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France’s Sendinblue, an all-in-one digital marketing platform, raises $160M

Permalink - Posted on 2020-10-01 06:53

As more companies and brands put the internet at the core of how they run their businesses these days, it’s giving a strong push to the growth of startups that are building tools to help them. In the latest development, Sendinblue, an eight-year-old French startup that has built a platform to help small and medium organizations run all of their marketing — from email, SMS and chat marketing through to automation services, Facebook ads and retargeting — has picked up $160 million in funding.

Bridgepoint, Bpifrance, Blackrock, and previous investor Partech (which led Sendinblue’s $35 million in Series A in 2017) all invested in the round.

The money will be used to help the company build out its presence in North America — where it grew 100% last year — and to continue to add more tools to the mix, both organically and by positioning itself as a consolidator, acquiring smaller marketing tech startups. The company is also building CRM tools and other adjacent areas in the SMB back office so you can see how it might evolve. It’s profitable and is active already in some 60 countries with some 180,000 customers on its books.

The huge funding, for a startup that may not have been on many people’s radar — you could say Sendinblue has come out of the blue — is a sign of the times.

SMBs (like retailers and brands doubling down on e-commerce) have long used the internet for marketing, but the recent pandemic, with its social distancing measures, has highlighted just how many people are spending time (and spending money) online, which has led to a boost in how organizations are using the internet to communicate with customers.

“The whole covid pandemic has accelerated our business,” said Steffen Schebesta, who runs the company’s North American operations (and joined the company when his startup, Newsletter2Go, was acquired several years ago). “We’ve seen a lot of SMBs finding that they need to digitize in order to survive.”

It’s also notable that it’s a French startup raising a large growth round: it’s a signal of how companies from the country are scaling, filling out a mission that French President Emmanuel Macron set out to see the country produce (and invest in) more unicorns.

Sendinblue’s funding news comes on the heels of another French martech company, Sarbacane, also raising a lot of money in recent weeks (France has been known for adtech, but seems that it also has a strong line in marketing tech). Further afield, we’ve seen a number of other startups in the space raising significant rounds this year, including Yotpo, Movable Ink, Adverity, and more.

There seems to be room for all of these, and more. Schebesta described a typical customer for Sendinblue — whose primary goal is to “enable small and medium businesses to be on equal footing with bigger companies in terms of the tools they can use, having access to everything in one platform at an affordable price — as one that may have “outgrown” Mailchimp with a need for more tools and more sophistication. 

While the company’s bread and butter and focus will always be SMBs, in the meantime it’s also picked up a number of high-profile and high-end customers too, including Louis Vuitton, the candy giant Haribo, Fujitsu, Amnesty International and Greenpeace. 

“Sendinblue is positioned in a growing market as more and more SMBs are going digital, especially in the past few months of lockdown,” said Olivier Nemsguern, Partner at Bridgepoint, in a statement. “We seek investments that meet a critical market need. Sendinblue is the perfect example of a company that will make an impact.”

“We have invested in Sendinblue because the company offers innovative solutions for SMBs and has a strong track record of achieving high growth in the U.S. and European market,” added Louis Molis, investment director at Bpifrance. “We’ve seen that Sendinblue’s value is globally extensible and will increase in importance as integrated marketing becomes more important.”

“Sendinblue has quickly become the leading digital-marketing platform for SMBs,” said Bruno Crémel, General Partner at Partech. “As demand for all in one platforms increases, Sendinblue has a unique ability to succeed. We are thrilled to continue to support Sendinblue as the company accelerates its next phase of international growth.”


eFounders unveils its next batch of enterprise SaaS startups

Permalink - Posted on 2020-10-01 06:00

Since 2011, European startup studio eFounders has launched 27 companies with a focus on software-as-a-service companies trying to improve the way we work. Some of them have been quite successful, such as Front and Aircall.

And the company is working on its next batch of startups. “We're particularly inspired by the new wave of productivity tools, that is ever more collaborative and flexible,” eFounders co-founder Thibaud Elziere said in a statement

In exchange for financial and human resources, eFounders keeps a significant stake in its startups. Ideally, startups raise a seed round and take off on their own after a year or two.

Here’s what’s coming up from eFounders.

Canyon

Canyon is a product for legal teams that want to ditch Word, PDF documents and emails. It starts with a central hub to hold all your drafts and documents. This way, you can track progress, get the latest document version and see the context around a document. Given that it is tailored for legal teams, it should work a bit better than a shared Dropbox folder.

You can create templates to reuse them later, see related emails directly in Canyon’s interface and invite other people so that they can have a look at what you’ve been working on.

Image Credits: Canyon

Kairn

Kairn is a task manager that tries to get out of the way as much as possible. When you’re working on your computer, you can add tasks directly from the app that you’re already using.

For instance, you can imagine adding a task by starring an email conversation in Gmail, forwarding a message to a WhatsApp bot or starring a message in Slack. There’s also a quick add window that you can trigger with a keyboard shortcut.

Read my full article on Kairn:

Image Credits: Kairn

Crew

Crew is focused on new hires and job applications. Given that many companies are actively looking for interesting candidates, Crew isn’t just a way to passively collect applications.

It lets you create automated workflows and handle everything you’d expect from a recruitment platform.

Image Credits: Crew

Collective

Collective is a product for freelancers who want to work together and form groups. It should make it easier to send a contract to a client that involves multiple freelancers working on the contract. Collective will make it easier to remain legally compliant.


Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger on the startup’s $100 million round, profitability, and SPAC mania

Permalink - Posted on 2020-10-01 05:06

As people spend less time out in the world and more time daydreaming about when a vaccine will arrive, lifestyle shoes are only gaining traction.

One obvious beneficiary is Allbirds, the San Francisco-based maker of comfortable, sustainable kicks that launched in 2016 and quickly became a favorite in Silicon Valley circles before taking off elsewhere.

Though the company saw its business slow this year because of the pandemic, its products are now available to purchase in 35 countries and its 20 brick-and-mortar stores are sprinkled throughout the U.S. and Europe, with another outpost in Tokyo and several shops in China.

Investors clearly see room for more growth. Allbirds just closed on $100 million in Series E funding at roughly the same $1.6 billion valuation it was assigned after closing on $27 million in Series D funding earlier this year, and blank-check companies have been calling, says cofounder and CEO Joey Zwillinger. He talked with us earlier this week in a chat that has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: Your shoes are sold worldwide. What are your biggest markets?

JZ: The biggest market by far is the U.S., and the same day that we started here in 2016, we also launched in New Zealand, so that’s been very good to us over the last four years, too. But we’ve seen growth in Japan and Korea and China and Canada and Australia. We have a network of warehouses globally that lets us reach 2.5 billion people [who], if they were so inclined, could get their product in three days. We’re proud of the infrastructure we’ve set up.

TC: We’ve all worn shoes a lot less than we might have expected in 2020. How has that impacted your business?

JZ: We’re growing but definitely not at the same pace we would be had the pandemic not occurred. We’re predominantly digital in terms of how we reach people, but stores are important for us. And we had to switch [those] off completely and lost a portion of our sales for a long time.

TC: Did you have to lay off your retail employees?

JZ: A large portion of our retail force was unable to work, but we were luckily able to keep them fully paid for four months, plus [some received] government benefits if they got that. And now all of our 20 stores are up and running again in a way that’s totally safe and everyone feels really comfortable.

We also donated shoes to frontline workers — 10,000 pairs or around a million dollars’ worth.

TC: What does Allbirds have up its sleeve, in terms of new offerings?

JZ: We just launched our native mobile app, and through it we’re able to give our more loyal fans exclusives. It’s a really cool experience that blends technology with fashion. You can try on shoes in a virtual mirror; you’re given information [about different looks] that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

We also launched wool-based weather-proofed running shoes in April that have blown away our expectations but [were fast discovered by] people who haven’t really been running for 10 to 15 years and are running again [because of gym closures]. It’s a super high-stakes category and one that’s hard to break into because people buy on repeat. But we spent two years making it. It’s not like we launched it because of the pandemic. It’s a shoe for 5K to 10K distances — it’s not a marathon shoe or a trail shoe — and that we’ve been able to clearly articulate that speaks to its success, I think.

TC: What about clothing?

We launched underwear and socks last year in a small launch. We developed a textile that hasn’t been used before — it’s a blend of tree fiber and merino wool because our view is that nature can unlock magic. Underwear is typically synthetic — it’s made from plastics — or cotton, which isn’t a great material for a whole bunch of reasons. [Meanwhile] ours is phenomenal for temperature control; it also feels like cashmere.

TC: Patagonia really advertises its social and environmental values. Do you see Allbirds evolving in a similar way, with a growing spate of offerings?

JZ: I’m incredibly humbled by [the comparison]. Given their environmental stewardship of the retail sector, we hope we’re compared to them. But they are much more of an outdoor brand — not a competitor so to speak. And we’d love to share more of the retail world with them so we can do our environmental thing together.

TC: You just raised funding. Are you profitable and, if not, is profitability in sight?

JZ: We’ve been profitable for most of our existence. Having some discipline as we grow is good. We’re not close to the profitability that we’ll eventually have, but we’re still a small company in investment mode. After we emerge from the pandemic, we’ll enter a ramping-up phase.

TC: Everyone and their brother is raising money for a blank-check company, or SPAC, which can make it a lot faster for a private company to go public. Have you been approached, and might this option interest you?

JZ: Yes and no. Yes we’ve been approached, and no, we’re [not interested]. We want to build a great company and being public might be something that helps enable that for a whole bunch of reasons. But we want to do it at the right time, in a way that helps the business grow in the most durable and sustainable fashion. Just jumping at the opportunity of a SPAC without doing the rigorous prep the way we want to, we’re not super focused on that


Indian startups explore alliance and alternative app store to fight Google’s ‘monopoly’

Permalink - Posted on 2020-10-01 01:42

Google, which reaches more internet users than any other firm in India and commands 99% of the nation’s smartphone market, has stumbled upon an odd challenge in the world’s second-largest internet market: Scores of top local entrepreneurs.

Dozens of top startups and firms in India are working to form an alliance and toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The list of entrepreneurs includes high-profile names, such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Paytm (India’s most valuable startup), Deep Kalra of travel ticketing firm MakeMyTrip, and executives from PolicyBazaar, Sharechat and many other firms.

The growing list of founders expressed deep concerns about Google’s “monopolistic” hold on India, and discussed what they alleged was unfair and inconsistent enforcement of Play Store’s guidelines in the country.

The conversations, which began in recent weeks, escalated on Tuesday after Google said that starting next year developers with an app on Google Play Store must give the company a cut of as much as 30% of several app-related payments.

Dozens of executives “from nearly every top startup and firm” in India attended a call on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, some of the people said, requesting anonymity. A 30% cut to Google is simply unfeasible, people on the call unanimously agreed.

Vishal Gondal, the founder of fitness startup GOQii, confirmed the talks to TechCrunch and said that an alternative app store would immensely help the Indian app ecosystem.

TechCrunch reached out to Paytm on Monday for comment and the startup declined the request.

In recent months, several major startups in India have also expressed disappointment over several of the existing industry bodies, which some say have failed to work on nurturing the local ecosystem.

The tension between some firms and Google became more public than ever late last month after the Android-maker reiterated Play Store’s gambling policy, sending a shockwave to scores of startups in the country that were hoping to cash in on the ongoing season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Google temporarily pulled Paytm’s marquee app from the Play Store citing repeat violation of its Play Store policies. Disappointed by Google’s move, Paytm’s Sharma said in a TV interview, “This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations.”

Google has sent notices to several firms in India including Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month. Indian newspaper Economic Times reported on Wednesday that the Mountain View giant had also sent warnings to food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, lauded the banding of Indian entrepreneurs and likened Silicon Valley giants’ hold on India to the rising days of East India Company, which pillaged India. “Modern day tech companies pose a similar risk,” he told TechCrunch.

Some of the participating members are also hopeful that the government, which has urged the citizens in India to become self-reliant to revive the declining economy, would help their movement.

Other than its reach on Android, Google today also leads the mobile payments market in India, TechCrunch reported earlier this year.

The giant, which has backed a handful of startups in India and is a member of several Indian industry bodies, invested $4.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom giant Jio Platforms earlier this year.

Ambani, who runs oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries and is India’s richest man, is an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jio Platforms has attracted over $20 billion in investment from Google, Facebook, and 11 other high-profile investors this year.

The voluminous investment in Jio Platforms has puzzled many industry executives. “I see no business case for Facebook investing in Jio beyond saying we need regulatory help,” said Miten Sampat, a high-profile angel-investor on a podcast published Wednesday.

Google said in July that it would work with Jio Platforms on low-cost Android smartphones. Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. Bloomberg first reported about Jio Platform’s smartphone production plans.

These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million JioPhone feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled-garden.

A possible viable option for startup founders is Indus OS, a Samsung-backed third-party store, which last month said it reaches over 100 million monthly active users. As of earlier this week, Paytm and other firms had not reached out to IndusOS, a person familiar with the matter said.


Lots of happy people as Palantir and Asana spike on first day of trading

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 21:16

The markets are closed and the verdicts are in: investors liked what they saw in Palantir and Asana .

The two companies, which debuted this morning in dual (and duel) direct listings, continued to prove that enterprise tech companies without the brand recognition of Spotify (which conducted its own direct listing back in 2018) can make direct listings work. So far, the evidence is decent that the mechanism isn’t throwing off investors.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Asana closed its first trading day at $28.80 a share — a gain of 37% against its reference price of $21 a share. The company’s first trade was at $27. Meanwhile, Palantir closed the day at $9.73, a gain of 34% against its reference price of $7.25. Its first trade was at $10. Asana is valued at about $4.3 billion at close, while Palantir reached $24.8 billion, based on its fully diluted share count, including recent securities sold.

As an aside, my Equity co-host Natasha Mascarenhas and I did an “Equity Shot” talking more about these early numbers. Tune in if you want to hear our discussion and analysis:

That done, with big bold numbers on the board, there were a number of winners.

First and foremost, Founders Fund, which is the only major investor shared between the two companies, has a lot of capital incoming. The firm owns 5.8% of Asana and approximately 6.6% of Palantir, netting it somewhere around $1.8 billion given today’s valuations (that’s definitely back-of-the-envelope math mind you).

Meanwhile, Benchmark owns 9.3% of Asana, and a number of other investors including Japanese insurer SOMPO, Disruptive Technology Solutions, UBS, and 8VC own significant stakes in Palantir.

The other winners are the founders of these companies. Dustin Moskovitz retains a 36% stake in Asana, while his cofounder Justin Rosenstein holds a 16.1% stake. Over at Palantir, the trio of founders of Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, and Peter Thiel now have liquid billions at their collective disposal.

Asana founders Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. Photo via Asana

Of course, employees will be happy to get liquidity as well. Asana does not have a lockup period, and so its employees and insiders are free to trade. Palantir coupled a direct listing with a lockup, and so only about 28% of the company’s shares are eligible for sale today. The remainder will be authorized to be sold over the next year.

In an interview with Moskovitz shortly after the markets closed today, he said that “it’s been an exciting morning, but ultimately it’s just one step in a much longer journey towards fulfilling our mission” (you can read more of our interview with Moskovitz on Extra Crunch).

While it’s just one trading day, it was a positive one for both companies, and that provides even more evidence that the classic IPO now has stiff competition from direct listings and other alternative methods like SPACs.


Dustin Moskovitz discusses Asana’s first trading day

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 21:13

It’s a big day for Asana, the work management tool that debuted on the NYSE this morning in a direct listing. Founded back in 2009 by Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, the company has assiduously grown over the years, taking in about $213 million in venture capital the past decade and reaching almost $100 million in subscription revenue for the first six months of 2020.

TechCrunch sat down this afternoon with CEO Moskovitz and Asana’s head of product Alex Hood at the tail end of the company’s first trading day to talk about its early success, its future and how it feels to go public in a direct listing.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: Tell me how you’re feeling today — it’s been 10, 11 years since the company’s founding, what are your emotions on this first day?

Dustin Moskovitz: It’s been an exciting morning, but ultimately it’s just one step in a much longer journey towards fulfilling our mission and so, you know, we’re definitely pausing to celebrate but also looking ahead to what comes next because there’s going to be a lot more stuff to come after this.

What’s next?

Alex Hood: We really just feel like we’re getting started. The way that a billion and a quarter information workers work together really hasn’t changed all that much in the last 25 years — it’s really kind of based on the Microsoft Office suite form factor. We think that there’s a collaboration piece that really helps teams know who’s doing what by when and reduce the back and forth required to get work done.


Everything Google announced at its hardware event

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 20:56

This year, Google’s annual hardware event consisted of a brisk 30 minutes of pre-recorded promotional videos, but the company managed to pack a number of new product announcements into that time.

To make things easy for you, here’s a quick rundown of everything that Google announced, including the Google Pixel 5, a new TV interface and an upgraded smart speaker.

Google Pixel

Google’s latest mobile flagship, the Pixel 5, comes in a 100% recycled aluminum body and offers reverse wireless charging — in other words, you can use the Pixel 5’s battery to charge other devices. There’s a 6 inch display and the whole package costs $699. Pre-orders started today, with the phone available in nine countries on October 15.

In addition to the Pixel 5, Google also announced the 5G version of the Pixel 4a, which will cost $499, with specs that are closer to the Pixel 5 than the existing 4a. This one will be available in Japan on October 15, then launches in the United States and elsewhere sometime in November.

Both phones come with improved cameras, including a new ultrawide lens in the back. And beyond the hardware, Google also said it’s introducing a new Google Assistant feature, which will stay on the line for you when you make a call and then get put on hold, then send you an alert when someone picks up.

Google TV and Chromecast

Image Credits: Google

Google TV — at least in this iteration — is the company’s name for a new interface bringing streaming, live TV and other services together in one place. It includes most existing streaming services while also offering live TV via YouTube TV. And Google seems to be putting a lot of resources into the voice search experience.

The interface is included as part of the new Chromecast with Google TV, which also adds a remote control to Google’s streaming dongle and costs $49.

Nest Audio

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio is the successor to Google Home, the company’s mid-range smart speaker. Google said the device will offer more bass, increased volume and clearer sound. And the form factor is closer to the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. The Nest Audio smart speaker will cost $99 and will be available starting on October 5.


How 3 remote-friendly tech companies plan to return to the office

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 20:14

Six months ago, millions of workers left their offices for the last time without realizing it.

Many would be laid off because of the pandemic, but for those fortunate to keep their jobs, some of their employers still haven’t determined whether they will open their workplaces again.

Some of the biggest tech employers in the United States, like Facebook and Google, have vowed to keep their offices closed until at least 2021, which experts say is a realistic timeframe to develop a vaccine. Twitter went all in, allowing its employees to work from home for as long as they choose, even permanently.

Although the pandemic helped propel the work from home revolution, not all companies are calling it a day on office life just yet. Flexible working is here to stay and is likely to be as important to prospective employees as more traditional company benefits.

TechCrunch spoke with three tech companies that have long embraced flexible work — Auth0, Duo Security and Yubico — about how they adapted during the pandemic and their plans to return to the office.

What’s clear is that although flexible working has been an important part of their culture, it’ll take more than a pandemic to end the office era for good.

Auth0 plans to reopen its six offices

Before the pandemic hit, more than half of Auth0’s employees worked from home. Even its chief executive Eugenio Pace split his time between working from the office and his home.

“Since day one, our employees have had the freedom to do work on their own terms,” said Pace. He said that flexible working helped make his employees more productive, while allowing the company to expand its pool of talent — where more restrictive companies might demand an employee relocate.

“It’s also important to recognize that remote work isn’t for everyone,” he said. But the pandemic made working from the office impossible. Now, the company’s more than 700 employees are working from home.


Investors give Baltimore’s Facet Wealth $25 million to sell businesses on financial planning as a benefit

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 19:38

Yesterday, Baltimore-based fintech company Facet Wealth said it raised $25 million in financing as it readies a new business line pitching financial planning as an employment benefit to businesses looking to recruit top talent.

Employment benefit packages are expanding beyond the basic gym membership and healthcare to include subscriptions to Netflix, discounts on delivery and rideshare services, and other perks. So why not financial wellness?

The thesis certainly managed to attract a big-money backer, with Warburg Pincus, the multi-billion-dollar private equity investment firm, which doubled down on its commitment with the new financing into the company.

The company said the latest round would be used to finance the expansion of Facet Wealth’s direct-to-consumer business even as it readies its employee benefit service for launch.

Already customers are signing up for pre-launch partnerships to get their employees on the program. Early wannabe users include ClassPass, MyVest and Chili Piper, the company said.

“Since our first investment two years ago, the Facet Wealth team has proven their ability to meet a unique consumer need, evolving and expanding their offering to build a truly innovative client experience and business model,” said Jeff Stein, managing director at Warburg Pincus. “Their expansion into the employer market further solidifies them as a category-defining company that is well-positioned to disrupt the wealth management industry for years to come.”

To date, Facet Wealth has raised $62 million in funding from Warburg Pincus, Slow Ventures and other, undisclosed investors.


A new Google Assistant feature, ‘Hold for Me,’ waits on hold so you don’t have to

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:59

Google has been pushing forward the capabilities of what a smartphone can do when it comes to one of the device’s most basic — if these days, often overlooked — features: phone calls. In previous years, the company launched Call Screen to vet your incoming calls, Duplex for restaurant reservations, and just this month, a feature called Verified Calls that will tell you who is calling and why. Today, Google introduced one more handy feature for those who still use their devices as an actual phone with the introduction of “Hold for Me.”

At the company’s hardware event this afternoon, where Google introduced its new Pixel smartphones, it also briefly showed off the Pixel’s latest trick. A feature called “Hold for Me,” will stay on the line for you when you’re placed on hold, then alert you when someone picks up.

Image Credits:

Google explained the technology was built on the smarts of its existing Call Screen and Duplex technology — the latter which is an A.I.-based technology focused on how conversations take place over the phone.

In the short demo of “Hold for Me,” Google showed how a Pixel device owner is able to activate the new feature after they’ve been placed on hold. This is done by tapping a new button that appears on the phone screen above the buttons for muting the call, turning on speakerphone, and the other in-call phone controls.

Once activated, you’re alerted with a message that says “Don’t hand up,” where you’re advised that Google Assistant is listening to the call for you, so you can do other things.

A button is also available on this screen that lets you tap to return to the call at any time, and below that an on-screen message says “music playing” to indicate if the Google Assistant is still hearing the hold music. You can also choose to press the red hang up button to end the call from this screen.

When a person comes on the line, the device will alert you it’s time to return to the call.

At a time when people are waiting on hold for hours for help with COVID-19 related government assistance, like unemployment benefits, a “Hold for Me” option could be more than a useful new feature — it could be a literal lifesaver for those in the middle of a financial crisis due to job loss.

Google says the new feature will come to its new Pixel 5 devices, which will soon be followed by its older-generation Pixel phones via the next “Pixel feature drop” roll out.


AOC flagged ‘material risks’ to Palantir investors in letter to SEC

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:56

In a newly released letter, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued words of warning to the SEC over Palantir’s efforts to take the company public, cautioning the regulatory body over details the progressive congresswoman says were “omitted” in the company’s disclosures. Illinois Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García co-authored the letter, embedded below, which was submitted to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on September 17.

Palantir, a secretive data analytics company that provides its software to U.S. agencies, debuted on public markets Wednesday through a direct listing rather than a traditional IPO. The company debuted with an implied valuation of $16 billion.

“Palantir reports several pieces of information about its company – and omits others – that we believe require further disclosure and examination, as they present material risks of which potential investors should be aware and national security concerns of which the public should be aware,” Ocasio-Cortez and García wrote.

Among their concerns, the lawmakers asked for Palantir to disclose how much equity the CIA’s venture capital firm holds in the company.

“In-Q-Tel’s investment in Palantir is not classified information, and
Palantir is currently listed on In-Q-Tel’s website among its portfolio companies,” the representatives wrote. Palantir benefitted from an early investment from In-Q-Tel, but current information about the In-Q-Tel’s holdings is not public.

“Palantir reports that its ‘government work is central to defense and intelligence operations in the United States and its allies abroad,” but does not provide further information on the nature of its work for domestic or foreign intelligence agencies, despite recognizing that public perception of its government contracts represent a material risk to investors,” the representatives wrote.

Ocasio-Cortez and García also raised concerns about risks to investors over the company’s secretive work with foreign governments, including its relationship with Qatar, a nation with documented human rights concerns for migrants and its LGBTQ population.

As we previously reported, Palantir discussed its work with “organizations whose products or activities are or are perceived to be harmful” in the risks section of its S-1 filing. Palantir’s work with the notorious U.S. immigration enforcement agency ICE has attracted unwanted attention in recent years, and the company maintains contracts with ICE worth up to $92 million.

Palantir is currently powering the U.S. government’s COVID-19 tracking software platform HHS Protect Now, a controversial relationship that Democratic lawmakers demanded more transparency around in July.

Ocasio-Cortez and García also raise concerns around Palantir’s corporate governance — an issue we’ve reported on extensively as the company adjusted its S-1 filing.

As of a week ago, Palantir had already updated language in its S-1 five times, mostly making changes to an unusually centralized governance structure designed to ensure that a disproportionate amount of decision making power remains with the company’s three founders Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen and Peter Thiel.

In the letter to the SEC chairman, the representatives accuse Palantir’s board of “lacking the required majority of independent board members,” raising questions about Alexander Moore, who directed operations at the company for its first five years.

While today marks the end of Palantir’s journey to take itself public, the process hasn’t been completely smooth for a company so unused to public attention. Palantir already delayed its direct listing by a week as it reportedly navigated a “protracted back-and-forth” with the SEC and tweaked language over a still glaringly uneven voting structure designed to keep decision making in a few hands — including those of its controversial co-founder Peter Thiel.

Now, with its formal entrance into life as a public company, the public and lawmakers alike are set to learn more about Palantir’s work than ever before.

View this document on Scribd


Pixel 5 and 4a 5g get the same, improved cameras with rear ultrawide lens, Night Sight portraits and more

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:48

Google made its newest smartphones official today, unveiling the much-leaked Pixel 4a 5g and Pixel 5. Both smartphones will get the same, improved cameras, despite a $200 price different between the models, which is great news for people who are specifically coming to Google for their excellent mobile camera tech. Here’s an overview of what google did with the new and improved Pixel cameras in terms of both hardware and software.

Ultrawide lens

The biggest new physical change to the new Pixel phones is the addition of a new ultrawide lens to the camera array on the back. This provides a new wide angle field of view that lets you capture a significantly larger perspective, which is great for large group shots and landscapes. This was one of the features that Apple added to the most recent iPhone that Google fans were looking for on their Pixel devices.

Here’s an example of the additional coverage you’re getting (roughly, since the first shot likely wasn’t actually filmed on Pixel):

[gallery ids="2054163,2054134"]

HDR+ with bracketing

The HDR+ feature of Google’s Pixel phones is also very popular with users, providing a way for people to get better lighting in their photos without having to worry about compositing images after the fact to adjust exposure in different parts of the scene. Google has upgraded its HDR+ feature by combining its own machine-learning powered techniques, stacked with traditional, much more old-school exposure bracketing for what the company says is a better final product.

Night Sight in portrait mode

Portrait mode has been popular since its introduction on smartphones, and has improved over time to allow people to get a more accurate depth effect with artificial background blur. Google added the ability to use portrait mode with its Night Sight feature with this generation of devices, meaning you can get that kind of depth effect even when you’re using Google’s software trickery to increase the illumination in a dark scene for clear, static-free results like the shot below.

Portrait Light

Another portrait mode feature is the addition of portrait light, which lets you apply a customizable lighting effect to do things like counteract deep shadows or washed out potions of the image. This works similar to Apple’s studio lighting effects in its own portrait mode in iOS, but it looks to be considerably more customizable, and potentially more powerful thanks to Google’s AI tech on the Pixel devices – though we’ll have to get them in for testing to know for sure.

New stabilization for video, including Cinematic Pan

Finally, there are three new stabilization modes for filming video on the new Pixels – Locked, Active and Cinematic Pan. These were built using tutorials on YouTube, Google said during its event, as well as by studying Hollywood cinematographers. Cinematic Pan looks like potentially the most fun for YouTubers, since it gives that silky smooth, slowed down effect (it’s half actual speed) that makes it look straight out of a film travelogue.


Google unveils the $99 Nest Audio smart speaker

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:33

Four years after the introduction of the Google Home smart speaker, Google showcased its successor to the company’s mid-range smart speaker. In keeping with the broader rebranding of the company’s smart home products, the device is now called Nest Audio. The smart speaker will retail for $99 and come in a variety of colors including sage, sand, sky, chalk and charcoal.

The device is available starting October 5th and will go on sale in 21 countries.

The company says it prioritized more bass, added volume and clearer sound when designing the product which replaces the aged Google Home smart speaker. Indeed, Google says Nest Audio has 50% “more bass” and can get 75% louder than Google Home could. It all comes in a much larger package. It sports a 19mm tweeter to hit high frequencies while a 75mm midwoofer pushes things out on the lower-end. We’ll have to take them at their word until we can get a hand on the device ourselves.

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio’s design ditches the candle-like form factor of the previous generation, instead embracing the fabric blob design that the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max have long sported.

The smart speaker market is in a bit of an odd place, the devices have gone through several iterations but the ecosystems for the devices have, if anything, contracted as third-party integrations with smart assistants largely failed to pan out aside from basic tasks like listening to music. For Google, the market opportunity now looks more like creating a low-cost alternative to Sonos, a company which is suing Google for IP theft by the way. Multi-room audio has gotten more and more accessible over the years and smart speaker manufacturers have largely been responsible for that.


Google launches the $499 Pixel 4a 5G

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:32

As expected, Google today officially launched the 5G version of its Pixel 4a phone at its annual hardware event.

Given all the previous leaks, there were no real surprises left and Google had already announced the $499 price. We now have a launch date, though. It’ll launch in Japan on October 15 and then come to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States at an unspecified date in November. That’s somewhat of an odd launch schedule, to say the least.

The new phone, together with the new Pixel 5, is now available for pre-order in the Google Store.

The $499 phone is a bit of a mix between the non-5G version of the Pixel 4a and the newly announced Pixel 5. It features a larger edge-to-edge OLED display than both the Pixel 5 and $399 4a, at 6.2-inch, but uses the same mid-range Snapdragon 765G CPU as the Pixel 5, combined with 6GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage (with no other storage options). There are two cameras, including one with an ultrawide lens and yes, there’s still a headphone jack, too.

The phone comes in white and black.

Given that the 5G chips and larger screen are more power-hungry than those on the regular 4a, it’s no surprise that Google bumped up the battery from 3140 mAh to 3885 mAh, too. Google promises a 48-hour battery life with its extreme battery saver mode.

The Pixel 4a 5G doesn’t feature water resistance, which the $699 Pixel 5 does offer.

Overall, the 4a (5G) is a bit of a strange one, with specs closer to the Pixel 5 than the 4a and dual cameras, something the 4a is missing.

“With 5G gaining moment, we wanted to make this technology available at an affordable price,” Google’s product marketing manager for the Pixel line, Maya Lewis, said in today’s announcement.


Google’s Pixel 5 gets reverse wireless charging and 5G for $699

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:26

Here it is, the centerpiece of this morning’s confusing-titled Launch Night In. The Pixel 5 is Google’s latest mobile flagship. Launching months after the budget-minded Pixel 4a (and same day as the Pixel 4a 5G) , the new handset sports a a 100% recycled aluminum body to set the new phone apart from the rest of the line. That’s coupled by 8GB of RAM and the addition of reverse wireless charging.

Reverse wireless charging is probably the most interesting hardware addition here — and the one that wasn’t leaked like crazy. The feature, which is already available on fellow Android devices like Samsung’s flagship, lets users charge devices (such as the newish and very good Pixel Buds) using the device’s on-board battery.

The specs are now live on the product page (where you can currently pre-order the device). As usual with Google mobile devices, basically all of the leaks proved true. There’s a 6-inch display with a hole punch selfie up top.

 

Inside, you get a Snapdragon 765G (which brings the 5G), coupled with 8GM of RAM and 128GB of storage. There’s also a healthy 4,000mAh battery on board, which addresses the single biggest issue with the Pixel 4 — though be aware that 5G connectivity can be a massive battery hog.

The product could pass for something mid-tier in most lines, and honestly, the line is fairly blurry between this product and the new 5G version of the 4a.

Image Credits: Google

There’s a single front-facing eight-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel and 16-megapixel ultrawide on the back. As ever, though, the big camera advance come via software. New imagine features include Night Sight in Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting to illuminate subjects and an improved editing tool in Google Photos.

It seems likely that this is the final device from Google that maintains that trend, courtesy of a recent shakeup of the department aimed at juicing flagging device sales.

Image Credits: Google

The new phone is available in two Googley-named colors — “Just Black” and “Sorta Sage” (a faint green). It’s up for pre-order now and will be available in nine countries on October 15.


The new Chromecast adds a remote and the new Google TV interface for $49

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:16

It’s been a while since Google gave its Chromecast line a proper bit of love — perhaps not surprising for a fairly mature device now marking its seventh year. At today’s big Launch Night In event, however, the company’s bringing the popular TV dongle a much-needed refresh by way of Chromecast with Google TV.

The new version of the streaming product looks pretty similar to its predecessor, though the perfectly circular shape has been stretched out in something more oblong, dangling off the end of an HDMI cable. The biggest change from a hardware standpoint is the addition of — reportedly — the product’s most requested features: a remote.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Long and slim (perfect for wedging between the couch cushions), the remote features a navigation wheel surrounding a selection button up top and devoted buttons for YouTube and Hulu. There’s also a Google Assistant button and a microphone flanked by the power and input buttons, which allows for voice control. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries, included in the box.

The other big addition here is Google TV. I’ve detailed the offering here, but the short version of it is that it’s a new interface from the company designed to offer a more streamlined viewing experience. It pulls together into a single spot movies, TV shows and live television programming — similar to what you get with something like Fire TV and Apple TV.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new dongle can support 4K HDR video at rates up to 60 frames a second. It also supports Dolby Vision, the company’s image optimization format. The system supports 6,500 apps and live and on-demand TV from 85 networks, as well as key streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix and, of course, YouTube. Peacock support is on the way — as is support for Google’s Stadia gaming offering, which is set to arrive in the first half of next year.

The dongle is available for sale in the U.S. starting today, priced at $50. Customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K. can pre-order it today, as well.


The new Google TV brings streaming apps, live TV and search into a single interface

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:10

Not to be confused with the smart TV platform of the same name (2010-2014, RIP) or the Android TV platform it’s built on top of, Google has just taken the wraps off the new Google TV. The name refers to the interface for the new, aptly titled Chromecast with Google TV, combining streaming services, live TV (via YouTube TV) and various other Google offerings into a single, streamlined UI.

In that sense, the new Google TV is similar to offerings from Apple and Amazon, serving as a kind of one-stop-shop to replace cable TV outright. It works with most of the top streaming offerings, including Disney+, france.tv, HBO Max, Netflix, Rakuten Viki and, of course, YouTube, with NBC’s Peacock coming soon.

Live TV is accessible for those who have a YouTube TV membership in the States. The (admittedly pricey at $65 a month) service brings access to 85 live stations, including the networks, CNN, ESPN and Nickelodeon, available via a Live tab. The company will also be adding additional live TV provider integration down the road.

The real secret sauce here, however, seems to be the underlying search smarts that serve as the foundation for so much of what Google does. Here’s the company discussing the new feature in a blog post:

To build this, we studied the different ways people discover media—from searching for a specific title to browsing by genre—and created an experience that helps you and what to watch. We also made improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is pa of how we beer understand and organize your media into topics and genres, from movies about space travel to reality shows about cooking. You’ll also see titles that are trending on Google Search, so you can always and something timely and relevant.

Image Credits: Google

Users can search for specific recommendations via voice. They can also use Assistant to get the weather, sports scores and view their security cams via compatible products like Nest straight from the TV set. The fact that the system is built on top of Android TV means that Google TV is compatible with some 6,500 apps at launch, with support for the company’s own streaming gaming offering, Stadia, coming in the first half of next year. When not in use, Ambient mode will display a slideshow of Google Photos.

Google TV is available for  Chromecast with Google TV, which launches today at $50. Users can also access it as part of the new Google TV app — an update to Google Play Movies & TV for Android, which also arrives today.


Golden raises $14.5M to build a wiki-style database of tech knowledge

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:09

Golden is announcing that it has raised $14.5 million in Series A funding. The round was led by previous investor Andreessen Horowitz, with the firm’s co-founder Marc Andreessen joining the startup’s board of directors.

When Golden launched last year, founder and CEO Jude Gomila told me that his goal was to create a knowledge base focused on areas where Wikipedia’s coverage is often spotty, particularly emerging technology and startups.

Gomila told me this week that “companies, technologies and the people involved in them” remain Golden’s strength. In that sense, you could see it as a competitor to Crunchbase, but with a much bigger emphasis on explaining and “clustering” information on big topics like quantum computing and COVID-19, rather than just aggregating key data about companies and people. (By the way, both TechCrunch and the author of this post have their own profile pages, though the latter is woefully empty.)

In contrast to Wikipedia, which relies on community editors, Gomila said most of the data in Golden is gathered using artificial intelligence and natural language processing: “We’re using AI to extract information from the news, from websites, from public databases.

This is supplemented by Golden staff (former TechCrunch copy editor Holden Page leads the startup’s research team), while the larger community can also pitch in by flagging things that are incorrect or need to be updated. (As one example of this “human in the loop” editing process, Gomila showed me a tool where someone could paste in an article link and Golden would automatically summarize it.)

“The ultimate aim is to try and automate as much of this as possible,” Gomila said. “[For now,] this hybrid is the most effective method.”

Golden has also started working with paying customers including private equity firms, hedge funds, VCs, biotechnology companies, corporate innovation offices and government agencies — in fact, it says it signed a $1 million contract with the U.S. Air Force this year. These customers are paying for access to Golden’s research engine, which includes the company’s Query Tool and the ability to request that the startup prepare research on a particular topic.

Golden has now raised a total of $19.5 million. Other investors in the new funding include DCVC, Harpoon Ventures and Gigafund .

“Golden’s knowledge base and research engine aggregates information about emerging technologies and the companies, investors, and the builders behind them,” Andreessen said in a statement. “Human and machine intelligence, working together on Golden’s platform, results in knowledge which gives people the edge in making decisions and navigating uncertainty.”


The roadmap to startup consolidation in Southeast Asia is becoming clearer

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:00

While Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystems are still young compared to those in China or India, it has matured over the last five years. Unicorns like Grab, Gojek and Garena are continuing to grow, and more competitive startups are emerging in sectors like fintech, e-commerce and logistics. That leads to the question: Will consolidation start to pick up?

The consensus by investors interviewed by Extra Crunch is: Yes, but slowly at first. In the meantime, there are still roadblocks to mergers and acquisitions, including few buyers and the size of markets like Indonesia, which means startups there have a lot of room to grow on their own, even alongside competitors. But many Southeast Asian startup ecosystems are rapidly evolving, and consolidations may speed up in the next few years.

During a Disrupt session, East Ventures partner Melisa Irene spoke about consolidation as a strategy, especially when larger companies, like Grab, decide to expand into new services by acquiring smaller players. In an interview with Extra Crunch, Irene elaborated on the idea.

“Companies that want to get more value out of their customers by expanding into other services can do it internally by developing it, or do it externally by buying existing companies that have been operating in the same or adjacent sectors,” she said.

For many years, companies opted not to do that because of the cost, she added, but that mindset started to shift a few years ago.

In 2018, Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia operations, still one of the highest-profile examples of consolidation in the region. The “superapp” also built out its financial services business by acquiring fintech startups Kudo, iKaaz, Bento and OVO.

Grab rival Gojek has been an even busier buyer, acquiring 13 startups so far according to Crunchbase, including Vietnamese payments startup WePay and Indonesian point-of-sale platform Moka earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Traveloka acquired three competing online travel agencies in 2018, while e-commerce platform Tokopedia bought Bridestory, its first publicly known acquisition, last year to expand into the Indonesian bridal industry.

Still in its early stages

Golden Gate Ventures partner Justin Hall said he has seen attitudes toward consolidation in Southeast Asia gradually shift since the investment firm was founded in 2011.

“I would say over the next two to three years, we’re definitely going to start seeing much more M&A occurring than versus the last eight to 10 years. It’s the confluence of different factors. One, I think corporate VC is starting to pour a little bit more money into the space. You have a lot of international tech companies, e.g., from China, or regional unicorns that are being much more acquisitive in their strategy,” Hall said.

He added that an often overlooked factor is that a lot of regional early-stage and institutional funds launched about a decade ago, building a foundation for Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystems. Many of these funds started out with a 10-year mandate and as a result, general partners may start examining how they can orchestrate sales, for example by talking to corporate acquirers, financiers or other sources of capital for an exit.

“A lot of activity that you’re starting to see right now is under the table. We have funds coming up on that 10-year mark, saying, ‘Let’s see where we can derive value within our portfolio, within specific companies that we can sell.’ That is going to start happening en masse over the next two years once we hit that 10-year mark for a lot of these funds.”


Following Apple’s Sidecar launch, Astropad announces Luna Display for Windows

Permalink - Posted on 2020-09-30 18:00

In June, Luna Display creator Astropad wrote a blog post titled, “Why Getting Sherlocked by Apple Was a Blessing in Disguise.” It arrived on the one-year anniversary of Apple’s launch of Sidecar for macOS, which let Mac owners use an iPad as a second display — thus making Luna’s functionality redundant.

The rose-colored post detailed how the company planned to pivot by diversifying its portfolio — in the case of Luna, that specifically meant launching a Windows version. “Later this summer, we’ll open up Astropad Studio for a free public beta on Windows,” the company wrote. “Not long after, we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign for an HDMI version of Luna Display.”

Today the company launched a Kickstarter for its Windows version, two years after launching the original Mac dongle on the crowdfunding platform. Delivery is set for May 2021. Early-bird supporters can get on-board with the device for as low as $49 (down from a retail price of $80).

Image Credits: Astropad

The dongle turns an iPad into a second display for a Windows PC, either wirelessly or tethered. The model comes in either USB-C of HDMI models, depending on the ports available on your machine. The second tablet can be used as a touchscreen for the extended monitor, which should work well with Windows 10, given how much Microsoft has tailored it to a touch experience.

I was a fan of the original Luna for Mac — though, like many, had less interest in the product as soon as Apple announced native support for Sidecar. Following the launch of Windows support, owners of the original Mac version will be able to use their existing device with PCs, as well. The device will work for Mac to iPad, Windows to iPad, Mac to Mac (with one laptop serving as a second screen) and a “headless mode,” with uses the iPad as a display for the Mac Mini and Mac Pro.