Day: July 1, 2021

Branson aims to beat Bezos to orbit in final stretch of billionaire space race

Two billionaires are neck and neck in the final sprint to the Kármán line, but Richard Branson may clinch it with a July 11 flight on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, narrowly beating out Jeff Bezos’s planned July 20 trip aboard a Blue Origin New Shepard capsule. Whoever wins, the real lesson here is that with enough money, you truly can do anything.

The news came today in the form of an announcement from Virgin Galactic stating that the launch window for its next test flight opens at 6 AM Pacific time on July 11, and that the mission will be the first to carry a full crew: two pilots, three specialists, and one billionaire. (Blue Origin had its own announcement, of which below.)

Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will pilot the VSS Unity spacecraft; Chief Astronaut instructor Beth Moses will oversee the flight; Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett will monitor cabin equipment and procedures; Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations Sirisha Bandla will be handling a University of Florida microgravity experiment; and lastly, Sir Richard Branson “will evaluate the private astronaut experience.” In other words, he’s the first plain old passenger.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” the billionaire founder and private funder of the space tourism company said in the company’s press release. “After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good. It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality. As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

The mission will, like others in the Virgin Galactic style, involve being flown by traditional means to what is normally considered a high altitude, after which the rocket-powered VSS Unity will detach from the plane and zoom up to above 80 kilometers, generally (though not universally) considered the edge of space. Branson will have gone through all the same training that future Virgin Galactic space tourists will go through, and will of course wear the same special blue suit.

If all goes according to plan, Branson will beat Bezos to space by a little more than a week, and probably win a long-running bet.

Bezos, for his part, will be going up July 11 (again, delays notwithstanding) on in a more traditional launch vehicle, Blue Origin’s New Shepard, accompanied by his brother and a lucky ticket-holder — lucky and rich, that is, since the ticket ended up selling at auction for $28 million to an as yet unannounced party.

The company did however today announce that the fourth passenger on the first crewed flight will be Wally Funk, the first graduate of NASA’s Mercury 13 program that trained women astronauts in 1961 — but the mission was cancelled and Funk never went to space. After 50 years of waiting, it seems she’ll finally get her chance.

Edtech startup Microverse raises $12.5M to bring income share agreements to the developing world

Edtech startup Microverse has tapped new venture funding in its quest to help train students across the globe to code through its online school that requires zero upfront cost, instead relying on an income-share agreement that kicks in when students find a job.

The startup tells TechCrunch it has closed a $12.5 million Series A led by Northzone with additional participation from General Catalyst, All Iron Ventures and a host of angel investors. We last covered the company after it had closed a bout of seed funding from General Catalyst and Y Combinator; this latest round brings the startup’s total funding to just under $16 million.

The company’s vision has seen added pandemic-era traction as larger tech companies have embraced remote work that spans geographic boundaries and time zones. Microverse has now brought English-speaking students from over 188 countries through its program.

Since we last chatted, CEO Ariel Camus says the startup has landed some 300 early graduates in positions at tech companies including Microsoft, VMWare and Huawei. The company says its has above a 95% employment rate for its students within six months of graduation so far, pushing past one of the bigger issues that income-share-agreement-based schools have had stateside — getting graduates employed.

Microverse does have notably less generous terms than counterparts like Lambda School when it comes to when students begin loan repayment, the terms of both are actually quite different, as noted in my previous article:

While Lambda School’s ISA terms require students to pay 17% of their monthly salary for 24 months once they begin earning above $50,000 annually — up to a maximum of $30,000, Microverse requires that graduates pay 15% of their salary once they begin making more than just $1,000 per month, though there is no cap on time, so students continue payments until they have repaid $15,000 in full. In both startups’ cases, students only repay if they are employed in a field related to what they studied, but with Microverse, ISAs never expire, so if you ever enter a job adjacent to your area of study, you are on the hook for repayments. Lambda School’s ISA taps out after five years of deferred repayments.

The startup has made efforts to streamline their online program since launch to ensure that students are being set up to succeed in the full-time, 10-month program. Part of Microverse’s efforts have included condensing lesson segments into shorter time frames to ensure students aren’t starting the program unless they have enough free time to commit. Camus says the startup is receiving thousands of applications per month, of which only a fraction are accepted in an effort to ensure that the small startup isn’t overcommitting itself early on. The startup estimates it will usher 1,000 students through its program this year.

The startup has big plans for the future, including working more closely with tech companies to ensure that students have easier access to job placement once they graduate.

“We have data now that the day we launch a partner program — which we haven’t done yet but we will eventually — it opens up the market by 5x,” Camus tells TechCrunch. “To get 10,000 students per year in a world where 90% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to higher education — it’s not going to be that hard, to be honest, I’m not too worried.”

Cops are playing music during filmed encounters to game YouTube’s copyright striking

Police are using copyrighted music to prevent the spread of recorded encounters.

The police are attempting to use YouTube’s stringent copyright system to keep people from posting recordings of encounters with law enforcement.

In a video posted Thursday by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), a community organization dedicated to defunding the Oakland Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy David Shelby pulled out his phone and began playing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” during an encounter. He openly admitted, “it can’t be posted to YouTube.”

“Are we having a dance party right now?” APTP’s policy director James Burch asked in the video, which is posted on YouTube.

“Are you playing pop music to drown out the conversation?” the person recording asked.

You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.

After a back and forth, the deputy said, “You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.”

Burch pressed Shelby on whether the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told officers to play copyrighted music during filmed encounters. He told Burch that he was “just listening to music.”

“You’re choosing to listen ’cause you’re such a big Taylor Swift fan?” the person recording responded.

Burch pressed Shelby again, asking if he was playing music to “make sure this wasn’t posted on YouTube.”

“That’s correct. That is correct…I’m playing my music so that you can’t post it on YouTube,” Shelby responded.

Burch was “incredulous,” and told Mashable he’s “still incredulous now.” And because of YouTube’s convoluted copyright policies, actions like this may prevent vital police encounter videos from spreading.

Bystander videos of police encounters are a crucial tool for accountability and civilian protection. Darnella Frazier’s recording of George Floyd’s death was crucial evidence to convict Derek Chauvin of murder. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and lead prosecutor in the Chauvin trial described the video as an “indispensable” piece of evidence, and said he had “real doubts” that the world would have known the truth of Floyd’s murder without it.

Recording the police has become the norm in the last decade, and officers have discouraged onlookers from doing so with harassment and violence. While filming the police is legal “as long as you’re not interfering with their activities,” University of Maryland law professor Mark Graber told NPR’s Code Switch, what constitutes as interference is unclear. Law enforcement across the country have responded to journalists, protestors, and even bystanders who record their actions by demanding they delete the videos, confiscating their phones without a warrant, and detaining those who resist.

Amid growing support for police reform, it appears that law enforcement officers are taking a more indirect approach to discouraging the spread of bystander videos.

The above video was filmed during a pre-trial hearing for San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher, who was charged with felony manslaughter last year for fatally shooting Steven Taylor, a Black man who was “acting erratically” in a Bay Area Walmart. Taylor’s family told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was “suffering a mental health crisis and did not represent a threat to officers or the general public.” Rather than de-escalate the situation and connect Taylor with mental health professionals, Fletcher pulled out his gun.

Burch told Mashable that the gathering outside of the Alameda County Superior Court wasn’t even a protest. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he said, a limited number of people were allowed to sit in the courthouse, so Taylor’s supporters, extended family, and other community organizers gathered with banners and coffee to listen to the broadcasted hearing. The confrontation in the video began when the deputy asked organizers to remove their banner showing support for Taylor, claiming it was a “tripping hazard.”

“So I’m like, ‘Are you genuinely concerned or are you just trying to cause trouble?’ Basically just trying to figure out what’s going to happen here,” Burch recalled. “And then that’s when he took out his phone.”

Burch noted the speed with which the deputy began playing music to disrupt filming. Shelby reached into his pants pocket, and with three taps, began blasting “Blank Space” at full volume. He then tucked his phone into his chest, between the buttons on his shirt, with the speaker pointing toward the person filming.

“As soon as he saw the camera, he grabs his phone and presses maybe two buttons and Taylor Swift is playing…This person was ready for this.”

“I really, really could not believe what was happening, just how quickly he had taken out his phone. And it wasn’t like he had…to load [the song],” Burch continued. “His phone was pre-loaded to this. As soon as he saw the camera, he grabs his phone and presses maybe two buttons and Taylor Swift is playing…This person was ready for this.”

Burch added that Shelby’s readiness concerned him, and he stopped engaging as soon as the deputy admitted why he playing music. Burch “didn’t believe it was safe to continue engaging with officers who were clearly out there trying to escalate.”

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to Mashable’s request for comment on whether officers are being instructed to play copyrighted music when they’re being recorded. Burch noted that Shelby may have learned of it from police forums or private Facebook groups, which are rampant with hostility toward the Black Lives Matter movement.

Police officers have used this tactic before. When Los Angeles organizer Sennett Devermont, who runs the Instagram account Always Film The Police, started livestreaming a conflict while filing a Freedom of Information Act request form at the Beverly Hills Police Department. During the livestream, an officer identified as Sergeant William Fair started playing “Santeria” by Sublime from his phone. The Beverly Hills Police Department told Vice that the “playing of music while accepting a complaint or answering questions is not a procedure that has been recommended by the Beverly Hills Police command staff.”

Posting copyrighted music is subject to removal on Instagram, even if it’s playing in the background. Livestreams are a gray area, and per policies updated last May, recommended using shorter clips and ensuring the livestream included “a visual component to your video.” Recorded audio “should not be the primary purpose of the video.”

YouTube’s copyright policies are uniquely poised to put those filming cops at a disadvantage.

Taking a clip from the livestream and posting it online, with the music in the background, is met with varying restrictions depending on the platform. YouTube’s copyright policies are uniquely poised to put those filming cops at a disadvantage.

A YouTube spokesperson told Mashable that they “don’t have anything to share regarding the specifics” of the video posted by APTP, instead deferring to the company’s policies posted online. The policy states that creators “should not upload videos they didn’t make, or use content in their videos that someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks, snippets of copyrighted programs, or videos made by other users, without necessary authorizations.” Copyright owners can submit a DMCA complaint online, which will prompt YouTube to remove the video and issue a copyright strike. If a creator racks up more than three strikes in 90 days, their account will be terminated.

YouTube also uses automatic systems called Content ID and the Copyright Match tool, which automatically notify copyright holders of “user uploaded videos that may contain their creative work” based on reference files submitted by the copyright holder. Content ID users can preemptively decide whether to leave the videos alone or issue a copyright strike.

While YouTube does account for Fair Use — a U.S. law that ensures people can use copyrighted material without permission if it’s for “commentary, criticism, research, teaching, or news reporting” — the platform is notorious for striking creators automatically. Commentary creators in particular have complained that the copyright striking system works against them because anyone can file a DMCA takedown on a video, regardless of whether they actually own the copyright. Videos that do fall under Fair Use, like creators teaching viewers how to cover a song, can still trigger YouTube’s automatic copyright strike.

Audio is also less likely to slip through copyright filters, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted in a whitepaper about how YouTube’s Content ID discourages Fair Use. EFF, a nonprofit focused on defending digital civil liberties, wrote that YouTube “has effectively replaced legal fair use of copyrighted material with its own rules.” Content ID disproportionately affects audio, because it’s easier to match than an audiovisual clip. Classical musicians, for example, are driven off YouTube for playing public domain compositions that may match copyrighted recordings by other artists. EFF denounced Content ID as a “loophole to be exploited by authorities” in a post about Devermont’s livestream, suggesting that police could use songs by rightsholders who are “infamously controlling and litigious.”

The potential for a copyright strike, however, should not discourage bystanders from continuing to record the police. Video evidence is not only an act of protest and self-determination, but also desperately needed to hold law enforcement accountable.

“If they’re going to attempt to shroud their actions in secrecy, we are going to make sure to let the world know of what the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is up to,” Burch said.

As of Thursday — despite Shelby’s insistence — the video is still up on YouTube.

The 2021 edtech avalanche has just begun

Rhys Spence

Rhys Spence is head of research at Brighteye Ventures, a European edtech-focused fund, where he works with portfolio companies to help address priorities, with a focus on internationalization.

Last week was a good one for edtech in Europe.

GoStudent became Europe’s first edtech unicorn (IPO’d companies aside), raising its third round in 12 months and the biggest ever in the sector in Europe. Brighteye Ventures’ analysis showed that VC investments in European edtech had breached $1 billion in a calendar year for the first time, even without GoStudent’s mega-round, with six months left to go.

Edtech deal flow in 2021 looks set to match or even outpace 2020 levels, per the report: At $9.4 million, average deal size is triple 2020 levels; seven companies have raised $50 million in five different markets; and the U.K. has more than three times as many deals as the next individual market.

Deal size progression in edtech over the years

Deal-size progression in edtech over the years. Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures

It’s interesting that we are not seeing enormous increases in deal count. The $1.05-billion mark in the report is spread across 111 transactions — there were 237 in 2020, so we could expect a similar total this year. More funding and stable deal count of course means that we are seeing significant increases in deal size.

It seems generalist investors are recognizing that edtech investments can reap outsized returns, similar to sectors like deep tech, health tech and fintech.

We can draw a few conclusions from this. We can construe that companies created last year and in previous years matured significantly during the pandemic due to increased demand. Moreover, this rapid natural selection process provided insights on verticals and possible winners.

Lastly, it seems generalist investors are recognizing that edtech investments can reap outsized returns, similar to sectors like deep tech, health tech and fintech.

This is contributing to larger early rounds than we have seen in previous years — investors can’t pick the winner, but they can slant the playing field instead. We therefore expect to see a surge in the number of pre-seed, seed and Series A rounds in the second half of 2021, as companies founded during the pandemic begin to raise meaningful funding.

Another reason that edtech is being taken seriously by generalist investors is that the true size of the market (and the extent of digitization to come) is becoming more conceivable.

Spending on edtech is undergoing a similar growth to that of media spending in 2010

Edtech spending is growing like media spending did in the 2010s. Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures

Robinhood says its future is tied to Dogecoin. Seriously.

Much dumb.

So it’s come to this.

The fate of Robinhood, a much-despised stock and cryptocurrency trading app, is inexorably tied to that of Dogecoin. Yes, the meme cryptocurrency frequently pumped by Elon Musk.

That’s according to the company itself, which filed to go public on Thursday. In Robinhood’s prospectus, published by the SEC, the company says that for the first three months of 2021, a decent chunk of its revenue came from cryptocurrency trading. And a significant portion of that action revolved around Dogecoin.

Robinhood says it’s worried that this rocket could fizzle out before it hits the moon.

“If demand for transactions in Dogecoin declines and is not replaced by new demand for other cryptocurrencies available for trading on our platform, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected,” reads the prospectus.

Robinhood, of course, does not solely depend on cryptocurrency transactions. The company burst into the public consciousness with the rise of meme stocks, such as GameStop, and the Wall Street Bets subreddit.

Even so, according to the prospectus, cryptocurrencies provide a healthy chunk of the company’s revenue — and that’s largely thanks to Dogecoin.

“While we currently support a portfolio of seven cryptocurrencies for trading, for the three months ended March 31, 2021, 34% of our cryptocurrency transaction-based revenue was attributable to transactions in Dogecoin, as compared to 4% for the three months ended December 31, 2020.”

SEE ALSO: Reddit is selling NFTs, and somehow they’re already worth thousands

Other risk factors elucidated by Robinhood include potential cryptocurrency regulation and, if in the future, it allows customers to deposit or withdraw cryptocurrency (not just buy and sell it), a loss of customer funds due to expected hiccups like “typos.”

Risk factors not specifically mentioned? Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live performances.

How Robinhood’s explosive growth rate came to be

This afternoon Robinhood filed to go public. TechCrunch’s first look at its results can be found here. Now that we’ve done a first dig, we can take the time to dive into the company’s filing more deeply.

Robinhood’s IPO has long been anticipated not only because there are billions of dollars in capital riding on its impending liquidity. But also, because the company became something of a poster child for the savings and investing boom that 2020 saw and the COVID-19 pandemic helped engender.

The consumer trading service’s products became so popular, and enmeshed in popular culture thanks to both the “stonks” movement and the larger GameStop brouhaha, that the company’s public offering carries much more weight than that of a more regular venture-backed entity. Robinhood has fans, haters, and many an observer in Congress.

Regardless of all that, today we are digging into the company’s business, and financial results. So, if you want to better understand how Robinhood makes money, and how profitable or not it really is, this is for you.

We will start with a more in-depth look at growth and profitability, pivot to learning about the company’s revenue makeup, discuss a risk factor or two, and close on its decision to offer some of its own shares to its users. Let’s go!

Inside Robinhood’s growth engine

Before we get into the how of Robinhood’s growth, let’s discuss its how big the company has become.

The fintech unicorn’s revenue grew from $277.5 million in 2019 to $958.8 million in 2020, which works out to growth of around 245%. Robinhood expanded even more quickly in the first quarter of 2021, scaling from year-ago revenue of $127.6 million to $522.2 million, a gain of around 309%.

Those are numbers that we frankly do not see often amongst companies going public; 300% growth is a pre-Series A metric, usually.

Returning to our point about how famous the company has become, we can see in its financial performance — tied as it is to user activity, which we’ll get to shortly — why Robinhood’s IPO will prove noisy. It’s going public because of rapidly-scaling usage form consumers, usage that in turn helped the company’s size flat explode in the last year.

Now let’s talk profitability. Here’s Robinhood’s main income statement, which we’ll both need to discuss the company’s red and black ink:

In 2019 Robinhood’s net losses were not small, with the firm posting a $106.6 million deficit, inclusive of tax costs. However, the next year’s growth turned that all around for Robinhood, with the company managing to end the year just in the black — in percent of revenue terms — with net income of $7.4 million.

The company’s 2019 net loss, however, was not spread out amongst its quarters in a uniform fashion; net losses ramped from around $12 million in both Q1 and Q2 2019 to $38.4 million and $44.6 million in Q3 and Q4 of the year, respectively.

Pinterest bans all weight loss ads

Scales are not invited to the post-pandemic party.

Pinterest announced Thursday that it would ban weight loss ads.

The company says the move is a response to a rise in unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders since the pandemic started, as reported by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

“NEDA is encouraged by this necessary step in prioritizing the mental health and well-being of Pinners, especially those impacted by diet culture, body shaming, and eating disorders,” Elizabeth Thompson, NEDA’s interim CEO, said in a statement posted by Pinterest.

Other social media companies, including Instagram and TikTok, have banned a subset of weight loss claims and products from ads — specifically ads targeted to young people. That was in response to the proliferation of digitally (and physically) altered Instagram bodies that promote unrealistic beauty standards, ads selling potentially harmful diet products (like detox teas), and the rise of social media-inspired plastic surgery. Pinterest, however, says its policy is the first to ban “all” weight loss ads.

The policy is quite broad. It prohibits “any weight loss language or imagery,” as well as testimonials, product shilling, idealization or denigration of certain body types, and references to Body Mass Index. It expands on Pinterest’s ban on ads that contain weight loss pills and procedures, before and after pictures, body shaming, and other more obvious forms of toxic diet culture.

There is, however, a pretty significant loophole. Weight loss companies are not actually banned from advertising on Pinterest. The company says “Ads promoting healthy lifestyles and habits or fitness services and products will still be allowed, as long as they don’t focus on weight loss.”

This is actually in step with current trends in the diet industry. Of course, there are still plenty of explicit diet ads on the internet. But some legacy players have shifted to accommodate new ad guidelines and consumer tastes.

In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded to “WW” (maybe customers would forget what those Ws originally stood for?). It says it’s currently a wellness-focused company, and its new tagline is “Wellness that Works.”

You can bet the $2.5 billion corporation didn’t make that move entirely out of the goodness of its heart. Reports show that millennials are much more interested in healthy eating, body positivity, and wellness — not weight loss. The diet industry has adapted while still cashing in on diet products.

Under the new policy, companies like WW can still advertise on Pinterest, as long as they don’t explicitly reference weight loss — which might be just fine with them.

India’s central bank says growing presence of Big Tech in financial services a concern

India’s central bank has identified Big Tech’s push into financial services as a challenge for banks in the South Asian market, saying the growing presence of these firms have prompted concerns about creation of an uneven playing field.

In a report published on Thursday, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said Big Tech offers a wide-range of digital services that hold the promise of supporting financial inclusion, generating lastic efficiency gains, and making banks become more competitive, but their expansion in the financial services sector has given rise to “important policy issues.”

“Specifically, concerns have intensified around a level playing field with banks, operational risk, too-big-to- fail issues, challenges for antitrust rules, cyber security and data privacy,” the Indian central bank wrote.

Big tech firms “straddle many different (non-financial) lines of business with sometimes opaque overarching governance structures” and have the potential to become “the dominant players” in financial services, wrote the central bank, which also regulates the finance market in India. “Third, big techs are generally able to overcome limits to scale in financial services provision by exploiting network effects.”

“For central banks and financial regulators, financial stability objectives may be best pursued by blending activity and entity-based prudential regulation of big techs (an activity-based approach is already applied in areas such as anti-money laundering /combating the financing of terrorism; an activity-based approach is the provision of cloud services, where minimising operational and in particular, cyber risk is paramount).”

“Furthermore, as the digital economy expands across borders, international coordination of rules and standards becomes more pressing.”

The caution comes at a time when the RBI, which in the past decade opened up the mobile payments through an retail banks-backed infrastructure called UPI in the past decade, is now opening up the entire national payment network in the country.

A number of players including the tech giants Facebook, Google, and Amazon and plastic card processing firms Visa and Mastercard have applied for licenses to operate retail payments and settlement systems in the country. (RBI is expected to give some of these firms licenses later this year.)

“Nowhere else in the world would the largest corporates, banks, telcos in India and the largest tech players in the world would come together to build national payment networks.” analysts at Bernstein said of the NUE.

An executive at one of the largest payments startups in India slammed the concerns raised by RBI, saying no existing rule is preventing the big banks in India — ICICI and HDFC — that already amass a plethora of data about their customers from investing in their digital expansion.

State Bank of India “is more than half of Indian banking. And Yono [State Bank of India’s digital bank platform] claims a $40 billion market valuation. Why is their reach not a concern?”

The executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said big technology firms are following the regulations set by the RBI, they are using rails built by banks and are required to operate in the space only through partnerships with banks. “The RBI is free to make more regulations — and it’s already doing so with wallet KYC restrictions and imposing market share caps for those doing payments atop UPI infrastructure.”

5 Tips To Change Career After The Pandemic

We have all felt the impact of the pandemic globally. It significantly shifted the landscape of the workforce. Most of us transitioned to remote working. Big companies have gone through massive layoffs. You’re probably wondering what your next step is. Whether you’re looking for online business opportunities or to overcome financial challenges, we’re here to help you out with the following tips:

1. Change Your Perspective

how to start a new career

Change can be overwhelming, especially something as big as a career shift after a pandemic. Take a deep breath. You’re not going through this alone. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, their recent surveys show that there are high rates of hardship in the U.S.. In the U.K., 70% of their workers are considering a career change as a result of the pandemic.

You now have two choices. You can either dwell on the negative effects of this pandemic or view the crisis as an opportunity for change. After all, the pandemic hastened the eventual digitization of everything, from education to employment. It has made a lot of business processes and services more convenient. Launching a startup became significantly more accessible than ever before.

2. Boost Your Skills

Ready for the change? Great. The next question is, what kind of change is appropriate for your expertise. Can any of your skills be digitized? Keep in mind that the pandemic also made the competition stiffer. It’s not enough to be “enough” anymore. You need to excel. Fortunately, the online world also made education and training more convenient and accessible.

Employment vs. Self-Employment

Another aspect that you should consider in relation to your skills is whether you’re going to pursue employment further or not. Can’t find a company that needs your unique skill set? Then maybe it’s time you consider paving your own path.

Employment is typically a great option for people who have mastered a certain skill. Meanwhile, self-employment suits people who have a collection of skills, even with no particular mastery. This also means that expanding your skillset is a requirement for any post-pandemic business owner even if you already have expertise in one craft.

Actionable Step: Make two lists: one for all the skills you already have and another for all the skills you need for your prospective new career but lack. Then, mark all the skills that you still need to improve on from the first list. These marked items and everything on your second list is your skills gaps. Create an action plan to resolve your skills gaps in the immediate future.

3. Research, Research, Research

Building your own unique niche and attaining immediate and long-term success from it is a very challenging pursuit. If you want a relatively easier transition, then you might want to look into the current demand in the workforce.

Take time to research the most compatible options for you using your skills and skills’ gaps lists as reference.

In the meantime, here are some of the roles with the fastest-growing demand this year:

  • Fulfillment Associate
  • Big Data Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Translation Specialist
  • Medical Professional

Note that most of the roles in the list have a direct connection to the massive digitization currently happening across industries. Big data development and software development are a given. Demand for fulfillment associates rose along with the boost in eCommerce. Finally, translation specialists make the internet more accessible across cultures.

4. Ready Yourself For Virtual Interviews

start a new career

Going through a physical interview is already nerve-wracking as it is. Creating a lasting impression and allowing your personality to shine in a video interview is an entirely different ballgame.

Here are some tips to boost your virtual interview success:

  • Find the ideal location. It must be a quiet spot in your home where you are less likely to be distracted or disturbed, especially by kids and pets.
  • Create a professional backdrop. You don’t have to invest in a green screen, nor a custom set. A bookshelf is great, and thus, a popular option. At the very least, a plain white wall will do.
  • Dress professionally. Resist the temptation to conduct your interview wearing an elegant blouse or button-down and wearing pajama bottoms. Always dress appropriately.
  • Practice. Lastly, it’s always ideal to practice with a friend or family member before an interview to refine your online communication skills further. It can be easy for a virtual interview to feel less formal than a physical meeting, even if it’s not. Don’t let this underestimation be your pitfall.

5. Upgrade Your Tech

Finally, you need to make sure that your technology game meets the minimum requirements that your career choice requires, especially if you plan on doing it remotely. A computer and network connection are a given. However, you might also need a web camera, a decent microphone (there are web cameras with built-in mics), a tripod (if you’re going to use your phone as a camera), and some lighting. These are the absolute basics.

Your chosen field can require further equipment depending on the specifics of the job.

Final Thoughts

Prepare yourself. The road ahead is not going to be easy. Sadly, there are a lot of organizations that are hesitant to hire in these uncertain times. Hence, it can take a while to find the right fit. But with patience, perseverance, and by keeping the tips we’ve shared with you in mind, we are confident that you will make the right career move for you. Good luck!

The post 5 Tips To Change Career After The Pandemic appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

The new Bissell PowerEdge cordless vacuum already has its first discount at Amazon

Dogs and kids are messy. Get a cordless vacuum that can keep up.

Save $30: The latest Bissell PowerEdge 2900A cordless stick vacuum is on sale for $219.99 at Amazon as of July 1.

Robot vacuums are trendy, but they aren’t always the best cleaning option for everyone’s home. For example, they aren’t as necessary if you live in a smaller space or have lots of random, hard-to-reach nooks. A cordless stick vacuum might be better if you like to do the work yourself, especially when the price is right on a brand new model.

Released about a month ago, the new Bissell PowerEdge cordless stick vacuum is now available for $219.99 at Amazon. The $30 discount is the first we’ve seen so far on the 2900A model. And since it’s currently out of stock at Walmart, it’s a good reason to buy now instead of wait for a better deal.

The Bissell 2900A is built for quick and easy cleanups of common messes around the home. Its 21V lithium-ion battery gives you up to 30 minutes of powerful cordless vacuuming. The 2900A works best on hard floors, and Bissell recommends using it on low-pile carpet or area rugs. But it works well to pick up all types of dirt and debris, including pet hair.

With its specialized edge cleaning brushes on the sides, the Bissell 2900A also does a great job cleaning around corners and along baseboards. You basically get three vacuums in one. From the stick vacuum, it also converts to a lightweight high-reach vacuum as well as a handheld vacuum perfect for small spaces or a car. And it boasts a dirt tank that’s easy to empty along with washable filters to better control dust and dander.

If it fits your home’s cleaning needs, a cordless stick vacuum might be your best tool. And the new Bissell PowerEdge offers the versatility you need to make it a worthy investment at $219.99.

Save $30 at Amazon

Credit: Bissell

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TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising kicks off in 1 week

It’s only one week left until we get our bootcamp on at TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising. It’s your chance to learn everything you need to know about fundraising, growth marketing, brand building, pitch deck development and more. And we’ve tapped the brightest minds in startup to share their hard-earned wisdom.

It’s not too late to keep a bit of cheddar in your wallet — buy your pass before July 7 at 11:59 pm (PT) to save $100 on what you’ll pay at the virtual door.

Here’s why one of your contemporaries, Katia Paramonova, founder and CEO of Centrly, says you should consider attending TC Early Stage 2021.

“Early Stage 2020 provided a rich, bootcamp experience with premier founders, VCs and startup community experts. If you’re beginning to build a startup, it’s an efficient way to advance your knowledge across key startup topics.”

Let’s take a quick look at just some of the topics we have on tap for you at ES 2021. You’ll find the full listing in the event agenda, and you can get the 411 on our slate of speakers, too.

Pro Tip: Your pass includes both live-streaming and video-on-demand, so you can catch — or revisit — any session after the conference ends.

Growth Hacking, Product Fit and Pricing: Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra shares strategies for early-stage founders on topics like hacking your way to product-market fit, driving user sign-ups without breaking the bank on paid ads, and identifying your product’s price point.

How to Determine Your Earned Media Strategy: Rebecca Reeve Henderson, an enterprise SaaS communications expert, will share her insight on how to build an effective earned media strategy for your startup by building on her deep expertise developing effective communications programs for some of the top business software companies in the world. Earned media, aka the kind of exposure you get from a TechCrunch article, is a key element of any startup’s marketing strategy, but it’s also one of the trickiest things to get right. Rebecca has worked with companies ranging from Slack to Shopify, Zapier to Canva and many more, helping craft effective earned media strategies in one of the most difficult areas of all: B2B SaaS.

How to Navigate the Ever-Changing World of Early-Stage VC: With over 25 personal investments, AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli knows a thing or two about early stage fundraising. At Early Stage, Kohli will explain the landscape of the early-stage fundraising market and how to take advantage of the changes in the VC world over the past year.

Don’t miss these awesome breakout sessions and the even-more-awesome pitch-off action scheduled for day two.

TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising takes place July 8-9. You have one more week to buy your pass and make the most of this opportunity to build a stronger startup. Plus if you register before July 6, you can get 2 tickets for the price of 1 during our 4th of July sale! Don’t miss out!

Exclusive: Hepsiburada CEO sets out her vision, as it becomes first ever Turkish Nasdaq IPO

Hepsiburada — Turkey’s giant online shopping platform considered the Amazon of its country — floats on the Nasdaq today, for a valuation likely to exceed $3.9 billion on current projections, especially with shares being marked up to $14 apiece (up from the previously predicted $12 pricing). Bu this isn’t the end of the journey for this break-out Turkish tech and e-commerce company, for long-time founder and chairwoman Hanzade Doğan Boyner – who started the business in 1998 no less, and still has overall control of the company – considers this closer to a growth round of funding, enabling her ambitious plans to mine Turkey’s fast-developing market even further, as well as expand into Central and Eastern Europe. Doğan Boyner, a scion of the powerful Doğan family in Turkey, continues to hold three-quarters of the voting power in the company, according to the prospectus filed to the SEC.

Hepsiburada’s IPO comes after it more than doubled its revenue during the pandemic, as Turkey’s largely offline population was forced to switch to online shopping in what might well be characterized as a sort of enforced ‘Great Leap Forward’ for the country. 

Hepsiburada (which translates as “everything is here”) is also making history as the first-ever Turkish, NASDAQ IPO.

With a massive logistics platform spread across Turkey, the company now offers 2hr deliveries, with around 43 million products available on the platform, available from a more Chinese-like ‘super-app’ which can offer everything from groceries to flights, to payment services, via is ‘Alipay-like’ service called Hepsipay. And in Turkey, many people prefer to buy things on installments, a service Hepsiburada has pre-built into its platform.

Turkish people have also enjoyed its frictionless returns, where goods can be returned for free, involving a super-efficient logistics network.

After growing at about 50% year on year for the last five years, the company says it doubled in size last year, taking advantage of the exponential growth in Turkey’s e-commerce penetration into its 82 million-strong population.

The IPO comes after a mere $100m was invested in the platform over the last 20 years, and a profit-making period until 2018 when Doğan Boyner started investing more in the platform, prior to this moment.

TC: What brought you to this moment in time in terms of the IPO?

Doğan Boyner: “Almost 20 years ago I started with e-commerce and from day one we built it with new features, new services, and today we manage a fully integrated ecosystem, from last-mile delivery to payment to groceries. Hepsiburada is the super app that makes our customer’s lives easier. They can get their groceries or their toys for next-day delivery or flight tickets. Why are we listing now? Because the Turkish e-commerce market is at 10% penetration, and we believe that its penetration will double by 2025. It’s an inflection point. It’s a large market, and as Hepsiburada we are a pioneering platform reaching maturity towards becoming a public company. With the funds raised through the IPO, we will accelerate our growth and continue to execute our vision.”

TC: “Are you satisfied with the $3.9 billion valuation?”

Doğan Boyner: “Today’s valuation is not very important for me. It’s not where you start, it’s where you go. I’m not selling any shares, and this is primarily for growth funding. This is just the beginning. You know, the market is still low penetration, and we have an exciting journey ahead of us. I want the stock to perform well for my investors, but what the value today is irrelevant for me.”

TC: “You’re going to use some of this funding to add on new products onto the platform like booking flights or money transfers and other kinds of new products, what are some of the other kinds of expansion plans you have?”

Doğan Boyner: “One is to continue building our infrastructure, such as frictionless returns, which gives such peace of mind to our consumers. The second is Hepsi Express. It’s still only at 4% penetration. This will change the consumer’s grocery shopping habit because we have such a strong model where we partner with a lot of national chains, regional chains, Mom-and-Pop shops, so we turn those stores into our ‘dark stores’. Plus we sometimes do our own picking from the stores or sometimes the retailer does the picking. So the customer offering is very strong. You can get something in half an hour, or you can schedule it for next day, whenever you want. You can do the weekly shopping, or just get something for that night. Express is an area that we will scale. Payment is another focus. We are the only platform with a payments license. Soon it will be an open wallet and our Fintech capabilities will increase post IPO.”

TC: Are you following a sort of Alibaba / Alipay strategy?

Doğan Boyner: “We will leverage our current customers and marketplace, and we will turn them into our wallet customers. Super apps don’t really exist in Europe or the US. So it’s our vision to digitalize commerce. We are in our customer’s pocket. We want to make life easier for them.”

TC: “How did you shift operations during the pandemic?”

Doğan Boyner: “We almost became a lifeline, not just for consumers but for our merchants as well. So we rose to the occasion to not only scale operationally. We had to onboard 1000s of drivers and employees, very, very fast, but we also had to secure the well-being of our employees. While all of us were isolating we had to ask our employees to work, which, which I think we’ve done a very, very good job of, in terms of providing PPE, and providing health coverage. It was a chance to live up to our values. Our consumers experimented with us as new consumers, and they’re happy with the service so they will stay with us and our merchants appreciated us as well, because in a time when their shops were closed, they could generate revenues through us.”

TC: You’ve been a big advocate of women in your company and also in your country, you’ve created many programs for women and girls and engaged in a great deal of advocacy. Where do you feel you are on that journey?

Doğan Boyner: “Half far our workforce is female, 33% of our management is female – which should be 50%! Our woman entrepreneur program has been very impactful. We tell women entrepreneurs to come, we will teach you ecommerce, we will onboard your products, we will give you free shipping, we will prioritize your products or listing pages, we will give you real estate on our home page. Some 19,000 women have benefitted from this. Women have sent me their inspiring stories. They start small and hire two people, and then they create their own brands. Having said that, when I look at where we are in terms of gender equality globally, the needle doesn’t move much. You look at the number of CEOs in the FTSE 500, the number doesn’t change. So, I will keep doing whatever I can, because every ‘small drop’ counts. And hopefully, it will. I also think there should be a new conversation, a global conversation about gender equality in general. The 19,000 women who benefited from our program became economically more empowered. They gained skills and tools and confidence to trade on a platform like Hepsiburada, which is very meaningful.”

TC: Are you concerned that perhaps your success may attract the attention of government regulation in Turkey, in the future?

Doğan Boyner: “We are considered a national champion. Turkey has different dynamics. I think it’s an inspiration that national champions can come out and be successful.”

TC: You’ve been very hugely successful, you’re a big advocate for women in your country, do you have any political aspirations?

Doğan Boyner: “No.”

Netflix opens super ’90s video stores for ‘Fear Street’ trilogy

Haven't seen one of these in a while.

For those who truly miss their trips to the video store and can’t quite live off people’s incredible home DIY versions on TikTok, Netflix has created a little throwback for you.

The streaming service is opening three promotional pop-up video stores in England to mark the release of Fear Street Part 1: 1994, the first installment of Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy, based on R.L. Stine’s beloved horror books.

Set to open in in London, Brighton, and Newcastle, the appropriately named Shadyside Videos will be available for the public to peruse on Friday, July 2, between midday and 8 p.m., and over the weekend between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

And yes, there’s “blood” on the floor right there.

Mashable Image

The stores will then reopen the same opening hours for the second and third installments of the trilogy — July 9 and 10 for Fear Street Part 2: 1978, and July 16 and 17 for Fear Street Part 3: 1666.

Inside, you’ll find a photo booth “with a twist” (whatever that means, I’m…afraid?). Visitors can also buy Fear Street merch, including a T-shirt collaboration with streetwear brand Aries. In the Newcastle store, they’ll be giving away “blood-splattered” chocolate bars made by local outfit The Chocolate Smiths. Plus, local artists Alice Bloomfield, Pippa Toole, and Cori Henderson have created retro poster artworks for the London, Brighton, and Newcastle stores respectively.

Mashable Image
Mashable Image

Now, importantly, these video stores opened by a streaming giant — whose very existence and our irreversibly changed ways of viewing movies means we’ll probably never go back to a video store format ever again — don’t actually have any movies you can rent.

Instead, these are pop-up promotional stores meant to immerse you in the world of the films. It’s fun! They look cool! It’s been a while since I’ve been to anything pop-up or anything resembling a Blockbuster, let me have this!

Free membership! Totally awesome.

Free membership! Totally awesome.

You’ll find the Shadyside Videos pop-ups in London (149-150 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6HU), Brighton (65 East Street, BN1 1HQ), and Newcastle (6-8 Northumberland Street, NE1 7DE).

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 premieres on Netflix July 2. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 premieres on Netflix July 9. Fear Street Part 3: 1666 premieres on Netflix July 16.

Barracuda acquires Skout Cybersecurity to enter the XDR market

Barracuda Networks has purchased Skout Cybersecurity, a New York-based channel-only provider of extended detection and response (XDR) services. 

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, will see the California-based cybersecurity vendor enter the fast-growing XDR market. 

As a result of the ever-increasing attack surface as businesses shift to the cloud and embrace hybrid working, 80% of security professionals now say XDR solutions — which automatically collect and correlate data from multiple security layers to improve threat detection — should be a top priority for their organization, and 68% of enterprises plan to implement XDR in 2021 and 2022, according to recent research. 

By adopting Skout’s XDR platform, along with the company’s security team, Barracuda says it will be able to offer real-time continuous security monitoring to managed service providers, or MSPs, enabling them to address threats more efficiently. Skout, an early-stage cyber-as-a-service startup that had amassed a total of $25 million in funding from RSE Ventures and ClearSky, also offers AI-powered endpoint protection, email protection services, and Office 365 monitoring through its XDR platform. 

The acquisition also continues Barracuda’s strategic M&A momentum, which includes the recent acquisition of zero trust access provider Fyde.  

“MSPs must be able to protect their customers’ end users, their devices, and the data they are accessing with these devices against increasingly sophisticated threats. To achieve this level of protection for their customers, and themselves, MSPs are transforming their businesses into “security-centric” operations,” said Brian Babineau, SVP and general manager at Barracuda MSP.

“The addition of Skout enables Barracuda’s MSP partners to deploy security solutions across their environments, connecting their data feeds into a unified, 24×7 operation for swift analysis and response.” 

The acquisition is expected to close later this month, subject to obtaining required regulatory and third-party consents, and satisfaction of other customary closing conditions. 

Previously a public company, Barracuda was taken private by private equity firm Thoma Bravo who acquired the company for $1.6 billion in November 2017. The company, which competes with Palo Alto Networks and Symantec, provides security for cloud-connected networks and applications and counts the likes of Delta Airlines, Hootsuite, and Samsung among its 200,000+ customers. 

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This Apple Watch Series 3 just hit a new all-time-low price at Walmart

An oldie but a goodie.

SAVE $40: Typically $229, the white variant of the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is on sale at Walmart for just $189 as of July 1 (a 17% savings).

Most of Apple’s 2017 releases have since made their merry way to the great Genius Bar in the sky — see: the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, the expensive iMac Pro, and that god-awful Siri Remote for the original Apple TV 4K. (Good riddance, TBQH.)

Not the Apple Watch Series 3, though. The Mashable’s Choice Award-winning smartwatch (which turns 4 in September) has stuck around as the company’s most affordable wearable, having outlived both the Series 4 and 5 with continued support for new versions of watchOS.

And get this: In all these years, one Series 3 variant has never been as cheap as it is currently.

As of July 1, the white, 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 with just GPS (no cellular connectivity) is on sale at Walmart for only $189 — that’s 17% off its $229 MSRP and its biggest discount ever. (We saw it going for the same price on Amazon, FYI, but it was on backorder until the end of August at the time of writing; Walmart can get it to you as soon as this weekend if you place your order ASAP.)

A great pick for anyone who doesn’t feel like messing around with tons of convoluted fitness metrics and sensors, the Series 3 comes with all the essentials, including a sleek Retina display, a built-in heart rate sensor, a barometric altimeter, and a wireless W2 chip. (The latter makes for quick pairing and efficient power consumption — one charge will get you up to 18 hours of battery life.) It’s also water-resistant up to 50 meters, so you don’t have to worry about ruining it at the pool or beach this summer.

Of course, anyone who’s in the market for a smartwatch right now could always hold out for the redesigned Apple Watch Series 7, which is supposed to arrive later this year — but don’t expect this best-ever Series 3 deal to hang around ’til then.

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The EU’s COVID-19 ‘digital certificates’ are up and running

A regulation underpinning a digital certification system for individuals in the European Union to verify their COVID-19 status via a common credential has gone into application today — on schedule.

From today, almost all EU Member States are now able to issue and verify digital certificates, per the Commission — with only a handful of (mostly) EEA countries still pending a step, according to its website.

A number of countries had started issuing certificates earlier. The regulation also allows for a six week phasing in period.

The Commission said more than 200 million certificates have been generated already.

The “EU Digital COVID Certificate” — which has gone through a few names since the idea was publicly floated back in January — is intended to help facilitate cross-border travel within the bloc by providing standardized and universally accepted certification.

EU citizens still have the right to free movement — even without the certificate — but having the common credential may help facilitate travel around the bloc, such as by exempting holders from needing to undergo COVID-19-related restrictions like quarantine.

Certificates can be issued to people within EU Member States who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus with a verified vaccine; who have previously had the disease (and therefore have antibodies); or to people who have had a recent negative test.

While it’s been called a “digital” certificate, a paper version can also be issued — which similarly contains a scannable QR code (albeit printed) — so there’s no requirement for individuals to have a mobile device to be able to use the certificate to help them travel.

Certificates are also issued free of charge.

The Commission has previously said that no personal data is “exchanged or retained” during the digital certificate verification process. Signature keys for the verification are stored on servers at a national level and only accessed — via a centralized gateway — at the point the certificate is scanned.

The EU rules for the digital certificate stipulate that Member States must refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on holders — unless such steps are “necessary and proportionate” to safeguard public health.

The regulation is due to expire in a year’s time.

More information about the EU digital COVID certificate system can be found here.

Why calling someone a ‘Karen’ ended up in New Zealand parliament

New Zealand Parliament's House on May 20, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Jacinda Ardern, we heard that.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s prime minister got as close as you can get to calling the leader of the opposition a “Karen” without directly yelling it into a loudspeaker.

Ardern’s government has been pushing to toughen up hate speech and hate crime laws in the country, proposing to amend the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Crimes Act to introduce harsher penalties for anyone who incites discrimination or hatred.

It follows the results of a Royal Commission inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks, which saw 51 people killed by a white supremacist terrorist. The inquiry concluded that New Zealand’s hate speech laws don’t adequately penalise offenders, and proposed that maximum prison sentences should be increased from three months to three years.

Opposition Leader Judith Collins, who is head of the centre-right National Party, attempted to lambast Ardern’s reforms during a Question Time session in the House, continuing a slew of criticism she’d been tweeting at the prime minister this week, including a question about whether the term “Karen” would be included under the proposed hate speech law changes.

“Karens,” as the internet term goes, are white women who are often mocked by the internet in viral videos for their outlandishly problematic and often racist behaviour. The insult has been thrown at everyone from grocery shoppers throwing tantrums to Space Karen Elon Musk.

Tweet may have been deleted

Before we get to the retort, here’s what’s happening. The main debate around the proposed law reforms has been around, you guessed it, hate speech. Ardern’s government want to increase penalties around “normalised” hatred and discrimination, which is meant to add further protection to groups and communities targeted by hateful speech.

“The proposals target the types of communication that seek to spread and entrench feelings of intolerance, prejudice, and hatred against groups in our society,” reads Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi’s introduction to the proposals. “All people are equal, and our society is made up of people with many different aspects to their identities. The incitement of hatred against a group based on a shared characteristic, such as ethnicity, religion, or sexuality, is an attack on our values of inclusiveness and diversity. Such incitement is intolerable and has no place in our society.”

Conservative critics including Collins have criticised the proposed amendments, calling it the criminalisation of “insulting” speech. But on Wednesday, it was pretty clear what the prime minister had to say to her opposition, who suggested in her tweet that calling someone a “Karen” would be considered a crime under the new hate speech law reforms.

“I also, as it happens, disagree with the member’s statement on Twitter that somehow, it will become illegal to call someone a ‘Karen’,” said Ardern in parliament, referring to Collins as said member. “That is absolutely incorrect, and I apologise, that means these laws will not protect that member from such a claim.”

Tweet may have been deleted

I can’t adequately clap hard enough for this delivery. Yes, the fact that calling someone a “Karen” came up in a country’s national parliament is a distraction from the true issue here — that hate speech and incitement to discrimination can put groups and communities in very real danger, and let’s be real, that does not include Karens.

But it’s a great shady moment amid a frustrating ongoing debate that is anything but light-hearted.

TikTok expands max video length to 3 minutes, up from 60 seconds

TikTok is embracing longer videos. The company announced this morning it will roll out the option to create videos of up to 3 minutes in length after first testing the change with a larger number of creators over the past several months. Previously, TikTok videos could be up to 60 seconds in length, after initially expanding from 15-second clips. This 60-second video format had since been copied by newer TikTok competitors, like Snapchat Spotlight and YouTube Shorts.

According to TikTok, the company decided to expand its max video length based on feedback it heard from its creator community. For some kinds of content, creators wanted more time and flexibility when filming — like when they were filming cooking demos, beauty tutorials, educational content, and comedic sketches, for example.

“With longer videos, creators will have the canvas to create new or expanded types of content on TikTok, with the flexibility of a bit more space,” explained TikTok Product Manager Drew Kirchhoff, in the company’s announcement.

Before the expansion to 3 minutes, many creators had worked around TikTok’s limitations by encouraging viewers to “like and follow” them for part 2 (or 3, or 4…) of their video series. That may have worked to gain some additional followers, but it became frustrating to viewers who didn’t want to scroll through the creators’ other videos just to find the rest of the video content they had originally been interested in. It also made it clear how many TikTok creators were having to find a solution to an artificial limitation that didn’t need to exist.

This change to video length could make TikTok even more of a competitor to YouTube, which has been worried enough about TikTok’s growth to launch its own TikTok rival directly in its own app, YouTube Shorts. But TikTok understands its platform advantage isn’t how short the videos are, it’s the combination of features it offers — including its extensive library of special effects, AR tools, music catalog, and the dialog created among creators by way of specialized tools like stitches and duets.

Other rivals are also taking notice of the TikTok threat.

Just yesterday, Instagram Head Adam Mosseri said the Facebook-owned app historically associated with photo-sharing would soon begin experimenting with making short, entertaining videos a more central part of the Instagram experience. He promised Instagram would test out with new ways to better embrace video, including “fullscreen, immersive, entertaining, mobile-first video.”

“Let’s be honest, there’s some really serious competition right now. TikTok is huge. YouTube is even bigger,” he noted.

TikTok had first begun tests of 3 minutes videos late last year. The company  says the option to film longer videos will roll out to global users over the weeks ahead. Users will be notified when they receive the update.

How to get 6 months of Disney+ for free

Stream music and your favorite Disney movies.

Save $47.94: Subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for $7.99 per month ($9.99 per month for non-Prime members) and get six months of Disney+ included at no extra charge.

Haven’t gotten on the Loki train yet? Here’s your chance. Amazon is running a limited-time offer where you can get six free months of Disney+ included with a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited.

Amazon Music Unlimited costs $7.99 per month for Prime members or $9.99 per month for non-Prime members. After the six-month period, Disney+ will renew at $7.99 per month unless you cancel it. So, basically, you’re getting two streaming services for the price of one.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, you get ad-free access to millions of songs and podcasts with unlimited skips. And it’s cheaper than Spotify if you’re a Prime member. Disney+ gives you access to a huge library of Disney content you grew up with, plus new originals and movies.

Subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited and save $47.94 by getting six months of Disney+ for free.

Save $47.94 at Amazon

Credit: Amazon

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Codat raises $40M from Tiger for its SMB-focused API service

This morning Codat, a startup that provides APIs to link small-business fintech data to external services, announced that it has closed a $40 million round led by Tiger Global. The company raised $10 million in a Series A around a year ago that Index led; Codat also raised some strategic capital in the interim, but declined in an interview to provide more detail.

The company also declined to provide any guidance regarding how much its valuation changed in the last year between lettered rounds.

That Codat managed to raise more money is not a surprise, as the startup told TechCrunch that it grew its annual recurring revenue (ARR) by 3x from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020. The company’s CEO Pete Lord disclosed that the company is on track to repeat the feat this year. Such growth would imply a 9x gain in revenue at the end of 2021 compared to the result from two years ago.

Things are going well at Codat, in other words.

The startup’s API connects corporate data from internal SMB systems — QuickBooks, iZettle etc. — to external providers. The use cases for the service are easy to understand. If a small business wants to apply for a loan, the ability to provide a potential lender with its financial data in a quick, digital fashion would be useful. Codat would happily facilitate that data linkage.

The startup sells to financial service players, unsurprisingly, and vertical SaaS companies; serving the vertical SaaS space is big business, given that this is the second piece of news targeting the software varietal that TechCrunch has seen this week.

Building the Plaid for SMB data is a big job, so it’s not surprising that Codat has been busy hiring. From around 50 employees at the time of its Series A, the startup is now quickly approaching the 150-employee mark. Lord said that the company is hoping to end the year with around 250 staff.

The startup has an interesting array of products that are not its API service. Codat offers a visualization tool, for example, to display single-company data for customers in a more digestible format. And, the startup that it released a service called “Insights” that provides a method of cross-referencing ingested data from different services. Per Lord, Codat is bundling its other pieces of software with its API today. Asked why the startup isn’t charging separately for the tools, the CEO said that Codat is more focused on maximizing usage of its core service.

This leaves us with two questions regarding the future of Codat. The first is when — perhaps if — the startup charges for its non-core services that make its API tool more useful. And the second deals with the size of companies’ data that it hopes to provide the connective tissue for. Today Codat focuses on SMBs, though it is creeping higher in terms of the size of companies that might to pass their data through its API to other groups.

The two questions are linked. Codat wants to maximize its API usage because it charges customers based on the number of companies that they are connecting to; there are many more SMBs than large companies, so going after that slice of the larger corporate landscape makes sense. As does offering value-add services on top of its API if it keeps its SMB-focus.

But as Codat builds out its service, data from larger companies may more land inside its remit. And if they do, the company’s current model would prove slightly dissonant. A different pricing scheme for connecting to larger companies might work. Or a focus on charging for data passed, and not companies connected more generally. It will be interesting to watch the company’s business model evolve over time.

Regardless, the company is busy hiring in San Francisco, New York, and London. Let’s see how far its new Tiger check can take it.


Breastfeeding athletes can now bring their babies to the Tokyo Olympics

It should never have been up for debate, but at least it’s happening.

Athletes who are breastfeeding will be allowed to bring their babies to the Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday.

“We very much welcome the fact that so many mothers are able to continue to compete at the highest level, including at the Olympic Games,” the IOC said in a statement, published by the Associated Press. “We are very pleased to hear that the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has found a special solution regarding the entry to Japan for mothers who are breastfeeding and their young children.”

The move comes after Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher posted a video to Instagram explaining she was being forced to choose between competing at the Olympics and spending 28 days without her three-month-old daughter, Sophie, or skipping the Games entirely.

“Right now, I’m being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete. I can’t have them both,” she said in the video. “Tokyo has said no friends, no family, no exceptions.”

Gaucher also said she had been told to try pumping enough milk for the Canadian basketball team’s 28-day stay in Tokyo, and looked into shipping milk which was proving complicated. “I don’t have enough milk in me to train as a high-level athlete, get my butt back in shape, and feed her currently, all while stocking 28 day’s supply.”

Talking to press on Wednesday, Gaucher said the IOC’s announcement was “the right decision for women in sports,” and that she was overwhelmed with the response on social media.

“I’m incredibly happy and very thankful for all the people who fought for this and helped out with this,” she said. “There can be moments of frustration, but I think women’s sports is evolving and sometimes it takes a little bit of time for everyone to get on the same page.”

“The right decision for women in sports.”

Before the Games-wide allowance, the IOC said National Olympic Committees were “dealing with requests from athletes to bring their children on a case-by-case basis,” but on Monday, an IOC spokesperson told Yahoo Sports that it would be “highly unlikely” that “unaccredited people from overseas” (including infants and caregivers) would be allowed into Japan for the event, citing strict COVID-19 restrictions. In her video, Gaucher pointed out the hypocrisy in the Games allowing media and sponsors to travel to Tokyo for the event, and the public to attend. “Sponsors and media are all flying in from around the world. Japanese fans are going to be in attendance, the arenas are going to be half full, but I will not have access to my daughter?” she said.

Other athletes who opposed the former rules include U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk, who is nursing her five-month-old daughter, Zoe, and American football player Alex Morgan, who has a one-year-old daughter, Charlie.

It’s a step that should have already been taken, but one that will hopefully see a march forward for women who are mothers and athletes. Both jobs should come with medals.

The best and cheapest VPN deals in July 2021

This might be surprising, but the best VPNs aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Some of the best VPNs are actually really affordable, which is great news for anyone looking to secure cheap online security and data protection.

You have come to the right place if you’re looking for a premium VPN with advanced features, without the big price tag. We’ve lined up some great value options for absolutely everyone, and there is no need to compromise on security, connection speed, customer support, or anything else.

But first, there are a few things we need to cover.

What is a VPN?

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide valuable protection for your data and identity when you’re navigating the online world. How do they do this? VPNs offer online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network that hides your real IP address and makes all of your information unreadable.

All of your activity is untraceable and secure, because your online traffic passes through an encrypted tunnel. Everything inside the tunnel is protected against online threats like viruses, hackers, and malware. VPNs are primarily designed to provide online security, but there is another reason that millions of people use these services.

Secure your online world with a subscription to a VPN.

Secure your online world with a subscription to a VPN.
Credit: Pexels

VPNs can also be used to stream movies and shows from around the world, and the process is actually really simple. We’ve already mentioned how VPNs provide anonymity by hiding your real IP address. Well, this technique can also be used to manipulate the streaming market. By hiding your real IP address and connecting you to a server in another location, you can trick your favourite streaming sites into thinking that you are based in a different country. This provides access to all the extra content that would normally be restricted in your location.

Do you need to pay for a VPN?

The question that everyone wants an answer to is whether you really need to pay for a VPN. There are plenty of free VPNs out there, but do these offer the features you need to browse, shop, and stream securely? Unfortunately, there is usually some sort of catch with free versions (usually in the form of a limitation on your data usage or connection speed).

Occasional users will probably be satisfied with a free VPN, but if you’re going to be streaming or downloading on a regular basis, you should look elsewhere. The only exception to this rule is a free trial. These come without limitations, but obviously don’t tend to last for a long time. PureVPN offers one of the best free trials, but this isn’t a long-term solution. 

The conclusion is that the best option for securing your data and streaming more content from around the world is with a paid subscription. The sad fact is that you’ll have to pay to gain access to advanced security features without limitations on your usage. It’s not all bad news though, because there are plenty of cheap plans out there, especially if you’re willing to commit to a lengthy contract.

What are the most important features to look for in a VPN?

The process of actually selecting a VPN can be seriously tricky, especially if you don’t know what to consider. Most of the best VPNs offer many of the same features with similar packages, so it’s important to know what matters.

To make your life a little bit easier, we have shortlisted a few things to consider before making any sort of decision:

Network size and location — The best VPNs offer a large network of geographically diverse servers. The more servers (and server locations) offered by a VPN, the more likely you are to find a reliable and fast connection. This is also particularly important for streaming, as you should always be able to connect to a server in the country with the content you want to watch.

Trustworthiness — We recommend finding an experienced provider with a strong track record and a clear privacy policy. It’s important that your VPN of choice guarantees your data won’t be logged or collected. If it isn’t obvious what happens to your data, you should steer clear.

The best monthly rates are generally reserved for the longest contracts.

The best monthly rates are generally reserved for the longest contracts.
Credit: pexels

Jurisdiction — It’s a good idea to look for VPNs based in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Switzerland, and other privacy-friendly countries. VPNs based in countries that fall under the jurisdiction of the intelligence-sharing alliances should be avoided: the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Spain. VPNs in these countries can be forced by authorities to collect and hand over user data.

Customer support — VPNs can be difficult to understand if you’re not an experienced user, and even if you are, problems can occur. Whether you’re a total beginner or not, customer support is key for dealing with any potential issues that might arise. You should also consider whether customer support is offered by phone, email, or web chat.

Make sure you consider these features before deciding on the VPN that suits you and your lifestyle. Once you have narrowed down your options, you can begin the process of finding the best deal.

What is the best VPN?

We’re sorry to burst your bubble, but there isn’t one VPN that beats all the rest. The best VPN for you really comes down to your own set of personal preferences. Once you find a few options that tick your boxes, you need to consider the best deals.

We have reached out to partners in order to provide you with market-leading prices on VPN subscriptions, with performance and security in mind. All of these VPN services have been handpicked not only because of the prices and deals on offer, but because they all offer the most important features to protect your online data and identity.

There are also plenty of services to consider on this list if your priority is unlocking streaming sites like Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+. Online security should always be the priority, but we know that many subscribers use these services to unlock more content from around the world. We get it, and we’re here to help.

These are the best and cheapest VPN deals in July 2021.

This deal gets you 15 bottles of wine for $7 apiece

Save 75%: Wine on Sale is offering boxes of 15 curated bottles for $64.95, a sizable price cut that brings each bottle to around $7.

There’s nothing quite like a chilled glass of wine during a summer golden hour. Expand your warm-weather wine palette with this 15-bottle deal, which lets you sample all sorts of wine from home for less than $65 total.

15 standard 750 mL bottles of customer-favorite summer wines are curated by Wine on Sale’s experts to be lovely options for summer, whether you’re planning on spending the day catching rays or sipping a glass with a book in the evening.

Each box contains up to 13 different wines, with duplicates of some of the most popular ones. To build your box for the deal, choose a mixed wine pack or select all red or all white.

Upon purchase, you’ll receive a digital voucher code for the Wine on Sale website to score 15 bottles for a steal. Tax and shipping are not included, but once they’re added in, the deal still clocks each bottle in at under $7 a piece. Of course, you must be 21 or older and in the U.S. to order.

Tiger Global in talks to back Indian fintech Yap

Tiger Global is in advanced stages of talks to back Indian embedded finance startup Yap, according to more than half a dozen people familiar with the matter.

The New York-headquartered firm is in talks to lead a $35 million financing round in Yap — also known as YapPay and M2P — that values the Bangalore-headquartered startup at about $350 million, up from about $67 million in March this year (per data insight platform Tracxn), the people said.

At the current stages of negotiation, Tiger Global plans to invest between $25 million to $30 million in the new round (a Series C), some of the people said. The round hasn’t closed, so the deal size could become larger and other terms too may change, people said.

Yap operates an API infrastructure platform that allows other startups to support and build payments services. Yap, which has raised about $15.9 million to date, counts Better Capital, BeeNext, AngelList, Omidyar Network, 8i among its existing investors.

If the deal materializes, it will be the latest investment from Tiger Global in India, where it has already backed over a dozen startups this year.

Lay of the land for fintech startups in India. Data and image: Bank of America.

Everyone declined to comment.

NFT of the World Wide Web’s source code sells for $5.4 million

Sir Tim Berners-Lee auctions the source code for the World Wide Web as an NFT at Sotheby's on June 29, 2021 in New York City.

NFT season is still going strong.

The NFT of the source code for the World Wide Web, auctioned by WWW inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has sold for $5,434,500 at a Sotheby’s auction. It was put up for sale on June 23, with a starting bid of $1,000.

According to Sotheby’s, the proceeds from the sale will benefit initiatives that Sir Tim and Lady Berners-Lee support.

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“The process of bringing this NFT to auction has offered me the opportunity to look back in time to the moment I first sat down to write this code 30 years ago, and reflect on how far the web has come since then, and where it could go in the decades to come. I am thrilled that the initiatives Rosemary and I support will benefit from the sale of this NFT,” Berners-Lee said in a statement.

The NFT, or non-fungible token, is a type of cryptocurrency that resides on a smart contract platform, typically Ethereum. Unlike Bitcoin or Ethereum’s interchangeable units, each NFT is unique, and lately they’ve found a market that’s somewhere between digital collectible cards and artwork, often selling for outrageous amounts. (For more on NFTs, read our explainer.)

In this particular case, the NFT that Berners-Lee has sold consists of four parts: “original time-stamped files containing the source code written by Sir Tim; an animated visualization of the code; a letter written by Sir Tim reflecting on the code and the process of creating it; as well as a digital ‘poster’ of the full code created by Sir Tim from the original files using Python including a graphic of his physical signature.”

The $5.4 million figure is considerable, but Berners-Lee’s sale is not even close to the most expensive NFT ever sold. Those honors belong to an NFT created by artist Beeple, which sold for more than $69 million at a Christie’s auction in March.

Instant grocery startup Getir makes its first acquisition to expand into Spain and Italy

Getir, the startup based out of Turkey that has built a $7.5 billion business out a mobile app that lets consumers buy groceries and get them delivered in minutes, has grown its business up to now organically: targeting urban markets across Europe (and soon the U.S.) where it is disrupting the well-stocked cornershop with a service that needs even less effort and time from the average shopper. Now, it’s changing up that strategy with its first acquisition to break into three more countries.

The company is acquiring Blok, another “instant delivery” grocery service based out of Barcelona. Financial of the deal are not being disclosed but from what I understand, Blok (previously called Huvi Technologies) was bootstrapped, fairly new and small (launching only in February 2021), and was already shopping itself around.

Founded by Vishal Verma, Hunab Moreno and Varun Kapoor, Blok is active in Spain and Italy, where its biggest markets were Madrid, Barcelona and Milan. Portugal was on its roadmap pre-Getir, and it will also launch there soon. More than 120 employees will be joining Getir as part of the deal.

Getir has been around since 2015 and is profitable in Turkey on a mix of services that started with its fast delivery but has since expanded to other categories like wider grocery options (GetirMore, with longer delivery turnarounds), restaurant delivery (GetirFood), local business delivery (GetirLocals), and… water delivery (GetirWater).

That’s given Getir momentum it is now using to expand its flagship fast grocery model into other markets like the UK — I see its mopeds around my neighborhood in London all the time — the Netherlands, and Paris and Berlin. The hundreds of millions that it’s raised this year (Getir has raised about $1 billion in total now) will also be used to get the company into the U.S. market, where it will go head to head with homegrown rivals in the same space such as GoPuff.

But while it may be one of the earliest movers and possibly the best capitalised, Getir is by no means the only player of its kind.

The European market is positively flush right now with startups that are building services around the same basic principles of super-fast delivery across an assortment of around 1,500 goods — typically much smaller than what you might find in a grocery store (17,000 is a normal number there), and closer to what you might get in the kind of quick-stop small market that exists throughout urban centers in Europe.

These startups, which include Flink, Gorillas, Glovo, Zapp, Dija, Cajoo, Weezy and many others have collectively raised hundreds of millions of dollars — but still less than $2 billion, Getir CEO and co-founder Nazim Salur estimated to me — to scale their operations.

Take up has been fairly enthusiastic, in part fueled by the pandemic and the fact that many people have been living under stay-at-home orders, or simply keen to stay out of public places to minimize Covid-19 spread; but also fueled in part by getting good traction with millennial and other younger consumers, who have really taken to using their mobiles for all practical chores, which get turned into leisure activities when they become apps.

Before Covid, Getir was seeing threefold growth annually, with some years, such as 2017, the company growing fivefold, Salur said. “During Covid we also grew 5x but without it, it would have been 4x. It accelerated our growth but Covid is not the main reason people use us. It’s mainly because we’re a big convenience. It means we can grow. In Turkey, life’s back to normal but every month we still grow.”

Still, is it a big enough market for all these players? We’ve already heard of at least one that is struggling to raise more to compete — capital is key, given the balance of logistics and delivery, dark stores to stock items, having the items themselves to sell, not to mention the heavy competition — and is looking for a buyer as a result.

In that context, it might not be a surprise to hear that Blok hadn’t raised any notable funding itself and while it had built out some technology and a team of people, it was ready to sell up less than six months after launching.

“We are very excited to join hands with the pioneers of ultrafast delivery on our shared goal to lead the on-demand grocery market in Southern Europe,” said Verma from Block, in a statement. “This acquisition allows us to leverage Getir’s deep industry know-how, relationships and technology, while combining that with our world class team and execution capabilities to create a formidable leader in this part of the world. We’ve had a great response from all our launches in Spain and Italy and can’t wait to double down on our efforts alongside Getir.”

But despite this pretty obvious picture of consolidation-in-the-making, Getir isn’t going to get into the business of consolidating all that, though — well, not yet, at least.

“Getir will not become an acquisition company, acquiring one after the other. That’s not the way we operate,” Salur, who co-founded the company with Serkan Borancili and Tuncay Tutek, said in an interview. “But, it’s a free market and if there is a good reason, a solid good reason, we might consider it. We won’t be going after ten different companies in this world, but if the right opportunity shows itself we’ll talk to people.”

Rohlik raises $119M at a $1.2B valuation to grow its 2-hour grocery delivery service in Europe

“Instant” grocery delivery has been a big theme among food startups in Europe, where customers can order from a limited assortment of items and get their purchases packed from “dark stores” and delivered in sometimes as little as 10 or 15 minutes. But today a startup that’s built a much bigger proposition — a virtual supermarket of 17,000+ items that it delivers in as little as two hours — is announcing some funding as it expands in Europe.

Rohlik, a Czech startup that has built an online grocery ordering and delivery business selling grocery fare — which it procures itself wholesale, or in partnership with established businesses, combining that with items sourced from local small businesses — has picked up €100 million ($119 million at today’s rates). This Series C investment values Rohlik at €1 billion ($1.2 billion).

The round is being led by Index Ventures, which was also part of Rohlik’s $230 million Series B that it raised only three months ago. Previous backers including Partech and Quadrille Capital also participated in this latest round.

The reason for the rapid fundraise is to strike while the iron is hot and put the gas on expansion, said Tomáš Čupr, Rohlik’s founder and CEO.

In the last three months, the Czech startup has expanded to Hungary and Austria and is planning its first launch in Germany, in Munich, in the coming months. With this extra funding boost, he said that Romania, Italy, France and Spain now on the list as well.

“They were all in the first plan we wanted to present to investors, but we felt we were unproven coming from Eastern Europe,” Čupr said in an interview. “Now we feel like we can unleash what we saw before, which is that with the high penetration of mobile shopping, we have a chance to disrupt groceries in Europe.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a giant impact on how we eat — and one aspect of that has been that many more people started to buy food — ready-made, groceries, and everything in between — online and get it delivered to their homes rather than picking it and paying in person. As established online and offline services buckled under the weight of customer demand, that represented a big opportunity for tech companies building more efficient models to get people the same goods (and sometimes even a more interesting selection, or a more convenient service) to fill the gap.

Rohlik was actually around and growing steadily for six years in its home market of the Czech Republic before raising money — and it’s actually already profitable there — but its star really started to rise with that bigger shift in consumer demand.

Rohlik’s revenues in 2020 passed €300 million, with over 750,000 customers; it’s not yet disclosing any figures for 2021 that would speak to how well its expansion is going, but the funding seems to point to traction. Currently, the average shop is in the range of €60 to €100 per order, with customers typically shopping about once per week, Čupr said.

While Rohlik’s name may change with each new market — in Hungary it’s, in Austria its, and in Germany it will be called — what is staying consistent is the company’s basic formula, a mix of its own-purchased-in wholesale items, goods from partners like Marks & Spencer, and products sourced from smaller and local businesses, a mix that might be rebalanced or personalized depending on market demand, and potentially pushed out for some interesting economies of scale using Rohlik’s logistics operations to do so.

This is an interesting point. As someone who has lived both in countries like the U.S. where small food businesses like fishmongers are essentially nonexistent, except for in the biggest of metropolises; and in places in Europe, where it’s not uncommon for even the smallest villages to have independent, well-used shops for basics, this is where Rohlik stands out for me, as a rare example of a tech company that is trying to bring more growth to those small businesses rather than providing a service that eventually puts them out of business.

Čupr described a “failing in the online grocery business in the last few years,” where the offerings were essentially just what you got in a basic large supermarket. Rohlik is changing that up by incorporating smaller businesses. His example: a pasta-making shop in Italy might now be able to, for the first, time, also sell its ravioli and pappardelle to a buyer in Austria or Hungary through Rohlik.

“This has absolutely been the playbook. You will see the same pattern with our assortment,” he said. “Local butchers, bakers, fishmongers and pharmacies, but also M&S clothes, kitchenware. It’s basically our ‘near food’ approach.

“It’s not just a journey to a cornershop that we are trying to cut out,” he continued, in reference to the profusion of fast-delivery startups that have all hit the market. Instead, he referred to another major European shopping practice of saving it all for the weekend. “We want to save your Saturday in a few clicks.”

And given that there are still countries, like France, where online groceries have been quite slow to take off, that speaks of a lot of growth potential. All of this likely resonates strongly with European investors who would likely know those routines as part of their own cultures.

“It’s a combination of three things that got validated here,” said Jan Hammer, a partner at Index who led this deal. “First, it’s the incredible market opportunity, and we’re only scratching the service. Then, it’s Rohlik’s formula and business model, a unique combination, and customers love it.”

Whether consumer habits are shifted for good will be something to watch, as will how others in the market respond, particularly more localized players that have carved out their own leadership over years, and in cases where they may have brick-and-mortar as well, generations. That loyalty to traditional businesses is ultimately what Rohlik champions, but also what might most challenge it.

Rediscover your love for drawing with this cheap online bundle

The 2021 Complete Character Art Academy Drawing Bundle is on sale.

TL;DR: The 2021 Complete Character Art Academy Drawing Bundle is on sale for £21.64 as of July 1, saving you 97% on list price.

If you’re looking for a way to jump back into drawing as a hobby, this 2021 Complete Character Art Academy Drawing Bundle is a great place to start. This training will help you get back into your flow state of putting pen to paper and teach you a few new tricks along the way.

From character drawing to colouring and painting, these seven courses and over 400 lessons can help you sharpen your art skills and take your creativity to the next level. You’ll start by learning how to draw popular characters, then develop your own style and unique characters you can bring to life on the page. Whether you want to draw concept art for films, comics, or even learn how to draw popular Disney-style characters, this course is for you.

Then, you’ll move on to the complete color theory and painting course, where you’ll learn professional-level character coloring, even if you’re an absolute beginner. Round out your training by learning how to design landscapes and create unique worlds for your characters to live in.

Each course in the bundle is taught by Scott Harris, who boasts an impressive instructor rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Harris is an illustrator, painter, and art instructor who has helped over 270,000 students grow their art skills and turn their passions into lucrative careers.

This seven-course bundle is valued at £1,010, but for a limited time, you can get lifetime access to these classes for just £21.64.

Uber’s first head of data science just raised a new venture fund to back nascent AI startups

Kevin Novak joined Uber as its 21st employee its seventh engineer in 2011, and by 2014, he was the company’s head of data science. He talks proudly of that time, but like all good things, it ran its course and by the end of 2017, having accomplished what he wanted at the company, he left.

At first, he picked up the pace of his angel investing, work he’d already begun focusing on during weekends and evenings, ultimately building a portfolio of more than 50 startups (including the fintech Pipe and the autonomous checkout company Standard Cognition).

He also began advising both startups and venture firms — including Playground Global, Costanoa Ventures, Renegade Partners and Data Collective — and after falling in love with the work, Novak this year decided to launch his own venture outfit in Menlo Park, Ca., called Rackhouse Venture Capital. Indeed, Rackhouse just closed its debut fund with $15 million, anchored by Uber’s first head of engineering, Curtis Chambers; Steve Gilula, a former chairman of Searchlight Pictures, and the fund of funds Cendana Capital. A lot of the VCs Novak knows are also investors in the fund.

We caught up with Novak late last week to chat out that new vehicle. We also talked about this tenure at Uber, where, be warned, he played a major role in creating surge pricing (though he prefers the term “dynamic pricing.”) You can hear that fuller discussion or check out excerpts from it, edited lightly for length and clarity, below.

TC: You were planning to become a nuclear physicist. How did you wind up at Uber?

KN: As an undergrad, I was studying physics, math and computer science, and when I got to grad school, I really wanted to teach. But I also really liked programming and applying physics concepts in the programming space, and the nuke department had the largest allocation of supercomputer time, so that ended up driving a lot of my research  — just the opportunity to play on computers while doing physics. So [I] was studying to become a nuclear physicist was funded very indirectly through the research that eventually became the Higgs boson. As the Higgs got discovered, it was very good for humanity and absolutely horrible for my research budget . . .

A friend of mine heard what I was doing and sort of knew my skill set and said, like, ‘Hey, you should come check out this Uber cab company that it’s like a limo company with an app. There’s a very interesting data problem and a very interesting math problem.’ So I ended up applying [though I committed] the cardinal sin of startup applications and wore a suit and tie to my interview.

TC: You’re from Michigan. I also grew up in the Midwest so appreciate why you might think that people would wear a suit to an interview.

KN: I got off the elevator and the friend who’d encouraged me to apply was like, ‘What are you wearing?!’ But I got asked to join nonetheless as a computational algorithms engineer — a title that predated the data science trend — and I spent the next couple of years living in the engineering and product world, building data features and . . .things like our ETA engine, basically predicting how long it would take an Uber to get to you. One of my very first projects was working on tolls and tunnels because figuring out which tunnel an Uber went through and how to build time and distance was a common failure point. So I spent, like, three days driving the Big Dig in Boston out to Somerville and back to Logan with a bunch of phones, collecting GPS data.

I got to know a lot of very random facts about Uber cities, but my big claim to fame was dynamic pricing. . . and it turned out to be a really successful cornerstone for the strategy of making sure Ubers were available.

TC: How does that go over, when you tell people that you invented surge pricing?

KN: It’s a very quick litmus test to figure out like people’s underlying enthusiasm for behavioral econ and finance. The Wall Street crowd is like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so cool.’ And then a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, thank you, yeah, thank you so much, wonderful, you buy the next round of drinks’ type of thing. . . [Laughs.]

But data also became the incubation space for a lot of the early special projects like Uber pool and a lot of the ideas around, okay, how would you build a dispatching model that enables different people with pooled ride requests? How do you batch them together efficiently in space and time so that we can get the right match rate that [so this] project is profitable? We did a lot of work on the theory behind the hub-and-spoke Uber Eats delivery models and thinking through how we apply our learnings about ride-share to food. So I got the first person perspective on a lot of these products when it was literally three people scribbling on a notepad or riffing on a laptop over lunch, [and which] eventually went on to become these big, nationwide businesses.

TC: You were working on Uber Freight for the last nine months of your career with Uber, so there when this business with Anthony Levandowski was blowing up.

KN: Yeah, it was it was very interesting era for me because more than six years in, [I was already developing the] attitude of ‘I’ve done everything I wanted to do.’ I joined a 20-person company and, at the time, we were closing in on 20,000 people . . .and I kind of missed the small team dynamic and felt like I was hitting a natural stopping point. And then Uber’s 2017 happened and and there was Anthony, there was Susan Fowler, and Travis has this horrific accident in his personal life and his head was clearly not in the game. But I didn’t want to be the guy who was known for bailing in the worst quarter of the company’s history, so I ended up spending the next year basically keeping the band together and trying to figure out what I could do to keep whatever small part of the company I was running intact and motivated and empathetic and good in every sense of the word.

TC: You left at the end of that year and it seems you’ve been very busy since, including, now, launching this new fund with the backing of outsiders. Why call it Rackhouse? You used the brand Jigsaw Venture Capital when you were investing your own money.

KN: Yeah. A year [into angel investing], I had formed an LLC, I was “marking” my portfolio to market, sending quarterly updates to myself and my accountant and my wife. It was one of these exercises that was a carryover from how I was training managers, in that I think you grow most efficiently and successfully if you can develop a few skills at a time. So I was trying to figure out what it would take to run my own back office, even if it was just moving my money from my checking account to my “investing account,” and writing my own portfolio update.

I was really excited about the possibility of launching my first externally facing fund with other people’s money under the Jigsaw banner, too, but there’s actually a fund in the UK [named Jigsaw] and as I started to talk to LPs and was saying ‘Look, I want to do this data fund and I want it to be early stage,’ I’d get calls from them being like, ‘We just saw that Jigsaw did this Series D in Crowdstrike.’ I realized I’d be competing with the other Jigsaw from a mindshare perspective, so figured before things go too big and crazy, I’d create my own distinct brand.

TC: Did you roll any of your angel-backed deals into the new fund? I see Rackhouse has 13 portfolio companies.

KN: There are a few that I’ve agreed to move forward and warehouse for the fund, and we’re just going through the technicalities of doing that right now.

TC: And the focus is on machine learning and AI.

KN: That’s right, and I think there are amazing opportunities outside of the traditional areas of industry focus that, to the extent that you can find like rigorous applications of AI,  are also going to be significantly less competitive. [Deals] that don’t fall in the strike zone of nearly as many [venture] firms is the game I want to be playing. I feel like that that opportunity — regardless of sector, regardless of geography — biases toward domain experts.

TC: I wonder if that also explains the size of your fund — your wanting to stay out of the strike zone of most venture firms.

KN: I want to make sure that I build a fund that enables me to be an active participant in the earliest stages of companies.

Matt Ocko and Zack Bogue [of Data Collective] are good friends of mine — they’re mentors, in fact, and small LPs in the fund and talked with me about how they got started. But now they have a billion-plus [dollars] in assets under management, and he people I [like to back] are two people who are moonlighting and getting ready to take the plunge and [firms the size of Data Collective] have basically priced themselves out of the formation and pre-seed stage, and I like that stage. It’s something where I have a lot of useful experience. I also think it’s the stage where, if you come from a place of domain expertise, you don’t need five quarters of financials to get conviction.

TikTok deleted over 7 million accounts supposedly belonging to minors

TikTok has removed more than 7 million accounts belonging to users under the age of 13 in the first 3 months of 2021.

TikTok may be known for its young, viral dance craze-loving user base…but you still have to at least pretend to be 13 years or older to use it.

On Wednesday, TikTok, the viral video app that blew up in popularity during the pandemic, released its first transparency report of 2021. The report covers the first 3 months of the year.

While TikTok has released these reports before, which detail how the company deals with various forms of policy-breaking content, there was a “first” this time around.

“For the first time, we’re publishing the number of suspected underage accounts removed as we work to keep the full TikTok experience a place for people 13 and over,” TikTok says in the report.

And the number of accounts removed here is certainly eye-opening.

Of the 11,149,514 (yes, that’s more than 11 million) accounts removed for breaking the service’s community guidelines or terms of service, a whopping 7,263,952 of them were “suspected underage accounts.”

And “suspected” should be stressed. There’s no way to know exactly how many users under the age of 13 were actually using the service…or still are. These are accounts where users willingly entered their birthdate, identifying themselves as 12 years old or younger when signing up for the service.

That number may be high but, according to TikTok, it makes up less than 1 percent of all registered users. The company also highlighted how users under the age of 12 can sign up for a special curated version of the platform oriented to their age group — a service called TikTok for Younger Users.

While users 13 and over are allowed on the TikTok platform, the company did roll out special settings for those under the age of 18 earlier this year. The default account setting for users between 13 and 15 is set to private, and there are restrictions on who can download their videos and engage with their content. There are similar settings restrictions for users between the ages of 16 and 17 as well.

TikTok users who think they’ve found a perfect workaround by lying about their age may not be in the clear either. While TikTok hasn’t addressed this yet, other social media platforms have before. For example, a few years ago Twitter suspended many users who were legally allowed on the platform at the time, but had put a false birth date when they were underage and set up their account.