps off Hone and opening more widely for business, the company just raised $3.6 million in seed funding led by Cowboy Ventures and Harrison Metal. Other participants in the round include Slack Fund, Reach Capital, Rethink Education, Day One Ventures, Entangled Ventures, and numerous relevant angel investors, like Masterclass CEO David Rogier and Guild Education CEO Rachel Carlson.
What the ten-month-old company isn’t sharing publicly just yet is its pricing, which may remain flexible in any case. Says Griffiths, “We work with customers to diagnose their needs, then we create a package, one that’s far more reasonable than classroom training. There’s no travel. No instructor having to come to you.”
Griffiths is more forthcoming when it comes to lessons learned at FanDuel. Among these is aligning one’s self with investors who share a company’s values. He points to Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, calling her a “towering pillar of progressive values, equality, inclusion and diversity.” What he saw at FanDuel, he says, is that “investors can influence culture. So from the board down, you want people who share your same values.”
Griffiths also stresses the “importance of establishing a strong culture and a vision from the start, and to live that every day as you grow.
“It’s something we did well at FanDuel at some times,” he says, “and not so well at other times.”
Hone founders, left to right: Savina Perez, who was formerly a VP of marketing at CultureIQ, a platform that aims to helps companies strengthen their culture; Tom Griffiths; and Jeremy Hamel, who was formerly the head of product at CultureIQ.

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Wine-by-the-glass subscription service Vinebox raises $5.9 million

One SF startup wants you to get home from a day at work and polish off a bottle of wine by yourself.
Vinebox isn’t really trying to get you wasted though, these bottles are cute and tiny. The small startup is hoping that they can get consumers into the idea of buying premium quality wine-by-the-glass and they’ve convinced investors there’s something behind this concept as well.
The team has just closed a $5.9 million round of funding led by Harbinger Ventures.
Co-founders Rachel Vodofsky and Matt Dukes were both corporate lawyers several years ago with a taste for good wine, but when Dukes decided to move to France and dig deeper into his burgeoning interest in wineries, the founders set off to see how they could start a consumer business with wine discovery at its heart.
The Y Combinator-backed company began their mission with a quarterly and annual subscription service that set people up with new types of single-serve wine on a rolling basis (as well as a wonderful-sounding wine advent calendar) with the ultimate goal of exposing wine lovers to small-lot wineries they wouldn’t have otherwise come across. The 100ml bottles look more like something you would find in a laboratory than a liquor store.
A quarterly subscription is $78 per quarter and includes 9 wine samples with $15 off purchases of full-sized bottle.

A big drive of the subscription is helping members to discover new favorites. Subscription members can get discounts on full bottles if they stumble upon something that piques their interest. Vinebox says they’ve shipped one million glasses of wine so far.

Vinebox Offers Wine By The Glass As A Monthly Subscription

The company is also now working on multi-packs of their single-serve bottles as they aim to shift consumer habits. With the Usual brand, Vinebox sells what are essentially half-bottles in 6, 12, and 24-packs. Right now The pricing is similarly premium ( a 12-pack is $96), but Dukes says that they’re trying to reshape the attitudes toward single-serve wine.

“The biggest mold that we wanted to break when we were coming into this was the little bottles of wine you get on the airplane,” Dukes says. “It comes in the little plastic bottles and you just immediately associate with lesser quality, cheaper wine.”
Vinebox is selling a red blend from Sonoma County and a rosé from Santa Barbara under the Usual brand first, but says that they’ve gotten a lot of great customer feedback and can let that drive the direction for what types of wine they move to add next.
With this new bout of funding, the group is looking to grow its team and further scale their online distribution as they hope to get their single-serve bottles into more people’s hands.

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Salesforce is building new tower in Dublin and adding hundreds of jobs

Salesforce put the finishing touches on a tower in San Francisco last year. In October, it announced Salesforce Tower in Atlanta. Today, it was Dublin’s turn. Everyone gets a tower.
Salesforce first opened an office in Dublin back in 2001, and has since expanded to 1,400 employees. Today’s announcement represents a significant commitment to expand even further, adding 1,500 new jobs over the next five years.
The new tower in Dublin is actually going to be a campus made up of four interconnecting buildings on the River Liffey. It will eventually encompass 430,000 square feet with the first employees expected to move into the new facility sometime in the middle of 2021.
Artist’s rendering of Salesforce Tower Dublin rooftop garden. Picture: Salesforce
Martin Shanahan, who is CEO at IDA Ireland, the state agency responsible for attracting foreign investment in Ireland, called this one of the largest single jobs announcements in the 70-year history of his organization.
As with all things Salesforce, they will do this up big with an “immersive video lobby” and a hospitality space for Salesforce employees, customers and partners. This space, which will be known as the “Ohana Floor,” will also be available for use by nonprofits.They also plan to build paths along the river that will connect the campus to the city center.
Artist’s rendering of Salesforce Tower Dublin lobby. Picture: Salesforce
The company intends to make the project “one of the most sustainable building projects to-date” in Dublin, according to a statement announcing the project. What does that mean? It will, among other things, be a nearly Net Zero Energy building and it will use 100 percent renewable energy, including onsite solar panels.
Finally, as part of the company’s commitment to the local communities in which it operates, it announced a $1 million grant to Educate Together, an education nonprofit. The grant should help the organization expand its mission running equality-based schools. Salesforce has been supporting the group since 2009 with software grants, as well as a program where Salesforce employees volunteer at some of the organization’s schools.

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Sony venture arm invests in geocoding startup what3words

Sony’s venture capital arm has invested in what3words, the startup that has divided the entire world into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares and assigned a three-word address to each one.
Financial details were not disclosed.
The startup’s novel addressing system isn’t the whole story. The ability to integrate what3words into voice assistants is what has piqued the interest and investment from Sony and others.
“what3words have solved the considerable problem of entering a precise location into a machine by voice. The dramatic rise in voice-activated systems calls for a simple voice geocoder that works across all digital platforms and channels, can be written down and spoken easily,” Sony Corporation’s senior vice president Toshimoto Mitomo said in a statement.
Last year, Daimler took a 10 percent stake in what3words, following an announcement in 2017 to integrate the addressing system into Mercedes’ new infotainment and navigation system — called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX. MBUX is now in the latest Mercedes A-Class and B-Class cars and Sprinter commercial vehicles. Owners of these new Mercedes-Benz vehicles are now able to navigate to an exact destination in the world by just saying or typing three words into the infotainment system.
Other companies are keen to follow Daimler’s lead. TomTom and ride-hailing services like Cabify recently announced plans to enable what3words navigation to precise locations.
And more could follow. The startup says it plans to use the investment from Sony to focus on more initiatives in the automotive space.

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Alphabet’s Verily scores FDA clearance for its ECG monitor

Big week for Google wearable news — which, honestly, is not a phrase I expected to write in 2019. But a day after the company announced an agreement to purchase Fossil’s wearable technology for $40 million, Alphabet-owned research group Verily just scored FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram (ECG) technology.
The clearance pertains specifically to the company’s Study Watch. The device, which was announced back in 2017, shouldn’t be confused with the company’s more consumer-facing Wear OS efforts. Instead, the product is designed expressly for the purpose of gathering vitals for serious medical studies of conditions like MS and Parkinson’s.
“The ability to take an on-demand, single-lead ECG, can support both population-based research and an individual’s clinical care,” Verily writes on its blog. “Receiving this clearance showcases our commitment to the high standards of the FDA for safety and effectiveness and will help us advance the application of Study Watch in various disease areas and future indications.”
The Study Watch is a prescription-only device, but the clearance leaves one wondering how this might open the door for an upcoming Pixel Watch. After all, Fossil’s most recent Wear OS devices had a decided health focus, in keeping with most recent smartwatches. After Apple’s recent addition of ECG on the Series 4 Watch, it tracks that Google would want to go to market with a similar health-focused feature set.
Meantime, this news should open the door for the E Ink device’s ability to help collect some meaningful information for medical researchers.

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Corruption at DJI may cost the company $150 million

DJI, the world’s leading maker of consumer drones, said today that extensive corruption discovered within the company could lead to losses as great as $150 million in the 2018 financial year. The exact nature of the corruption is not stated, but it seems to involve dozens of people at the least.
The China Securities Journal, a state-operated finance-focused newspaper, got hold of an internal company report on a corruption investigation that said some 40 people had been investigated so far, but the numbers may also be as high as 100.
Reuters confirmed with the company that it “set up a high-level anti-corruption task force to investigate further and strengthen anti-corruption measures,” and that “a number of corruption cases have been handed over to the authorities, and some employees have been dismissed.”
When contacted for details, DJI offered a statement (just after this post went live) partly explaining the situation:
During a recent investigation, DJI itself found some employees inflated the cost of parts and materials for certain products for personal financial gain. We took swift action to address this issue, fired the bad actors, and contacted law enforcement officials. We continue to investigate the situation and are cooperating fully with law enforcement’s investigation.
We are taking steps to strengthen internal controls and have established new channels for employees to submit confidential and anonymous reports relating to any violations of the company’s ethical and workplace conduct policies.
It’s a little hard to believe that people padding invoices and giving sweetheart deals to certain contractors for kickbacks could amount to more than a million dollars per person involved, but then again, DJI makes a lot of hardware and a few well-placed people could siphon off quite a bit.

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