Day: July 6, 2021

Emotional ‘Naomi Osaka’ trailer invites us into the tennis superstar’s life

Naomi Osaka is one of the best tennis players in the world, and in Netflix’s upcoming documentary series Naomi Osaka, she tells the story of her life beyond the court. The three-part series, directed by Garrett Bradley, will explore her journey in the tennis world, as well as her personal life.

According to Bradley, “The series is about Naomi’s journey, within a snapshot of her life, but it’s also about life’s purpose, about personal worth, about the courage that it takes to allow one’s personal values to inform their work and vice versa.”

Naomi Osaka hits Netflix July 16.

Extra Crunch roundup: Video pitch decks, Didi’s regulatory struggles, Nothing CEO interview

The numbers don’t lie.

According to DocSend, the average pitch deck is reviewed for just three minutes. And if you think a senior VC is studying the presentation your team crafted for months as if it were a Fabergé egg — well, you might be disappointed.

Even if you are lucky enough to land a meeting, it’s more likely that a junior person went through your pitch and ran it up the chain.

“The biggest lie in venture capital is: ‘Yes, I read through your deck,’” says Evan Fisher, founder of Unicorn Capital and Minimal Capital.

“Because those words are immediately followed by, ‘ … but why don’t you run us through it from the beginning?’”

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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.

According to Fisher, the pro forma pitch deck is a thing of the past. Instead, the founders he’s worked with who made video pitches netted two to five times as many investor meetings as people who sent traditional pitch decks.

They also received up to five times more in terms of investor commitments from the first 20 meetings.

“Even if the only benefit was that other investment committee members heard the story direct from the founder, that alone would make your video pitch worth it,” says Fisher.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch


Nothing founder Carl Pei on Ear (1) and building a hardware startup from scratch

Carl Pei OnePlusDSC04551

Image Credits: TechCrunch

In an exclusive interview with Hardware Editor Brian Heater, Nothing Founder Carl Pei discussed the product and design principles underpinning Ear (1), a set of US$99/€99/£99 wireless earbuds that will hit the market later this month.

“We’re starting with smart devices,” said Pei. “Ear (1) is our is our first device. I think it has good potential to gain some traction.”

Despite Apple’s market share and the number of players already competing in the space, “we’ve just focused on being ourselves,” said Nothing’s founder, who also shared initial marketing plans and discussed the inherent tensions involved with manufacturing consumer hardware.

“Everything is a trade-off. Like if you pursue this design, that has a ton of implications. Battery life has ton of implications on size and on cost. The materials you use have implications on cost. Everything has an implication on timeline. It’s like 4D chess in terms of trade-offs.”


Will Didi’s regulatory problems make it harder for Chinese startups to go public in the US?

Last week, just days after its U.S. IPO, cybersecurity regulators in China banned ride-hailing company Didi from onboarding new members.

Over the weekend, authorities called for Didi to be removed from several app stores due to “serious violations of laws and regulations in collecting and using personal information.”

The move suggests that China’s government “is willing to sacrifice business results for control,” writes Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s edition of The Exchange.

“For China-based companies hoping to list in the United States, the market likely just got much, much colder.”


79% more leads without more traffic: Here’s how we did it

Image Credits: Peter Dazeley (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Jasper Kuria, the managing partner of CRO consultancy The Conversion Wizards, walks through an A/B test showing how research-driven CRO (conversion rate optimization) techniques led to a 79% increase in conversion rates for China Expat Health, a lead-generation company.

“Using research-based CRO principles to optimize a landing page for PPC (pay per click) traffic produced a 79% conversion lift, dramatically reducing the cost per lead for the company,” Kuria writes.

“They could then afford to bid more per click, which increased their overall monthly leads. CRO can have this kind of transformative effect on your business.”

Gettr, the latest pro-Trump social network, is already a mess

Well, that was fast. Just days after a Twitter clone from former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller launched, the new social network is already beset by problems.

For one, hackers quickly leveraged Gettr’s API to scrape the email addresses of more than 85,000 of its users. User names, names and birthdays were also part of the scraped data set, which was surfaced by Alon Gal, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock.

“When threat actors are able to extract sensitive information due to neglectful API implementations, the consequence is equivalent to a data breach and should be handled accordingly by the firm [and] examined by regulators,” Gal told TechCrunch.

Last week, TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker predicted that Gettr would soon see its data scraped through its API.

Threat actors were able to take advantage of bad API implemented on Trump’s recent social media platform, Gettr (@GettrOfficial).

This allowed them to extract usernames, names, bios, bdays, but most importantly, the emails which were supposed to be private, of over 85,000 users.

— Alon Gal (Under the Breach) (@UnderTheBreach) July 6, 2021

The scraped data is just one of Gettr’s headaches. The app actually went live in the App Store and Google Play last month but left beta on July 4 following a launch post in Politico. While the app is meant to appeal to the famously anti-China Trump sphere, Gettr apparently received early funding from Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, an ally of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that Guo is at the center of a massive online disinformation network that spreads anti-vaccine claims and QAnon conspiracies.

On July 2, the app’s team apologized for signup delays citing a spike in downloads, but a bit of launch downtime is probably the least of its problems. Over the weekend, a number of official Gettr accounts including Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Steve Bannon, and Miller’s own were compromised, raising more questions about the app’s shoddy security practices.

Jason Miller’s new right-wing social media site “Gettr” was hacked this morning.

— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) July 4, 2021

That incident aside, fake accounts overwhelm any attempt to find verified users on Gettr. That goes for the app’s own recommendations too: a fake brand account for Steam was among the app’s own recommendations during TechCrunch’s testing.

Another red flag: The app’s design is conspicuously identical to Twitter and appears to have used the company’s API to copy some users’ follower counts and profiles. Gettr encourages new users to use their Twitter handle in the sign up process, saying that it will allow tweets to be copied over in some cases (we signed up, but this didn’t work for us). TechCrunch reached out to Twitter about Gettr’s striking similarities and the use of its API but the company declined to comment.

Trumps Gettr website didn’t just copy old Twitter posts it hotlinks to Twitter images!

— zedster (@z3dster) July 1, 2021

On mobile, Gettr is basically an exact clone of Twitter — albeit one that’s very rough around the edges. Some of Gettr’s copy is stilted and strange, including the boast that it’s a “non-bias” social network that “tried the best to provide best software quality to the users, allow anyone to express their opinion freely.”

The company is positioning itself as an alternative for anyone who believes that mainstream social networks are hostile to far right ideas. Gettr’s website beckons new users with familiar Trumpian messaging: “Don’t be Cancelled. Flex Your 1st Amendment. Celebrate Freedom.”

“Hydroxycholoroquine works!” Miller shared (Gettr’d?) over the weekend, quoting the former president. “And nobody is going to take down this post or suspend this account! #GETTR.” So far on Gettr, content moderation is either lax or nonexistent. But as we’ve seen with Parler and other havens for sometimes violent conspiracies, that approach can only last so long.

In spite of being widely associated with Trump through Miller and former Trump campaign staffer Tim Murtaugh, the former president doesn’t yet have a presence on the app. Some figures from Trump’s orbit have established profiles on Gettr, including Steve Bannon (84.7K followers) and Mike Pompeo (1.3M followers), but a search for Trump only brings up unofficial accounts. Bloomberg reported that Trump has no plans to join the app. (Given Gettr’s preponderance of Sonic the Hedgehog porn, we can’t exactly blame him.)

The online pro-Trump ecosystem remains scattered in mid-2021. With Trump banned and the roiling conspiracy network around QAnon no longer welcome on Facebook and Twitter, Gettr positioned itself as a refuge for mainstream social media’s many outcasts. But given Gettr’s mounting early woes, the sketchy Twitter clone’s moment in the sun might already be coming to an end.

Announcing the startups pitching at TC Early Stage

This Thursday and Friday, TechCrunch will host Early Stage – a virtual bootcamp for early stage founders. After the success of the spring event, on Friday, TC will feature 10 phenomenal early-stage startups to on the virtual stage. Hailing form around the States and the globe, founders will pitch on live, for five minutes, followed by an intense Q&A with our expert panel of judges.

The judges for this pitch-off will be Ben Sun (Primary Venture Partners), Doug Landis (Emergence Capital), Leah Solivan (Fuel Capital) and Shardul Shah (Index Ventures).  Unlike last time, there will be no final round. Each company will only have one chance to impress the judges and the audience!

Alright, alright. I know you want to see who made the cut. Join us on Friday, July 9th to watch the second ever TC Early Stage Pitch-Off. Let’s take a look:

Session 1: 9:00 a.m. – 9:50 a.m. PDT

Mi Terro (City of Industry, CA, USA) – “The world’s first advanced material company that partners with food companies and farmers to create home compostable, single-use plastic-alternative packaging materials made from plant-based agricultural waste – this is a first-of-its-kind approach.

Press Sports App (Atlanta, GA, USA) – A lifelong sports social network for athletes from all levels and sports. Their deeply engaged community is creating system of record starting at the amateur level that has never been built before.

Snowball Wealth (San Francisco, CA, USA) – Provides personalized guidance to pay off debt and build wealth for the 30M women+ in America with student debt. Snowball provides users with a free student loan plan, which helps users save an average of $6K. They’re expanding to include a financial roadmap that’s community-driven and personalized so women+ can build wealth even as they pay down their debt.

My Expat Taxes (Vienna, Austria) – MyExpatTaxes is the leading U.S. expat tax software that guides users through the tax filing process faster and more affordable than any other competitor in the industry. It automates international tax treaties and expat tax benefits, helping U.S. expats stay compliant and claim thousands of dollars in refunds.

Speeko (Chicago, Illinois, USA) – AI-powered feedback on your voice in areas like pace, fillers, inclusivity, conciseness, and enunciation. Based on your speaking style, you’re matched with interactive exercises, courses, and vocal warm-ups. It’s like a gym membership for your voice, where you build muscle memory for speaking clearly and confidently.

Session 2: 10:10 a.m. – 11:05 a.m. PDT

Universal Prequal (Marlboro, NJ, USA) – Helps construction companies effectively manage risk by enabling them to find and vet qualified project teams capable of doing the work. Instead of the paper-intensive, time-consuming, expensive approach that exists throughout the industry today, our solution is online, easy-to-use, and cost-effective. Customers will know us as the national resource for managing risk based on comprehensive, reliable construction information. (New York City, NY, USA) – Provides continuous AI and computer vision-driven monitoring of buildings, bridges and other infrastructural assets. The T2D2 portal and dashboard gives asset owners and managers a detailed picture of all visible damage conditions – rank ordered by severity and geo-tagged for location information, so they can focus preventative maintenance efforts and avoid higher downstream repair costs as well as potential safety issues.

Boomerang (Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil) – A marketplace for consumer goods rental. We connect retailers, brands, and rental stores with customers that just want to use a product instead of owning it. For suppliers, Boomerang is a plug-and-play rental platform offering logistics, insurance, and online payments solution.

Stash Global (Wilmington, DE, USA) – Turned the most damaging cyber-attack of all, ransomware, into just another business problem that can be solved with the click of a button – without paying a cent (or cyber coin) of ransom. The No Ransom Ransomware Solution does it all: restores files; prevents access of frozen file content by attackers; eliminates ransom extortion.

Vyrill (San Francisco, CA, USA) – With the most powerful AI driven, in-video search, Vyrill is a fan video discovery, insights and content marketing platform enabling brand marketers to supercharge brand awareness and revenue with fan led content such as video reviews, unboxing, how-to videos and more. Vyrill is a Google for fan video and creators, capturing who, what, where and when –inside millions of videos.”

Winner Announcement: 11:30 a.m. PDT

What we bought in June 2021

If you follow Mashable Shopping’s coverage, you know that we live to bring you the best product recommendations we can find based on countless hours of online research. But what about the stuff that we buy for ourselves? The stuff that made it into our shopping carts? Well, we’re here to tell you about those things, and we’ll be back every month to do so again.

Here’s what the staff bought in June 2021.

Something to get rid of the bugs once and for all

“I have a truly unreasonable number of plants for how small my apartment is, and the plants have brought in gnats, which irritate me to no end. I’ve tried sprays, apple cider vinegar traps, mosquito bits, and sticky traps (which work for the most part, but I still have a few stragglers). I decided to kick it up a notch with this contraption. It uses UV light to attract small flying bugs and then uses a fan to suck them down into the device where a sticky trap is waiting. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results in the few days I’ve used it. Unfortunately, this gross shit is the most exciting thing I bought in the last month.” —Miller Kern, Shopping Reporter

$39.79 at Amazon

Credit: Katchy

The key to a better night’s sleep (hopefully)

“My most recent purchase in my never-ending quest to fall asleep is a Bluetooth sleep mask. I fall asleep to ASMR every night, but sleeping with AirPods in was too chaotic and playing it out loud probably isn’t my boyfriend’s ideal white noise. This mask puts the sounds right in my ears while keeping light out, and allows me to comfortably lay on my side without shoving earbuds into my eardrums. (I bought mine on Mercari but it can also be purchased at Amazon.)” —Leah Stodart, Shopping Reporter

$29.99 at Amazon

Credit: Musicozy

A Game Pass machine

“This definitely was not a responsible purchase on my part (considering I already dropped way too much money on a PlayStation 5 not too long ago), but once Xbox’s E3 showcase happened, I was convinced that it was time to pick up one of their next-gen consoles for those sweet incoming exclusives. I got the more budget-friendly Xbox Series S, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I’m basically using it as an Xbox Game Pass machine, and it’s been extremely fun to work my way through its vast library while I wait for those E3 games to come out” —Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

$299.99 at Microsoft

Credit: Xbox

Some chunky loafers

“My trusty pair of loafers that I’ve had for years finally gave way to a massive hole in the sole, so it was time to get a replacement. I’ve seen a lot of people wearing these super chunky Doc Marten loafers and really wanted to pick some up for my next pair. They are extremely stiff right now, but they’re super high-quality and I know they’re going to last me a long time once I break them in.” —Dylan Haas, Shopping Reporter

$130 at Dr. Martens

Credit: Dr. Martens

A new beauty staple

“For as long as I can remember, my lips have been chapped. And for long as I can remember, balms and ointments have only ever been able to do so much. So when I tell you Smith Rosebud Co.’s Strawberry Lip Balm is it, I’m speaking from a lifetime of experience. Since I picked it up a few weeks ago, based on a friend’s recommendation, I’ve had no flaking, peeling, cracking, or bleeding at all. Which, for me, is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t know what magic separates this lip balm from literally every other product I’ve ever tried, including the line’s other flavors. (Maybe it’s the lanolin?) I just know that whatever it is, it works. And the experience of using it is pretty nice, too: It smells like those strawberry hard candies and comes in a cute old-timey tin or a convenient plastic tube. It looks light pink in the package, but goes on clear and not too glossy — perfect even for those who hate makeup. I plan to buy a million more of these and put one in every purse, coat pocket, and corner of my house, but I’ll start by spreading the gospel here for my fellow chapped-lips sufferers.” —Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor

$8 at Sephora

Credit: Rosebud Perfume Co.

$8 at Sephora

Buying Options

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A summer skincare necessity

“I found this sunscreen via a friend and I am so excited for it! As someone who is painfully pale, reapplying sunscreen is very important, but it’s always hard to figure out how to reapply on my face when I’m wearing makeup. Also, it’s supposed to have a light scent which sounds like it smells amazing so I was sold. Fingers crossed this will be the answer to all my summer face sunscreen problems.” —Lily Kartiganer, Social Media Editor

$30 at Habit

Credit: Habit

$30 at Habit

Buying Options

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A bucket hat with an important message

“I am currently obsessed with this hat. Bucket hats are A Thing now so I was looking for one and when I came across this one I couldn’t buy it fast enough. It comes in various bright colors and has a wide brim that protects your face from the sun, so it’s perfect for summer. What really sold me was the message, though. I am happy to be a walking billboard to remind everyone to wear sunscreen. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve found a better summer hat.” —Lily Kartiganer, Social Media Editor

$15 at Habit

Credit: Habit

$15 at Habit

Buying Options

See Details

A much-needed WFH desk

“After over a year of working from home, I finally bought this two-tier foldable desk. The shelf is perfect for the extra monitor I also finally bought. When I have a meeting or film a video, I can put my laptop on that second tier so that my eyes are at webcam height for the most flattering angle (pro tip). I liked that it’s a simple enough design to fit into pretty much any decor. And the desk folds flat and is easy to store, making it the perfect solution for the approaching hybrid office season.” —Chandra Steele, Senior Features Writer for PCMag

$69.99 at Amazon

Credit: GreenForest

A new patio set for the new digs

“We recently bought our first house, and we were so excited to get our first outdoor set for our otherwise empty deck! We went with the Luna set from Yardbird because it is classic and easy to keep clean.” —Barret Wertz, Style & Grooming Editor for AskMen

$2,170 at Yardbird

Credit: Yardbird

The ultimate epic medieval fantasy

“In theory: a strategic, team-based multiplayer game with complex sword-fighting mechanics. In practice: I killed an archer with a chicken.” —Pete Haas, Social Media Manager for PCMag

$39.99 at Epic Games Store

Credit: Torn Banner Studios

A more convenient comforter

“I got a new duvet cover set that looks like washed linen but more affordable and has a zipper close, which is the best part, in my opinion” —Megan Siler, Senior Product Manager

$79.99 at Amazon

Credit: MooMee

Twitter shares its ideas around new privacy features, including a way to hide your account from searches

Twitter today has shared a few more ideas it’s thinking about in terms of new features around conversation health and privacy. This includes a one-stop “privacy check-in” feature that would introduce Twitter’s newer conversation controls options to users, and others that would allow people to be more private on the service, or to more easily navigate between public and private tweets or their various accounts.

Of these, the privacy check-in feature would probably be of most use, as Twitter’s recent spurt of innovation has also made the service more complex. Over time, a centralized destination — like Google’s or Facebook’s Privacy Checkup where users can adjust their privacy controls — could become a valuable addition.

Privacy sets

We’ve found lots of people don’t know about all the conversation control and discoverability settings available to them — so how about a check-in that lets you pick among various groups of settings depending on your needs?

(ID in replies)

— Lena Emara (@LenaEmara) July 6, 2021

Twitter’s privacy check-in feature would walk users through a series of questions that help them think about how public or private they want to be on Twitter’s platform. For example, they could choose whether everyone can see their tweets or not, who’s allowed to send them direct messages, or who can tag them in photos.

Other new ideas under consideration include a tweak to the Compose screen to better highlight which account you’re posting from (and if it’s public), as well as another feature that would add reminders that appear when you reply to someone from a private account. The reminder would alert you that the account wouldn’t be able to see your response because your account is currently set to “protected.” It would also provide a tool to switch your tweets to public so you can participate in the conversation.


If you have a protected account and reply to someone who isn’t following you, you may not know they can’t see your reply. So I dropped in a reminder 👇🏼

And what do you think about making it easier to switch to Public if you DO want them to see your reply?

(ID in reply)

— Lena Emara (@LenaEmara) July 6, 2021

One of the more interesting concepts being considered, however, is related to your discoverability. Often, when someone is being harassed by a group, it begins to attract even more unwanted attention. While the user could report the trolls for abuse, it won’t immediately stop their attacks. To deal with this sort of troll brigade, some users set their account to private or delete their Twitter account altogether.

Twitter’s potential new feature would offer a third option: making your account hidden. Users could be alerted to the increase in negative attention their account was receiving through a push notification and then be pointed to new privacy controls that would let them disable the ability for other Twitter users to find them through search. One toggle would disable people from finding your account by searching for your username while another would disable the account from being recommended under the “Who To Follow” feature. You could also set time limits on how long you want these options disabled, in case you want to hide for a certain amount of time.

Twitter says these are, for now, just ideas — not features being built. It wants to hear from the Twitter user community what they think, and then weigh that feedback before going forward.

The company has been posting several other design concepts like this in recent days, including, just last week, a few new ideas about tweeting only to friends or using different personas, among other things. Earlier this month, the company also showed off concepts around a potential “unmention” feature that would let users untag themselves from others’ tweets.

As of yet, Twitter hasn’t made any decisions on which, if any, of its new concepts will be turned into real-world features. But they stand as another example of a company that’s been re-enegrized after years of stagnation to become more innovative, and at a much faster pace. Late last year, for example, Twitter launched its Stories product called Fleets to all users. It has since rolled out or is soon rolling out a number of significant new products, including its audio networking service Twitter Spaces, a crowd-sourced factchecker Birdwatch, a premium subscription called Twitter Blue, newsletters from Revue, a tip jar, and a creator subscription called Super Follow, which just opened applications.

7 memes that defined 2021, so far

As the pandemic begins to lighten up in the United States, the memes are getting better.

2020 was particularly bleak, in global news and in internet culture. 2021 didn’t start much better, but as more of the general public is vaccinated, memes are coming back.

From new CDC guidelines to disrupted trade routes, here are seven memes that defined this year so far.

1. Bernie at inauguration

Tweet may have been deleted

Bernie Sanders’ Inauguration Day get-up was also 2021’s inaugural meme. The Vermont senator’s down jacket and oversized mittens — a gift from a Vermont teacher who hand-knit them from recycled sweaters — were far from the formal dress coats spotted on other guests, but they seemed to keep Sanders warm as he sat alone during the ceremony. Sanders’ crossed arms and disinterested expression went viral as meme makers Photoshopped him onto the New York City subway, the moon, and iconic pieces of art.

2. It’s March again

Tweet may have been deleted

Between a devastating pandemic, record wildfires, an exhausting election cycle, and a worldwide mental health crisis, the last year seemed like a collective fever dream. As February drew to a close, social media users refused to believe that the world was coming up on a year of social distancing. Nobody was ready for March again.

3. Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview

Tweet may have been deleted

Oprah Winfrey’s explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exposed the British royal family as a racist organization that denied Markle mental health treatment and pulled the couple’s security detail when they stepped back from senior roles in the monarchy. As the couple recounted anecdotes about “the Firm” — the British royal family’s senior staff and the associated institutions — Oprah’s appalled expressions became viral fodder. Screenshots of the interview were ripe for meme formats.

4. The ship stuck in the Suez Canal

Tweet may have been deleted

A wayward cargo ship ran aground in the Suez Canal amid high winds and low visibility, interrupting 12 percent of the world’s trade. Twitter users weren’t particularly optimistic when the Suez Canal Authority released photos of its efforts to dislodge the massive ship, which involved eight tugboats and a comically small excavator. Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie estimated that the stuck ship cost the Canal $14 to 15 million in daily revenue each day the passage remained blocked, but at least it gave way for excellent memes.

5. Vaxxed and waxed

Tweet may have been deleted

With vaccination rates skyrocketing through the spring, this summer’s motto is “vaxxed and waxed.” Social distancing isn’t over — the pandemic is still a risk as COVID variants circulate through the world — but the fully vaccinated can ease into gathering in groups and go maskless around other fully vaccinated people. As the world slowly opens up, stay vaxxed and waxed for the ultimate hot girl summer.

6. The CDC says

Tweet may have been deleted

The Centers for Disease Control updated guidelines for the fully vaccinated in May, inspiring a new meme format on Twitter. If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can resume daily activities, which apparently include song lyrics, movie plots, and references to other meme formats.

7. Anakin and Padmé

Tweet may have been deleted

A scene from Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones resurfaced last month as a cheeky four-panel meme format. The set-up and punchline take place in the two panels, and Padmé’s horrified response has been used for all-too-relatable reflections on healthcare, vaccination rates, and music tastes that should absolutely be red flags.

2021’s memes started out dry — the year of social isolation hit online culture, too — but as the world returns to normal, the memes are back.

This 2021 Samsung soundbar is already on sale for $82 off at Amazon

Why go back to movie theaters when a TV with a soundbar is really all you need?

Save $82: The Samsung HW-A550 2021 2.1-channel soundbar is on sale for $197.99 at Amazon as of July 6.

You don’t need to leave behind the comforts of your couch to watch Black Widow just because most theaters reopened. A quality TV, a new streaming device, and some homemade snacks are all you need to recreate a theatrical experience. But you can make your home theater even more perfect if you upgrade with a powerful soundbar system.

One great option is the Samsung HW-A550 2.1-channel soundbar that’s down to just $197.99 at Amazon. Released just this year, the A550 already boasts a 29% discount at Amazon, giving a great excuse for you to see how a soundbar is a real gamechanger for any TV.

The Samsung A550 is a 2.1-channel design, which means you get two audio channels on the left and right in the soundbar along with a wireless subwoofer. With its Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Virtual:X technology, it provides an almost 3D surround sound environment from all angles. And the additional subwoofer gives that extra boost of bass with just the touch of a button.

It’s also easy to connect to any TV with WiFi, Bluetooth, or HDMI, plus it is instantly optimized to enhance sound for all types of content such as movies, sports, and video games. When it comes to gaming, it even syncs up directional audio that follows on-screen action for a more immersive experience. And if you want the audio to match your preferences, it’s simple enough to fine-tune both the bass and treble to get that perfect experience.

There are a lot of soundbar options out there, but it’s hard to argue against a brand new Samsung model that’s already on sale for less than $200.

Explore related content:

Nobody wins as DoD finally pulls the plug on controversial $10B JEDI contract

After several years of fighting and jockeying for position by the biggest cloud infrastructure companies in the world, the Pentagon finally pulled the plug on the controversial winner-take-all $10 billion JEDI contract today. In the end, nobody won.

“With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the JEDI cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps,” a Pentagon spokesperson stated.

The contract procurement process began in 2018 with a call for RFPs for a $10 billion, decade long contract to handle the cloud infrastructure strategy for The Pentagon. Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch why they were going with the. single-winner approach: “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” she said at the time.

From the start though, companies objected to the single winner approach, believing that the Pentagon would be better served with a multi-vendor approach. Some companies, particularly Oracle believed the procurement process was designed to favor Amazon.

In the end it came down to a pair of finalists — Amazon and Microsoft — and in the end Microsoft won. But Amazon believed that it had superior technology and only lost the deal because of direct interference by the previous president, who had open disdain for then CEO Jeff Bezos (who is also the owner of the Washington Post newspaper).

Amazon decided to fight the decision in court, and after months of delay, the Pentagon made the decision that it was time to move on. In a blog post, Microsoft took a swipe at Amazon for precipitating the delay.

“The 20 months since DoD selected Microsoft as its JEDI partner highlights issues that warrant the attention of policymakers: when one company can delay, for years, critical technology upgrades for those who defend our nation, the protest process needs reform. Amazon filed its protest in November 2019 and its case was expected to take at least another year to litigate and yield a decision, with potential appeals afterward,” Microsoft wrote in its blog post about the end of the deal.

It seems like a fitting end to a project that felt like it was doomed from the beginning. From the moment the Pentagon announced this contract with the cutesy twist on Star Wars name, the procurement process has taken more twist and turns than a TV soap.

In the end, there was a lot of sound and fury and now a lot of nothing. We move onto whatever cloud procurement process happens next.

Note: We have a request into Amazon for a comment and will update the story when they respond.

Single.Earth to link carbon credits to crypto token market, raises $7.9M from EQT Ventures

Here’s the theory: Instead of linking carbon and biodiversity credits to the sale of raw materials such as forests, which cause CO2, what if you linked them to crypto tokens, and thus kept these CO2-producing materials in the ground?

That’s the theory behind Single.Earth, which has now raised a $7.9 million seed funding round led by Swedish VC EQT Ventures to, in its own words, ‘tokenize nature’. Also participating in the round was existing investor Icebreaker, and Ragnar Sass and Martin Henk, founders of Pipedrive. The funding will be used to launch its marketplace for nature-backed MERIT tokens.

Single.Earth says its ‘nature-backed’ financial system will use using MERIT tokens. And given the market for carbon credits is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion by 2030 and crypto surpassed a $2 trillion market cap in 2021, their plan might just work.

It plans to build a ‘digital twin’ of nature that reveals how much any area of ecological significance in the world absorbs CO2 and retains biodiversity. Using environmental data such as satellite imagery, it aims to build global carbon models on which to base its token marketplace, generating profits through carbon compensations, ‘mining’ a new MERIT token for every 100 kg of CO2 sequestered in a specific forest or biodiverse area.

The MERIT tokens are then used to trade, compensate for a CO2 footprint, or contribute to climate goals (as the token is ‘used up’ and cannot be traded anymore). Companies, organisations, and eventually individuals will be able purchase these tokens and own fractional amounts of natural resources, rewarded with carbon and biodiversity offsets. The company says the market for carbon credits is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion by 2030.

Because of the traceability of blockchain and its link to a tradable token, payment to landowners would be immediate.

Single.Earth was co-founded in 2019 by CEO Merit Valdsalu and CTO Andrus Aaslaid. Valdsalu said: “Nature conservation is scalable, accessible, and makes sense financially; what’s more, it’s vital to engineer a systematic change.”

Sandra Malmberg, Venture Lead at EQT Ventures, added: “Oil was the new gold, data the new oil; now, nature is now the most precious and valuable resource of all. A company having a hectare of forest saved as a key metric to scale is a company we are thrilled to back. Disrupting the economy and financial markets with a new tradable and liquid asset class that has a positive impact on the environment is an irresistible investment.”

GETTR, the newest pro-Trump social network, was hacked on launch day and is now fighting with furries

Jason Miller's conservative social platform GETTR is not off to a great start!

GETTR, the newest pro-Trump social network, was hacked on launch day and is currently banning furries.

That’s right, while you were celebrating America’s independence on July 4, the latest right-wing social media platform was celebrating its official launch…and getting hacked. (More about the furries later.)

GETTR, the new “free speech” social media platform run by former Trump advisor Jason Miller, was infiltrated and defaced on Sunday by a hacker known as “@JubaBaghdad.”

Tweet may have been deleted

According to Insider, GETTR accounts belonging to prominent figures on the right — such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Steve Bannon, Mike Pompeo, conservative cable news channel Newsmax, and GETTR’s own official profiles, including Miller’s — were all affected by the hack. All of these users are verified on the platform.

The hacker changed the accounts’ display names. “@JubaBaghdad was here 🙂 ^^ free palestine ^^,” read the profiles.

Salon writer Zachary Petrizzo was one of the first to notice the hack on Sunday. According to Petrizzo, the changes to the accounts were made at approximately 10:10am ET.

But changing some display names is not all the hacker got out of his exploit.

Tweet may have been deleted

Petrizzo tweeted that he spoke with the hacker, who showed him personal data he was able to scrape from the website. This information includes usernames, birthdays, and email addresses. It does not appear as if passwords were stolen during the breach.

According to the hacker, as of yesterday morning, around 24 hours after the hack, the site remains “compromised” with an “API server bug.”

There remain a high number of bugs in the code of Gettr, the hacker told Petrizzo, adding that hackers can continue to exploit the bugs in order to sell the scraped data on black markets.

However, in a statement provided to Reuters, Miller refutes this claim.

“The problem was detected and sealed in a matter of minutes, and all the intruder was able to accomplish was to change a few user names,” Miller told the outlet.

Speaking to Insider, Miller also talked up the hack and tried to spin it into a positive.

“You know you’re shaking things up when they come after you,” said Miller. “The problem was detected and sealed in a matter of minutes, and all the intruder was able to accomplish was to change a few user names. The situation has been rectified and we’ve already had more than half a million users sign up for our exciting new platform!”

While GETTR officially launched on July 4, the news of the latest right-wing social network was leaked days earlier by Politico. At the time, it was being pegged as a platform from “Team Trump” due to Miller’s involvement, although former president Donald Trump’s role was unclear.

Tweet may have been deleted

Shortly after that news broke about GETTR, Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News reported that Trump will have no role — participatory or financial — in the platform. Trump has previously turned down offers to join other right-wing social media platforms, such as Parler.

Despite being marketed as a “cancel-free” social media platform, GETTR has already banned a number of users. Far-right personality Baked Alaska was suspended on July 1.

It’s unclear why Baked Alaska was suspended from GETTR, although he was boasting about the suspension on far right social network Gab shortly after. Gab is known for being a favored platform among white nationalists. Baked Alaska is currently facing criminal charges for his role in storming the Capitol building on January 6.

At the time this piece was being published, GETTR users were complaining about being banned from the platform for posting furry porn involving Sonic the Hedgehog.

According to Kotaku, hashtags such as #sonicfeet and #sonicmylove have permeated GETTR.

Users have been trolling the website with furry content in order to test those “free speech” values GETTR bases itself on. Sonic, a beloved classic video game character, is also very popular among online communities, furries included.

Add a smart lock with a keypad to your front door for less than $95

Save $14.95: The ULTRALOQ U-Bolt smart lock with keypad is $10 off at Amazon and has an extra 5% coupon as of July 6, rounding savings out to around 14% off.

There’s a special brand of fear that comes with receiving an email stating that there was a mysterious log-in attempt on one of your social media accounts. As the paranoia inspires you to frantically change all of your passwords, consider that it may be time to upgrade the security surrounding your front door.

The ULTRALOQ U-Bolt smart lock replaces your existing deadbolt to extend locking options to remote app access, a keypad code, and more for a good chunk of change less than other brands offering a keypad. A current sale and extra coupon at Amazon get it to you for just under $95.

Even with the smart lock guarding your front door, locking and unlocking can be as easy as using the manual key that you’re used to using or via codes picked by you. Barring a fingerprint sensor, which only the U-Bolt Pro offers, a code is one of the most secure ways to arm your front door. Each member of your household (plus anyone who visits often) can be registered and choose a code that works just for them. The anti-peeping feature allows you to punch in random digits while entering your code as long as your actual code was in there somewhere.

Paying $25 more can upgrade you to the bundle that adds a WiFi bridge (the bundle is also on sale with a coupon). The bridge is required to make the most use out of the U-tec app when you’re not home: Remote access or temporary codes can be sent to the door for pet sitters or to kids when they get home from school. The app can also be used to turn on auto-unlock, which unlocks or locks the door when it feels your phone’s location approaching or leaving your property — a godsend for hands full of groceries. A simple lock status check on the app means you’ll never be breaking out in a sweat halfway to work while wondering if you remembered to lock the door.

Save $14.95 at Amazon

Credit: ultraloq

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Bentley reveals Flying Spur Hybrid, its latest in the push towards electric

Bentley Motors, the 102-year-old ultra-luxury automaker under Volkswagen Group, revealed its newest hybrid model on Tuesday. The company says this latest iteration of the Flying Spur Hybrid is its most environmentally friendly vehicle yet.

This new model is part of Bentley’s Beyond100 plan to become a carbon neutral organization with an entirely electrified range by 2023 and a totally electric lineup by 2030. That’s a tall order, given the fact that the British company’s first all-electric vehicle is expected come to market in 2025. So far, Bentley only has this hybrid and another, the Bentayga SUV.

Most major OEMs have made such commitments, with Ford, GM, Mercedes, Kia and Nissan already producing electric models. If automakers like Bentley want to reach their goals, their production of electric vehicles will need to increase exponentially, especially if they want to keep up with Tesla, which is currently owning the luxury EV market.

According to a statement released by the company, the new powertrain of the hybrid Flying Spur combines a 2.9 liter V6 engine with an electric motor. The engine achieves 410 bhp and 550 NM of torque up to 5650 rpm, and the motor, which is located between the transmission and the engine, provides up to 134 bhp and 400NM of torque. When combined, the Flying Spur delivers an additional 95 bhp in comparison to the Bentayga hybrid.

The 14.1 kWh lithium ion battery charges in about two and half hours. The Flying Spur can cover over 435 miles when fully fueled, and it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, which is nearly the same as the V8 version of the vehicle, at a top speed of 177 mph.

When in the drivers seat, customers can choose between three E modes to manage battery usage. The EV Drive mode is the default when the car is turned on. The hybrid mode relies on data from the car’s intelligent navigation system when the driver is following directions somewhere to predict usage of the different E-modes and engine coasting. The vehicle automatically switches to the right mode for each part of the journey depending on what’s more fuel efficient. For example, EV driving is best when in the city, but the car might engage the V6 engine more on the highway. The third E-mode, hold, balances power between the engine and the battery to conserve electric energy, holding onto it for later use. This mode is usually put in place when the driver selects Sport mode.

The Flying Spur’s infotainment screen shows energy flow, range, battery level and charging information. Bentley will deliver the hybrid with all the necessary charging cables and provides customers with a Bentley-branded wallbox at no extra cost to store the at-home charge unit and cables.

Flying Spur Hybrid is available to order in most markets, but is currently not available in the E.U., U.K., Switzerland, Israel, Ukraine, Norway, Turkey and Vietnam, according to Bentley.

On the same day, Bentley also announced a partnership with single malt Scotch whisky manufacturer Macallan to “develop distinctive collaborations and further their vision of a more sustainable future,” according to a statement released by the company. The point of the partnership was unclear (encourage high-end drinking and driving?), and Bentley did not respond in time to requests for more information, but one somewhat clear outcome of the announcement is a commitment from the Macallan Estate, Macallan’s distillery, to have a fully electric passenger vehicle fleet by 2025. In addition, this year, Macallan will order two hybrid Bentleys for the estate.

Score 3 months of the Peloton app for only $12.99

Get a solid strength workout from your living room TV.

SAVE $25.98: Ready to kickstart your fitness goals this summer? Take advantage of Peloton’s Summer Pass and score your first three months of the Peloton App for only $12.99 as of July 6.

Now that we’ve celebrated summer holidays and gotten our fill of hamburgers and hot dogs, it’s time to get back to our regularly scheduled workout routines. If your fitness habits need a refresh (or you just need some extra motivation) opt for the Peloton app. You’ll get pro-trainer-led workouts straight to your phone, laptop, or TV, and will save some money thanks to the current Summer Pass promotion.

In a rare deal, Peloton is offering new users three months of app access for the price of one — just $12.99. This special pricing only lasts through July 31, so give your workout routine a boost for cheap before the summer is over.

Don’t have an indoor cycling bike? No problem. This version of the app is specifically for folks who don’t already have the Peloton bike, so you don’t have to break the bank to get the hyped-up Peloton experience. You can use the app with a Peloton bike alternative, but even without an indoor bike, the infamous cycling company’s app is a fantastic workout-from-home option (as detailed in our Peloton app review). There are way more workout types than just cycling — nine more to be specific — so you can get a well-rounded workout experience in one place, without having to hit the gym.

Choose from genres like strength, stretching, yoga, running, and more, and choose from live or on-demand classes for the type of workout motivation you need. Fun milestones and awards will keep you coming back for more, and the studio community feel will ensure you’re enjoying every workout. Whether you need a quick stretch or a long, endurance run, the Peloton app has a class for you — class times range from five minutes to 90 minutes, and class difficulties range from beginner to advanced.

Ditch your gym membership for good and snag Peloton’s limited-time deal to boost your workout-from-home experience. Sign up for the discounted Summer Pass on the Peloton website, then access all your workouts via computer, iOS or Android device, or any smart TV.

Save $25.98 at Peloton

Credit: Peloton

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Didi gets hit by Chinese government, and Pelo raises $150M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday Tuesday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

What a busy weekend we missed while mostly hearing distant explosions and hugging our dogs close. Here’s a sampling of what we tried to recap on the show:

It’s going to be a busy week! Chat tomorrow.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Austin-based closes $46M second fund from legendary tech founders

To compete with the myriad venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, has a unique vantage point.

Its founder Han Shen has straddled the United States and China for several decades. He was the first hire on the investment team of Formation 8, the VC firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale. After backed Weee! in a Series A round in 2018, Shen arranged for the grocery startup to meet with China’s produce delivery leaders — two of which recently went public in the U.S. — to learn what was applicable to the American market.

Weee! has since become the go-to grocery app for America’s Asian communities and raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Lightspeed Venture Partners, DST Global, Blackstone, Tiger Global and other major institutions. is still Weee!’s second-largest shareholder, and its first fund recorded a 10x rate of return, Shen told TechCrunch during an interview.

On the back of its cross-continental experiences and portfolio performance, recently closed its second fund with over $46 million, boosting the firm’s assets under management to more than $95 million.

The limited partners in Fund II include family offices across the U.S. and Asia as well as high-profile entrepreneurs such as Zhang Tao, founder of China’s Yelp counterpart Dianping, Free Wu, a founding member of Tencent who now manages Welight Capital, Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir, and Aayush Phumbhra, co-founder of Chegg. made another big move during the pandemic, relocating its office from San Francisco to Austin, joining a wave of Californians fleeing the expensive area.

When it comes to investment focus, Shen said he tries to seek out the underdogs in North America’s trillion-dollar consumer market.

“On the one hand, enterprise services are growing very quickly. But on the other hand, the rise of enterprise software is helping consumer tech to grow even more quickly and easily. The consumer market is very diverse and serves an array of minority groups, so there is always a new opportunity.”

With this premise in mind, recently invested in Cheese Financial‘s seed round, a digital bank that started out by serving the underbanked Asian American populations. prefers backing startups early on and seeing them through by providing hands-on, post-investment support. Rather than spray and pray, has invested in just about a dozen companies five years after its founding.

Shen’s background of growing up in China and working in Silicon Valley, where he eventually became a partner at Formation 8, led him to appreciate entrepreneurs with a similarly international background because they can learn from mistakes and successes on both sides. They also know how to leverage the different fields of talent across the world.

Cheese Financial, for instance, is setting up an engineering force in the founder’s hometown, Shenzhen, to take advantage of the Chinese city’s large pool of engineers at costs much lower than those of Silicon Valley.

It’s not just about hiring cheaper programmers, though. As Shen puts it: “In the past, American companies were simply outsourcing technical tasks to China. Now Chinese engineers actually have valuable lessons to bring to American companies because many have worked at large, successful Chinese tech companies themselves.”

Italy’s DPA fines Glovo-owned Foodinho $3M, orders changes to algorithmic management of riders

Algorithmic management of gig workers has landed Glovo-owned on-demand delivery firm Foodinho in trouble in Italy where the country’s data protection authority issued a €2.6 million penalty (~$3M) yesterday after an investigation found a laundry list of problems.

The delivery company has been ordered to make a number of changes to how it operates in the market, with the Garante’s order giving it two months to correct the most serious violations found, and a further month (so three months total) to amend how its algorithms function — to ensure compliance with privacy legislation, Italy’s workers’ statute and recent legislation protecting platform workers.

One of the issues of concern to the data watchdog is the risk of discrimination arising from a rider rating system operated by Foodinho — which had some 19,000 riders operating on its platform in Italy at the time of the Garante’s investigation.

Likely of relevance here is a long running litigation brought by riders gigging for another food delivery brand in Italy, Foodora, which culminated in a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court last year that asserted riders should be treated as having workers rights, regardless of whether they are employed or self-employed — bolstering the case for challenges against delivery apps that apply algorithms to opaquely micromanage platform workers’ labor.

In the injunction against Foodinho, Italy’s DPA says it found numerous violations of privacy legislation, as well as a risk of discrimination against gig workers based on how Foodinho’s booking and assignments algorithms function, in addition to flagging concerns over how the system uses ratings and reputational mechanisms as further levers of labor control.

Article 22 of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides protections for individuals against being solely subject to automated decision-making including profiling where such decisions produce a legal or similarly substantial effect (and access to paid work would meet that bar) — giving them the right to get information on a specific decision and object to it and/or ask for human review.

But it does not appear that Foodinho provided riders with such rights, per the Garante’s assessment.

In a press release about the injunction (which we’ve translated from Italian with Google Translate), the watchdog writes:

“The Authority found a series of serious offences, in particular with regard to the algorithms used for the management of workers. The company, for example, had not adequately informed the workers on the functioning of the system and did not guarantee the accuracy and correctness of the results of the algorithmic systems used for the evaluation of the riders. Nor did it guarantee procedures to protect the right to obtain human intervention, express one’s opinion and contest the decisions adopted through the use of the algorithms in question, including the exclusion of a part of the riders from job opportunities.

“The Guarantor has therefore required the company to identify measures to protect the rights and freedoms of riders in the face of automated decisions, including profiling.

The watchdog also says it has asked Foodinho to verify the “accuracy and relevance” of data that feeds the algorithmic management system — listing a wide variety of signals that are factored in (such as chats, emails and phone calls between riders and customer care; geolocation data captured every 15 seconds and displayed on the app map; estimated and actual delivery times; details of the management of the order in progress and those already made; customer and partner feedback; remaining battery level of device etc).

“This is also in order to minimize the risk of errors and distortions which could, for example, lead to the limitation of the deliveries assigned to each rider or to the exclusion itself from the platform. These risks also arise from the rating system,” it goes on, adding: “The company will also need to identify measures that prevent improper or discriminatory use of reputational mechanisms based on customer and business partner feedback.”

Glovo, Foodinho’s parent entity — which is named as the owner of the platform in the Garante’s injunction — was contacted for comment on the injunction.

A company spokesperson told us they were discussing a response — so we’ll update this report if we get one.

Glovo acquired the Italian food delivery company Foodinho back in 2016, making its first foray into international expansion. The Barcelona-based business went on to try to build out a business in the Middle East and LatAm — before retrenching back to largely focus on Southern and Eastern Europe. (In 2018 Glovo also picked up the Foodora brand in Italy, which had been owned by German rival Delivery Hero.)

The Garante says it collaborated with Spain’s privacy watchdog, the AEDP — which is Glovo’s lead data protection supervisor under the GDPR — on the investigation into Foodinho and the platform tech provided to it by Glovo.

Its press release also notes that Glovo is the subject of “an independent procedure” carried out by the AEPD, which it says it’s also assisting with.

The Spanish watchdog confirmed to TechCrunch that joint working between the AEPD and the Garante had resulted in the resolution against the Glovo-owned company, Foodinho.

The AEPD also said it has undertaken its own procedures against Glovo — pointing to a 2019 sanction related to the latter not appointing a data protection officer, as is required by the GDPR. The watchdog later issued Glovo with a fined of €25,000 for that compliance failure.

However it’s not clear why the AEDP has — seemingly — not taken a deep dive look at Glovo’s own compliance with the Article 22 of the GDPR. (We’ve asked it for more on this and will update if we get a response.)

It did point us to recently published guidance on data protection and labor relations, which it worked on with Spain’s Ministry of Labor and the employers and trade union organizations, and which it said includes information on the right of a works council to be informed by a platform company of the parameters on which the algorithms or artificial intelligence systems are based — including “the elaboration of profiles, which may affect the conditions, access and maintenance of employment”.

Earlier this year the Spanish government agreed upon a labor reform to expand the protections available to platform workers by recognizing platform couriers as employees.

The amendments to the Spanish Workers Statute Law were approved by Royal Decree in May — but aren’t due to start being applied until the middle of next month, per El Pais.

Notably, the reform also contains a provision that requires workers’ legal representatives to be informed of the criteria powering any algorithms or AI systems that are used to manage them and which may affect their working conditions — such as those affecting access to employment or rating systems that monitor performance or profile workers. And that additional incoming algorithmic transparency provision has evidently been factored into the AEPD’s guidance.

So it may be that the watchdog is giving affected platforms like Glovo a few months’ grace to allow them to get their systems in order for the new rules.

Spanish labor law also of course remains distinct to Italian law, so there will be ongoing differences of application related to elements that concern delivery apps, regardless of what appears to be a similar trajectory on the issue of expanding platform workers rights.

Back in January, for example, an Italian court found that a reputation-ranking algorithm that had been used by another on-demand delivery app, Deliveroo, had discriminated against riders because it had failed to distinguish between legally protected reasons for withholding labour (e.g., because a rider was sick; or exercising their protected right to strike) and other reasons for not being as productive as they’d indicated they would be.

In that case, Deliveroo said the judgement referred to a historic booking system that it said was no longer used in Italy or any other markets.

More recently a tribunal ruling in Bologna — found a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by, AssoDelivery, a trade association that represents a number of delivery platforms in the market (including Deliveroo and Glovo), and a minority union with far right affiliations, the UGL trade union, to be unlawful.

Deliveroo told us it planned to appeal that ruling.

The agreement attracted controversy because it seeks to derogate unfavorably from Italian law that protects workers and the signing trade body is not representative enough in the sector.

This collective agreement is controversial as it derogates from the law unfavorably for workers and because the trade union signing it is allegedly not representative enough to deregulate statutory protection for workers that are “hetero-organized”

— Valerio De Stefano (@valeriodeste) July 2, 2021

Zooming out, EU lawmakers are also looking at the issue of platform workers rights — kicking off a consultation in February on how to improve working conditions for gig workers, with the possibility that Brussels could propose legislation later this year.

However platform giants have seen the exercise as an opportunity to lobby for deregulation — pushing to reduce employment standards for gig workers across the EU. The strategy looks intended to circumvent or at least try to limit momentum for beefed up rules coming a national level, such as Spain’s labor reform.

Nothing reveals price for its noise-cancelling earbuds

There are earbuds somewhere in this picture.

Nothing is leaking the info on its first product drop by drop.

A week ago, the startup, founded by OnePlus’ co-founder Carl Pai, announced it will launch its wireless earbuds, the Nothing Ear 1, on July 27.

Nothing originally announced the earbuds months earlier as its first product, but shared nearly no information about them. Now, Nothing has announced the earbuds will be priced at €99 in Europe and $99 in the U.S.

The company also said the earbuds will have “state-of-the-art” active noise cancellation (ANC), using three high-definition microphones to drown out the outside noise and bring whatever you’re listening into focus.

Other than that, Nothing says users can expect “a premium user experience” and “leading specs” from the Ear 1.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Pei said the earbuds will have similar features as the AirPods Pro, which cost $249.

Finally, we got to see our first glimpse of the actual product, though it’s a bit hard to discern in the image Nothing shared on its Instagram channel. If you want to get a better idea of what the Nothing Ear 1 will actually look like, check out this concept image the company shared a few months ago.

The company says it will share more info leading up to the launch, which is scheduled on July 27.

FabricNano raises $12.5M to help scale its cell-free fossil fuel alternative technology

It’s not often that you hear DNA described as a wafer – but that’s the analogy that Grant Aarons, the founder of FabricNano, a cell-free biomanufacturing company uses to describe his company’s major product. That DNA, the company hopes, will make a dent in a growing global petrochemical industry that currently relies on fossil fuels and their byproducts. 

FabricNano is a London based company founded in 2018 through Entrepreneur First, a technology startup accelerator. FabricNano is invested in the creation of cell-free biomanufacturing. Biomanufacturing, simply, uses the enzymes within a cell or microbe to produce an end-product. FabricNano’s approach is to place those enzymes on the DNA wafer instead (that process is called enzyme immobilization). 

Those enzymes, Aarons argues, can produce chemicals, like those used to make drugs or plastics, with higher efficiency compared to cell-based systems, and without the reliance on fossil fuels that are currently used to make those chemicals en masse.The heart of the company is the DNA scaffold, which can house enough enzymes to scale up those reactions. 

This week, FabricNano announced $12.5 million in Series A funding this week complete with a cadre of high profile angel investors. The round was led by Atomico, and included investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, actress, UN Sustainability Ambassador Emma Watson, and former Bayer CEO Alexander Moscho. 

“We went out and actively tried to get the right angels for the company,” says Aarons. “We also looked at a few different technology angels. Because at the end of the day what we’re manufacturing is an enabling technology for manufacturers. 

“We’re not looking to manufacture bio-based plastics or bio-based monomers, at any sufficient scale,” he continues. “We’re looking to provide [manufacturers] with the technology that they can then use to manufacture at scale and at a low enough cost. It is a scalable and sustainable way to make low-value molecules, like bioplastics.”

Part of FabricNano’s identity hinges on creating a bio-based alternative within the growing petrochemical sector. 

At the moment, about 14 percent of global oil demand goes towards making plastics. Petrochemicals, or chemicals obtained from oil and gas that can be used to make plastics or other materials, are expected to drive about half of the world’s oil demand by 2050, according to The International Energy Agency’s 2018 projections

Plastics, a major end-product of the petrochemical industry, contribute to climate change at nearly every point in their life cycles – when they’re manufactured by heating up oil or ethane or when they’re burned as waste. If both plastic production and use continue at their current pace, emissions are projected to reach 1.34 gigatons by 2030 (the equivalent of 295 coal fired power plants), according to the Center for International Environmental Law

Naturally, making more plastic, no matter how it is made, will contribute to ecological catastrophe in its own way (scientists have called for phase out of “virgin” plastic production by 2040). 

Additionally, the nebulous term “bioplastic” can refer to anything from a biodegradable plastic to a plastic created without the use of fossil fuels (even one that is not biodegradable), That makes the world of environmentally-friendly plastics highly susceptible to greenwashing. 

The question that remains is how big an impact biomanufacturing can make on reducing petrochemicals’ contribution to climate change? At this point that’s unclear. Aarons argues that part of the appeal of cell-free manufacturing can pull the industry away from using petroleum (or in the US, ethanol) to make plastics or other commodity chemicals.

“We’re really talking about a new technology to take over a lot of the commodities sector, and pull a lot of those petroleum-based products away from petroleum and into the biological realm,” says Aarons. 

That said, there are also clear concerns with the production of plastics as-is, leaving room for alternatives to emerge if they prove to be scalable and cost-effective enough to supplant the existing petrochemical industry.

There is some evidence that cell-free manufacturing has already scaled well. For instance, high fructose corn syrup is made when corn starch is broken down by enzymes into glucose. The final step requires one enzyme, glucose isomerase. Aarons calls high fructose corn syrup production “the largest implementation of cell-free in the world.” 

FabricNano is partially looking to build upon that concept to offer a greater suite of available chemicals. At the moment, FabricNano can already create chemicals like 1,3 propanediol, an ingredient that can be used to replace polyethylene glycol in toothpaste or shampoo. The input needed to create that product is glycerin, a major waste product of biodiesel manufacturing, which may help keep costs down and provide an alternative feedstock to fossil fuels.  

Aarons says that FabricNano has proved capable of making four additional products, but didn’t disclose what kinds. He says FabricNano is “interested in the pharmaceutical space”, and in commodity chemicals. “There are a lot of commodity chemicals we can manufacture. 1,3 propanediol is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. 

Still, FabricNano’s distinguishing approach probably isn’t the commodity chemicals it has made so far, but the actual DNA scaffold. If the enzymes that stick to that DNA wafer and help produce chemicals are software, the DNA scaffold is FabricNano’s hardware. 

That hardware is a major way the company hopes to bring cell-free into the world of commodity chemicals.

“The real missing piece, and why [cell-free manufacturing] has been a niche technology for a long time is that there has been no generalizable technology to immobilize all of these proteins,” he says. 

With the newest round of funding FabricNano plans to increase its employee workforce from 12 to thirty people, and move into a new London-based office. Total investment in the company stands at $16 million. 

All the best pet cameras for keeping tabs on your cat or dog

If you have a four-legged friend at home, chances are you consider them to be an important part of your family and being away from them for any length of time can be difficult. 

Luckily, more and more cameras are now available to help make monitoring your precious pets easier than ever. These cameras allow pet parents to keep watch over their doggos and kitties while away from home, often with just the push of a button on their smartphone. 

But with so many remote monitoring cameras available on the market today, choosing the best one to help you watch over your furry friend can feel like a daunting task. To help, we researched the internet’s favourite models and broke them down based on the features pet parents care about most, so you can choose the right one to fit your needs.

What should you consider before buying a pet camera?

We know you want to get to the best pet cameras, but there are some things you should consider before making a purchase decision. We have checked out everything you need to know, and these are the most important pet camera features to keep in mind:

Alerts — The majority of pet cameras will send notifications to your phone when activity is detected, with the most advanced options even sending video clips so you can actually see your furry friend. It’s not just motion that is detected either. Some pet cameras will send alerts when noise is detected.

Footage capture — Some of the best pet cameras let you to watch live footage of your pet on your phone or in the cloud. This live capture means you can see exactly what’s happening at home and provides greater peace of mind if you’re at work or away from home.

Two-way communication — There are some pet cameras that let you interact with your pet when you’re away. If you’re keen to communicate with your pet, you should look for a pet camera that offers two-way audio or two-way live-streaming video. This is useful if you think your pet will benefit from hearing or seeing you.

You might not need all of these features in a pet camera, but it’s important to consider these features and think about what you need from a device. This will help you find something that suits you and your lifestyle.

What is the best pet camera?

Whether you’re looking for a no-frills basic security camera or a full-fledged, feature-packed model to enjoy a video chat experience, we’ve got the best pet camera options to help ease your separation anxiety. 

We’ve lined up a selection of impressive devices from top brands, with something for everyone and every budget. Ease your separation anxiety and keep an eye on your furry friends with the best pet cameras from top brands like Furbo and Blink Home.

These are the best pet cameras in 2021.

White label fintech platform Toqio secures $9.4M Seed led by Seaya and Speedinvest

The upside of the Open Banking regulations which have swept jurisdictions like the UK and the EU is that many more challenger banks have appeared. The headache for either incumbent banks or for upstart startups is the very proliferation of these new banks and financial tech products. But as we know, in gold rushes, the people selling the picks and shovels usually win. Thus, startups have turned their attention, not to launching full-stack banks, but to full-stack platforms that other people can launch their fintech startups and products upon.

The latest to join this brigade is Toqio, a fintech platform with a white label digital finance SaaS that allows anyone to launch a new fintech product.

The London-based startup has now secured an €8M / $9.4M seed round of funding led by Seaya Ventures and Speedinvest, with SIX FinTech Ventures participating.

Founded in 2019 by Eduardo Martínez and Michael Galvin, the teams behind Toqio previously built a small business SaaS startup, Geniac, which was acquired by Grant Thornton.

Eduardo Martínez, co-Founder and CEO, of Toqio, said: “Businesses and banks are looking to innovate in the FinTech sector, but to date, they have had to create and maintain complex software solutions to do this. This has also kept smaller niche businesses out of the market. We don’t want FinTech to end up like banking just with a new set of big incumbents trying to take control of financial services. We want to level the playing field.”

Toqio says its customers get access to pre-built products to create applications that can go to market quickly. Products include digital banking, card, and financing solutions, and a marketplace, aimed at financial institutions, FinTech startups, banks, and corporate brands.

Headquartered in London and Madrid, Toqio says it already has customers across Europe, including new Spanish bank Crealsa, business banking service Wamo in Malta, and alternative business lender Just Cash Flow in the UK.

Aristotelis Xenofontos, Principal at Seaya Ventures, said: ”We have spent many years following the Embedded Finance space and finally found the missing piece, a seamless enabler that glues everything together. Toqio is a truly end-to-end platform that provides a complete plug-and-play bank and allows any organization to offer a full suite of digital financial services in a rapid, painless, future-proof, and low-cost way.”

Stefan Klestil, General Partner at Speedinvest, added: “We’ve seen the rise of neo-banks, the change of regulations across multiple markets, and now we’re starting to see traditional businesses and big brands looking to embed financial products within their existing offerings. Financial services are going to change and expand at an unprecedented rate, and Toqio will be instrumental in enabling it.”

All the best automatic cat feeders for your fluffy friends

If you plan on being away for a couple days or you’ve started your cat on an eating schedule that they’re used to, an automatic feeder is a smart investment to keep your cat fed even when you’re not home.

We can’t guarantee that an automatic feeder will help your cat be cool with you leaving them home alone, but at least they won’t go hungry while they miss your company.

What should you consider when buying an automatic cat feeder?

Before you make any sort of purchase decision, there are some important things to consider:

  • Wet or dry food: Which food type does your cat usually eat? Wet dispensers will require daily cleaning and more attention than dry food feeders.

  • Your cat’s needs: While automatic feeders should never be a replacement for human interaction, consider your and your cat’s routines. Would the feeder be useful for days when you’re busy in meetings, or are you planning to go out of the house for a while? If it’s the latter, your feline friend could develop separation anxiety so it’s important to pick one that best suits their needs (like one that allows you to leave voice recordings — yes, really — which is great for those pandemic adoptees that have never been alone for long stretches of time).

  • Overall functionality: If you’ll be using the feeder often and have a dishwasher, look for dishwasher-safe containers or bowls so you aren’t stuck hand-washing each week. If you’re someone who often mixes up times, pick a programmable feeder that will remember for you. If your cat will continue to snack all day long, opt out of a gravity feeder and go for one that dispenses a specific amount of food.

When considering your options, we recommend keeping these things in mind. This will help you find something that works for you and your pet.

What is the best automatic cat feeder?

To help you figure out which option is right for you, we have researched the internet’s favourite models and broke them down based on the features cat owners care about most. Whether you’re looking for a basic gravity feeder or a full-fledged product to program perfectly timed and portioned meals, we’ve got the best automatic cat feeder options to fit your — and your kitty’s — needs. 

These are the best automatic cat feeders in 2021.

Byrd raises $19M to expand Amazon-style fulfillment and logistics to more e-commerce merchants in Europe

E-commerce in Europe is set to grow 30% percent this year, with the online shopping surge that started at the rise of Covid-19 showing little sign of abating. Today, a startup that’s building infrastructure in the region to help merchants fill and deliver those orders — and present an alternative to using Amazon for fulfillment — is announcing funding to expand its footprint to meet that demand.

Byrd, which builds software to manage warehouses and logistics operations, and also runs a service to help online merchants store, pick and deliver their orders, has picked up €16 million ($19 million), a Series B that it will be using to expand to five more markets in eastern, northern and southern Europe in addition to the five countries where it’s already active. Founded in Vienna, Austria in 2016, Byrd is also in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and France, where together it has some 15 fulfillment centers and 200 customers, including Durex, Freeletics, Scholl, Your Superfoods and other D2C brands in health and wellness, consumer packaged goods, cosmetics and fashion.

Mouro Capital — a strategic fintech/e-commerce VC that was spun out from banking giant Santander last year — led the round, with Speedinvest, Verve Ventures, Rider Global and VentureFriends also participating. Byrd isn’t disclosing its valuation but has raised some €26 million to date.

The gap in the market that Byrd is going after is a growing one, not just in terms of size but in terms of retailers’ demand, and what they are looking for in a fulfillment partner.

E-commerce is a deceptively complex business — deceptive, because as consumers all we ever really see or care about is the ability to find what we are looking for at a decent price, click on it, buy it without too much fuss and have it appear at our doors, ideally asap.

But the steps needed behind the scenes to make all of that possible are many, and mostly complex, and not usually in the core competency of a typical small retailer, who may have identified a product it thinks the world wants, but not how to get it to them. They include marketing, payments, user interface designs, personalization, manufacturing and other supply chain concerns, and yes, the logistics and fulfillment to get orders to customers. As e-commerce continues to become a bigger channel, all of these segments in the chain represent ever-growing opportunities.

Typically, retailers will look to third-party tech companies to provide these different services, and this is where Byrd comes in, as an outsourced partner to handle companies’ logistics and fulfillment. The company has built a set of APIs that let retailers essentially plug in and shift the whole fulfillment operation to Byrd.

That includes integrating with Byrd’s warehouses to receive, store and pick items; and it also includes connecting with a company’s merchant network, which could include a merchant’s own online storefront, but also Amazon and other marketplaces where items are sold. When an order comes in and it is time to pick and ship an item, Byrd also uses its tech to taps into a network of different shipping companies — the list includes the likes of UPS, DHL, Amazon, postNL and others — to find the cheapest and easiest way of getting an item to the buyer.

To be totally clear, Byrd is not the only one doing this. But alongside other independent companies that compete with Byrd — one of the biggest, ShipBob, last week raised a big round of $200 million on a $1 billion valuation — is a big elephant in the room in the form of Amazon. The e-commerce giant has positioned itself as something of a one-stop shop for merchants, providing not just fulfillment (via FBA), but storefront visibility, marketing and much more.

The size of Amazon is such that it typically accounts for a large market share, and many merchants can’t not have a presence there even if it’s primarily as a customer acquisition channel, said Petra Dobrocka, co-founder and CCO of Byrd, in an interview.

But the problem is that the Amazon option, and some of the other third-party providers, don’t leave much to personalization. Indeed, as e-retailers continue to mature, and find themselves facing their own stiff competition, they are looking for more ways of getting an edge, and to stand out from the crowd. Byrd provides something here for them, too, giving them the option to customize packaging so that customers are essentially experiencing a direct service, even when it’s actually coming from Byrd, and to give them options to go for more sustainable delivery and more if they choose.

That has possibly meant a slower rate of scaling for the startup, but it comes as a quality option, and that counts for something in a world that is teetering on very poor quality control, and definitely lack of distinct identity, in some marketplaces particularly as they continue to scale.

“You could say we are an alternative to Amazon, but also quite different. Our sellers are very brand-focused and want to provide a total experience total to customers,” Dobrocka said. “We also have smaller customers who appreciate this.” Indeed, as is so often the case, smaller businesses get short-changed on service levels compared to bigger businesses, so having a fulfillment service that treats even smaller retailers like bigger ones is a plus.

This is also part of a bigger trend, where a wave of tech companies are emerging to help those retailers build more distinct online presence and personalization, too. (The online storefront design platform Shogun, which also announced funding last week, is another example of a startup playing into this trend.)

All of this has led to Byrd seeing some very strong growth — revenues are up 300% compared to a year ago — with “hundreds of thousands of parcels per month” being handled, the company said.

Although its primary business is in catering to the very big B2C opportunity one obvious adjacent area where Byrd could work is in B2B, and Dobrocka said that will also be coming online in the coming months. Alongside that, while the company hasn’t specified which countries it will build out its fulfillment in next, given Mouro’s involvement, I’m guessing that Spain might be one of the next countries on the list.

“We are delighted to be leading Byrd’s Series B funding round, particularly as the pandemic has brought the need for flexible, digital e-commerce fulfilment solutions into sharp relief,” said Manuel Silva Martínez, general partner at Mouro Capital, in a statement. “Byrd’s end-to-end capabilities, focus on sustainability, and household brand customers set it apart from its competitors, and we look forward to seeing the successes that the geographic expansion enabled by this investment will bring.”

Electric hypercar maker Rimac takes over VW’s Bugatti

The fastest petrol car and the fastest electric car in the world. Nice couple, huh?

Say hi to a new supercar powerhouse: Rimac Automobili has taken a controlling stake in Bugatti to form a new company, Bugatti Rimac.

Rimac, which recently launched the incredibly fast, $2.44 million Rimac Nevera, is known not only for its electric hypercars, but also for its electric powertrain and battery tech, which is used in several well-known electric sports cars, such as those from Koenigsegg and Aston Martin. Bugatti is a household name among supercar lovers with a tradition going back more than a hundred years; its newest model, the Bugatti Chiron, is the world’s fastest petrol car.

Announced on Monday, the deal also involves some restructuring within Rimac. The newly formed Rimac Group, which is owned by founder Mate Rimac, Porsche, Hyundai, and other investors, will have a 55 percent stake in Bugatti Rimac — the company arm that builds cars, consisting of Bugatti Automobiles and Rimac Automobili. The remaining 45 percent is owned directly by Porsche (Porsche is owned by Volkswagen, as was previously Bugatti). Finally, Rimac Group is a 100 percent owner of Rimac Technology, which focuses on developing and building battery systems, drivetrains, and other EV components.

The shareholder structure of Rimac Group.

The shareholder structure of Rimac Group.
Credit: rimac group

Mate Rimac, who founded Rimac Automobili as a one-man startup back in 2009, will be the CEO of Rimac Group.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am by the potential of these two incredible brands combining knowledge, technologies, and values to create some truly special projects in the future,” Rimac said in a statement.

The brands will initially continue to operate independently. Over time, however, Bugatti Rimac’s headquarters will move to Rimac Campus, a 100,000m2, €200 million ($238 million) campus that’s scheduled to open in 2023 in Sveta Nedelja, on the outskirts of Croatia’s capital Zagreb.

Audacity refutes ‘spyware’ accusations after privacy policy update

If you've ever played around with recording audio on your computer, chances are you've used Audacity.

Popular audio editing program Audacity is trying to clear up recent accusations that it’s now “spyware” after recent changes to its privacy policy. Even so, many users remain unconvinced.

On July 2, Audacity updated its privacy policy to state that it will now collect users’ “personal data” for analytics and to improve their software. Such data includes their operating system and its version, their IP address (thus their country), and their CPU. All of this came as a rude shock to users, who had been utilising the free audio editing software without giving up data since its launch over two decades ago.

However, it didn’t stop there. The new privacy policy also states that Audacity may collect “Data necessary for law enforcement, litigation and authorities’ requests (if any)” — a categorisation vague and large enough to cause users significant concern. Data may also be shared with third parties such as law enforcement agencies, advisors, and potential buyers.

Users have been vocally expressing their displeasure at these updates, accusing Audacity of being “spyware” and speculating that it could monitor their microphones. Now Audacity has attempted to clarify its intentions.

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

“We believe concerns are due largely to unclear phrasing in the Privacy Policy, which we are now in the process of rectifying,” said Muse Group’s head of strategy Daniel Ray in a statement on GitHub. Muse Group acquired Audacity in May, and had assured users at the time that the software would remain free and open source. “We will be publishing a revised version shortly.”

According to Ray, Audacity “[does] not and will not sell ANY data [it] collect[s] or share it with 3rd parties. Full stop.” However, this seems to directly contradict the privacy policy’s initial statement that it may disclose personal data to “a potential buyer” or “any competent law enforcement body… or other third party.” Mashable has reached out to Muse Group for comment.

Ray also clarified that the only data Audacity collects is users’ IP address, which is anonymised and becomes irretrievable after 24 hours, as well as their operating system version and CPU type. Users can also manually send data in error reports, but this is optional.

“We do not collect any additional data beyond the points listed above for any purpose,” said Ray. “We will not collect or provide any information other than data described above with with [sic] any government entity or law enforcement agency.”

He further stated that Audacity would not share any information to such agencies upon mere request, and would have to be compelled by a court of law to do so.

These policy changes aren’t anything other programs haven’t implemented before, but their unexpected addition to open-source stalwart Audacity understandably has users on edge.

Many of the websites you visit, and probably several apps you use, have this stuff too – collecting the same data, similar clauses, etc.

So, Audacity did not just become spyware. They just (carelessly) updated their privacy policy for consistency. (4/5)

— Landy 🎙🐦 (@LandyRS) July 4, 2021

Released in 2000, Audacity has been downloaded 100 million times and is the go-to program for anyone starting to dabble in audio editing. Few people likely thought it would ever start gathering user data, and despite Ray’s explanation, many remain convinced it’s an unnecessary overreach.

Fortunately, there’s no need to despair if Audacity’s reassurances still don’t feel particularly comforting to you. Ray noted that the new privacy policy will only come into effect with version 3.0.3, Audacity’s next update, and previous versions will continue not to collect any data.

“The current version (3.0.2) does not support data collection [of] any data of any kind and has no networking features enabled,” said Ray.

So if you grab Audacity now, you’ll still be able to use it completely anonymously — provided you never update.

Merchant commerce Asian giant Pine Labs secures $600 million

Pine Labs said on Tuesday it has closed a $600 million financing round as the Asian merchant commerce platform sets the goal to explore the public markets within two years.

Fidelity Management & Research Company, BlackRock, Ishana, as well as a fund advised by Neuberger Berman Investment Advisers, and IIFL and Kotak invested in the round, which values the startup at $3 billion. Pine Labs unveiled the new round, a name of which it hasn’t disclosed, earlier this year.

Pine Labs, which counts Sequoia Capital India, Temasek, PayPal and Mastercard among its early backers, offers hundreds of thousands of merchants payments terminals, invoicing tools and working capital.

Its payments terminal — also known as point-of-sale machines — are connected to the cloud, and offer a range of additional services such as working capital — to the merchants. Pine Labs’s payments terminal has integration with over two dozen banks and financial and technology partners.

This differentiates Pine Labs from the competition, whose terminals typically have integration with just one bank. Each time a rival firm strikes a new partnership with a bank, they need to deploy new machines into the market. This makes the whole deployment expensive for both the fintech and the bank. (This is why you also often see a restaurant has multiple terminals at the check out.) The startup says it processes tens of billions of payment transactions.

“Over the last year, Pine Labs has made significant progress in its offline-to-online strategy in India and the direct-to-consumer play in Southeast Asia. Our full-stack approach to payments and merchant commerce has allowed us to grow in-month merchant partnerships by nearly 100% over the last year,” said B. Amrish Rau, CEO, Pine Labs.

“We are excited to bring on board a marquee set of new investors in this round and appreciate the confidence they have placed on the Pine Labs business model and our growth momentum,” said Amrish Rau, adding that he plans to take the startup public in 18 months.

In recent years, Pine Labs has made several acquisitions to broaden its business. In 2019, it acquired QwikCilver, which leads the market in gift cards category. Earlier this year, it acquired Southeast Asian startup Fave for $45 million as it broadened its consume side of the business.

Over 6 million consumers across over 40,000 merchant establishments now have access to the Fave app, the startup said.

“Through its acquisitions of QwikCilver and Fave, Pine Labs now has the market leading pre-paid platform in this region as well as the top consumer loyalty product in this market. With leadership across multiple categories, the company is very well positioned to help drive immense value to its merchant partners in India and across other SEA markets,” said Shailendra Singh, MD, Sequoia Capital.

Pleo raises $150M at a $1.7B valuation for its new approach to managing expenses for SMBs

Whether you are part of the accounting department, or just any employee at an organization, managing expenses can be a time-consuming and error-filled, yet also quite mundane, part of your job. Today, a startup called Pleo — which has built a platform that can help some of that work more smoothly, by way of a vertically integrated system that includes payment cards, expense management software, and integrated reimbursement and pay-out services — is announcing a big round of growth funding to expand its business after seeing strong traction.

The Copenhagen-based startup has raised $150 million — money that it will be using to continue building out more features for its users, and for business development. The round, which sets a record for being the largest Series C for a Danish startup, values Pleo at $1.7 billion, the startup has confirmed.

There are around 17,000 small and medium businesses now using Pleo, with companies at the medium end of that numbering around 1,000 employees. Now with Pleo moving into slightly larger customers (up to 5,000 employees, CEO Jeppe Rindom, said), the startup has set an ambitious target of reaching 1 million users by 2025, a very lucrative goal, considering that expenses management is estimated to be a $80 billion market in Europe (with the global opportunity, of course, even bigger).

It will also be using the funds simply to expand its business. Pleo has around 330 employees today spread across London, Stockholm, Berlin and Madrid, as well as in Copenhagen, and it will be using some of the investment to grow that team and its reach.

Bain Capital Ventures and Thrive Capital co-led this round, a Series C. Previous backers, including Creandum, Kinnevik, Founders, Stripes and Seedcamp, also participated. Stripes led the startup’s Series B in 2019. It looks like this round was oversubscribed: the original intention had been to raise just $100 million.

Like other business processes, managing expenses and handling company spending has come a long way in the last many years.

Gone are the days where expenses inevitably involved collecting paper receipts and inputting them manually into a system in order to be reimbursed; now, expense management software links up with company-issued cards and taps into a range of automation tools to cut out some of the steps in the process, integrating with a company’s internal accounting policies to shuffle the process along a little less painfully. And there are a number of companies in this space, from older players like SAP’s Concur through to startups on the cusp of going public like Expensify as well as younger entrants bringing new technology into the process.

But, there is still lots more room for improvement. Rindom, Pleo’s CEO who co-founded the company with CTO Niccolo Perra, said the pair came up with the idea for Pleo on the back of years of working in fintech — both were early employees at the B2B supply chain startup Tradeshift — and seeing first-hand how short-changed, so to speak, small and medium businesses in particular were when it came to tools to handle their expenses.

Pleo’s approach has been to build, from the ground up, a system for those smaller businesses that integrate all the different stages of how an employee might spend money on behalf of the company.

Pleo starts with physical and virtual payment cards that are issued by Pleo (in partnership with MasterCard) to buy goods and services, which in turn are automatically itemized according to a company’s internal accounting systems, with the ability to work with e-receipts, but also let people use their phones to snap pictures of receipts when they are only on paper, if required. This is pretty much table stakes for expense software these days, but Pleo’s platform is going a couple of steps beyond that.

Users (or employers) can integrate a users’ own banking details to make it easier to get reimbursed when they have had to pay for something out of their own pocket; or conversely to pay for something that shouldn’t have been charged on the card. And if there are invoices to be paid at a later date from the time of purchase, these too can be actioned and set up within Pleo rather than having to liaise separately with an accounts payable department to get those settled.

Pleo also has built fraud protection services into the platform to detect, for example, cases when a card number might have been compromised and is being used for non-work purposes.

What’s notable is that the startup has built all of the tech that it uses, including the payments feature, from the ground up, to have full control over the features and specifically to be able to add more of them more flexibly over time.

“In the beginning we ran with a partner in services like payments, but it didn’t allow us to move fast enough,” Rindom said in an interview. “So we decided to take all of that in-house.”

It seems like this opens the door to a lot of possibilities for how Pleo might evolve in the years ahead now that it’s focused on hyper-growth. However, Rindom added that whatever the next steps might be, they will remain focused on continuing to solve the expenses problem.

“When it comes to our infrastructure we use it only for ourselves,” he said. “We have no plans of selling [for example, payments] as a service, even if we do have a lot of other ideas for broadening our offerings.” Indeed, the ability to pay invoices was launched only in April of this year. “We come up with things all the time, but will launch only those relevant to customers.” For now, at least.

That focus and perhaps even more than that the execution and customer traction are what have brought investors around to backing a fintech out of Copenhagen.

“The future of work empowers employees with the tools they need to be effective, productive, and successful,” said Keri Gohman, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a statement. “Pleo understands this critical shift for modern companies toward employee centricity—providing workers with a fun-to-use spend management app that automatically tracks their corporate spending and generates expense reports, paired with the powerful tools businesses need to create full visibility and management of every penny spent.”

Bain has been a pretty active investor in European fintech, also backing GoCardless in its recent round. “BCV invests in founders who aren’t afraid to tackle big problems, and Jeppe and Nicco saw a big challenge that employers faced—tracking all corporate spending and reconciling expenses back to the general ledger—and solved it with elegant technology that both employers and employees love,” added Merritt Hummer, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures.

Thrive is also a notable backer here, and it will be interesting to see how and if Pleo links up with others in the VC’s portfolio, which include companies like Plaid, Gong and Trade Republic.

“Pleo has already transformed the way that over 17,000 companies think about managing their expenses, saving them time and lowering costs while increasing transparency,” noted Kareem Zaki, a general partner at Thrive Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to partner closely with the Pleo team to help drive their next phase of growth.”

The Roku Streambar is available for under £100 on Amazon

Save £30 on the Roku Streambar.

SAVE 23%: The Roku Streambar is on sale for £99.99 on Amazon as of July 6, saving you £30 on list price.

The Roku Streambar is on sale for under £100 on Amazon, saving you £30 on list price.

Has this device ever been cheaper? Yes. It has previously been on sale for £94.99 on Amazon, but only for a few days since its release, so we’re confident that this is still an impressive price.

The Roku Streambar adds powerful streaming and cinematic sound to any TV, letting you hear every detail as you stream your favourite shows and movies. You can even use this device to reduce the volume of adverts automatically, plus stream your favourite tunes with Bluetooth and Spotify Connect. It’s also really easy to set up, with everything you need in the box.

The Roku Streambar is on sale for £99.99 on Amazon as of July 6. This deal is live until July 18, so you have plenty of time to consider your options.

Save 23% on the Roku Streambar

Credit: Amazon

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Kaseya hack floods hundreds of companies with ransomware

On Friday, a flood of ransomware hit hundreds of companies around the world. A grocery store chain, a public broadcaster, schools, and a national railway system were all hit by the file-encrypting malware, causing disruption and forcing hundreds of businesses to close.

The victims had something in common: a key piece of network management and remote control software developed by U.S. technology firm Kaseya. The Miami-headquartered company makes software used to remotely manage a company’s IT networks and devices. That software is sold to managed service providers — effectively outsourced IT departments — which they then use to manage the networks of their customers, often smaller companies.

But hackers associated with the Russia-linked REvil ransomware-as-a-service group are believed to have used a never-before-seen security vulnerability in the software’s update mechanism to push ransomware to Kaseya’s customers, which in turn spread downstream to their customers. Many of the companies who were ultimately victims of the attack may not have known that their networks were monitored by Kaseya’s software.

Kaseya warned customers on Friday to “IMMEDIATELY” shut down their on-premise servers, and its cloud service — though not believed to be affected — was pulled offline as a precaution.

“[Kaseya] showed a genuine commitment to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we were beaten by REvil in the final sprint.” Security researcher Victor Gevers

John Hammond, senior security researcher at Huntress Labs, a threat detection firm that was one of the first to reveal the attack, said about 30 managed service providers were hit, allowing the ransomware to spread to “well over” 1,000 businesses.” Security firm ESET said it knows of victims in 17 countries, including the U.K., South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, and Indonesia.

Now it’s becoming clearer just how the hackers pulled off one of the biggest ransomware attacks in recent history.

Dutch researchers said they found several zero-day vulnerabilities in Kaseya’s software as part of an investigation into the security of web-based administrator tools. (Zero-days are named as such since it gives companies zero days to fix the problem.) The bugs were reported to Kaseya and were in the process of being fixed when the hackers struck, said Victor Gevers, who heads the group of researchers, in a blog post.

Kaseya’s chief executive Fred Voccola told The Wall Street Journal that its corporate systems were not compromised, lending greater credence to the working theory by security researchers that servers run by Kaseya’s customers were compromised individually using a common vulnerability.

The company said that all servers running the affected software should stay offline until the patch is ready. Voccola told the paper that it expects patches to be released by late Monday.

The attack began late Friday afternoon, just as millions of Americans were logging off into the long July 4 weekend. Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s senior vice president of intelligence, said the attack was carefully timed.

“Make no mistake, the timing and target of this attack are no coincidence. It illustrates what we define as a Big Game Hunting attack, launched against a target to maximize impact and profit through a supply chain during a holiday weekend when business defenses are down,” said Meyers.

A notice posted over the weekend on a dark web site known to be run by REvil claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the ransomware group would publicly release a decryption tool if it is paid $70 million in bitcoin.

“More than a million systems were infected,” the group claims in the post.