Day: July 8, 2021

Electric Dodge muscle car and Jeep SUV coming by 2025

Consumers can expect an electric Dodge muscle car by 2024, as well as an electric Ram pickup truck. And Jeep will release a fully electric SUV by 2025.

That’s according to Stellantis, which owns 14 brands, including Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, and Ram. The company announced at a livestreamed investor event on Thursday that it’s spending more than $35 billion on electrification efforts through 2025.

Dodge “will not sell electric cars, Dodge will sell American e-muscle cars,” Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis said during the event. “It’s the natural evolution of the modern muscle car.”

By 2030, Stellantis wants for 40 percent of U.S. car sales to be of hybrid or fully electric vehicles.

Touted as the first e-muscle car, the electric Dodge was teased through a dark fog.

That's pure electric muscle.

That’s pure electric muscle.
Credit: stellantis / Youtube screencast

Tweet may have been deleted

Jeep also revealed the first images of its plug-in hybrid Grand Cherokee 4xe, along with the news of a fully electric SUV with self-driving features and vehicle-to-vehicle charging.

Ram’s battery-powered 1500 pickup was also announced, along with plans for more electrified Ram vehicles through 2030.

The all-new two-row 2022 Jeep® Grand Cherokee 4xe

The all-new two-row 2022 Jeep® Grand Cherokee 4xe

Stellantis said it will build its EVs on four battery platforms that will have 300 miles to as much as 500 miles of range on a single charge.

The company will reveal more details on the electric Dodge and other new EVs later. But for now it feels like every day is EV Day.

Halo will launch a remotely operated car service powered by 5G in Las Vegas

5G technology has generated a lot of hype for its potential to power driverless cars using a remote operator, but for the past few years that’s all it’s been — hype. Las Vegas-based startup Halo and telecom giant T-Mobile are teaming up to change that, with a driverless electric car service in Las Vegas powered on 5G to launch later this year.

The service, which will start with five vehicles, will work by connecting users to Halo’s pilot fleet of vehicles via an app. After a user has ordered a vehicle, a remote operator will drive it to the waiting customer. Once the car is delivered, the user can get behind the steering wheel and operate the vehicle as normal for the duration of their trip. When the trip is complete, the remote operator takes back over and drives it to the next waiting customer.

Halo departs significantly from companies like Waymo or Cruise, which are developing a full self-driving technology stack that aims to completely remove the human — remote or in-car — from the equation. Instead, Halo vehicles will be equipped with nine cameras, radars and ultrasonics as backup (no lidar), and it will connect to remote operators via T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity midband 5G network.

Halo CEO Anand Nandakumar told TechCrunch that the service can also run on extended range low-band 5G network and on LTE as needed.

Halo said in a press release that its cars will be equipped with an algorithm that “learns in the background while humans control the vehicle, building a unique feedback loop to achieve Level 3 capabilities over time,” suggesting that the company has its sights set on autonomy in the long term. (“Level 3” refers to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ five levels of autonomous driving. L3 indicates features that allow the driver to be out of the loop under very limited conditions.)

“Full autonomy is a massive challenge from both a technical and social-trust perspective that won’t be solved for years to come,” Nandakumar said in the release. “But Halo has been designed to address these challenges by building automation over time starting with a solution that consumers will feel comfortable using today.”

The startup also said its vehicles will be equipped with an advanced safe stop mechanism, which will immediately bring cars to a full stop if a potential safety hazard is detected.

Last year, Halo joined the 5G Open Innovation Lab T-Mobile co-founded, giving the startup access to the telecom’s engineers and midspectrum network. Nandakumar declined to specify if T-Mobile is one of the company’s investors.

Demand Curve: How to double conversions on your startup’s homepage

Nick Costelloe

Nick writes actionable growth marketing insights as head of content at Demand Curve.

Between our work at Demand Curve and our agency, Bell Curve, we’ve rewritten over 1,000 websites for startups across most industries.

Want to convert twice as many visitors into customers? Follow these copywriting tactics.

Everything “above the fold” must have a purpose

The section of your homepage that’s immediately visible to a visitor before they start scrolling is called “above the fold.” (Think of a print newspaper: Everything above the literal fold in the paper is the most important information.) When a visitor sees the content above the fold, they decide to either keep scrolling or exit your site.

In seconds, they’re trying to figure out what you do and whether you’re a fit for them.

The most common mistake we see startups make? Their “above the fold” is either uninteresting or confusing. This often happens when marketers attempt to squeeze too much content above the fold.

The most common mistake we see startups make? Their “above the fold” is either uninteresting or confusing.

The truth is, most of the information on your website is irrelevant to new visitors. So the area above the fold should be used to explain how you can help new visitors solve a specific problem.

For example, you might see a homepage that promotes the newest technical blog post that the company published. But that’s not useful to a visitor who doesn’t yet understand what you do.

To further confuse the visitor, many companies add an extensive navigation bar to the top of their site. In theory, this allows your visitors to easily access any part of your website. In practice, it leads to decision fatigue and low conversion rates.

Unless the content directly helps answer what you do and whether you’re a good fit for that visitor, it should be removed.

There are three things you can do to improve the conversion rate of your homepage:

  1. Craft a sharp header.
  2. Use a complementary subheader.
  3. Design with intention.

Let’s get into the tactics of these three areas of improvement.

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Write headers that speak to an individual (not a crowd)

Your header is the largest piece of text on your website. In under 10 words (about the longest we’d recommend), your header needs to accomplish three things:

1. Identify how customers get value from your product.

This is your most important value proposition. If you can’t explain how someone gets value from your product in fewer than 10 words, it’ll be a challenge to keep visitors’ attention for much longer.

Here’s how we uncover your key value proposition:

  • What bad alternative do people resort to when they lack your product?
  • How is your product better than the bad alternative?
  • Now turn the last step into an action statement — that’s your value proposition.

Take Airbnb:

  • The bad alternative is being stuck in a sterile hotel without experiencing any real culture.
  • Airbnb’s product is better than the bad alternative because it allows you to stay in a local’s home.
  • So if we turn the second question into an action statement, we’d get a value proposition like: Experience new cities like a local.

Here are some more examples from top startups:

Image Credits: Demand Curve

2. Include an enticing hook that keeps visitors reading.

Telling your visitors what you do is a good start, but now we need to get them excited about your product.

A huge missed opportunity we see a lot of startups make with their website copy? It’s not action oriented. In a world where customers can shop 24/7, there’s very little urgency for your visitors to take action now.

Adding a hook will increase the likelihood that a visitor buys from you on their first visit.

There are two ways we like to write hooks:

  • Offer a bold claim: something highly specific that triggers the thought, “Wow, I didn’t know that was possible.”

Image Credits: Demand Curve

  • Or address common objections: questions or pushback that your visitor is likely already thinking about. Addressing objections right away might seem counterintuitive, but bringing attention to your weaknesses will actually make your visitor trust your brand more. With no direct sales team, your copy is going to need to work hard to answer as many questions as possible.

Here are some value propositions of top startups that incorporate their biggest objections upfront.

Image Credits: Demand Curve

3. Speak directly to your ideal customer persona

To truly make the message in your header grab the attention of your visitor, rewrite your value proposition to speak directly to your customer personas.

To do so, list your top two to three customer personas. Rewrite your headers to address the part of your product they value most. Use their own language, not industry jargon. The best way to learn what your customers love about your product is through one-on-one customer interviews or reading customer success tickets.

Now you’ve got headers that speak directly to your ideal customer persona. You can either A/B test which header leads to a higher conversion rate or create custom landing pages using each header to drive traffic from different sources to specific pages.

For example, if you include a link to your website in a guest blog post, send that audience to the page with the most relevant header.

Here are some examples of writing multiple value propositions for the same startup:

Image Credits: Demand Curve

Use a subheader to explain how your header can be possible

We suggest spending about 50% of your time working on writing the header and 25% of your time on the subheader. Why? Because if your header isn’t interesting, your visitors won’t even bother reading the subheader.

Your subheader should be used to expand on two things:

  1. How does your product work exactly?
  2. Which of your features make our header’s bold claim believable?

You can use your top two to three features to explain how your header is achieved.

For example, let’s say Airbnb’s header is: Experience your getaway vacation like a local. No minimum stays.

To make this statement believable, we need to explain how it’s possible to vacation like a local and how “no minimum stays” is possible.

A subheader could read something like: An online rental marketplace with thousands of short-term rentals in your area.

Do not use industry jargon or technical terms in your subheader or header. Use words that a fifth-grade reader would understand. Use short sentences. Lengthy paragraphs will kill the momentum of your reader.

Here are a few more examples of using the subheader to explain the header:

Image Credits: Demand Curve

Make your homepage feel familiar and function as expected

The last aspect to consider when creating a high-converting homepage is the design. We see a lot of high-tech startups try to use their website to show off their creativity.

From our experience, your website is not the place to try to be original.

A website’s design should rarely be unique. It’s your product that should be unique. Your website is just a familiar medium for communicating your product’s uniqueness.


Using familiar buttons and navigation that other websites have popularized will save your visitor the hassle of having to learn how your website works. For example, we’ve come to expect there to be a “home” button in the top left of the page. Attempting to place the same button in the bottom right for the sake of uniqueness will lead to confusion and possibly a lost customer. Stick with what works.


Consider these goals when adding images to your homepage:

  • Remove uncertainty by showing your product in action. GIFs or looping videos are a terrific way of demonstrating how it works without taking up any additional space.

    Image Credits: Judy

  • If you sell physical goods, use images to show off various use cases and close-ups of the material and texture. This will help your visitor assess the quality of the product and further validate that the product is right for them.

Image Credits: Allbirds

Call-to-action buttons

Your call-to-action buttons (CTA) are where you’ll convert a visitor of your webpage into an active shopper. Therefore, your CTAs should be a continuation of the magic that you teased in your header copy.

Make the CTA button copy action focused and tell your visitor what will happen once they click it.

Here are some examples of CTA buttons that feel natural because they continue the narrative that began with the header copy:

Image Credits: Demand Curve

People are more sexually adventurous right now — and more cautious

On an unassuming Saturday night in June, I stepped into a scene inspired by Eyes Wide Shut: masquerade masks, attendees in various states of dress, and flowing alcohol poured by a half-naked bartender.

This was a sex party hosted by Snctm, an “exclusive” members-only sex club. While the night was a mix of cocktail-hour chatter and X-rated debauchery, energy buzzed throughout. Women in lingerie and men in tuxes told me how excited they were that “Snctm was back,” but not just the club itself. Nightlife was back, as was sex with various partners and strangers and anyone in between thanks to COVID vaccines and loosened public health restrictions.

The mood at Snctm is a microcosm for how many people are feeling in this not-quite-mid-not-quite-post-pandemic era we’re in. As I let Google Maps guide me from the subway to Snctm’s penthouse in lower Manhattan, it was impossible not to pick up on partiers’ and daters’ elation to go out and experience hot vax summer. Nuzzling couples dotted train cars and outdoor restaurants, and those on the move held hands as they hustled — no doubt eager to reach their destination.

At the same time, however, memories of our pandemic experiences can be just as visceral as our desire to move past them. We can’t forget over a year of wearing medical masks, of wondering whom in our circles was COVID conscious. Moving into our “new normal,” people are both more sexually experimental and more cautious.

Dr. Joe Kort, a sexual relationship therapist, said that he and the therapists that work for him were busier than ever during the pandemic. Even as vaccinations rose and restrictions loosened, singles were excited to “get back out there” — but that it was short-lived. Kort, who has a Ph.D in clinical sexology, said that some now have FOGO, or fear of going out (not dissimilar to the Hinge-coined FODA, or fear of dating again).

The pent-up energy Kort heard about from clients is often paired with a newfound priority to be more careful. In his experience, gay male couples typically had this sense of caution in the face of HIV/AIDS. Now, he sees mixed-gender couples having that same level of forethought when it comes to both STIs and COVID.

A glimpse at Snctm's penthouse.

A glimpse at Snctm’s penthouse.
Credit: snctm

This aligns with the research, too. “Vaccinated people are actually planning to approach sex more cautiously than those who are unvaccinated,” reported Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire. Lehmiller, who has a Ph.D in social psychology, and Kinsey partnered with sex toy shop Lovehoney for the Summer of Love survey, where they analyzed Americans’ sex lives and attitudes now that COVID vaccines are widely available.

Of the 2,000 adults surveyed between May and June 2021, 43 percent are fully vaccinated. Of those, 40 percent say they’re taking less risks sexually than they had before the pandemic. Further, 46 percent of those vaccinated say they’re more likely to communicate with partners about same-sex practices in the future.

“Those who have gotten the vaccine may have more concern for their health overall, which may extend to taking more safety precautions both in and out of the bedroom,” Lehmiller continued.

“The question of being vaccinated will always be there,” said Kort, even if the risk of getting COVID has diminished.

“Vaccinated people are actually planning to approach sex more cautiously than those who are unvaccinated.”

In addition to an increase in caution, Lovehoney and Kinsey’s data also reflects a rise in kink and exploration. Just over half of respondents said their sexual interests shifted during the pandemic, and 73 percent of those people said they’re kinkier now. Twenty percent noted that they’re more interested in attending a sex party or visiting a sex club now than pre-pandemic.

As both Kort and Lehmiller explained, it’s difficult to be aroused during times of high stress and anxiety. One way that people can cope with this, according to Lehmiller, is trying new and immersive sexual activities that allow you to focus on the moment; sex parties can fit that bill.

Since its return with a May 2021 masquerade, Snctm has seen a spike in memberships and applications according to their managing director, who asked their name not be included for privacy reasons. Their May and June parties sold out, and the managing director said interest grows with each subsequent event.

Snctm required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for their May masquerade, according to their managing director, keeping with New York’s guidelines at the time. The precaution allowed the club to exceed limits of 250 people indoors, but both the May and June parties were capped at 99 people (probably to keep with their “world’s most exclusive members-only club” descriptor). By the time the June masquerade occurred, city officials had lifted all restrictions.

New York-based sex and cannabis club New Society for Wellness, or NSFW, also saw membership jump. Daniel Saynt, self-described chief conspirator of NSFW, said the club’s membership doubled during the pandemic to over 6,000. Some days, NSFW receives 50 to 100 applications for new members.

Saynt attributed at least some of this growth to the club’s virtual parties over the pandemic, where non-New Yorkers had a chance to experience what NSFW had to offer (albeit, through a screen).

Related Video: We asked over 1,000 people about their post-COVID dating plans

Now that many people are vaccinated, NSFW is poised to expand even further: Saynt’s goal is to build 50 clubhouses in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia in addition to New York in the next few years.

“If we build it they will come,” Saynt told Mashable. “The demand is there.”

Saynt said there’s a certain feeling at recent NSFW parties where people are grateful to be through the worst of the pandemic (at least in New York, where 70 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine, but that’s not the case elsewhere in the country or around the world), and happy that they can go out again. He’s seen a stronger drive to go to events, sex-related or not.

“I don’t think that energy was there pre-COVID,” said Saynt. “We took advantage of what we had and we didn’t really think about it as anything special until it was taken away…People are coming to these events with a different sense of appreciation.”

This is akin to what Snctm members told me at their June masquerade. One woman I spoke to said she had been to five previous parties — including the one in May, and others pre-COVID — and none of them had the electricity of that one.

“We have been told that it [the June party] was the best event some members have ever been to,” said Snctm’s managing director.

Saynt believes the sex party scene is larger now. There are more parties popping up, he said, especially for the queer community. With the rest of the summer, Halloween, and New Years coming up, Saynt thinks the demand for these events will remain high throughout 2021.

Snctm, meanwhile, is increasing their party cadence. Prior to COVID, they held events monthly alternating between New York and Los Angeles. Since May, they’ve been hosting monthly parties in New York City. The managing director anticipates the return of bi-monthly Los Angeles parties by August.

“People are coming to these events with a different sense of appreciation.”

This influx of people wanting to sexually explore coincides with an interest in alternative relationships. Non-monogamy has been on the rise since before the pandemic, and there’s reason to believe the practice will only trend upward. For instance, Feeld (a sexual exploration app for both singles and couples) saw a 400 percent increase among women and a 500 percent increase among men with words describing ethical non-monogamy (ENM) or polyamory in their profiles from 2020 to 2021, the app’s communication manager Lyubov Sachkova told Mashable.

Saynt agrees that more people will begin practicing non-monogamy, especially millennials and Gen Z. He referred to the near future as the “buckle-up years,” as he believes non-monogamy and the type of sexual exploration that goes on at NSFW will become more mainstream.

While this is an exciting time, Kort urges people to remember the good that came out of the dating culture shift during the pandemic, such as slowing things down and taking time to get to know potential partners.

For now, however, with the pandemic still fresh in our minds, it seems that many are indeed branching out while remembering to be mindful.

By the end of the Snctm masquerade I attended, the only people out on the street below the penthouse were attendees. Among the chatter, partiers expressed gratitude that they could indulge in such activities again — and gratitude for how safe they felt.

Can advertising scale in VR?

Michael Boland

Mike Boland is chief analyst of ARtillery Intelligence, an AR/VR research firm.
More posts by this contributor

One of VR’s prospective revenue streams is ad placement. The thought is that its levels of immersion can engender high engagement with various flavors of display ads. Think billboards in a virtual streetscape or sporting venue. Art imitates life, and all that.

This topic reemerged recently in the wake of Facebook’s experimental ads in Blaston VR. As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney observed, it didn’t go too well. The move triggered a resounding backlash, followed by the game publisher, Resolution Games, backing out of the trial.

This chain of events underscored Facebook’s headwinds in VR ad monetization, which stem from its broader ad issues. In fairness, this was an experimental move to test the VR advertising waters … which Facebook accomplished, though it didn’t get the result it wanted.

VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword. It could take several years for VR usage to reach requisite levels for meaningful ad monetization.

Regardless, we’ve taken this opportunity to revisit our ongoing analysis and market sizing of VR advertising in general. The short version: There are pros and cons on both qualitative and quantitative levels.

The pros of VR advertising

VR advertising’s opportunity goes back to factors noted above: potentially high ad engagement given inherent levels of immersion. On that measure, VR exceeds all other media, which can mean higher-quality impressions, brand recall and other common display-ad metrics.

Historical evidence also suggests that VR could follow a path toward ad monetization. VR shows similar patterns to media that were increasingly ad supported as they matured. These include video, social media, mobile apps and games (just ask Unity).

To put some numbers behind that, 75% of apps in the Apple App Store’s first year were paid apps — similar to VR today. That figure declined to 15% in 2014 and hovers around 10% today. Over time, developers learned they could reach scale through free downloads.

Prevalent revenue models today include in-app purchases — especially in mobile gaming — and advertising. The question is whether VR will follow a similar path as developers learn that they can reach scale faster through free apps that employ “back-end monetization” like ad support.

This trend also follows audience dynamics: Early adopters are more likely to pay for content and experiences. But as a given technology or media matures, its transition to mainstream audiences requires different business models with less upfront commitment and friction.

“Today, there are only about 18% of applications in VR stores such as Steam and Oculus that are free,” Admix CEO Samuel Huber said. “This is fine for now because we are still very early in the market and most of these users are early adopters. They are willing to pay for content, just like they were willing to pay for prototype unproven hardware and generally, they have higher purchasing power than the average person.”

Drawbacks of VR advertising

Considering the above advantages, VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword (or beat saber). Those advantages are counterbalanced by a few practical disadvantages in the medium’s early stage. Much of this comes down to the requirement for scale.

‘The Office’ co-creator Stephen Merchant reflects on the UK and U.S. versions of the show

For more than 15 years fans of The Office have debated which version of the workplace comedy is superior. Is it the original UK version or the U.S. adaptation?

You likely have a strong opinion, but on the latest episode of the Office Ladies podcast, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey (two stars of the American version) teamed up with Stephen Merchant (the genius who co-created the original British version of The Office with Ricky Gervais) to remind us all that both versions of the show are fantastic.

In this enlightening episode, Merchant compared and reflected on the two versions, shared how he first met Gervais, talked about filming and editing tricks, and explained how he ended up directing the Season 5 episode, “Customer Survey.”

It’s a must-listen episode for any fan of either version of The Office, but we’ll give you a taste of what’s in store here.

A vision for the office

For those who need a refresher, the original British version of The Office started in 2001 and ran for two short seasons. Each season had six episodes, and there was a two-part Christmas special to finish things off. Much to the concern of UK Office fans, the series was later adapted into an American version by Greg Daniels. The U.S. version premiered in 2005, ran nine seasons, and gave viewers an impressive 201 episodes.

While Merchant obviously has a special place in his heart for the original, he genuinely adores the American version as well, and he was proud to see it become such a phenomenon. In fact, he called into the podcast repping both versions of the show.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed in honor of both the British and the U.S. versions of The Office, I am wearing my my Wernham Hogg baseball cap, which is the Dunder Mifflin of the UK. And I have my Dunder Mifflin mug, which I believe was a gift for my cup of tea,” he told Fischer and Kinsey. “So, you know, I’m just trying to pay homage to both both sides of the Atlantic and both shows.”

After talking about meeting the second half of his dynamic duo, Ricky Gervais, Merchant reminisced on the early days of creating the British version of the workplace comedy.

“…We always wanted our version of The Office to feel like a documentary that had sort of been made and then everyone forgot about it, and it was just on a shelf somewhere at the BBC for like ten years and someone dusted off and was like, ‘Put this on TV,'” he explained. “So we wanted the whole thing to feel tired. The office should feel tired — the people, the clothes. We always were very excited when the plants that we had on the set were slightly dying. We liked that idea. It’s that British approach. You know, you reflect the weather by just making shows that are depressing.”

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 14:  Executive producers Ricky Gervais (L) and Stephen Merchant of "The Ricky Gervais Show" speak during the HBO portion of the 2010 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 14, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 14: Executive producers Ricky Gervais (L) and Stephen Merchant of “The Ricky Gervais Show” speak during the HBO portion of the 2010 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 14, 2010 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Credit: Getty Images

From Wernham Hogg to Dunder Mifflin

Like many, Merchant remembers the intense scrutiny surrounding a potential American adaptation of The Office.

“…I remember that when that when it was first being discussed, as you say, there were a lot of things about ‘Oh, America going to ruin the show.’ And then when your show started airing in the UK, it was kind of, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as the British version,'” he said. But over the years that sentiment changed.

“And then over time, it’s become ‘The American version is far superior to the British version,'” he explained. “This is the British. This is the way we do things here, you know, I mean, we like we kind of build you up and then we knock you down. So, yeah. Now we’re very much — the American version is kind of the much-loved version, even by the British press. And Ricky and I are seen as kind of, ‘Oh, those guys, we’re tired of those guys.'” 

“Now… the American version is kind of the much-loved version, even by the British press.”

Merchant went on to explain that he and Gervais always tried to be supportive of the American version, and Kinsey and Fischer shared that the U.S. cast and crew loved their involvement and visits to set.

“We were we were just abuzz about having you guys on the set,” Kinsey said. “…I just want to say thank you. I mean, I feel like everyone in our cast was just humbled that we got this job. We all felt like we won the lottery and you gave us that lottery ticket, you know? You and Ricky. And you forever changed our lives.”

“I will never be able to say thank you enough. So thank you,” Kinsey continued.

Merchant, who was touched by Kinsey’s words, once again reflected on the different, yet inextricably linked success of the two versions. But he did admit that the American version of the show was truly something special.

“…I think we can all feel very proud of our version, but also of the American version. I think for me, I grew up watching and loving American shows and I was hooked on, you know, M*A*S*H and then Cheers and then Roseanne. And then the idea of having my fingerprints on a show like yours, which stands in the lineage of those shows and is now as beloved by audiences as that as those shows, it’s just incredible,” he said. “And that’s a testament to you guys and all the cast and all the crew and all the writers. It’s far it’s gone way beyond what Ricky and I did.”

He went on to compare The Office to Frankenstein’s monster, saying, “We kind of created this thing in the lab and it went off and rampaged around the world on its own without us. And and the idea that this show is having this sort of whole second life and, you know, audiences [are] finding it again, I just think it’s it’s such a thrill and an honor to be to be associated with it. So thank you.”

Boy do we stan the UK and U.S. Office creators and cast members stanning each other. All is right in The Office universe today.

Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for more from Stephen Merchant and additional behind-the-scenes stories from “Customer Survey.”

You can stream episodes of The Office on Peacock and follow along with the podcast every week on Earwolf, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher.

From kitten gifs to Minecraft modding, these online games make coding fun for kids

If you justified your child’s excessive screen time over the pandemic period as a way for them to round out their STEM education (haven’t we all?), you’ll be pleased to know there are many skill-building coding games online that will teach them core coding skills, like collaboration and visualization.

Coding games also give kids an opportunity to improve critical thinking and creative problem solving, and the latest spate of coding platforms is designed to appeal to kids with varying interests. There’s text-based coding for creating art and animation, and puzzle games instructing a robot to move crates. We think you’ll find these preferable to those endless unboxing videos they keep asking to watch on YouTube…

Better yet, unlike expensive coding camps and classes, some of these games are free (and even those with a subscription cost typically offer users a free trial period).

These are the best 10 coding games for kids.

Marvel’s thrilling ‘What If…?’ trailer welcomes you to the multiverse

What If…? is Marvel’s fourth series on Disney+, but don’t expect it to be like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or Loki. For one, What If…? is the MCU’s first animated show. It also just might be Marvel’s most bonkers show yet.

That’s because What If…? takes iconic MCU moments and adds a reality-bending twist. We’ll get to see what would have happened if Peggy Carter had taken the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers, or if Yondu had brought T’Challa to space instead of Peter Quill.

Also, there are Marvel zombies, and a mysterious figure known as the Watcher who…watches over everything that’s ever happened. The possibilities for these alternate realities are endless (and very exciting). Many Marvel cast members return to voice their characters, including Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as T’Challa/Black Panther.

What If…? starts streaming August 11 on Disney+, with new episodes every Wednesday.

Symptoms Of Having Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes, an ailment characterized by having excessive sugar in the bloodstream, has different types, but the most common is type 2 diabetes.

According to the CDC, of the estimated 34 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, about 90% to 95% of them have type 2 diabetes. These figures should encourage you to know what constitutes type 2 diabetes.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition wherein the body can neither process nor produce insulin efficiently, resulting in high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) that can damage the internal organs. The ineffectiveness of insulin in type 2 diabetes is also known as insulin resistance. While type 2 usually affects adults over 45, younger people—including children and adolescents—are also prone to the disease.

Type 2 is different from type 1 diabetes in that the latter is caused by an autoimmune condition in the pancreas that prevents the production of insulin. Meanwhile, type 2 still allows the production of insulin; however, body cells cannot use it efficiently.

Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes

Signs for type 2 diabetes can start appearing at any particular stage and develop for years without notice. While these kinds of symptoms are hard to recognize, here are common signs to watch out for:

1. Frequent Urination

Frequent urination is a notable symptom of type 2 diabetes. However, it is more notable if the urination tends to recur at night—this urinary condition is called nocturia.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration throughout the body is a common indicator of type 2 diabetes. External forms of dehydration, like dry mouth and skin irritation, may lead to wounds and sores that do not heal quickly.

3. Excessive Thirst

warning signs of type 2 diabetes

Increased thirstiness is often the result of frequent urination—the more you urinate, the more water you lose, making you thirsty. Excessive thirst is also associated with other symptoms like constant pangs of hunger.

4. Weight Gain/Loss

This symptom may depend on how insulin can balance the distribution of sugar throughout the body. If you experience a dramatic weight gain or loss, it should be a cause for alarm, indicating the development of type 2 diabetes.

5. Persistent Hunger

If the body cannot evenly distribute the sugars from the food you eat, then brace for increased hunger episodes. Constant hunger may lead to health defects from unchecked amounts of sugar taken from daily meals and snacks.

6. Blurry Vision

Blurred vision for type 2 diabetes patients can be short-term. When your blood sugar levels remain too high over a long period, your eyes may swell due to body fluid moving into and out of the eyes. This swelling affects the lens’ ability to focus light onto the back of your eyes.

7. Lack Of Energy

People with diabetes tend to feel tired or lethargic due to abnormal sugar levels, whether they’re too high or too low. This imbalance affects the body’s ability to get blood glucose, which is necessary in providing energy to your cells and organs.

8. High Blood Pressure

It’s common for people with type 2 diabetes to suffer from high blood pressure due to insulin resistance. With high levels of insulin production, your body retains more salt and fluids, increasing the risk for high blood pressure.

9. Dizziness, Light-Headedness, Or Headaches

type 2 diabetes early warning signs

Dizziness or light-headedness is common if there’s a drop in your blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar usually happens if your body uses up glucose too quickly, your bloodstream contains too much insulin, or the release of glucose into your bloodstream is too slow. On the other hand, you may experience headaches with high blood sugar levels.

10. Sexual Dysfunction

Type 2 diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves in the sex organs, causing sexual problems like decreased drive or sensation and even difficulty with orgasm. Women may suffer from vaginal dryness, too.

Prolonged type 2 diabetes may manifest the following symptoms:

  • Yeast infections in some parts of the body like between the fingers and toes, under the breasts, and groin or genital areas
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Acanthosis nigricans or the discoloration in body folds like the neck, armpit, and groin
  • Pain or numbness on the feet or legs

Any of the symptoms above can be isolated cases. However, if two or more of those symptoms manifest frequently, consult your doctor immediately.

The post Symptoms Of Having Type 2 Diabetes appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Gillmor Gang: TV Clubhouse

The Gang spends a lot of time these days on the streaming wars, so it seems appropriate that Congress wants to get into it. With Netflix’s success at overturning the structure of Hollywood’s broadcast television production and advertising processes, consumers are taking advantage of a Golden Age of choices. Senator Elizabeth Warren is resuscitating her plan to tax the billionaire class as a way to fund the progressive part of the infrastructure bill through the Democrat-only reconciliation process. As bait, she is using Amazon’s MGM acquisition as the carrot, suggesting the deal would be anti-competitive and dilutive of consumer choice. Coming as streaming passes broadcast as a percentage of the entire television market, it’s not clear just what consumers are going to lose with a smorgasbord of captivating programming choices.

The streaming heavyweights are in the throes of a transition from building audience to locking in paying customers. Netflix has jumped way out in front with an enormous audience fueling an equally gigantic investment in original programming. Apple TV+ has blinked earliest, moving their free trial of a year with a new Apple device purchase to 3 months, barely long enough to get halfway through the second season of their hit The Morning Show. Similar Disney+ deals with Verizon Wireless unlimited broadband upgrades are starting to time out as Disney tries to survive the pandemic’s impact on theme park revenue and steep costs of moving newly acquired properties from theaters to streaming, And then there are the rest of the old studio and network players, trying to build enough scale to compete with the leaders. Comcast consumed NBC and Universal Studios, CBS and Viacom merged to knit together broadcast, cable networks, and Paramount studios, now renamed Paramount +. And reality TV giant Discovery absorbed the remnants of WarnerMedia’s scripted studio and cable operation as AT&T backed away from content to pay for investment in 5G.

Ironically, ad-supported networks may turn out to be where the real action is. Although streaming subscribers are running up against a budget cap as they opt out of cable bundles, their antipathy for advertising is finessed by some midtier networks like Hulu and Paramount + mixing some ads with subscriptions at a reduced monthly charge. Comcast is already managing that transition with HBO Max, bundling the new streaming network with basic cable packages that include the HBO premium service. Combining HBO’s pre-pandemic windowed, or delayed from theatrical release feature films with original series programming is one thing: adding a monthly new feature simultaneously with theatrical release for all of 2021 has proven a powerful way of attracting new HBO Max subscribers in the battle for streaming. While the strategy will moderate in 2022 as theaters reopen, movie-goers are learning to appreciate the marriage of smaller titles with the convenience of subscription television.

Although big budget films like F9 are enjoying considerable success theatrically, smaller films like Parasite and other streaming releases are winning Oscars and other awards. Films have been eligible for Oscars and Golden Globes without the requirement of theatrical runs during the pandemic, and will continue for at least one more year. The HBO Max theater/digital gambit angered producers and talent with its bold move made easier during 2020’s lockdown, but WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar was apparently the loser in AT&T’s Discovery/WarnerMedia deal as Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav was picked to run the combined company. But audiences may find more affinity with popcorn at home than the distributors expect as vaccinations take root. Kilar may have bootstrapped a look at what success will mean in the New Normal similar to what companies are saving in travel and facilities costs as we incorporate the strengths of work/play-from-anywhere and the mobile transformation.

The ad streamers bring more to the party than just subscriber discounts. While Netflix has made hay with binge viewing (dumping an entire season of shows at one time) ad streamers are using a hybrid of binge production and broadcast-style staged release as a way of updating the feel of appointment television with Peak TV dynamics. Using the weekly series model a la This Is Us and Gray’s Anatomy, shows like Paramount +‘s The Good Fight are released on a weekly basis with the release night staggered across the key nights of the week. Instead of browsing the TV Guide, you get a notification that the new episode has “dropped.” In effect, the linear tv schedule so beloved by advertisers and marketers is creating a new prime time schedule across the variety of streaming networks. With constant mergers and realignment of studios, cable assets, and streaming models, we already don’t have a clue what network is screening our new shows let alone what the network is called this week, so mobile messaging becomes the point of sale for sharing digital experiences. With cable giants like Comcast deriving more and more broadband customers as cable cutting persists, and set top boxes like AppleTV and Roku smart tvs capturing more scale and competing for a combination of ad-supported and original programming, the built in microphone on their remotes leapfrogs the vanished TV guides with audio commands that require only the name of the show or even the name of the favorite star.

The creator economy is experiencing a surge of services across the social networks. Newsletters, conversational audio sites, and new notification services from Apple are promoting media to support these AI-driven user rankings of the new Hollywood streaming winners. Apple’s notification summary screens in iOS 15 effectively present a way to organize a personalized digest of show notifications, freeing you from interrupting work to track the weekly dropping of favorite shows. It won’t be long before Twitter and other newsletter tools let you broadcast those alerts to special groups you define for watercooler-like conversations about the latest spoilers. Clubhouse and other social audio rooms will invite media analysts, showrunners, and stars to interact with these newly empowered fans, and some of the more proficient will graduate to subscription newsletter recaps and transcribed interviews. Advertisers will sponsor these streams, expanding the impact of the intersection of subscription and ad-supported hybrid services.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 18, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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How To Protect Yourself When Selling Your Life Insurance

It’s a long-term financial commitment to buy a permanent life settlement policy. But, when you no longer need your life insurance, or you’re not able to pay the premium, it’s possible to sell it. Here’s how it works, and here’s how you protect yourself, as we’ve outlined for you below.

A seller of a life settlement policy is usually over the age of 65. However, the Life Insurance Settlement Association also notes that it’s possible for younger people to qualify too if they meet certain medical conditions. A universal life insurance policy and death benefits that are over $100,000 are the most desired options, but you can also sell smaller policy amounts and term-life policies.

Generally speaking, this type of policy usually gets pooled together and owned by insurance companies, banks, or other institutional vendors. However, you can find individuals that own them too. If you have a terminal illness and have a projected lifespan of 24 months or less, you could sell it under what is known as a viatical settlement. You also have to know that surrendering your policy is different because you contact your insurer to end the policy. When you do, you get a portion of the policy’s cash value if there is any left.

How This Settlement Works

how to sell my life insurance

Any transaction surrounding this type of settlement can go through a provider or a broker. The Life Insurance Settlement Association says that there are two main differences between these options. First, a broker will get multiple bids on a single policy in an attempt to get the best price for the sale possible. Brokers are almost always the ones that handle the sales. Providers are the ones that purchase the settlements. It is possible to bypass the broker and go directly to the provider to sell your policy, but you’re not guaranteed the best price doing it this way.

When you pick out a provider or broker and agree on the price, there is a general process you’ll go through to sell your policy. It may not always go this exact way, but this is a good outline of what you can expect.

  • You’ll give all of the details regarding your life insurance policy and your medical records to a provider or to a broker to start the selling process.
  • If you’re going to go through a broker, they will start shopping for potential buyers for your policy. Any buyers will look at your medical records and calculate how long they think you’ll live based on the information you provided.
  • You’ll start fielding offers for your policy. If you find one you like, you can accept the offer.
  • Once you sell, this makes the new buyer the policy owner, and they’ll then start paying the premiums. It’s also possible that this buyer could easily sell the policy again to someone who will take over the premium payments.
  • When you sell, you’ll have to check in with the buyer once in a while to confirm that you’re still alive. For example, you might get a postcard once in a while from the buyer that you have to sign and return. You can discuss how you want to check in with the buyer or broker before you sell your policy.
  • When you die, the policy owner will get the death benefit.

Important Things To Ask Yourself Before You Sell Your Policy

It’s very possible for you to get a good deal on this policy. However, asking yourself the following questions can ensure you get the best price possible:

  • Could you still need the coverage down the line? If you can afford the settlement’s premium amounts and you have people who rely on you financially, you’re better holding onto the policy instead of selling it.
  • Do you have other ways to pay your premium? If your premium is slowly starting to get unmanageable, there are alternatives available. For example, you could take loans from your policy or think about reducing how much your death benefit will pay out to reduce the premium.
  • Can you trust the buyer and the broker? Look for a broker that has the proper license using your state’s insurance department. Also, know how much of your personal information the buyer will have access to in your medical records. Don’t work with any buyer or broker that rushes your decisions.

How To Sell My Life Insurance Policy

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself when you’re wondering how to sell my life insurance policy. These things include but are not limited to:

  • Don’t respond to any life insurance settlement solicitations. It’s always a better choice to go through an insurance agent or your financial advisor. Ideally, they’ll have a license to perform life settlements.
  • Wait to sell until you get several offers on the table. A broker for this policy can shop around on your behalf to give you a better understanding of what your policy is worth.
  • Do some research on any potential broker you’re considering working with. Look through the state’s insurance department and look for complaints and their license status. You can get department contact information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners during this process.
  • Remember that you can still keep your policy, even if you have bids on it.

The post How To Protect Yourself When Selling Your Life Insurance appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Dodge Challenges: Can the automaker bring muscle into the electric future?

The term muscle car has always been a euphemism for concessions. Want the most power for the money? Forget about a sports car from Porsche or Lotus. Buy a muscle car and just take corners a bit slower. Today Dodge announced it’s making an electric muscle car and it will be available in 2024. The first question that comes to mind: well, if it’s a muscle car, what’s missing?

There’s a difference between a muscle car and a sports car, and Dodge is uniquely suited to know the differences. The brand has long been associated with horsepower and going fast in a straight line. The Dodge Viper. The Dodge Challenger. Even the Dodge Durango, a lumbering SUV, is available with a tricked-out V8 capable of putting out 710 hp — more power than most Porches, though no one is about to pit a Durango against a 911 on the track.

Part of the draw of electric vehicles revolves around their mechanical simplicity. That was the original sales pitch for the muscle car, too. But, instead of offering a sports car with a tuned chassis and remarkable aerodynamics, which adds significant development cost, American car companies just stuffed larger engines in everyday family cars. Bam. Muscle cars, baby.

Let’s assume Dodge uses the muscle car mold and makes a low-cost, high-power, straight-line electric racer — think Dodge Challenger rather than Toyota Supra. This mold has several distinct characteristics.

One, burnouts. Muscle cars are known for their burnouts, which themselves are a byproduct of an overabundance of power, lack of chassis refinement and utter disregard for your tires’ tread. Dodge teased this capability in its announcement tweet, showing a vehicle smoking all four tires. Dodge knows its audience.

Muscle car owners expect to be able to tune, tweak and modify their vehicles at home. That’s one of the main appeals to this type of vehicle. Straight from the factory, muscle cars are capable, but the buyer understands the automaker omitted certain parts to keep the sticker price as low as possible. Want better traction? Swap out the tires. Want better cornering? Add stiffer sway bars. An electric muscle car must be modifiable — something that’s increasingly rare as performance is more often optimized through software tweaks than mechanical upgrades.

Tesla has long been criticized for its aversion to vehicle modifications and at-home repairs. This is an opportunity for Dodge and others. A large swath of car buyers expect to be able to wrench on their vehicles, and I’ll wager this demographic is critical to Dodge’s future growth.

These unique characteristics of muscle cars are what make the segment so appealing for Dodge. The auto brand struggles to keep up with the market with a stable of stale vehicles, and the muscle car’s low-cost formula could allow for cheaper development costs.

And keeping development costs low is what Dodge needs right now.

Dodge is owned by Stellantis, a new automobile conglomerate formed when FCA, Dodge’s old owner, merged with the Dutch automaker PSA Group. It gets more confusing when Dodge’s previous owner is mentioned. Once always mentioned along with the giants of GM and Ford, Chrysler previously owned Dodge but is now just another brand in the Stellantis family. Together, Dodge and Chrysler offer only six vehicles, and none have seen significant updates in years.

An electric muscle car could revitalize the brand in the same way the Bronco is revitalizing Ford.

Look at Ford. The 2021 Bronco is a hit because it lines up nicely with consumer’s expectations of a Bronco. People hardly remember the engine and chassis issues that were long associated with the Bronco. Instead, people remember a durable off-roader (and slow car chases), so Ford made a durable off-roader loaded with modern conveniences.

Dodge should do the same with its upcoming electric muscle car. But, of course, calling a vehicle a muscle car sets certain expectations that Dodge would be wise to deliver.

Likewise, Ford is also selling a four-door electric Mustang, and its heavily rumored Chevrolet is preparing a similar electric SUV Corvette. While most people love the electric Mustang (I don’t), they also concede the Mustang naming muddles the branding.

What is it going to be called? Automakers are increasingly turning to their back catalog for new branding. GM revived the Hummer for its first electric truck, and Ford brought back the Bronco and F-150 Lightning. Dodge has a lot of history with muscle cars. There’s the legendary Charger Daytona (perfect if the upcoming car is built on the current Charger or Challenger), the low cost Coronet and its upgraded sibling Coronet Super Bee, the Dodge Stealth, or Dodge Polara — though maybe Polara is too close to the EV maker, Polestar. Or Dodge could turn to names used by Plymouth, another brand previously owned by Chrysler. So there’s the Plymouth Roadrunner, Duster, Fury, and Barracuda, too.

Last question: How will Dodge make the car sound like a muscle car? Hopefully, they won’t. I’m here for feeling performance rather than hearing it — and I drive a big F-150 with a custom exhaust.

#StellantisEVDay2021 | Timothy Kuniskis: “@Dodge will not sell electric cars, it will sell American eMuscle”

— Stellantis (@Stellantis) July 8, 2021

AirPods Max just hit a new all-time low price at Amazon — save $67

SAVE $67.23: The space gray AirPods Max were on sale on Amazon for just $481.77 as of July 8 — that’s 12% off their $549 MSRP, which is their highest discount yet.

We spent June crossing our fingers that some retailer would bless us with a Prime Day discount on the AirPods Max that shaved at least 5% off their (borderline ridiculous) $549 MSRP. And get this: Not only did Amazon come through — Apple’s premium on-ear headphones dipped down to $499 in during its two-day shopping event — but they’ve only gotten cheaper there in the weeks since.

As of July 9, you could score a pair of the space gray AirPods Max on sale from Amazon for only $481.77 — that’s almost $70 off their retail price in the Apple Store and their biggest discount yet. (Not a fan of that color? Amazon had the sky blue and green versions listed at just $489.99 apiece, which is a $59.01 savings either way.)

Initially released in December (amid a cacophony of memes), the AirPods Max are basically “a culmination of all the technology and features that have made Apple’s line of earbuds so successful,” as Mashable tech reporter Brenda Stolyar keenly observed in her review: They pack noise cancellation, a transparency mode, and even spatial audio. (That’s the immersive new sound format introduced to Apple Music last month.) It all goes a long way to vindicate their price tag, all with the help of an impressive 20-hour battery life, easy controls, and a stylish design.

Stolyar did note that the AirPods Max can feel a tad uncomfortable if you have tinier ears or wear glasses, so consider keeping your receipt if you fit that bill. Barring that, though, they’re this close to a home run for Apple — especially if you manage to snag them at Amazon’s current pricing.

Save $67.23 on Amazon

Credit: Apple

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Robotic funding doesn’t grow on trees

As I mentioned at the close of last week’s roundup, the biggest issue in writing this roundup on Wednesday is that sometimes news breaks on Thursday morning. Again, I’m asking the robotics community to try not make any big headlines on Thursdays. That would really help a guy out.

Last week, news broke that Zebra Technologies had purchased Fetch. I’ve written about the latter several times over the past couple years, and spoken to founder Melonee Wise a number of times, as well. Ultimately, it’s not much of a surprise Fetch went the acquisition route. If I were a better man, however, I would have leaned heavily toward an acquisition by some mega-retailer like Walmart or Target.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Everyone is looking for a competitive advantage against Amazon, including those big names. And, of course, they’ve got the deep pockets to purchase a head start. Ultimately, I think a deal like this is better for the industry, at large, given how Amazon’s acquisitions tend to go. The company loves to buy up startups and keep all of that cool technology to itself. I spoke to Wise about the deal, late last week. Some excerpts:

As we were fundraising for our Series D, this opportunity came out of that. I think when you look at it, over the last couple of years, we’ve had a good relationship with them. With the pandemic, there’s been a huge draw for more and more automation technology. Before the pandemic, there were already labor shortages for warehouse and logistics, and the pandemic only exacerbated it. One of the other great things about us joining Zebra is they have a strong go-to-market engine, and they can amplify our sales capability. They’re already in all of the customers we want to be working with. It helps us reach a much broader, wider and deeper audience.

I think it’s complicated. When I started the company, I never really planned on anything. I just wanted to go build something. I mean that in the most sincere way. I wanted to go build something and not fail. And the question is, what does not failing look like? I think the facts are that in the last 20-something years, almost no robotics company has IPO’ed. Now we’re starting to see SPACS, but there hasn’t been a robotics company that’s IPO’ed through the traditional route.

In terms of vision of how we’re thinking about it, Zebra is very excited to kind of make Fetch the centerpiece of this whole new offering that they’re building out. It’s a high strategic priority for them.

Image Credits: Abundant

On the whole, this week marked a pretty substantial slow down in terms of funding announcements. We did get one big bummer news item, as Abundant Robotics is shutting down. Good Fruit Grower got the following statement from CEO Dan Steere,

After a series of promising commercial trials with prototype apple harvesters, the company was unable to raise enough investment funding to continue development and launch a production system.

We’ve reached out for further comment, but the company’s understandably not champing at the bit to discuss where things went wrong. It’s easier, of course, to celebrate the successes than it is to dissect the failures, the latter happens much more often than we can to admit in this field. Often they arrive early in the process and don’t really warrant a lot of ink.

Abundant’s different. From the outside, the Bay Area company appeared to be on the right track toward becoming a dominant name in robotic fruit harvesting. The company had raised a total of $12 million, including Series A in 2017. Granted, that’s not an insignificant amount of time to go between raises and bringing robotics to production is extraordinarily difficult.

What’s more surprising is that the company couldn’t drum up enough interest to get it across the finish line during the pandemic, when, anecdotally, interest in robotics and automation seems to be heating up. Certainly that applies to farming, which has experienced series labor shortages over the past year. More insight into that soon, I hope.

Sarcos, meanwhile, keeps finding its way into the news cycle. This week, it’s the launch of the teleoperated Guardian XT. The company’s exoskeletons get all the love (thanks in no small part to some high profile partnerships), but company also produces non-body mounted robotics. Per the company,

The SenSuit controller enables the Guardian XT robot to mimic the operator’s movements in real-time. It is an inertial measurement unit (IMU)-based motion tracker that communicates with the robot and leverages Sarcos’ proprietary force feedback technologies. The company also plans to integrate a VR- or AR-based HMD to provide remote visual and situational awareness to the operator. The Guardian XT robot is equipped with 3-degrees of freedom end effectors that enable dexterous control of trade tools and materials, including hand-held power tools, welding and cutting equipment, inspection and test equipment, parts and components, hazardous materials, and retail inventory goods, amongst others.

The system is capable of lifting and moving up to 200 pounds and will hit the market by the end of next year.

Image Credits: Fusion

Meanwhile, robotic surgery company Fusion Robotics announced this week announced plans to merge with Adaptive Geometry, another tech company specializing in spinal surgery technology. The two companies will combine to create the perfectly nondescript Accelus (frankly, Fusion is a pretty good name for two combined companies, but maybe that’s just me).

“Accelus will create opportunities for wide-scale adoption of robotics in spine surgery—both in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs)—by addressing previous constraints related to cost and efficiency,” Accelus Chris Walsh said in a release. “Both Fusion Robotics and Integrity Implants have built enabling technology platforms that create a force multiplier for spinal care. Our products and culture create accessibility to fit each patient’s anatomy, each surgeon’s preferred approach, and each healthcare facility’s space and budget limitations, embodying our core principle of access without compromise.”

That’s a lot of business talk this week, so here’s a fun video of Boston Dynamics doing fun Boston Dynamics stuff, presumably to welcome their new Hyundai overlords:


Get 2 audiobooks for the price of one during this Audible sale

Listen to your audiobooks on the go.

Save $14.95: Select two titles for the price of one credit during Audible’s Wanderlust Sale, which ends July 11.

You might have an ambitious summer reading list, but not a lot of time to sit down and read all the books on it — whether you’re traveling or just busy day-to-day. Opting for audiobooks means you can listen to your reading list while you’re on the move.

Audible is hosting a sale to help you tackle your reading goals. Through July 11, you can get two Audible titles for one credit. Depending on your Audible membership, you might already have a credit available. If not, you can purchase one for $14.95.

This sale includes popular titles like Open Book by Jessica Simpson and 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand, as well as picks from plenty of genres and for plenty of ages. Just select your two titles and head to checkout to start listening.

Save $14.95 at Audible

Credit: Penguin Audio

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Don’t miss these highlights today, day one of TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising

Rise, shine and get your startup on, early founders. It’s Day One of TC Early Stage 2021: Marketing and Fundraising! Get ready to be schooled — in the best way possible — on essential skills, tips and tactics every founder needs to build a successful startup. And, like the sign says, the emphasis this time around is on marketing and raising funds — with plenty of experienced speakers to guide you.

Pro (crastination) Tip: It’s not too late to attend. Buy a ticket at the virtual door.

We’re about to highlight a few of the info-packed presentations on tap today — just to wet your whistle. But first, here’s how Ashley Barrington, founder of MarketPearl, described Early Stage 2020.

They offered a great variety of sessions and speakers — top investors, founders and credible subject-matter experts — who gave unique insights based on personal experience. You get great mentorship through attending the Early Stage sessions. It’s like a mini masterclass in entrepreneurship.

Be sure to check the event agenda to scope out what interests you the most. Remember, your pass includes video on demand. If you need to get a bit of work done or find that two sessions you want to attend conflict, relax. You can catch everything you missed later at your leisure.

Nailing Your Pitch: Companies aren’t started at the moment of fund raising begins but they can often end there. Nailing your pitch is integral to success. Hear from Adina Tecklu, principal at Khosla Ventures, on how to tell your story and leave investors wanting more.

How to Capitalize on Being Coached: Ted Wang, partner at Cowboy Ventures, comes from the legal world where he was a partner at Fenwick. In short, he’s seen his fair share of startup success and failure. At Early Stage, Wang will explain the value of coaching for startup founders, including the different types of coaches one might utilize, how to choose between them, and how to get the most out of a good coach.

What’s Your Story? You can have a compelling product, but it’s a compelling story that puts your company into motion. In this session, Doug Landis, former Chief Storyteller and GTM leader from Box, Salesforce and Google, will share the core storytelling mechanics to help you nail your origin, product and customer stories that will get your company in motion.

Deep Tech — How to Raise Early in a Notoriously Tough Category: The greatest evolutions in our history have not come from small technological steps, but giant leaps. Frontier tech is the future, but it’s not particularly accessible to average folks. Hear from IndieBio partner Pae Wu and HAX partner Garrett Winther on how to fundraise for your deep tech startup.

School is now in session! It’s not too late to get access to the networking, the community and learning more about the best ways to drive your business forward. Get your ticket for instant access now!

Cryptocurrency company Circle to go public in SPAC deal

Circle has announced that it plans to become a public company. The cryptocurrency company will merge with Concord Acquisition Corp, a SPAC. Circle is better known as one of the founding members of the Centre consortium with Coinbase. Along with other crypto partners, they have issued USD Coin (USDC), a popular stablecoin.

A SPAC is a publicly traded blank-check company. Merging with a SPAC has become a popular way to become a publicly listed company for tech companies.

According to Circle, the deal should value the company at $4.5 billion. Investors involved in the merger have committed $415 million in PIPE financing. The company also recently raised $440 million in capital. In other words, Circle will have plenty of capital on its hands if the merger goes through.

Created in 2013, the company originally wanted to create a mainstream bitcoin payment platform. But the company later pivoted to create a social payments app. Circle became a sort of Venmo clone with some blockchain technology under the hood. At some point, Circle even removed the ability to send and receive bitcoins.

“We never thought of ourselves as a bitcoin startup. The media certainly classified us that way because we were involved with the technology. From the day we founded the company three years ago we’ve focused on trying to build a new consumer finance company. And one that makes money work the way the Internet works,” Circle co-founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire told TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas in 2016.

While that consumer play didn’t take off, it’s interesting to see that Allaire was already thinking about being able to programmatically move money. In 2017 and 2018, the company pivoted once again to focus on cryptocurrencies. It launched an over-the-counter trading desk for big cryptocurrency investors.

It acquired Poloniex, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the U.S. at the time. It also launched Circle Invest, a really simple mobile app that let you buy and sell a handful of crypto assets.

But Circle’s most promising product has been its stablecoin — USD Coin, or USDC for short. As the name suggests, 1 USDC is always worth 1 USD. Unlike traditional cryptocurrencies, you can be sure that the value of USDC isn’t going to fluctuate like crazy. Auditing firms regularly check that issuers always keep as many USD in bank accounts as USDC in circulation.

With USDC, moving money from one wallet to another becomes as easy as using standard API calls. The company has then added various infrastructure products around USDC, such as Circle Accounts. Circle has also built ramps to bridge the gap between fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies.

There are currently $25 billion USDC in circulation and the company believes there will $190 billion USDC in circulation by the end of 2023. And Circle plans to leverage the popularity of USDC to build financial services that take advantage of USDC.

OnePlus Nord 2 to be fully revealed on July 22

The OnePlus Nord 2 is real, and it will become even realer on July 22.

Goodbye, obscurity. Hello, slow drip of information over the period of a few weeks.

Having just (literally: yesterday) announced to the world that its upcoming affordable phone, the Nord 2, is real, OnePlus has now given us another tidbit of information: its launch date.

The OnePlus Nord 2 5G (that’s the full name) is officially launching on July 22, at 2:30 p.m. ET. Yes, they could’ve told us that yesterday, but this is so much more exciting…no?

The company didn’t share any new details about the phone, but we know that it’ll have a MediaTek processor with 5G support.

While we’re on the subject of OnePlus, the company also recently admitted it’s been throttling the performance of many popular apps on its OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro phones, shortly after Anandtech discovered it independently.

In a statement provided to XDA Developers, the company said it was “matching the app’s processor requirements with the most appropriate power” in order to “provide a smooth experience while reducing power consumption.”

For the end user, this means that some apps may be a tad slower than they could be on OnePlus phones, which should save some battery life, but could be disappointing if performance is what you’re after.

Swiss Post acquires e2e encrypted cloud services provider, Tresorit

Swiss Post, the former state-owned mail delivery firm which became a private limited company in 2013, diversifying into logistics, finance, transport and more (including dabbling in drone delivery) while retaining its role as Switzerland’s national postal service, has acquired a majority stake in Swiss-Hungarian startup Tresorit, an early European pioneer in end-to-end-encrypted cloud services.

Terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed. But Swiss Post’s income has been falling in recent years, as (snailmail) letter volumes continue to decline. And a 2019 missive warned its business needed to find new sources of income.

Tresorit, meanwhile, last raised back in 2018 — when it announced an €11.5M Series B round, with investors including 3TS Capital Partners and PortfoLion. Other backers of the startup include business angels and serial entrepreneurs like Márton Szőke, Balázs Fejes and Andreas Kemi. According to Crunchbase Tresorit had raised less than $18M over its decade+ run.

It looks like a measure of the rising store being put on data security that a veteran ‘household’ brand like Swiss Post sees strategic value in extending its suite of digital services with the help of a trusted startup in the e2e encryption space.

‘Zero access’ encryption was still pretty niche back when Tresorit got going over a decade ago but it’s essentially become the gold standard for trusted information security, with a variety of players now offering e2e encrypted services — to businesses and consumers.

Announcing the acquisition in a press release today, the pair said they will “collaborate to further develop privacy-friendly and secure digital services that enable people and businesses to easily exchange information while keeping their data secure and private”.

Tresorit will remain an independent company within Swiss Post Group, continuing to serve its global target regions of EU countries, the UK and the US, with the current management (founders), brand and service also slated to remain unchanged, per the announcement.

The 2011-founded startup sells what it brands as “ultra secure” cloud services — such as storage, file syncing and collaboration — targeted at business users (it has 10,000+ customers globally); all zipped up with a ‘zero access’ promise courtesy of a technical architecture that means Tresorit literally can’t decrypt customer data because it does not hold the encryption keys.

It said today that the acquisition will strengthen its business by supporting further expansion in core markets — including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. (The Swiss Post brand should obviously be a help there.)

The pair also said they see potential for Tresorit’s tech to expand Swiss Post’s existing digital product portfolio — which includes services like a “digital letter box” app (ePost) and an encrypted email offering. So it’s not starting from scratch here.

Commenting on the acquisition in a statement, Istvan Lam, co-founder and CEO of Tresorit, said: “From the very beginning, our mission has been to empower everyone to stay in control of their digital valuables. We are proud to have found a partner in Swiss Post who shares our values on security and privacy and makes us even stronger. We are convinced that this collaboration strengthens both companies and opens up new opportunities for us and our customers.”

Asked why the startup decided to sell at this point in its business development — rather than taking another path, such as an IPO and going public — Lam flagged Swiss Post’s ‘trusted’ brand and what he dubbed a “100% fit” on values and mission.

“Tresorit’s latest investment, our biggest funding round, happened in 2018. As usual with venture capital-backed companies, the lifecycle of this investment round is now beginning to come to an end,” he told TechCrunch.

“Going public via an IPO has also been on our roadmap and could have been a realistic scenario within the next 3-4 years. The reason we have decided to partner now with a strategic investor and collaborate with Swiss Post is that their core values and vision on data privacy is a 100% fit with our values and mission of protecting privacy. With the acquisition, we entered a long-term strategic partnership and are convinced that with Tresorit’s end-to-end encryption technology and the trusted brand of Swiss Post we will further develop services that help individuals and businesses exchange information securely and privately.”

“Tresorit has paved the way for true end-to-end encryption across the software industry over the past decade. With the acquisition of Tresorit, we are strategically expanding our competencies in digital data security and digital privacy, allowing us to further develop existing offers,” added Nicole Burth, a member of the Swiss Post Group executive board and head of communication services, in a supporting statement.

Switzerland remains a bit of a hub for pro-privacy startups and services, owing to a historical reputation for strong privacy laws.

However, as Republik reported earlier this year, state surveillance activity in the country has been stepping up — following a 2018 amendment to legislative powers that expanded intercept capabilities to cover digital comms.

Such encroachments are worrying but may arguably make e2e encryption even more important — as it can offer a technical barrier against state-sanctioned privacy intrusions.

At the same time, there is a risk that legislators perceive rising use of robust encryption as a threat to national security interests and their associated surveillance powers — meaning they could seek to counter the trend by passing even more expansive legislation that directly targets and or even outlaws the use of e2e encryption. (Australia has passed an anti-encryption law, for instance, while the UK cemented its mass surveillance capabilities back in 2016 — passing legislation which includes powers to compel companies to limit the use of encryption.)

At the European Union level, lawmakers have also recently been pushing an agenda of ‘lawful access’ to encrypted data — while simultaneously claiming to support the use of encryption on data security and privacy grounds. Quite how the EU will circle that square in legislative terms remains to be seen.

But there are also some more positive legal headwinds for European encryption startups like Tresorit: A ruling last summer by Europe’s top court dialled up the complexity of taking users’ personal data out of the region — certainly when people’s information is flowing to third countries like the US where it’s at risk from state agencies’ mass surveillance.

Asked if Tresorit has seen a rise in interest in the wake of the ‘Schrems II’ ruling, Lam told us: “We see the demand for European-based SaaS cloud services growing in the future. Being a European-based company has already been an important competitive advantage for us, especially among our business and enterprise customers.”

EU law in this area contains a quirk whereby the national security powers of Member States are not so clearly factored in vs third countries. And while Switzerland is not an EU Member it remains a closely associated country, being part of the bloc’s single market.

Nevertheless, questions over the sustainability of Switzerland’s EU data adequacy decision persist, given concerns that its growing domestic surveillance regime does not provide individuals with adequate redress remedies — and may therefore be violating their fundamental rights.

If Switzerland loses EU data adequacy it could impact the compliance requirements of digital services based in the country — albeit, again, e2e encryption could offer Swiss companies a technical solution to circumvent such legal uncertainty. So that still looks like good news for companies like Tresorit.


Clearco gets the SoftBank stamp of approval in new $215M round

Toronto-based Clearco, a fintech capital provider for online companies, has raised $215 million in a round led by SoftBank Vision Fund II. The financing event closed just weeks after Clearco completed its most recent financing, a $100 million round that quintupled its valuation to $2 billion.

While the trend of rapid-fire, follow-on financing for startups is well-known these days, SoftBank’s involvement is notable for a meta reason: a Japanese Conglomerate that was once known for flashy nine-figure VC checks is putting millions of dollars into a company built on somewhat the opposite ethos: alternative financing that allows founders to avoid venture capital altogether.

And while co-founders Michele Romanow and Andrew D’Souza admit that the two companies are on opposite sides of the spectrum, they also think the existing between the two entities led to a closed deal.

“Their business was to rethink the way venture capital is done,” D’Souza said. “They saw what we were doing on the other end of the spectrum, which was to use technology to thousands of entrepreneurs, and that’s really what resonated.”

Two years ago, Clearco, formerly Clearbanc, launched “the 20-minute term sheet”, a platform that allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend. The founders then flexed rapid capital deployment based on data — and, to date, Clearco has put more than $2.5 billion in over 5,500 companies.

In the past few year, Cleaco’s messaging has changed. Per D’Souza, fast, affordable and “unbiased” capital is still a big reason why people come to the company, but they are now focused on the “technical challenge on how to provide personalized advice and the support you get from an engaged investor, board member, advisor, but at the scale of thousands and millions.” The product map has followed this energy. In the last year, Clearco launched ClearRunway to help SaaS founders secure non-dilutive capital repaid through revenue-share agreements, a valuation tool, inventory buybacks, and ClearAngel, an alternative financing platform for founders with minimal revenue.

Today’s money will be used to help Clearco grow to new geographies beyond Europe, Canada and the United States. Part of its international strategy will include M&A, as copycats emerge in emerging markets. While Clearco has grown from the anti-VC tool to a founder and capital services platform, its opinionated international energy may be what makes it a good deal for SoftBank.

“We believe that we can back a million founders around the world if we can take this alternative financing model in every country,” Romanow said. “Masa has a different model, which was to put $100 million dollar in 100 companies,” she added, referring to Masayoshi Son, the billionaire at the helm of SoftBank. She noted how Son didn’t speak for the first eight minutes of Clearco’s pitch (which ultimately was the result of him paying attention, not questioning Clearco’s utility).

Despite SoftBank’s previously garish personality, the group’s investment strategy may be changing. Per Nikkei Asia, SoftBank Vision Fund II has an average check size of $152 million, far lower than Vision Fund I’s average check size of $931 million. Still, the publication reports that the conglomerate has begun cranking up its investment cadence to one new deal a day.

With the Clearco investment, its clear that it thinks that rewriting venture capital will include adding optionality to it, as well.

You can now be a cat in Google Meet calls

New filters are cool, but we want them on the web as well.

Compared to some other video chat apps, Google Meet is…well, kind of dull. Sure, you can change the background or blur it, but up until now, that was about it when it comes to personalization.

This changes today. Google has integrated a bunch of new filters and masks into Meet, making it a bit more like Google Duo (which Meet is replacing anyways) and very much like the Snap Camera app on Zoom. These include new, animated backgrounds such as an undersea environment with bubbles and jellyfish swimming around (additions to the three launched in April), as well as changing your head into the head of a cat, elephant, dinosaur, and more.

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To access these new options, join or start a Meet call on Android or iOS, then tap the sparkle icon in the bottom right. Under the old options for background effects, you’ll see an additional row on options such as Blur, Backgrounds, Styles, and Filters.

The new features should be live now for Android and iOS users, both in the Meet app and even in Gmail. However, there are some limitations — you can’t get them in the web experience, and it only works for personal accounts, not managed accounts, such as those owned businesses and universities. Yes, that means you won’t be able to surprise your colleagues by having a dinosaur head at the meeting today, sorry.

Just be sure to always check your settings before you join a video call. This did not turn out well for a lawyer in Texas.

The gender health gap makes people’s lives hell

Blood, pain, frustration, loneliness, hopelessness, uncertainty.

These are just a few of the defining features that come with living with a health condition that is under-researched and misunderstood by doctors.

The gender health gap — the disparity in health between people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) — is wreaking devastating consequences.

Conditions like endometriosis, vaginismus, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) remain shrouded in mystery due to a dearth of related scientific research.

The UK has the largest gender health gap in the G20, where it takes on average eight years to get an endometriosis diagnosis. Ten percent of women worldwide have endometriosis, but despite its prevalence, doctors still don’t know what causes it. Add to that the fact that doctors don’t actually know what causes premenstrual syndrome (PMS), PMDD, or PCOS.

People with these conditions are dismissed by doctors, told to “go on the pill” or “lose weight,” and left to figure out what’s happening inside their bodies. Because of the lack of research into these conditions, even after receiving a diagnosis (after years fighting for one), there is little — if any — support, with some being entirely without a cure.

So, what is the human toll of the gender health gap? Mashable spoke to six people living with gynaecological conditions to hear about their experiences.

The period that lasted nine months

Natasha Petrou was in university when her period lasted nine months. She was tired and lethargic to the point where she was having to nap twice a day, exercise drained her energy, she experienced mood swings, gained weight, and joint pains impeded her ability to do her job. “I had to write my emails by doing voice notes because I couldn’t actually type, it was that painful,” she says.

She suspected her contraceptive implant might be the cause. After six months of bleeding, Natasha saw her doctor. She’d been meaning to, but between exams, moving house, and job-hunting, she had a lot on her mind. Her GP’s suggestion? To “get a bit more sun” to help with the lethargy and to avoid her phone before bed. “I just felt really ignored,” she says. “I almost had to just laugh and I just felt like giving up.”

Natasha’s symptoms continued. At work, she had to ask for special measures to carry out her duties. “I literally had to ask my boss to allow me to have desk naps,” she says. At the time, she felt there was no hope. “I felt like I was going to end up living a life of pain and tiredness.”

“I felt like I was going to end up living a life of pain and tiredness.”

When Natasha moved, she saw a doctor who took her concerns seriously, scheduling urgent tests. “She was straight away like, ‘We need to get your implant out,'” she says. In an ultrasound, they found cysts in both ovaries, identifying it as quite a serious case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The doctor removed Natasha’s implant and she felt an immediate improvement in her symptoms.

But her issues with getting adequate treatment for PCOS didn’t end there — to date, the only thing she’s been prescribed is consultations with a dietician, who is thankfully sensitive to Natasha’s history of disordered eating. But other than this, there’s little else on offer. “I’ve literally just been told the only thing I can do is lose weight, which is hard as it is because I’ve got PCOS, and one of the things it does is makes it hard to lose weight,” she says.

Information is scarce on related questions; when she asked doctors about how PCOS might affect her ability to conceive, Natasha was met with vague replies. “They’ve said that when the time comes, come back in and we’ll help you out with some hormone treatment,” she says. Other than that, there’s been no follow-up. “I don’t know how easy or hard it’s going to be to get pregnant.”

Natasha uses one word to describe her journey to diagnosis: frustration. “Frustration because it’s taken that long to be taken seriously. Frustration because I know that I’ll get the diagnosis and there isn’t much I can do with it from there,” she says. “And frustration at the fact that there isn’t that much research into it. Our options are basically diet or go back on the pill.”

The constant pain that took over her life

Radha Mistry was in her early twenties when she started experiencing irregular periods with heavy bleeding and severe pain. Her GP prescribed the contraceptive pill, which didn’t help with her symptoms. “The side effects were horrendous. I was gaining weight, breaking out in spots, mood swings, and even passing out,” she says.

After multiple pills, Radha tried an intrauterine device (IUD) or coil — and it went badly. “I bled for nine months solid,” she says. “I kept calling my doctors and was advised that it was ‘normal’ and my body just needed time to adjust.” But Radha couldn’t cope with the bleeding, was finding it difficult to function, and was forking out for sanitary pads on a weekly basis. The coil was taken out.

A few years later, Radha got a sharp, constant pain in her side. She was monitored overnight in the emergency room and sent home with little information. Days later, the pain intensified. “I couldn’t stand and over-the-counter pain relief didn’t seem to work,” she says. Radha spent another night at the hospital. “The doctors again couldn’t give me an answer…it could be appendicitis, PCOS, UTI, a bladder infection.”

Radha had an internal scan, which was extremely painful. “I remember the doctor being so rough with me, I came out of the room in tears. I just couldn’t believe what happened,” she says. Afterwards, she was assigned a gynaecologist who, again, tried to prescribe the pill or a hormonal injection, “which would put me into early menopause to ‘reset’ my hormones…I’m 25 and they want me to go through menopause?” Radha refused.

When Radha was 28, she decided to have keyhole surgery to determine what was going on. After six years of appointments, finally, she got her diagnosis. “I was told straight after surgery, still groggy from the anesthetic, that I have endometriosis,” she says. Post-surgery, no support was offered, not even a leaflet. “There was no advice or physiotherapy, pelvic pain management or a plan moving forward. I was left to my own devices.”

“Living with endometriosis isn’t just a gynaecology issue — it affects every element in a woman’s life.”

During these years waiting for an answer, endometriosis had a significant impact on Radha’s daily life. Over time, the pain proved too great to attend events the day before her period. “Missing out on theatre days, parties, museums really affected my mental health. I couldn’t be that social butterfly anymore.” Simply leaving her home was stressful. “I used to carry a ‘Endo Survival Kit’ everywhere, it contained a hot water bottle, TENS machine [a small battery-operated device that relieves pain with mild electrical currents], mix of painkillers, CBD balm, pads, knickers, heat patches — everything I have used to help ease the pain.”

But it wasn’t just her social life that was taking a hit. The financial impact took a real toll, as Radha was paying for medication and alternative therapies. Endometriosis also affected her career. Taking time off work for appointments or feeling ill, Radha was open with her managers. “My boss had endometriosis as well so she was really supportive,” she says. “I constantly felt guilty for taking time off…I felt I was letting the team down.” Though her workplace had put in provisions, Radha had gone from taking codeine to morphine in months and was struggling, so made the hard decision to hand in her notice.

Dealing with doctors, Radha didn’t feel taken seriously, repeated her story constantly, and even started to doubt herself. At every step she felt “like a lab rat being tested on every variation of medication,” and left without adequate support. “Living with endometriosis isn’t just a gynaecology issue — it affects every element in a woman’s life. There needs to be a change in how women are being diagnosed and not just prescribing the pill or painkillers.”

A painful and confusing adolescence

Jack, who would prefer not to use his real name, is a trans man with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). He was diagnosed at age 27, he’s now 39. Jack never suspected he had PCOS because his periods were pretty regular and there were no outward signs of it other than a sprinkling of facial hair that he ascribed to genetics.

PCOS affects ovary functioning, resulting in irregular periods, polycystic ovaries, and excess androgens, which can cause excess facial or body hair. There’s also a link between PCOS and insulin resistance as high insulin levels can make ovaries produce too much testosterone, resulting in follicle development issues and disrupted ovulation.

Jack had been seeing a GP for frequent thrush infections in 2010 and because of a family history of type 2 diabetes, his doctor ran blood tests that measured serum testosterone. “Turns out my androgen levels were pretty high and the scan showed cysts were present,” he says.

The impact of Jack’s PCOS diagnosis is something he’s reflected on, particularly now as he’s in the early stages of his transition. “I’d always struggled to lose weight,” he says. “When I was about 16, I was encouraged to exercise more and eat less by a doctor based on my weight, despite being on my high school’s varsity swim team.” Jack feels furious looking back on that incident, but at the time he internalised it as “normal.”

“The symptoms of it stirred up incredibly complex and painful feelings about my gender in adolescence.”

Jack’s diagnosis also came at an emotionally complex time for him. “PCOS impacted what I now call Puberty 1.0,” says Jack. He was taller and sweated more than others assigned female at birth, and experienced his voice breaking. “Thanks to genetics, I have broad shoulders, a pretty strong jawline, and no ass to speak of whatsoever,” he explains. “I’m not saying that having PCOS and the hyperandrogenism that can come with it means you’re automatically trans; there’s a lot of cis women who find the masculinising symptoms of it very distressing, and there are a lot of transmasculine people without PCOS. But for me, the symptoms of it stirred up incredibly complex and painful feelings about my gender in adolescence.” Being confronted with masculine physical changes during puberty was agony for Jack. “I felt so in-between, like I belonged nowhere. It hurt so much,” he says. “I also had no idea why what was happening to me wasn’t happening to my AFAB peers. At that point I’d just internalised the fact that I was ‘weird’ so profoundly.”

Jack remembers the moment he was diagnosed with PCOS. “I just felt this massive warm feeling of relief come over me,” he says. “I finally had an explanation for my desire to be male so badly. I remember sitting on the bus ride home from the hospital with a grin slapped across my face; totally normal for someone who’s just been told they will struggle to lose weight and might have difficulty having children, right?” This was long before Jack came out as trans and he would later come to grips with the idea that his transness was not predicated by hormone levels. “That moment was what let me take the tiniest first step towards confronting my feelings about my gender,” he says.

As a trans person with PCOS, being able to access resources presents a challenge. “Most of the PCOS-oriented spaces online tend to be heavily gendered, or largely focused on fertility concerns and use very gendered language,” says Jack, who still has learned so much more about the condition from his own research than anything a doctor ever told him.

As Jack is early on in his transition, he wonders how PCOS will affect him later. “I am still registered on the NHS [the UK’s National Health Service] as female because of said health problems — I hate it, but I also don’t want those records to be lost or to miss out on invitations for appropriate screenings,” he says. Jack is in the years-long queue to be seen by a NHS gender identity clinic, but has pursued gender-affirming treatments privately. “Given the state of trans healthcare in this country, I don’t have much confidence in trusting in the system to do its thing in that regard, either.”

The condition that stole her sense of self

Kimberley Bond started having difficulties when she was around 14. “Sometimes I would be absolutely fine, a regular teenager,” she says. “But there were also other times where I would feel so low, I’d hate myself, I’d get so angry with myself, I’d wish I was dead.”

Kimberley found the ruminations particularly difficult, and she would also self-harm. “Someone could say a mean joke or a bitchy comment and I would obsess about it for weeks, using it as a stick to beat myself with,” she says. “I’d go through these dark phases and then my mood would just lift and I was feeling fine again.”

School was tough, Kimberley says. “Neither my classmates nor my teachers could fathom how I could jump from such extremes so quickly, so I was labelled as a ‘psycho’ and an ‘attention-seeker.'” When she was 15, Kimberley was referred to a psychologist who dismissed her feelings as “teenage angst.” “The fluctuations in mood really affected my confidence and battered my self-esteem,” she says. “I felt unable to cope — it was frustrating to wake up in the morning and not know what mood I was going to be in.”

She never considered that how she was feeling was linked to her period, but when Kimberley was 19, she noticed her moods changed intensely three days either side of the start of her period. Around 22, Kimberley felt her symptoms worsening, withdrawing from her friends and having specific suicidal urges. “I suffered from huge bouts of anger and rage, at myself and friends. I indulged in hugely reckless behaviours,” she says. “I felt guilty as well, feeling like I was being ridiculous when people have it so much worse.”

“These are crucial times in your life at building a sense of identity, and PMDD snatched that from me.”

Kimberley was 24 when her boss spotted she’d been self-harming. She was sent to hospital, referred to a crisis team, spoke to psychologists, and was diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) — something she’d never heard of before. “It took nearly two years, and a suicide attempt in January 2020 for me to finally get to grips with it,” she says.

PMDD has had a massive impact on Kimberley’s life. She says the disorder “set me back around 10 years in terms of socialising and development,” with those school labels weighing on her mind. “I talked myself down all the time. I was cripplingly shy. I got into toxic relationships,” she says. Kimberley was convinced she’d fail her A-Levels so didn’t bother looking at universities, but ended up doing far better than she expected. “These are crucial times in your life at building a sense of identity, and PMDD snatched that from me,” she says. “A part of me is in mourning for the happy teenager I could have been — but never was — because of this crippling, chronic condition.”

A truly painful test

Elegy, who prefers to use her first name only, was 15 years old when she was having issues related to a pituitary tumour. In order to go on a birth control pill to deal with heavy periods, she was required to have a PAP smear test, but it was a painful ordeal. “I was not able to get through it and fainted from the pain,” she says. “My OBGYN suggested I try breathing more during the exam.”

A year later, Elegy had another smear because doctors described it as a “necessary” step in continuing her birth control. “I could not get through this second one, and vomited during it from the pain. I was told I would be given birth control again for a year, but I would have to be able to get through the exam the following year or they would not prescribe it to me again.”

In the UK, smear tests are conducted every three years if you’re aged between 25 and 49. If your test detects you have HPV (human papillomavirus — a common virus that causes warts and can, in some cases, lead to cervical cancer), you’ll be invited for another smear test the following year. People aged between 50 and 64 get tested every five years, and over-65s will only be tested if one of their past three tests was abnormal. In the U.S. it is recommended that everyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 65 be tested every five years.

“I was not able to get through it and fainted from the pain.”

The following year, it was time for the ‘necessary’ smear. “They immediately told me I had vaginismus,” she says. “They said since I was only 17, identifying as a lesbian, and not sexually active, they would make a note in my file that I had this condition and to not perform the internal exam portion on me.”

Elegy says she doesn’t feel informed by doctors. Her first gynaecologist never mentioned vaginismus and even suggested she become sexually active with a partner or herself in order to “prepare for the exam.” Another OBGYN told her the name, but “did not mention treatment options, reassure me, or offer support,” says Elegy.

Vaginismus has a big impact on Elegy’s sex life. “I have been unable to be sexually intimate with my partners,” she says. “I am in a polyamorous relationship with five other people, four of which are sexually active. They do not pressure me or make me feel bad about myself or my condition, but it is difficult for me regardless.”

Elegy has repeatedly asked OBGYNs to get the smear performed under anaesthesia, but has been refused. The fact Elegy’s never been able to complete a smear test concerns her, particularly as members of her family have been diagnosed with reproductive health conditions.

Vaginismus is typically treated with the use of a series of dilators varying in size, which are inserted into the vagina. “I personally do not want the treatment for vaginismus,” says Elegy, “for personal reasons, but I do not feel that I would be supported in my decision by the medical community.”

Overall, Elegy feels failed by the medical industry. “As a teenager, I thought I was broken, and as an adult I have been trying to break away from that mindset with little support,” she says.

A blow to self-confidence

Sophie, who prefers to use her first name only, has had problems with her periods and skin since she was a teenager, but always assumed it was normal. “I had severe acne so was given various topical treatments [benzoyl peroxide] that bleached my clothes, and was put on the pill, and eventually it became manageable,” she says. “I remember joining a swimming gala at school, and a teacher put her hand on my shoulder and recoiled, asking what I’d done to myself, not realising it was acne.”

As Sophie progressed through her twenties, she started noticing more facial hair, her hair thinned, and she was gaining weight. “My moods were really intense, my skin still looked like a teenager’s with pretty bad acne, and I was overall very self-conscious,” she says. Sophie had extremely heavy, painful periods, and was told by doctors that because of her weight she could not go on the pill.

In 2018, Sophie told her doctor she suspected she had PCOS. Thankfully, the general practitioner took her seriously and sent her for an ultrasound scan, which came back clear. “Nothing else was done about it,” she says. “I just presumed this meant it was the end of the road and carried on as normal, presuming that I had some kind of hormone imbalance.”

This year, Sophie was talking about period-related issues with friends who suggested that Sophie might be deficient in progesterone, so she requested a blood test from her doctor. Initially dismissive, the doctor arranged for Sophie to have one along with an ultrasound. “She diagnosed me with PCOS purely on the results of my blood test — my testosterone levels were way out — which is a good thing because the [ultrasound] scan came back normal again (although they did find a fibroid),” she says. A fibroid is a non-cancerous growth that can develop in or around the uterus.

Sophie will now have annual diabetes tests. Post-diagnosis, she feels reassured to know “my instincts were right all along.” In hindsight, she feels she should have gone to the doctor sooner. “I just presumed we were all meant to have issues with our periods,” she says. “I should also have fought harder when they didn’t do a blood test last time. I should have done my research.”

Sophie feels frustrated that she wasn’t recommended to have a blood test earlier by her doctor. “I do feel like womens’ health is easily explained away by other things, particularly when you are overweight,” she says. “I have had to fight to have the right tests done, but once they have been done, I feel like things have moved quite quickly and in the right direction.” That being said, she’s had no follow-up support from the general practitioner.

PCOS has had a huge impact on Sophie’s life. “It’s severely impacted my self confidence, and I feel like it’s intrinsically linked to my anxiety and depression,” she says. “The thinning hair on my head has made me really sad and self conscious, although I’ve found that taking Vitamin D supplements has helped a little. The facial hair is manageable at the moment, as I can keep on top of it, and I have managed to find some decent products to help manage my acne,” she adds. “I feel like PCOS has unknowingly affected so much of my life, and so much makes sense now.”

“We are just conditioned to believe that pain and discomfort are normal.”

The main impact has been the heaviness of her periods, with debilitating pain and nausea. “When I was younger and less good at managing them, I frequently bled through my clothes because I wasn’t using the right products for me,” she says. “I have to sleep on a duvet on top of my mattress to prevent stains, I don’t like sleeping elsewhere when I’m on my period, although I have got better at managing this now I’m older and have discovered period pants!”

Sophie might have never realised she had PCOS had she not returned to the GP. “With womens’ health, the emphasis is on the individual to know that something is wrong and act on instinct,” she says. “We are just conditioned to believe that pain and discomfort are normal. Not everyone will fight for a diagnosis.”

36 states sue Google for abusing Play Store power

The number of antitrust lawsuits against Google is increasing.

Google is in a pickle again, and this time it’s not the EU that’s after the company — it’s the United States, or at least a big chunk of it.

According to Bloomberg, 36 U.S. states, including New York, Utah, North Carolina, and Tennessee, are suing Google over anticompetitive tactics in the company’s Google Play Store.

The complaint, filed in the federal court in San Francisco Wednesday, takes aim at Google’s 30 percent commission fee on app purchases, which it claims is too big.

“Unbeknownst to most consumers who own a mobile device running Android, every time they purchase an app from the Google Play Store, or purchase digital content or subscriptions within an app, up to 30 percent of the money they pay goes to Google,” the complaint reads. “To collect and maintain this extravagant commission, Google has employed anticompetitive tactics to diminish and disincentivize competition in Android app distribution.”

Google responded in a blog post Wednesday, claiming that its system provides “more openness and choice than others” — by which it means Apple, whose iOS is essentially the only competition Google’s Android has.

“This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play,” the post says.

Epic sued Google last year over anticompetitive conduct, but the company also sued Apple over the same thing. Now, in its defense, Google is pointing at Apple, which charges a similar fee on iOS purchases, as well as the fact that most developers who have content on Google Play don’t pay a fee at all.

The lawsuit comes just days after a federal court threw out an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. It’s not the only antitrust lawsuit against Google, though — the Department of Justice and 12 states have filed a complaint last year, charging Google for having a monopoly over search. The company was also fined $1.7 billion in 2019 by the European Union, over “abusive practices in online advertising.”

Smile Identity raises $7M to build KYC and identity verification tools for Africa

An estimated one billion people worldwide face the challenge of proving who they are, according to a World Bank Group report which states that 81% of this number live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia without official proof of identity.

It’s no news that Africans spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove or verify their identities to gain access to address proofs, financial accounts, loans, SIM cards, and social services. Per reports, an estimated 500 million Africans have no formal identification at all.

There’s a dearth of services tackling this challenge but the few that exist are employing artificial intelligence for more dependable processes. Smile Identity is one of such. The company provides ID verification and KYC compliance for African faces and identities. Today, the company is announcing that it has closed a $7 million Series A funding.

Costanoa Ventures co-led the investment with pan-African venture firm CRE Venture Capital. Other investors that participated include VCs like LocalGlobe, Intercept Ventures, Future Africa and unnamed angel investors. Existing investors, including Khosla Impact, ValueStream Ventures, Beta Ventures, 500 Startups, and Story Ventures, also participated

Mark Straub founded Smile Identity with William Bares in 2017. As an investor, Straub took regular trips between Mumbai and Nairobi, spending up to a decade in the former. In the early 2000s, it was incredibly frustrating to get SIM cards or provide identity checks in India. But things began to change in 2009 when the India Stack was set in motion. The stack is a unified software platform via APIs that provide governments, businesses, startups, and developers with seamless identification, verification and authentication processes across multiple industries.

“People could easily do things like KYC to sign a document digitally, to share or federate documents across a company or school, to prove a birth certificate, or to prove an educational credential,” he said to TechCrunch. “It really unleashed this wave of innovation, entrepreneurship activity and fundamentally changed financial services and eventually share economy services in India.”

While India greatly advanced with this effort, Africa has largely played catch up. Most businesses on the continent still find it daunting to onboard new customers, salespeople or employees without spending lots of time and energy on people, processes and paperwork.

“I’d seen for 10 or 15 years how long Indians had been waiting and how many problems this set of new national ID combined with these different software protocols solved. I saw how much friction the Stack removed from people’s lives. And I thought if only there was an Africa stack.”

Straub said he began brainstorming with some entrepreneurs in Nairobi and figured that if an African Stack was to be built, three factors needed to come into play — cost, government independence, and spot-on technology. It also happened that at that time, open-source face recognition algorithms on a wide range of smartphones had flooded the market and advanced the state of verification dramatically.

Leveraging camera technology, Straub and his partners started Smile Identity and developed de-biased face recognition that was ultimately more accurate for Africans than the base level open-source algorithms published in U.S. colleges.

“We were able to combine that over time by matching selfies against either identity documents or photos on file at ID issuing authorities. And it was really the combination of those two technologies — the face recognition and all the lightness checks and, and anti-fraud checks that go with it, combined with verifying for the source of truth.” 

Four years on, Smile Identity is now present across six markets in Africa: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda. It also enables 15 different ID types and covers more than 250 million identities, performing over one million identity checks every month.

Its software is used in banking, fintech, ride-sharing, worker verification, public social welfare programs, and telecommunications. Smile Identity says it has about 80 customers who are charged on a per-query basis. Some include payments companies like Paystack, Paga, and Chipper Cash; neo-banks like Kuda and Umba; traditional banks like Stanbic IBTC; cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance, Luno, and Paxful; and supply-chain businesses like Twiga.

Finding product-market fit took a while for Smile Identity at first. There was little or no playbook to follow, so the company had to figure out the right mixture of features and pricing favourable for African markets, smartphones and the internet.

“We have had to build SDKs and mobile wrappers that work for Android and iOS but also things like React Native and Flutter and make them work on mobile web browsers. Almost every one of these solutions we came up with was because we hit some friction point with customers that forced us to innovate. A lot of those were either device issues that we ran into or low internet connection or low or no internet connection conditions.”

But with continuous iteration and working with different clients, Smile Identity is on track for another level of growth. In the past couple of months, there have been numerous talks on fintechs and regulatory requirements ranging from local data protection laws and consent requirements to privacy policies and data impact assessments. These requirements are hard to keep up with, and Straub says Smile Identity is working on templates its clients can use to navigate them.

“Right now, we’ve been building into our products and our services, some of these compliance measures. And that’s ongoing work, of course, as more and more of these requirements are put on companies.”

Straub believes that in many ways, Smile Identity is at an index of the growth of African fintech because of its bilateral usage. According to him, Smile Identity help fintechs spot good and potential bad users who might hurt their businesses in the future. “We are an accelerant of the growth of fintechs and shared economy companies because they know when they spend money on customers, those are real customers because they have actually done verification with us,” he said.

In 2019, Smile Identity secured a $4 million seed round. With this Series A, the company has raised a total of $11 million. Smile Identity plans to use the new investment to improve its services, expand across more markets, add support for more ID types and hire more engineers and support staff across Africa. That said, John Cowgill, a partner at Costanoa, will be joining Smile Identity’s board.

Indian social commerce DealShare raises $144 million, eyes international expansion

High-profile investors are doubling down on their bets to explore the future of social commerce in India. DealShare said on Thursday it has raised $144 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence in the South Asian market and eye opportunities in international markets.

The new financing round, a Series D, was led by Tiger Global and valued the Indian startup at $455 million (post-money), up from the pre-money valuation of $50 million in Series C. TechCrunch reported in April that the New York-based hedge fund was in talks to lead a large round in the Bangalore-headquartered startup.

WestBridge Capital, Alpha Wave Incubation (a venture fund backed by ADQ, and managed by Falcon Edge Capital), Z3Partners, Partners of DST Global, and Alteria Capital also participated in the new round, third in the last seven months and which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $183 million.

Even as Amazon and Flipkart have been able to create a sizeable market in the urban Indian cities, much of the nation remains still underserved. (Fun fact: DealShare kickstarted its journey the day Walmart acquired Flipkart.)

DealShare, which began as an e-commerce platform on WhatsApp, where it offered hundreds of products to consumers, is attempting to reach consumers in smaller Indian cities and towns. The startup says customers on its platform buy curated items in groups, which makes purchases “highly competitive” in affordability.

The startup, which competes with SoftBank and Prosus Ventures-backed Meesho, offers “high quality, low priced essentials coupled with a gamified, fun and virality-driven vernacular shopping experience that makes it easy for first-time internet users to experience online shopping,” its executives said.

The community purchasing, they said, enables “ultra-low-cost delivery mechanism” and ensures “best-in-class unit economics.”

“We are excited to partner with DealShare as they grow the Indian E-commerce market. DealShare’s unique approach combines discovery-led social sharing, group buying, and a gamified shopping experience with a simple consumer interface. They are well positioned to power the next wave of Indian ecommerce growth,” said Griffin Schroeder, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

DealShare expects to break-even in the next 12 months and will also expand to international markets, said Navroz Udwadia, co-founder and chief executive of Falcon Edge Capital. The expansion will start with the UAE, he added.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Indian edtech Teachmint raises $20 million to expand to new categories and geographies

As most Indian edtech startups work on broadening their catalog with live and recorded courses for students, some are beginning to take a different approach to tackle the South Asian nation’s large education market.

Teachmint, a one-year-old startup, is betting on empowering teachers to create their own virtual classrooms with a few taps on their smartphone.

The startup, which started its journey during the pandemic, has developed what it calls a mobile-first, video-first tech infrastructure to help teachers take online classes, engage with students virtually, assign them tasks, conduct attendance and also collect fees.

Teachmint’s offering has already amassed over 1 million teachers from over 5,000 Indian cities and the usage is growing over 100% each month, said Mihir Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of Teachmint, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Last month, students consumed over 25 million live classes on Teachmint, he said. Naturally investors are paying attention, too.

On Thursday, the startup said it has raised $20 million in a new investment led by Learn Capital and with participation from CM Ventures. The new investment, dubbed Pre-Series B, comes in less than two months after the startup closed its $16.5 million Series A funding.

Other than taking a different approach to tackle the education space in India, where over 250 million students go to schools, another key thing that differentiates Teachmint is its in-house prowess with tech infrastructure.

Most startups today rely on scores of technology vendors for streaming their videos, cloud storage and processing tasks, and collecting fees. “Zoom and Google Meet are great services for talking to people. But they are not fundamentally designed to solve the needs of teachers and students,” said Gupta.

By not relying on other tech providers, Teachmint, which counts Lightspeed India Partners and Better Capital among its investors, has also been able to optimize its offerings more aggressively, said Gupta.

Through its proprietary approach, Teachmint said it is able to significantly control and improve the interactiveness in these classrooms. Having in-house technology offering also helps the startup spend only a fraction on each class, he said.

“We have created a new category altogether. Any teacher can download the Teachmint app and create their first classroom within minutes. This ease of digitization of classroom didn’t exist before Teachmint,” he said, adding that more than 75% teachers on the platform use their smartphones to conduct classes.

Teachers on Teachmint can also create public links of their classrooms and share it on Facebook and other platforms to create additional distribution channels.

Students also don’t need to jot down the entire session. Teachmint delivers the notes that teachers go through during their classes in real-time with students. This way, “teachers also don’t have to recreate their notes,” he said.

The app, which supports 10 Indian languages (in addition to English), is just 14 megabytes in size and consistently ranks at — or among — the top education apps in Play Store in India.

On Thursday, the startup also announced a new product to serve schools and colleges. The product, called Teachmint for Institute, offers educational institutes a platform to conduct and monitor all their online classes and institute activities.

The expansion to this new category came after Teachmint, which consults with many teachers for building products and new features, learned that schools were struggling to collect fees from students amid the pandemic since these institutions were not able to continue their offerings in a structured way, said Gupta. And the pandemic, which last year prompted New Delhi to close schools, also made it less transparent for institutes to have visibility into how their classes were being conducted.

“In just 12 months, Teachmint has blossomed from a nascent idea to the #1 ranked education app in India – an unprecedented growth narrative for an Indian edtech company,” said Vinit Sukhija, Partner at Learn Capital, in a statement.

“This market resonance is a testament to the Teachmint team’s ongoing commitment to authentically incorporating teachers’ perspectives into the company’s ever-expanding suite of market-pioneering digital teaching tools. Having inaugurated its partnership with Teachmint just several months ago, Learn Capital is thrilled to now augment its partnership at this critical juncture in the company’s trajectory as it plans for exciting new product launches and international expansion.”

The startup will deploy the fresh funds to continue to expand its product offerings and hire talent, said Gupta. But more interestingly, he said, Teachmint is ready to expand outside of India and serve teachers in international markets.

With a flip of a switch, Gupta said he will make the offering available globally. “We don’t create content, so product is geography agnostic,” he said.

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Indonesian edtech startup Gredu raises $4M Series A to keep teachers, parents and students engaged with one another

Many teachers and parents in Indonesia rely on WhatsApp to keep in touch, creating “multiple groups that often become messy and highly ineffective, and result in confusion or lost threads,” says Rizky Aniez, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Gredu. The Jakarta-based startup was created to give everyone involved in the educational process—school administrators, teachers, parents, guardians and students—apps that let them keep track of everything and communicate with one another. Today it is announcing a $4 million Series A, led by Intudo Ventures, an Indonesia-focused venture capital firm, with participation from returning investor Vertex Ventures. 

While some teachers use Google Classroom, Gredu was created to work with Indonesia’s K-12 National Curriculum and Islamic Curriculum programs, used in both private and public schools. The startup is also developing new verticals, including software for preschools and university programs. 

Founded in September 2016, Gredu is now used by more than 400 schools, with a total of 400,000 users.  Its Series A will be used to expand in the Greater Jakarta Region and into major cities throughout Indonesia, plus product development and hiring. 

Gredu’s subscription software is centered around a management system that lets administrators and teachers keep on touch of all their their tasks—including syllabuses, teaching schedules and communicating with parents and students. Aniez told TechCrunch that the onboarding process is simple, and “in an ideal solution, it can be done within hours.” Gredu was designed to be modular, so it can be customized to a school or district’s needs. 

The platform currently has four main parts. Gredu School Management System was created for administrators, while Gredu Teacher lets educators track student attendance, create and score exams and arrange class activities. Gredu Parents enables parents and guardians to keep track of their kids’ performance and talk to teachers. Gredu Student, meanwhile, lets students look up their test scores, attendance records and school activities. 

Gredu launched an Online Assignment feature before COVID-19 and during the pandemic, it added Interactive Class to enable remote learning. Aniez said the company plans to add new features and adapt Interactive Class for other uses once in-person schooling becomes the norm again. “We believe that many of the digitization in schools adopted during the pandemic will continue to be used for the future, changing the way administrators manage schools and improving transparency for local education authorities, teachers and parents,” he added.

Gredu is part of a crop of Indonesian edtech startups that have recently raised funding, including tuition platform InfraDigital; homework help and tutoring app CoLearn; and ErudiFi for education financing. 

In a statement, Intudo Ventures founding partner Patrick Yip said, “Working with school districts and administrators, GREDU provide innovative solutions specifically tailored to enhance the quality, transparency and effectiveness of Indonesia’s education system. We are proud to support GREDU at this critical juncture as they help more schools digitize their operations and create positive impact for students throughout Indonesia.” 

Google faces a major multi-state antitrust lawsuit over Google Play fees

A group of 37 attorneys general filed a second major multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google Wednesday, accusing the company of abusing its market power to stifle competitors and forcing consumers into in-app payments that grant the company a hefty cut.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is co-leading the suit alongside the Tennessee, North Carolina and Utah attorneys general. The bipartisan coalition represents 36 U.S. states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

“Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and only Google, for the millions of applications they may choose to download to their phones and tablets,” James said in a press release. “Worse yet, Google is squeezing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses that are only seeking to compete.”

In December, 35 states filed a separate antitrust suit against Google, alleging that the company engaged in illegal behavior to maintain a monopoly on the search business. The Justice Department filed its own antitrust case focused on search last October.

In the new lawsuit, embedded below, the bipartisan coalition of states allege that Google uses “misleading” security warnings to keep consumers and developers within its walled app garden, the Google Play store. But the fees that Google collects from Android app developers are likely the meat of the case.

“Not only has Google acted unlawfully to block potential rivals from competing with its Google Play Store, it has profited by improperly locking app developers and consumers into its own payment processing system and then charging high fees,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said.

Like Apple, Google herds all app payment processing into its own service, Google Play Billing, and reaps the rewards: a 30 percent cut of all payments. Much of the criticism here is a case that could — and likely will — be made against Apple, which exerts even more control over its own app ecosystem. Google doesn’t have an iMessage equivalent exclusive app that keeps users locked in in quite the same way.

While the lawsuit discusses Google’s “monopoly power” in the app marketplace, the elephant in the room is Apple — Google’s thriving direct competitor in the mobile software space. The lawsuit argues that consumers face pressure to stay locked into the Android ecosystem, but on the Android side at least, much of that is ultimately familiarity and sunk costs. The argument on the Apple side of the equation here is likely much stronger.

The din over tech giants squeezing app developers with high mobile payment fees is just getting louder. The new multi-state lawsuit is the latest beat, but the topic has been white hot since Epic took Apple to court over its desire to bypass Apple’s fees by accepting mobile payments outside the App Store. When Epic set up a workaround, Apple kicked it out of the App Store and Epic Games v. Apple was born.

The Justice Department is reportedly already interested in Apple’s own app store practices, along with many state AGs who could launch a separate suit against the company at any time.

‘Nice Shirt! Thanks’ made me a nice shirt. Thanks!

Do not call me a space lawyer.

Don’t trust anything on the internet — until Mashable tries it first. Welcome to the Hype Test, where we review viral trends and tell you what’s really worth millions of likes.

A few years ago I started phasing graphic T-shirts out of my wardrobe. They had served me well, but I felt it was high time I graduated to clothes that require ironing. Then Nice Shirt! Thanks‘ customised T-shirts went viral on TikTok, and I decided I had to get just one more.

Launched last year by friends Hayden Rankin and Mason Manning (also known as Uncle Mason), Nice Shirt! Thanks is a small business that follows one simple ingenious premise. Provide a short written prompt to the good folks at Nice Shirt! Thanks, and they will design and print you a T-shirt based on it. Descriptions can be as detailed or vague as you wish, however you will have no idea what your fevered writings have wrought until your new garment arrives at your home.

“We wanted to monetise art and comedy, which is two things that we’re really big into,” Rankin said. “Finally, through a bunch of tweaking and adjusting, we finally came up with this idea that we thought was perfect.”

It’s a fun mix of chaos, art, individuality, and memes that seemed destined to go viral — and it did. A simple search for #niceshirtthanks on TikTok will unearth numerous clips of customers gleefully reacting to their T-shirts for the first time, and the company has been inundated with orders.

“There’s a comedic apparel market that I just don’t even think has really been tapped into,” said Rankin. “We’ve seen that a bunch of people like stupid apparel, they like funny shirts, they like garbage like that, and it’s this college group that we’ve really hit into that we really understand because we’re just a bunch of college meatheads.”

How to order from Nice Shirt! Thanks

Shirts currently range from $25.99 for a short-sleeved shirt to $30.99 for a long-sleeved one, plus an extra $2 added on to each if you want to upload your own image. Standard shipping within the U.S. costs $4.90, though Nice Shirt! Thanks ships around the globe — it’s just a matter of if you want to pay for it. Nice Shirt! Thanks provided my review sample, though shipping to Australia would generally cost $17.34.

Unfortunately, you can’t just order a nice shirt whenever inspiration strikes. High demand has caused Nice Shirt! Thanks to restrict sales to 150 shirts per day, with orders opening every day at 12:00 a.m. CT. Rankin and Manning eventually hope to increase the number of orders they can take, but for now they’re still busy working through the thousands still in their backlog.

If you’re fortunate enough to nab one of those coveted 150 daily spots, the ordering process is easy. Aside from the length of their sleeves, customers must also choose a size ranging from Small to 5XL (all measurements taken with the shirt laid flat), and from colours including “White,” “White again,” and “We only have white shirts.”

A wealth of variety.

A wealth of variety.
Credit: Amanda Yeo

Finally, once the shirt is in your cart, you have to type out a short prompt from which Nice Shirt! Thanks’ designers will draw inspiration, just as the old masters of yore were inspired by scripture. The business has a roster of over 400 designers, all of whom can access a database of prompts and choose to work on ones that spark their imagination. (Rates started at $5 per shirt, based on the cost of hiring a designer from Fiverr, but Rankin told Mashable they intend to raise prices further in order to better compensate their workers.)

The text I supplied for my prompt read: “My friends keep calling me a Space Lawyer. I am not a Space Lawyer. Please help me convey that I am not a Space Lawyer.” For context, I have a law degree and sometimes write about space. This does not make me a space lawyer, and nothing I say should be considered legal advice, space or otherwise. If you ever meet my friends, please tell them this.

I had very little idea of what design this prompt could possibly inspire, but I am not a designer so that was not my problem.

How long does it take for Nice Shirt! Thanks to ship?

My shirt took four weeks from order to arrival, which is on the shorter side of expected delivery times. Nice Shirt! Thanks’ website warns that it can take a minimum of four to six weeks from the time an order is placed to the time it’s simply shipped, with both the deluge of orders and the coronavirus pandemic slowing down operations. Then you have to wait for it to actually make the trip to you, which could add on even more weeks. Keep that in mind and consider a backup plan if you’re ordering a shirt for a specific occasion.

When my nice shirt finally came…it was genuinely the first thing to make me smile that day.

However, once mine did arrive, I found it worth the wait. I was having a truly awful week when my nice shirt finally came, and it was genuinely the first thing to make me smile that day.

Nice Shirt! Thanks doesn’t mess around with fancy packaging, which is good for keeping costs low. Shirts arrive folded in a mailing envelope, the only other contents being a print out of your prompt. It’s fairly handy, since the lengthy time between ordering and receiving means there’s a reasonable chance you’ll forget exactly what you asked for.

For my space lawyer prompt, I received a shirt depicting someone floating through space in a white suit and astronaut helmet, one fist holding the scales of justice and the other cocked back to punch. Next to them, the shirt has text that reads “Call me a space lawyer one more time.” I love it.

Nice shirt! Thanks.

Nice shirt! Thanks.
Credit: Amanda Yeo

What’s the quality like?

Though Nice Shirt! Thanks’ shirts are well chronicled on TikTok, there hasn’t been much discussion regarding the actual quality of the garments. I’ve had bad experiences with other customised T-shirts in the past, so I expected my Nice Shirt! Thanks order to be more of a novelty than a practical addition to my wardrobe. Worth a few wears, but not likely to stick around for long.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by my shirt’s quality. The label indicates the base T-shirt is from Hanes, made from 100 percent cotton, and it’s comfortably soft enough to sleep in. The printed design wasn’t plasticy as I’d feared, so there’s no danger of peeling, though it was the tiniest bit stiff when it first arrived. Fortunately it softens right up after a wash, which Nice Shirt! Thanks advises you do before your first wear.

That first wash did cause the design’s colours to slightly fade, but not more than would be reasonable or expected, and it isn’t something I expect to be a long-term issue. While I can’t definitively say Nice Shirt! Thanks’ shirts hold up in the long run, the look and feel of them indicate they probably will. I do wish I had gotten a size larger for a looser fit, but generally I found it true to size.


I was eager to surprise my friends with this shirt, and their delighted reactions did not disappoint. However, they also enthusiastically interpreted the shirt’s text as a request rather than a threat, so technically it failed the brief. I’m willing to let that slide though, because art is subjective and my friends will happily ignore authorial intent if it means I will suffer.

Of course, with so much of the shirts’ designs left to interpretation, there is always the risk that someone genuinely won’t like what they receive. In such cases, Nice Shirt! Thanks’ policy is to stand by their designers, and customers just have to literally wear it. Even so, there has been the occasional exception.

“The policy is that we don’t do refunds,” said Rankin. “But there have been times where people have emailed us and we’re like, ‘alright can you send us the shirt,’ and sure enough, it was something that I probably cleared that I shouldn’t have cleared. It just wasn’t up to par. And so there’s been times we’re like, you know what, I think we’re gonna go ahead and send you a new one.”

The very nature of internet meme art is that it is “bad,” but there is a difference between silly camp and just uninspired. Rankin and Manning have created a business out of knowing where that line is.

Manning and Rankin showing off their own nice shirts. Manning's is a picture of him eating ravioli.

Manning and Rankin showing off their own nice shirts. Manning’s is a picture of him eating ravioli.
Credit: Nice Shirt! Thanks

Though they could theoretically print as many nice shirts for themselves as they’d like, Rankin only owns one: an image of a cabbage below the word “cabbage.” So far, he’s had six people ask him where they can get it as well.

“That feels so good to have somebody ask that,” said Rankin. “It’s the most abstract stuff that people are just like, ‘That makes no sense. I want it.’ And I’m like, I couldn’t agree more.”

More from Hype Test

TikTok wants you to send video resumes directly to brands to land your next gig

A new pilot program from TikTok would inject a little LinkedIn into the youthful video-based social network.

TikTok announced that, starting today, it will invite users to submit video resumes to participating companies, including Target, Chipotle, Shopify, Meredith, NASCAR and the WWE. The company encourages applicants to show off their skills in a creative way while tagging the content with the hashtag #TikTokResumes.

The pilot program is TikTok’s latest effort to streamline the relationship between brands and creators, giving both even more reason to invest time and cash into the platform.

“#CareerTok is already a thriving subculture on the platform and we can’t wait to see how the community embraces TikTok Resumes and helps to reimagine recruiting and job discovery,” TikTok Global Head of Marketing Nick Tran said of the pilot.

TikTok resumes sample page

The new pilot program will be discoverable through the dedicated hashtag and on standalone site, which also has some tips for applying and sample videos. On that site, anyone can browse job listings by employer and fill out a short questionnaire, attaching their video link. And yes, for better or worse, pointing potential employers to your LinkedIn profile is still encouraged.

TikTok views the new pilot as a “natural extension” of its college ambassador program, which recruits students to serve as on-campus representatives promoting the social network’s brand. The pilot program will accept TikTok resumes through July 31.

Of the participating brands listed on the new site, many openings are just for regular ol’ jobs, like NASCAR seeking a sales rep and Target hunting for hourly warehouse workers to cover the night shift. (Should we really be encouraging unemployed people to jump through more hoops to land gigs like this?)

Some listings are more tailored to the TikTok skill set, like an opening at All Recipes for on-camera talent to teach viewers how to make fluffy biscuits or a supervising social producer role at Popsugar.

The traditional resume hasn’t changed much over the years — list the stuff you did, keep it on one page — but any brand hiring a social media manager or any other kind of content creator could be well served by TikTok’s latest creator economy experiment.