Day: July 7, 2021

BMW is finally producing its retro-futuristic CE 04 electric scooter, but at $12K will anyone buy it?

We’ve been hearing about BMW’s electric city scooters, not to be confused with electric kick scooters, for years. The German automaker came out with the BMW Motorrad Concept Link in 2017, a concept vehicle that imagines the future of expensive micromobility. After revealing the latest concept scooter, the CE 04, in November 2020, BMW is now actually going through with production.

On Wednesday, the company announced the new CE 04 will officially be a part of its 2022 lineup, with an expected global market launch of Q1. It’s a sweet-looking ride, with a decidedly retro-futuristic vibe, harkening back to what people in the 70s or 80s might have thought a “futuristic” vehicle would look like.

This is not the first electric scooter BMW has sold. Back in 2014, it came out with the C Evolution, which never really took off in the States. Maybe it was because it was ahead of its time. Maybe it’s because it cost $13,000.

The CE 04 starts at just around $12,000. Now, the whole point of the BMW Motorrad Concept Link is to provide “a vision of what will be important in the urban environment in the future,” so maybe BMW doesn’t care if it doesn’t crush it with sales. But until BMW produces something much cheaper than its gas equivalents (you can buy a new Vespa for under $5,000), the automaker’s new scooter is not guaranteed to take cities by storm.

With a 8.9 kWh battery pack, compared to the Evolution’s 12.7 kWh pack, BMW should be able to produce this vehicle and turn a profit for a lot less than it’s selling it for. Especially given the automaker’s access to higher quality technology and the cheaper price of batteries today when compared to five years ago.

A spokesperson for BMW Motorrad told TechCrunch the CE 04 is priced in the mid-range of the motorcycle market, and is still much less expensive than an electric car.

“This could be an entryway to electric mobility at a fraction of the cost for some people,” he said.

Of course, the fanboys will go for it, like the one BMW fictionalized in a strange press release we’re trying really hard not to make fun of. Here’s a snippet:

“It’s early in the morning. The city is awakening. On the way to my garage I breathe in the still cool air. I’m wear [sic] a casually cut parka that’s both fashionable and functional at the same time. The protectors are inconspicuous but give me a sense of security. I’m ready for the day to start.”

Wait, there’s more:

“The first birds are chirping, the urban jungle is awakening. The sounds of the city begin to swell. Everything is set in motion. People move – with each other and in parallel. Paths cross.

What will the new day bring? Tapas with friends at the little bar by the river? Or the exhibition at the modern art museum? First of all there are appointments at the office. Workshops, meetings, customer visits. This is what life feels like.

I pair my smartphone with the scooter, and with a flick of my wrist I activate the parka. Its LEDs light up. I’m quiet, but I want to be seen. It’s all so simple and smooth.

We’re off again at last. Even when I was having my breakfast, I couldn’t wait. Not even the birds notice me. I glide almost silently through my neighbourhood. I’m a part of the city again.”

One with the city


“The new BMW CE 04 is the logical and at the same time rethought continuation of BMW Motorrad’s electromobility strategy,” said Florian Römhild, project manager of the BMW CE 04, in a statement. “Urban areas are its element. This is where it sets a new benchmark – in terms of both technology and visual style.”

For the European and Asian markets, the CE 04 will be marketed as an urban vehicle, but in the U.S., where that category barely exists, the scooter will try to reach the urban commuter.

The CE 04 has a maximum output of 42 horsepower and a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour, meaning it can go on highways, the clogged arteries of America. It can ride for an estimated range of 80 miles and can be charged in under two hours using an at-home level 2 charger or any public charging station. Riders can choose ECO mode, Rain mode or Road mode to make driving efficient, and for those who want to kick it up a notch, there’s the Dynamic mode, part of the Premium package which costs an extra $1,650.

The avant-garde form follows function with the flat battery, which is placed in the middle of the vehicle, for smooth, low rides, as well as design freedom to include a storage compartment for the helmet and charging cable, which can be reached while sitting. The regenerative braking system helps feed energy back into the battery, which is likely to happen a lot if the rider is driving in the city.

As all modern vehicles should have, there’s a 10.25-inch color screen on the handlebars with integrated navigation and connectivity to the rider’s device, and there’s even a USB-C charging port.

The vehicle comes standard in “light white,” but to have the way more badass “Magellan grey metallic avant-garde” coloring, it’ll cost you an upgraded $225. Either way, both come with bright orange accents.

More to come?

“Our CEO said that because it’s an 04, there’s space under and over the 4, so I’d say there’s space for more electrified scooters in our future,” said the spokesperson.

BMW has no other specific models in the works, or timing on when they will be produced, but the CE 04 is part of BMW’s overall plan to have delivered about 2 million full-electric vehicles to customers by 2025 and 10 million by 2030.

“Things are moving so quickly we may see new additions to the CE range within a year or two,” said the spokesperson.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company gets approval to build tunnels in Florida

This could be Fort Lauderdale's future transit system.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company got a step closer to building another tunnel to transport people in Tesla cars, this time in Florida.

On Tuesday evening, Fort Lauderdale approved a proposal from The Boring Company to build tunnels between its downtown and the beach, a route of about three miles. The dual tunnels (one to the coast, the other back) would be called the “Las Olas Loop,” named for the city’s beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The company’s first “Loop” is in Las Vegas.

Based on city council documents, The Boring Company proposed the beach tunnel (or “subsurface public transportation system”) on June 21. The agenda item says Musk’s proposal advances “transportation that prioritizes [s]afety and emphasizes multimodal mobility and accessibility.”

According to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean J. Trantalis, other companies have 45 days to propose alternative transit plans.

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Earlier this year, Elon Musk’s Boring Company opened a 1.7-mile Loop in Las Vegas. It uses Tesla vehicles to carry passengers through narrow passageways.

If Las Vegas is any indicator, The Boring Company might fall short of its lofty promises. The company initially promised that autonomous electric pods would run through tunnels under the Las Vegas convention center at high speeds. Instead, a fleet of Tesla Model X and 3 cars take passengers to various stops at normal driving speeds.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that the tunnels in Fort Lauderdale would be similar to those in Las Vegas at 12-feet wide.

Trantalis told the Sun-Sentinel that The Boring Company estimated the project will cost more than $30 million. In Las Vegas, The Boring Company completed construction in about one year for more than $50 million.

A second Las Vegas Loop tunnel is also in the works, while a test tunnel in Los Angeles connects the SpaceX campus to a station 1.14 miles away. The Boring Company says it ultimately wants to build a Hyperloop between major cities with pods traveling at 600 mph, but obviously it’s not even close to that goal yet.

Navigating ad fraud and consumer privacy abuse in programmatic advertising

Jalal Nasir

Jalal Nasir is the founder and CEO of Pixalate, a global ad fraud intelligence and marketing compliance platform. Previously, he was one of the early engineers on Amazon’s fraud prevention and risk management team and held various product leadership roles building ad tech and enterprise privacy technologies.

Programmatic advertising is a $200 billion global marketplace that is rapidly growing and far-reaching, with Connected TV (CTV) serving as its latest accelerant. Unfortunately, however, it’s also a business sector rife with fraud and consumer privacy abuse, particularly in emerging media forms like CTV and mobile.

Global losses to ad fraud exceeded $35 billion last year, a figure expected to rise to $50 billion by 2025, according to the World Federation of Advertisers. Per the WFA, ad fraud is “second only to the drugs trade as a source of income for organized crime,” but there is no one-size-fits-all ad fraud strategy. To capitalize on the promise of video advertising in mobile and CTV, and measure ad efficacy with confidence, business leaders must ensure that they’re reaching customers — not bots — and achieving their business goals while remaining compliant with the latest regulations and laws.

There are a few key steps business leaders can take to guard their reputation and their ad spend:

  • Deploy sophisticated tools to reveal the types of ad fraud attacks to which your ad budgets are falling prey.
  • Analyze your budget with quality versus reach in mind — fraudsters continue to take advantage of advertisers’ historic obsession with reach.
  • Acknowledge that the “Age of Privacy” has arrived; business leaders must remain compliant and protect their brand image in the ad marketplace.

Know the different types of ad fraud in CTV and mobile in-app to better protect your ad spend

It’s important to consider the various ways your ad budgets can be squandered on invalid traffic. Although 78% of U.S. households are now reachable via programmatic CTV advertising, ad fraud rates remain high, at 24% in Q4 2020. Traditional ad fraud attacks, such as spoofing (i.e., pretending to be a different publisher) and fake sites or apps, are being supplanted by more advanced schemes, such as CTV device farms.

Knowing that ad fraud is eating away at your budget is the first step, but business leaders need to understand the different schemes so they can apply the right protection in the right moments.

Looking at reach through a quality lens

Historically, the standard way to measure advertising has been focused on reach. However, reach is now more of a vanity metric if uncoupled from traffic quality.

Striving for reach while ignoring quality creates a prime opportunity for ad fraud. Generating fake traffic to create the illusion of “reach” has become a staple in many ad fraud schemes, with some CTV schemes fabricating up to 650 million bid requests a day per day from bots, per The Drum.

High impression rates that fail to convert into actual sales and pricing anomalies (as compared to a peer group) are compelling harbingers of traffic quality issues.

Because the growing CTV ecosystem commands premium pricing, advertisers may be tempted to seek out deals. However, several leading streaming TV providers, such as XUMO and Philo, have warned advertisers about prices that seem too good to be true, noting that they may be signals of fraudulent activity. Work to identify where traffic is coming from and ask questions when the data looks suspicious.

The ad industry itself is also fighting back by giving tools to business owners meant to stymie ad fraud. There are several industry working groups and watchdog organizations — including the Media Rating Council, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Trustworthy Accountability Group — that accredit certain platforms and suppliers to combat ad fraud. These working groups and organizations also regularly release industry standards and programs designed to address fraudulent activity, such as the Ads.txt initiative meant to help advertisers know they are buying inventory via legitimate third parties. All business owners should utilize certified platforms – along with emerging programs and standards – to stay on top of the latest trends in ad fraud.

Business leaders need to prioritize brand safety and compliance

In addition to navigating the complex world of ad quality, brands must now consider whether the publishers they are working with are brand-safe and compliant with the latest consumer privacy and compliance laws.

Pixalate’s May 2021 estimates show that 22% of Apple App Store apps and 9% of Google Play Store apps that serve programmatic advertisements don’t have a privacy policy. This is significant because there are already documented cases of consumer data being misused as part of ad fraud schemes. And 70% of Google Play Store apps have at least one of what Google calls “dangerous permissions,” an increase of 5% in 2020. Additionally, of apps that serve programmatic ads, 80% of Apple App Store apps and 66% of Google Play Store apps count children aged 12 and under as part of their audience, which brings COPPA compliance risks into the equation as well.

There are a couple of things at play when it comes to brand safety that business leaders and brands should be aware of. The most important is that what is deemed “safe” for a brand is solely based on that brand – there is no golden standard because each brand has a different vision, mission and goals. Brand safety is subjective. However, it’s essential for success.

Ad fraud, brand safety and data compliance continually evolve, and leaders must follow the numbers, stay educated on market changes, and invest in the right partnerships to ensure consumers, not bots, are engaging with the most impactful and effective content.

A popular password manager screwed up, but there’s an easy fix

You had one job. Well, OK, you had several jobs.

Password managers are a vital line of defense in the battle for internet security — which makes it all the more painful when they shit the bed.

The Kaspersky Password Manager (KPM), a free tool used to generate and manage online passwords, has long been a popular alternative to the likes of LastPass or 1Password. Unfortunately, according to security researcher Jean-Baptiste Bédrune, a bad coding decision meant that the passwords it generated weren’t truly random and as a result were relatively easy to brute force — a hacking technique using specialized tools to try hundreds of thousands (or millions) of password combinations in an attempt to guess the right one.

Bédrune, who is a security researcher for the cryptocurrency hard-wallet company Ledger, writes that when generating a supposedly random password, KPM used the current time as its “single source of entropy.”

While that sounds super technical, it essentially boils down to KPM using the time as the basis for its pseudo random number generator. Knowing when the password was generated, even approximately, would therefore give a hacker vital information in an attempt to crack a victim’s account.

“All the passwords it created could be bruteforced in seconds,” writes Bédrune.

Bédrune’s team submitted the vulnerability to Kaspersky through HackerOne’s bug bounty program in June of 2019, and Ledger’s blog post says Kaspersky notified potentially affected users in October of 2020.

When reached for comment, Kaspersky confirmed — but downplayed — the problem identified by Bédrune.

“This issue was only possible in the unlikely event that the attacker knew the user’s account information and the exact time a password had been generated,” wrote a company spokesperson. “It would also require the target to lower their password complexity settings.”

Kaspersky also published a security advisory detailing the flaw in April of 2021.

“Password generator was not completely cryptographically strong and potentially allowed an attacker to predict generated passwords in some cases,” read the alert. “An attacker would need to know some additional information (for example, time of password generation).”

That alert also noted that, going forward, the password manager had fixed the issue — a claim echoed by the spokesperson.

“The company has issued a fix to the product and has incorporated a mechanism that notifies users if a specific password generated by the tool could be vulnerable and needs changing.”

SEE ALSO: Why you need a secret phone number (and how to get one)

So what does this mean for the average KPM user? Well, if they’ve been using the same KPM-generated passwords for over two years (a habit that would typically be fine), they should create new ones.

Other than that? Keep using a password manager and enable two-factor authentication.

Trump’s new lawsuits against social media companies are going nowhere fast

Trump’s spicy trio of lawsuits against the social media platforms that he believes wrongfully banned him have succeeded in showering the former president with a flurry of media attention, but that’s likely where the story ends.

Like Trump’s quixotic and ultimately empty quest to gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act during his presidency, the new lawsuits are all sound and fury with little legal substance to back them up.

The suits allege that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube violated Trump’s First Amendment rights by booting him from their platforms, but the First Amendment is intended to protect citizens from censorship by the government — not private industry. The irony that Trump himself was the uppermost figure in the federal government at the time probably won’t be lost on whoever’s lap this case lands in.

In the lawsuits, which also name Twitter and Facebook chief executives Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg as well as Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Susan Wojcicki escapes notice once again!), Trump accuses the three companies of engaging in “impermissible censorship resulting from threatened legislative action, a misguided reliance upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and willful participation in joint activity with federal actors.”

The suit claims that the tech companies colluded with “Democrat lawmakers,” the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served in Trump’s own government at the time.

The crux of the argument is that communication between the tech companies, members of Congress and the federal government somehow transforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube into “state actors” — a leap of epic proportion:

“Defendant Twitter’s status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor, and as such, Defendant is constrained by the First Amendment right to free speech in the censorship decisions it makes.”

Trump’s own Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh issued the court’s opinion on a relevant case two years ago. It examined whether a nonprofit running public access television channels in New York qualified as a “state actor” that would be subject to First Amendment constraints. The court ruled that running the public access channels didn’t transform the nonprofit into a government entity and that it retained a private entity’s rights to make editorial decisions.

“… A private entity… who opens its property for speech by others is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote in the decision.

It’s not likely that a court would decide that talking to the government or being threatened by the government somehow transform Twitter, YouTube and Facebook into state actors either.

Trump vs. Section 230 (again)

First Amendment aside — and there’s really not much of an argument there — social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a concise snippet of law that shields them from liability not just for the user-generated content they host but for the moderation decisions they make about what content to remove.

In line with Trump’s obsessive disdain for tech’s legal shield, the lawsuits repeatedly rail against Section 230. The suits try to argue that because Congress threatened to revoke tech’s 230 protections, that forced them to ban Trump, which somehow makes social media companies part of the government and subject to First Amendment constraints.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and Trump’s own administration made frequent threats about repealing Section 230, not that it changes anything because this line of argument doesn’t make much sense anyway.

The suit also argues that Congress crafted Section 230 to intentionally censor speech that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment, ignoring that the law was born in 1996, well before ubiquitous social media, and for other purposes altogether.

For the four years of his presidency, Trump’s social media activity — his tweets in particular — informed the events of the day, both nationally and globally. While other world leaders and political figures used social media to communicate or promote their actions, Trump’s Twitter account was usually the action itself.

In the shadow of his social media bans, the former president has failed to re-establish lines of communication to the internet at large. In May, he launched a new blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” but the site was taken down just a month later after it failed to attract much interest.

The handful of pro-Trump alternative social platforms are still struggling with app store content moderation requirements at odds with their extreme views on free speech, but that didn’t stop Gettr, the latest, from going ahead with its own rocky launch last week.

Viewed in one light, Trump’s lawsuits are a platform too, his latest method for broadcasting himself to the online world that his transgressions eventually cut him off from. In that sense, they seem to have succeeded, but in all other senses, they won’t.

Osso VR raises $27 million to turn surgery into a video game

Virtual reality did not turn into the ultimate office replacement telepresence machine during the pandemic — and it wasn’t for lack of trying — but some startups focused on employee training in VR have found added validation in the past year as professionals across industries were forced to access institutional knowledge in remote settings.

Osso VR, a San Francisco-based virtual reality startup focused on medical training, has piqued investor attention as they’ve bulked up on partnerships with medical devices powerhouses like Johnson & Johnson, Stryker and Smith & Nephew during the pandemic. The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve recently closed $27 million in Series B funding led by GSR Ventures with additional participation from SignalFire, Kaiser Permanente Ventures and Anorak Ventures, among others.

CEO Justin Barad tells TechCrunch that the pandemic “created an intense level of urgency” for the startup as customers found new demand for their platform.

Osso VR is looking to upend modern surgical instruction with a virtual reality-based solution that allows surgeons to interact with new medical devices in 3D space, “performing” a surgery over and over on a digital cadaver from the comfort of anywhere they have enough room to stretch out their arms. Osso’s efforts are particularly useful to its medical device customers who can use the platform to boost familiarity with their solutions while helping surgeons gain proficiency in implanting them.

One of the startup’s broader aims is to bring video games’ multiplayer mechanics into the virtual operating room, allowing surgeons and medical assistants to collaborate in real-time so they not only know their responsibility but how they fit into the whole of each operation.

“It’s a lot like a symphony, everyone has a different role to play and you need to communicate with each other.” Barad says.

It’s a process that needs virtual reality’s spatial breadth, Barad notes, though instruction is always supplemented by text and videos as well.

Barad calls the startup’s aim “something unambiguously good,” a quality which has helped the team poach talent as it has scaled to some 100 employees, which includes what he claims is the world’s largest team of medical illustrators. That team has helped scale the platform’s content to more than 100 modules spanning 10 specialties.

Virtual reality founders have struggled in recent years to coax investor attention as consumer and enterprise uptake has proven slower than the early wild ambitions for the technology. In its stead, investors have looked more towards bets on adjacent technologies like gaming and computer vision that don’t require the specialized head-worn hardware. Osso VR’s platform runs on Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset through the company’s Oculus for Business program.

NASA just saluted the coolest drummer ever

Stellar greatness, the spiral galaxy NGC 2903.

In the galaxy, it’s unlikely there’s a drummer as influential as Ringo Starr.

Many of the world’s top drummers — Dave Grohl, Questlove, Max Weinberg, and beyond — undoubtedly agree.

Indeed, a bright star was born 81 years ago, on July 7, 1940, when Ringo (aka Sir Richard Starkey) entered the world. Recognizing this, NASA wished Ringo “a happy 81st orbit around the Sun” via Twitter on Wednesday.

The Beatles’ drummer provided the rich backbeat that allowed the legendary band’s diverse songs, ranging from energetic rock ‘n’ roll to psychedelia, to thrive.

“He’s got the pocket, he’s got the swing, he’s got the feel.”

“So many drummers that I talk to started playing drums because of Ringo,” said drummer Gregg Bissonette, who now plays drums in Ringo’s supergroup, Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. “He’s got the pocket, he’s got the swing, he’s got the feel.”

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For a hint of Ringo’s NASA-approved greatness, check out the following Beatles’ tracks:

  • “Come Together”: Ringo kicks off the album Abbey Road with stellar creativity.

  • “Ticket to Ride”: In The Beatles’ early days, Ringo lays down a syncopated, tom-heavy rock groove. “Really cool. Very innovative,” noted Max Weinberg (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, among others).

  • “A Day in the Life”: On The Beatles’ artistic triumph, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Ringo plays some of the most iconic, yet tasteful, rock fills ever put to tape.

  • “I Feel Fine”: Ringo lays down an R&B and Latin-influenced groove that drummers today still try to master.

  • “The End”: A lesson in how to play a drum solo that’s a melodic, compositional part of a song.

Happy Birthday, Ringo, a bonafide blessing to the cosmos: A drummer with an ineffable swing, and almost undefinable groove.

“It is the coolest thing ever,” according to Abraham Laboriel Jr., who plays drums for a fellow named Paul McCartney.

Reducing The Complexity Of Healthcare Payments

As the world of healthcare payments becomes increasingly complex during the pandemic, a lot of people have faced the difficulties due to unexpected medical bills. The majority of adults want price estimates upfront when it comes to healthcare.

The need for payment transparency spans generations; 84% of Millennials and Gen Z and 65% of Baby Boomers want price estimates upfront for medical services, yet only half of these estimates are accurate.

In 2019, 40% of consumers were surprised by a high medical bill. Nearly half of these surprise medical bills came from hospitals, and 20% came from surgeries. The majority fear that they would not be able to afford a surprise medical bill. Even with employer-sponsored insurance, this fear persists, and 4 in 10 struggle to afford healthcare.

So, why are medical costs so unpredictable? The growth in popularity of high deductible plans can account for payment confusion. They have risen 450% with a health savings account and 231% without a health savings account within the past decades.

Almost 20 million American adults with employer-sponsored insurance were enrolled in a high deductible plan from 2007-2017. 69% of patients are proactive about payment responsibility and attempt to learn about costs before or during their appointment.

However, patients who transfer to these high deductible health plans frequently struggle with higher out-of-pocket fees, confusion over payment accountability, and an increase in unforeseen medical bills.

transparency in health care payments

Another consideration within the healthcare industry is wasted spending. Time is a big factor as one quarter of this spending is related to the time and money needed to collect, process, post, and record payments. This complexity is due to the different areas that payments are collected – both on the insurance and consumer side.

All of the procedures involved here are processed at separate times in the payment cycle, which makes it hard to manage. For example, accepting just a $20 copayment in cash can cost up to $50 to process.

Another way healthcare facilities lose currency is through denied claims. One-tenth of insurance claims are denied, and of that amount, 35 percent undergo reprocessing and resubmission. Reworking and resubmitting a claim that’s already been denied can pile up cost-wise, up to 18 times more than a claim that was properly filed from the beginning.

That being said, 90 percent of the denied claims can be avoided. Reducing the amount of denied claims could save medical practices tens of thousands of dollars annually. Denied claims typically stem from simple errors that could otherwise be easily avoided.

Human error can typically catch patient information such as prior authorization and out-of-network providers. That said, other mistakes occur through manual data transfer between different systems.

Payment issues in healthcare insurance eligibility verification are a headache to all involved. That’s why contactless check-in and payments, and connecting healthcare systems are a game changer. An average medical practice could save 11 hours of administrative time per day and up to $4,500 monthly by employing automated insurance eligibility verification.

Pre-registration collects the patient’s photo ID and insurance card, as well as their demographic data. This confirms if coverage is valid on the date of service, confirms patient responsibility for copays and coinsurance, and identifies the insurance payer and where to send claims.

transparency in health care payment

A switch to contactless check-ins and payments during the global pandemic was a welcome switch to paperwork and helping stop the spread of infection. This minimized the time it takes to check in and inputting of paperwork, all while minimizing patient to patient interaction. Using this improved check-in process, patients have been able to complete coronavirus screening, consent forms, and fill in insurance documentation.

Connecting healthcare systems in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved in the management of healthcare payments has become increasingly important. Patients can easily check in and save their information with a single login.

Office staff reduced their risk of infection through the exchange of documents and payments and eliminated denied claims from misread insurance cards. Insurance providers, meanwhile, experienced decreased administrative workload, resulting in higher productivity and lower costs. Insurance companies were also less likely to encounter lapses, administrative troubles, and even experienced a decrease in turnover.

Learn more about the disconnected world of healthcare payments in the visuals below:

Insurance Card Image Processing With Eligibility

The post Reducing The Complexity Of Healthcare Payments appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Localyze raises $12M for a SaaS that supports cross-border hiring and relocation

Y-Combinator-backed Localyze has nabbed $12 million in Series A funding led by Blossom Capital for a SaaS that supports staff relocations and hiring across borders.

Previous investor Frontline Ventures also participated,with a number of angel investors joining the round — including Andrew Robb (ex-Farfetch); Des Traynor, co-founder and CSO at Intercom; Hanno Renner, co-founder and CEO at Personio; David Clarke, former CTO at Workday; and Michael Wax, CEO of Forto.

In the first quarter of 2021, the Hamburg, Germany-based startup — which was founded in 2018 by a trio of women: CEO Hanna Asmussen, COO Lisa Dahlke, and CTO Franzi Löw — saw a record 300% revenue bump.

Localyze’s current roster of customers include the likes of Free Now, Trade Republic, Babbel, Thoughtworks, Tier Mobility, DeepL, Forto and Personio.

The startup suggests the pandemic-triggered rise in remote working is helping to drive demand for relocations as employees reassess where they want to be physically based. Its SaaS aims to streamline immigration-related admin tasks like visa applications; work and residence permits and registration; as well as providing help with housing and banking in the destination country.

“It was very interesting, we did of course see a negative impact from COVID-19 in 2020 but the main reason why we never worried about our business model is that we knew the businesses have never been the only driver of relocations,” Asmussen tells TechCrunch.

“We did a survey among the internationals we relocated and 98% stated that they wanted to relocate, and weren’t forced by the company. I of course believe that some people will choose not to relocate but at the same time, the increased flexibility [of remote working] opens many more doors for other people to relocate — and also for different time frames.”

To date, Localyze says it’s helped more than 2,000 people from over 100 countries relocate internationally. But it reckons that’s just the start.

“Relocation is becoming a benefit at some companies, and the overall number of people moving across borders during their working life is increasing drastically,” argues Asmussen.

Before COVID-19 hit and reconfigured so much of how we live, almost two million people relocated for work within Europe each year. But Localyze cites a PwC study on mobility in the global skilled workforce that suggests employee relocation is set to increase by 50% as we emerge from the pandemic.

“While the percentage of the global skilled workforce that is mobile — meaning that they work or worked abroad — is currently still very low, around 20% I think, it is expected to grow to up to 80% in the next decade,” she suggests. 

Localyze’s SaaS is designed to simplify and support staff relocations or cross-border hiring, offering digital tools to automate admin and case tracking, helping companies and employees navigate what can be complex, bureaucratic and even stressful immigration requirements.

“We developed a software that automates large parts of the relevant processes around global mobility,” explains Asmussen. “The core of our technology is a pipeline system that maps out all possibilities of how the employee can enter a country and matches the pipeline with the characteristics of that employee (e.g. nationality, family status or education). This guarantees that the employee gets all the relevant information throughout his/her process and that our case managers can focus on more individual questions.

“One big advantage of this pipeline system is that we built a no-code solution to manage it. Together with our CMS to edit the content of the steps, we are able to quickly expand the usability of our software to new countries and use cases.

“On the HR side our software helps to manage and track the process of all employees with the ease of mind that we notify them about changes or required actions. The HR manager can simply add a case, or transfer information over through our integration with their HRIS and we take it from there.”

Asmussen says the core of the platform is the automation of the paperwork with the startup supplementing that by providing a level of (human) support — in the form of case workers, who can field users’ questions and/or troubleshoot issues.

Case types its platform handles — such as obtaining a new visa, getting an extension etc — get broken down into a series of individual tasks that need to be carried out (and checked off), with the individual set of ‘dos’ determined by the characteristics of the person (origin, family, salary, etc.).

So essentially it’s built a decision tree with 30-50 variations per country, based on the specificity of each set of rules.

“The employee is seeing this as a personalized set of to do’s in her/his dashboard and can then go through them,” notes Asmussen, adding: “The case managers are there for questions and to give additional guidance when problems occur.

“Thanks to the automation engine, we can operate at 80% gross margin today.”

Localyze also offers a “pre-check” feature that give companies the opportunity to get information on a case that’s being considered — such as showing information on applicable conditions like the salary limits associated with a role when it comes to the visa of a new hire and the timeline that may be involved — to  make it easier for them to understand the complexity of a case. (Which may in turn help them make an informed decision on a start date for a particular hire.)

The startup says it’s been seeing growth rates hitting, on average, more than 30% month-on-month, as employer demand for its services accelerates.

The Series A funding will be used to capitalize on growing demand by expanding into new regions — with Localyze saying it will start by focusing on “major hubs” for international talent, in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK, so it can target more high-growth companies with offices across Europe.

Currently it has over 120 customers — and it’s expecting that to double by the end of the year.

It also predicts existing accounts will expand in value — with Asmussen saying it’s closing larger ACVs (annual contract value), and seeing existing accounts “grow strongly” over time. (It offers tiered pricing for the SaaS, based on usage.)

Europe remains the primary focus for its business currently — with all cases it supports entailing helping customers relocate staff to the region (“from all over the world”) and within Europe itself. 

“The predominant destinations are Germany, Ireland, Spain and the UK,” says Asmussen. “With the funding, we want to accelerate our expansion in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal & Spain, besides our core market Germany. We’ve been operating in these markets for a while and now look at strengthening our go to market across Europe.”

She says Localyze’s 25-strong team will at least double by the end of the year, with the startup planning to hire across all teams — with a particular focus on expanding engineering and product to keep pace with the scaling business; and beefing up sales and customer support capacity to support its continued growth.  

On the competitor front, Asmussen names Estonia-headquartered Jobbatical as its closest rival for relocation support with the same digital focus.

She also points to Topia as providing some competing services — but says it has more of a focus on software for HR professionals and integrating partners vs Localyze providing both a HR and an employee portal plus the ‘glue’ of its “automation engine”.

Localyze also argues it differentiates vs “more traditional” relocation agencies (e.g. Cartus and Graebel), per Asmussen, because it offers “end-to-end support” in a fully digital form — giving users “full visibility and transparency at all times”, as she tells it, and helping to streamline and simplify processes in “what has previously been a complex and confusing space”.

Increased flexibility of work and and mobility of the global workforce looks set to be one firm (and typically welcome) legacy of the pandemic — one which Localyze already had a handle on supporting, putting it in a strong position to scale its SaaS as demand steps up in the coming years.

Rising levels of employee mobility may, in turn, make subscribing to a software service that assists relocations and cross-border hiring more of a ‘must have’ than a ‘nice to have’ for more types of businesses — especially as competition for talent heats up given the rising opportunities of remote work.

“In 2021, companies will need to define how they are going to operate post-COVID-19, and many companies keep locations as part of their people strategy. Yet they try to offer more flexibility in terms of location choices, which in many cases results in the creation of different talent hubs and a mix of remote with in-person hubs/offices. This means increased operations across borders and more employee mobility, both long and short-term, because people will make use of these options,” Asmussen predicts. 

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Blossom Capital’s Ophelia Brown added: “Access to the very best talent is a huge consideration for businesses of all sizes, but for high-growth enterprises, it’s absolutely crucial that nothing gets in the way of being able to tap into the skills and abilities of staff anywhere in Europe. Localyze removes all of these barriers. Instead of being bogged down by the costly and lengthy relocation processes, enterprises can concentrate on the job at hand and their employees can feel confident and secure that their relocation – often one of the biggest decisions they’ll have to make in their career – is dealt with efficiently and without a hitch.”

Real estate platform Casafari raises $15M to allow PE to buy single-family homes at scale

Just a Spotify used VC and PE backing to acquire the assets of the music industry so that we must now all rent our music via subscription, rather than own it for life, so a PropTech startup plans to follow a similar strategy for single-family homes.

Casafari, a real estate data platform in Europe based out of Lisbon, Portugal, has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Prudence Holdings in New York. But, crucially, it has also secured a $120 million “mandate” from Geneva-based private equity investors Stoneweg, among other PE players, in order to buy-to-let residential and commercial real estate. The startup already has operations in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.

Other investors include Armilar Venture Partners (the Portuguese VC behind unicorns Outsystems and Feedzai), HJM Holdings, 1Sharpe (founders of Roofstock), and FJ Labs (Fabrice Grinda, founder of OLX Group), as well as existing investor Lakestar.

Founded by Mila Suharev, Nils Henning, and Mitya Moskalchuk in 2018, Casafari is taking advantage of Europe’s often chaotic real estate data to achieve its goals, due to the lack of a unified Multiple Listings Service (“MLS”).

Casafari plans to aggregate, verify and distribute this data via its platform, hunting down single-family homes as an asset class for institutional investors.

According to Nils Henning, CEO, “CASAFARI has built a unique ecosystem, which connects brokers, developers, asset managers, and investors and enables sourcing, valuation, underwriting and deal collaboration on single units in all asset classes. We are very excited to represent important institutional clients like Stoneweg and others, in deploying their capital into fragmented acquisitions at scale, bringing more liquidity to the market and generating more transactions to the broker clients of our platform.”

Private investors are already using the platform. Since launching in 2018, Casafari has been used by Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX franchises, Savills, Fine & Country, Engel & Voelkers, Keller Williams, and important institutional investors and developers like Stoneweg, Kronos, Vanguard, and Vic Properties.

Mila Suharev, Casafari’s Co-CEO and CPO said: ”There are currently around 70 billion euros in dry powder in Europe that could be allocated in acquiring residential property in a buy to let strategy, and basically there’s no offer available. The property will be collected in portfolios, consisting of single units that pension funds, private equity real estate funds, want to build in Europe as they do in the US.”

What Casafari’s is doing is largely following the playbook of what Roofstock in the US did: an online marketplace for investing in leased single-family rental homes. Roofstock has raised $132.3 million to date.

Dispatch from Bangalore

A startup founder, who hasn’t had much sleep all week, woke up on a recent Sunday to a phone call from his co-founder. A senior engineer was feeling burnt out and was contemplating leaving. For the founder, who had several calls scheduled with many high-profile Silicon Valley investors later in the day, talking this developer out of leaving the job quickly became the top agenda item for the rest of the weekend.

There’s a joke among many startup founders in Bangalore that hiring two to three engineers is currently more time-consuming and cumbersome than securing a fresh round of funding. Heavily-backed startups are paying big premiums to attract and retain talent, making it very challenging for their younger siblings to scale. And relying on recruiters is costly and still takes over a month to close a hire.

A good engineer with two to three years of experience with any recognizable startup expects $70,000 annually as salary, up from about $40,000 a year ago. A puzzled startup founder recently quizzed another peer in the industry how much a good QA engineer costs, and then answered the question himself: about $35,000, up from about $20,000.

Most difficult to poach are those who work at unicorn fintechs CRED and RazorPay, many startup founders said. Engineers from either of the firms expect as much as $150,000 a year, if not more — often four to five times the amount founders at early stage startups draw themselves.

The intense competition for talent has been prompted by newly turned unicorns increasing the pool on their captables for employee stock options, a concept that was nearly elusive just three years ago. Scores of U.S. and European startups are also aggressively hiring in India as remote working begins to take off.

India has produced a record 16 unicorns this year as Tiger Global, Falcon Edge, and SoftBank cut large size checks to the nation’s promising startups at a pace never witnessed before in the South Asian nation.

Indian startups have raised a record $10.46 billion in the first half of 2021, up from $4 billion during the same period last year, and $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, data insight platform Tracxn told me. (In all of 2020, Indian startups had raised $11.6 billion.)

The average size of a seed round in India was $1.1 million in the first half of 2021, up from $800,000 during the same period last year and $740,000 in 2019, per Tracxn. An average Series A check size this year has been $7.67 million, up from $4.30 million last year, and $5.92 million last year.

Even early-stage startups are at the centre of attraction as virtually everyone is attempting to get in on a deal. Some second-time founders now have the confidence and networking to bypass Sequoia Capital India’s Surge accelerator program and Y Combinator and still gain access to some of the perks they offer.

Some aren’t engaging with funds at all for their seed financing rounds. Scores of startup founders from the past decade have accrued enough capital and reputation to write dozens of checks a year to early promising startups.

The abundance of dry powder in the market and the increased competition from some of the most reputable names in the industry have also changed the power dynamics between founders and investors. It’s becoming common for founders to negotiate from a place of strength to hold on the rights and preferential treatments from investors.

On a call recently, two founders discussed what many would consider a first-world dilemma: Dozens of investors had agreed to invest in them, but they no longer had so much stake to offer. So they strategize what stake to give whom and how to politely get others to reduce the size of their committed check size.

At this point,

Founders are fighting for talent & market share.

Investors are fighting for allocation share.

Bahut fight hai !

— Ashish Dave (@ashishdave) July 7, 2021

But some investors are worried that the music may stop soon.

Investors at several high-profile firms told me that many startups are taking checks from Tiger Global / Falcon / SoftBank too early in their journeys.

They argue that many of these young startups have raised funds at such a high valuation that if they are not able to hit the metrics they have told their existing lead investors, very few in the industry would be in a position to engage with them at a later stage.

“And even the likes of Tiger will not back you then,” one investor said, pointing to examples such as Bangalore-based Upstox, which raised from Tiger Global in the past, but later Tiger invested in its chief rival Groww. “Tiger is backing the race, not the horse,” another investor said.

A down cycle is a scenario many investors are preparing for. But it appears the music, so to speak, has only gotten louder in recent weeks.

Bangalore-based edtech Brightchamps is in advanced stages of talks to raise at over $500 million valuation, while Ola Electric has held talks to raise at over $3 billion valuation, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Fidelity and Goldman Sachs have held talks to invest in a pre-IPO round of Paytm, one person said.

ShareChat is about to raise $150 million to $200 million from Temasek and others at a pre-money valuation of $2.8 billion. Prosus Ventures is in advanced stages of talks to lead an investment round in Upstox.

Sequoia is in talks to invest in Gitcoin and back Dive again, while Infra.Market, which was valued at $200 million in December last year and $1 billion earlier this year, is in talks to raise at over $2 billion valuation. Many other startups that turned unicorns this year are also in the market to finalize new rounds. BharatPe, Open, and Yap are in advanced stages of talks to finalize new rounds, TechCrunch has reported in recent weeks.

There are at least seven more $50 million+ rounds, and more than a dozen $20 million+ rounds that are expected to close within weeks. (I wish I could share the names but दोस्ती बनी रहे)

Elsewhere in Bangalore, there’s another sense of urgency.

Several founders in India are starting crypto startups for customers across the world, but high-profile investors in India have largely stayed away from this category, in part, because of India’s confusing stand about virtual currencies. Their absence has resulted in many of these startups secure funds from international funds and angels.

But this may change soon. Several venture funds including Sequoia Capital India, Lightspeed, Accel, WEH, and Kalaari are currently building their thesis for investments in crypto startups, people familiar with the matter told me.

Renegade Partners rolls out its hotly anticipated debut fund with $100 million

Renegade Partners — a Bay Area-based venture firm cofounded by veteran VCs Renata Quintini and Roseanne Wincek — is taking the wraps off a $100 million debut venture fund that’s been capturing the imagination of the business press since almost its conception in late 2019.

The effort is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because of the backgrounds of both Quintini and Wincek, both of whom left powerhouse venture firms to join forces. Quintini, a trained attorney, was an investment manager with Stanford University’s endowment before being recruited into  Felicis Ventures, after which she was poached by Lux Capital. Across those firms, she worked closely with a number of high-flying startups, including the autonomous driving company  Cruise, the satellite startup Planet, and the clothing company Bonobos.

Wincek was meanwhile once set on nabbing a PhD at UC Berkeley, instead leaving the school with a master’s degree in biophysics to head to Stanford for her MBA. From there, it was on to Canaan as a principal, and from there, she headed to IVP, where she rose through the senior ranks to partner, investing across enterprise and consumer companies that include Glossier, Compass, MasterClass, and TransferWise.

It’s not a new trend, successful VCs who happen to be women leaving established firms to create their own outfits. Think Mary Meeker of Bond, Dayna Grayson of Construct Capital, and Beth Seidenberg of Westlake Village BioPartners, just to name a few. But unlike some of its predecessors, Renegade is isn’t limiting itself to playing a certain role in the venture universe. It isn’t bound to any sector. It isn’t marketing itself as an early-stage venture firm. What it is looking for is a fairly specific mix of traction, team, and market — a combination that it is finding in companies that are anywhere from their Series A to Series C stage.

A head data scientist from the insurance giant John Hancock is helping considerably, say the cofounders. So is a chief people officer with a powerful resume of her own (Uber, Zoom, Milo); principal Chloe Breider, a former IVP investor who worked closely with Wincek; and, as Renegade’s “decision scientist,” the former professional poker player and best-selling author Annie Duke.

We talked with Quintini and Wincek earlier today to learn more about what they have assembled — and how Renegade makes its mark in an industry that has never been more competitive. Excerpts from that chat, below, have been edited lightly for length.

TC: People would probably shiv someone to get a job at either firm where you worked. What drove you to leave, and who reached out to whom when it came time to partner?

RW: We first met when I was a Canaan and Renata was at Felicis, and back then, there weren’t many women in venture, so [women VCs were like] “Oh, there’s a new one, ‘Come meet everybody.’” Over the years, we looked at a lot of stuff together, and especially after I moved to IVP,  I was always bugging Renata about what was in her portfolio.

A few years ago, we were at one of those big, boozy dinners, with a bunch of people of our age at a bunch of firms. We were all having the conversation like, ‘Oh, if I had my own firm, I would do this, and I would do that,” and Renata and I were finishing each other’s sentences. And I remember going up to her and saying, “We should have this conversation for real but maybe with less wine. And that was Memorial Day of 2019.”

TC: Institutional investors sometimes worry about how well an emerging manager team will get along when they’re coming from different places. How did you address this?

RQ: We were good friends, I thought Roseanne was a phenomenal investor, but frankly, we didn’t know if we would be good cofounders and that’s the biggest risk, right? We did ask: how do we de-risk this? And we actually hired a coach for what we jokingly refer to as marriage counseling. But we did a lot of work around how we handle stress and what success looks like and what our values are. We also spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, and I can tell you that Roseanne is more of a morning person than I am.

TC: You were raising this in the middle of the pandemic. How did that impact fundraising?

RQ: We had our first close on Friday, March 13, the weekend before COVID [started shutting everything down]. The Grand Princess Cruise was coming into the Bay, and we’re on the phone with the LPs, and we didn’t know if people were to going to come through. I think if we didn’t have our track records to draw from, [the fund] wouldn’t have happened. We were very lucky that we were backed by institutional LPs — an Ivy League school, endowments, foundations, family offices. But we did not factor in COVID.

TC: I see language about the “supercritical stage” on Renegade’s site. What does that mean?

RW: That phrase is purposely vague, because we don’t think the stage definitions mean that much anymore. I started my career as a chemist way back when, and supercritical fluid is the state of matter that is neither liquid nor gas but both at the same time, and we feel like companies can be the same. There’s a product to market, there is some data, there’s early customer love and generally a sizable team, but they’re not the big growth companies yet, right? They’re not ready to raise a big growth round and pour fuel on the fire, and that’s how we think about [our ideal targets].

Our sweet spot is [a startup with] early revenue — from a quarter million dollars a year up to a million dollars a month — [that have] from 20 to 100 employees [and which are] raising rounds that are between $10 million and $50 million. Our first deal was actually a Series C deal, but we have Series A and Series B companies in the portfolio, too, that all sit in that sandbox.

RQ: There’s so much capital today that capital is cheap. But execution is expensive, so our focus is on preparing startups to execute as big, giant companies. It’s: How do I think about the organization as it scales? How do I think about the exact team that I need? How do I think about my option pool? About my founder role design? How do you manage your capital and leverage your board? Things are working so well for some founders that the wheels are falling off the bus; meanwhile, many are thinking about these same questions [that they never had time to sort out].

TC: If you aren’t sector or stage focused, how do you whittle down what you’re looking to fund?

RQ: One good thing about [the types of startups we’re backing] is that they were funded by somebody else before, so it’s a known universe, if you’re thinking about it from a data science perspective.

Beyond that, it’s applying the heuristics that Roseanne, myself, Chloe, Susan [Alban, Renage’s chief people officer], have had from a decade plus of investing and working at outlier companies. It’s not just a number. It’s the quality of revenue. It’s a combination of other breadcrumbs that the companies put out there in terms of who have they hired and what are customers thinking of their product, and is this company building a system of record, and what is the velocity of adoption. Technology alone can’t do [the work].

TC: There’s so much money sloshing around right now. In terms of the advice you’re giving your portfolio companies, what do you tell them about how to react when someone knocks on the door and offers more funding right after they’ve closed a round?

RQ: There are so many dimensions here.  First, you should look at it from your company’s needs. You got to deploy this capital, and you got to provide a return on this capital, and nothing is free, so the more money you raise, the higher the valuation you receive, it catches up to you in the next round because you got to clear that watermark.

[We also tell them to ask themselves] do you have investments to make? Do you have team to hire? Some founders we’ve talked with have said, ‘I’m not going to raise any more because I cannot go faster or deploy more than my model is already supporting.  I’m actually going to execute more and then take more [capital] down the road when I’m going to get more credit for the stuff that I built, and the ROI is going to be better.’

The other piece, too, is when you’re in a very competitive environment, you have to look at what’s happening around you. Sometimes if your competitors are raising and pushing the market forward, it may be a reason to think [about raising more than you’d planned] because maybe they can out-hire you or they can outspend you in certain areas and can generate more traction. So you can’t look at things in absolute terms. At the same time, there is no free money and a lot of founders unwittingly create more problems for themselves [by not thinking through what that next check means].

TC: People see a women-led venture team and wonder how focused you will be on women-led startups.

RQ: I think we’re great investors who happen to be female. Our primary focus is on diversity of experience and thoughts. Gender is  just one of the lenses, and diversity is one of the core values of organization because we believe that provides better returns.

RW: One thing that’s been really fun and validating and inspiring about all this is the people who do come out of the woodwork who are so excited [about Renegade], because representation matters. At the end of the day, this is how this changes. We chip away at this and soon, you won’t ask this question anymore because it won’t be topical. That’s the goal.

TC: Do you feel that the diversity matters for LPs? Do you think that diversity is going to be codified in the way that LPs are looking at investing in funds?

RQ: Some lead with it. Others say, ‘Let me look at past returns. They look at lagging indicators.’ Today, founders are picking investors who reflect their values, who they’re proud to be associated with — people who have their same energy people and will go to bat for them and with them. These are the returns of the future, regardless of whatever Cambridge tells you today about investments that were made in the past. Leading LPs know this.

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Remembering Richard Donner, Superman’s real-life best friend

Director Richard Donner, left, gave us the ultimate movie vision of the ultimate hero — seen here with fictional best pals Jimmy, Lois and Perry.

The decade didn’t seem right for Superman. Few critics believed that such an optimistic, principled, possibly naive comic book hero could succeed on screen in an era like that. It was a decade of war, of recession and an increasingly ravaged environment. In the wake of a lawless president, cinemas were filled with dystopian, cynical, anti-hero movies, and those movies were filled with hyper-realistic violence.

This was the jaded 1970s, the era of Taxi Driver and Godfather. Where did the straight-arrow guy in the red cape and underpants fit into that? You’d have to make a Superman movie some kind of dark and gritty adult reboot. Either that or play him for ironic laughs, as with Batman in the campy 1960s TV show that was still in reruns everywhere.

The DNA of Superman can be seen all over the Marvel Cinematic Universe

All credit, then, to Richard Donner, the legendary Hollywood director who died Monday at the age of 91, for doing neither of these things. Instead, in Superman (1978), Donner created a timeless tribute to one of the world’s best-known heroes. He saw plenty of comic opportunity, particularly in Clark Kent’s bumbling and Lex Luthor’s scheming. But he also treated Superman and his intergalactic origins with reverential seriousness. This crowd-pleasing combo has been followed by all successful superhero movies since. Christopher Nolan referenced Donner’s vision when pitching Batman Begins. And of course the DNA of Superman can be seen all over the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This was not the way Superman was bound to go. Donner knew well the power of the dark and gritty side. Like Zack Snyder, he made his name in the horror genre. Donner directed one of the most terrifying episodes of The Twilight Zone, while The Omen (1976) is what made him famous enough for Superman producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind to come calling. Francis Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had all turned the Salkinds down, reluctantly, to work on Apocalypse Now, Star Wars and Close Encounters respectively. Donner was the hot new thing, and could bring his choice of writer onto the project to prune the massive script delivered by Godfather author Mario Puzo. He could have taken it in any direction.

“You might say I did the movie in defense of Superman,” Donner told author Gary Bettinson in a 40th anniversary interview. Donner was to butt heads with the Salkinds from the start — so much so that they didn’t invite him back to direct Superman II (1980), even though the footage had been shot at the same time as the first movie. But to Donner, all the grief was worth it. He said the producers and Puzo were working with a campy Batman-like script that “hadn’t captured what that character was about, and what for years of history the character had represented for kids and adults alike.”

A popular 2017 meme used Superman to combat Trump's claim that journalists and immigrants were the

A popular 2017 meme used Superman to combat Trump’s claim that journalists and immigrants were the “enemy of the American people.”
Credit: imgur

And what does the character really represent? You need only watch (or, hopefully, rewatch) Superman to find out. You may be surprised to remember that it does not open with Marlon Brando’s highly paid cameo on Krypton, but with Donner’s pre-credits tribute to Kal-El’s workplace, The Daily Planet. At a time of “fear and confusion,” we’re told, the great newspaper’s “reputation for clarity and truth has become a symbol of hope.” Only then do we zoom past the Planet building, into space and on our way to Krypton, for the full backstory of the Planet’s newest reporter, who also believes in clarity and truth, and whose one constant character trait is that he will never lie.

The Krypton scenes are about clarity and truth too. Marlon Brando’s first words as Superman’s dad Jor-El are “this is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination.” He’s slamming General Zod for his attempted coup, but it could easily apply to the planet’s high council, who refuse to accept the scientific facts of rapid climate change that will doom the planet. When considering their son’s future life on Earth, Jor-El’s wife Lara (Susannah York) worries he will be “odd … different … isolated, alone.” Not to worry, says Jor-El, loading the child’s capsule with Kryptonian crystals. Our culture and learning will always be with him.

Barely 10 minutes in, this superhero fantasy has cut to the heart of the immigrant experience — just as Superman’s creators, second-generation immigrants Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, intended. Siegel and Shuster were so thrilled with how Donner had rendered their guy on screen that they gifted him one of their very limited edition 2 ft.-high Superman statues from 1939, which Donner treasured for the rest of his life.

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These two strands — the loneliness of Clark Kent’s fish-out-of-water life, from Smallville to Metropolis, and the importance of truth, justice and the journalistic way, continue throughout the film. The Daily Planet scenes really shine, not just with Lois and Clark’s rat-tat-tat dialogue (an homage to that great newspaper movie His Girl Friday) but with the lengthy tracking shots that Donner meticulously created in the newsroom (and in the globe-filled lobby of the real-life Daily News). Superman tells Lois Lane he never lies, then flies her to that shining light of immigrants, the Statue of Liberty, on their first date.

New York City itself — which Donner barely even tries to disguise as Metropolis — is a vital character in the film. Here is the city in the summer of 1977, the summer of the blackout, the summer of the Son of Sam, and it has never looked so vibrant, or so in need of a hero. This is clearly a modern city — witness Clark’s attempt to change into Superman, hampered by the new open-air phone booths — and just as clearly, Superman first emerges from its streets (to the immortal delight of one 1970s extra: “say, Jim, that’s a bad outfit!”). He is alone, he is an immigrant, and in this historic home of immigrants, he is one of us.

You might say that Donner got lucky because he got Christopher Reeve for the title role. We think of it now as the striking of lightning; Reeve was so perfect as Superman that his successors are mere pale shadows. In fact, Donner was taking an enormous risk on an unknown actor who was way too thin to play Superman until he was bulked up by Darth Vader himself, David Prowse. We shouldn’t give Donner too much credit; he was set to cast Patrick Wayne in the role, until Patrick quit when his dad John Wayne got cancer. Donner was also lucky in securing the services of John Williams in creating a legendary title theme. Moviemaking involves a large amount of chance.

But it also involves the ability to stick doggedly to your vision, and this Donner had in spades. He was able to convince the mighty Marlon Brando, who had some very strange ideas of how Jor-El might be seen on screen as a green bagel, to play him in person. Donner also had no qualms about telling Gene Hackman to shave his mustache. He spent most of a year plugging away at the special-effects problem of how to get us to believe that Reeve could fly, and he got there. He wanted to defend Superman against producers who didn’t understand him, and he did that even at the cost of making future Superman movies.

We can only hope, in this dark and cynical decade, that the next director to tackle Earth’s ultimate superhero will know as well as Donner what this immigrant and truth-seeking journalist was always about.

‘The Kissing Booth 3’ trailer has Elle in a platonic love triangle, again

The first trailer for The Kissing Booth 3 has arrived, giving us a look at the final film in the Kissing Trilogy and the end of the Kissing Cinematic Universe. And it will surprise nobody to know that Elle (Joey King) is still torn between guys.

Elle and her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney) are spending summer at the beach, ticking things off their pre-college bucket list. “It was our last summer together, and I was gonna make it count,” says Elle, presumably reading directly from the coming-of-age film guidebook.

However it isn’t all fun in the sun, since Elle still needs to choose which college to go to, and it isn’t an easy decision. She’s torn between going to school with Lee, or attending one across the country with her boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi), who is also Lee’s big brother. Frankly, none of this seems like a sound basis for making important choices about your education, but if the trailer’s anything to go by then I guess Elle will be figuring that out.

The Kissing Booth 3 arrives on Netflix August 11.