Day: July 15, 2021

Daily Crunch: Gap year student secures last open seat for Blue Origin’s first human spaceflight

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for July 15, 2021. Good news from the TechCrunch front: The agenda is out for our big Disrupt conference coming this September. It’s going to be flat-out amazing, frankly, so take a peek. Also, the latest EC-1 just dropped. So if you want to get the inside scoop on CockroachDB, well, we have just the compendium for you. — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Revolut is now worth $33B: U.K.-based neobank Revolut has put together an $800 million round that values the company at $33 billion. The company’s fresh valuation is a multiple of what it was worth in early 2020. Why is it worth so much today? TechCrunch did a little exploring on the matter.
  • Valve is making gaming hardware: Yes, the folks behind the Steam gaming store are getting into the hand-held gaming market. Their device, the Steam Deck, will cost $399 and will contain “a quad-core Zen 2 CPU, coupled with AMD RDNA 2 graphics and 16 GB of RAM,” per our own Brian Heater. If you want more storage, get ready to shell out up to $649 for the hand-held computer.
  • Autonomous vehicle unicorn Aurora is going public: As TechCrunch previously scooped, autonomous vehicle unicorn Aurora is going public via a SPAC. The company expects to sport a $13 billion valuation when it begins to trade. Recall that Aurora previously absorbed Uber’s self-driving vehicle unit at a roughly $10 billion valuation.

Startups/VC

The venture capital market has been on fire lately, leading to rapid-fire deal-making and more rounds than journalists can dream of covering. But if you are still in the market to raise capital, then you might want to listen to Norwest’s Lisa Wu, who has a few tips that might prove useful. Chief among them? Think like a VC when you head out to raise.

  • AmEx dips its toes into financial planning: Today news broke that credit giant American Express invested in BodesWell last year via its venture arm. Now the credit card company has “launched a pilot of its first self-service digital financial planning tool” in conjunction with the startup. Talk about an early customer for BodesWell.
  • Prefab construction tries again: That’s the word from a new $20 million round for Abodu — what we presume is a portmanteau of “abode” and “you.” Sure, prefab construction unicorn Katerra is kaput, but Abodu is taking a consumer-focused spin on the model. Norwest led the round, with participation from Initialized Capital.
  • Lightyear raises $13.1M for online network procurement: From the geekier side of tech today was news from Lightyear, a startup that its CEO says is the “the first tool for buying your telecom infrastructure on the web.” Ron Miller notes that everything is heading online, so why not network buying?
  • $20M for financial data extraction: Daloopa has closed an eight-figure Series A led by Credit Suisse Asset Management’s NEXT Investors to help financial types avoid “repetitive data extraction in order to gather insights for analysis and forecasts,” TechCrunch reports. The deal stood out to us given its obvious corporate venture capital (CVC) angle; CVCs have been more active than ever in recent quarters.

The CockroachDB EC-1

Ants and camels are famously resilient animals, but when it was time to select a name for a startup that offers open-source, cloud-based distributed database architecture, you can imagine why “Cockroach Labs” was the final candidate.

Database technology is fundamental infrastructure, which partially explains why it’s so resistant to innovation: Oracle Database was released in 1979, and MySQL didn’t reach the market until 1995.

Since hitting the market, CockroachDB has become “a next-generation, $2-billion-valued database contender,” writes enterprise reporter Bob Reselman, who interviewed the company’s founders to write a four-part series:

Part 1: Origin story: From the creation of the popular open-source image editor GIMP to some of Google’s most well-known infrastructure products.

Part 2: Technical design: Analyzes the key differentiation that CockroachDB offers, particularly its focus on geography and data storage.

Part 3: Developer relations and business: How CockroachDB engages with developers while pivoting to the cloud at a key inflection point.

Part 4: Competitive landscape and future: A look at the fierce competition, and what possible exit routes might look like.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Apple hearts fintech: News this week that Apple is considering jumping into the buy now, pay later sector rocked the share price of Affirm and Afterpay. But what about startups in the space? TechCrunch did a little noodling on the question.
  • Xiaomi snags Apple’s No. 2 handset mark: Apple’s handset shipments grew in the second quarter, but a huge 83% gain at Xiaomi put the Chinese hardware company above Cupertino and its iPhone line, per Canalys data. Samsung remains the world’s largest smartphone company by unit volume.
  • Be jealous of this 18-year-old: After the winning bidder for a space flight on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin sold for $28 million to someone who couldn’t be bothered to make the first flight, an 18-year-old “high school graduate bound for the University of Utrecht” will go instead. Oliver Daemen, enjoy the trip, we’re jealous. (Yes, Daemen’s parents are rich.)

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this guest column on Extra Crunch by Mark Spera, “5 advanced-ish SEO tactics in 2021.”

Hear Startup Alley companies pitch expert VC judges in upcoming episodes of Extra Crunch Live

We know how much you love a good startup pitch-off. Who doesn’t? It combines the thrill of live, high-stakes entertainment with learning about the hottest new thing. Plus, you get to hear feedback from some of the smartest folks in the industry, thus learning how to absolutely crush it at your next pitch meeting with a VC.

With all that in mind, we’re introducing a special summer edition of Extra Crunch Live that’s all pitch-off, all the time.

On July 21 and July 28, Extra Crunch Live will feature startups exhibiting in the Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 in September. Those startups will pitch their products/businesses to a pair of expert VC judges, who will then give their live feedback.

Extra Crunch Live is usually a combination of an interview with a founder/investor duo and an audience pitch-off. But as it’s summer, and Disrupt is right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to bring you even more pitches and even more feedback.

On July 21, our expert VC judges will be Alexa von Tobel of Inspired Capital and Anis Uzzaman from Pegasus Tech Ventures.

REGISTER HERE FOR INSPIRED CAPITAL AND PEGASUS TECH VENTURES

REGISTER HERE FOR INSPIRED CAPITAL AND PEGASUS TECH VENTURES

Alexa von Tobel founded LearnVest, which sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. She then went on to found and serve as general partner at Inspired Capital. She’s been to plenty of TechCrunch events, and has even been a guest on Extra Crunch Live earlier this year. Long story short: She’s a smarty pants and an all-around fun person to hang out with.

Anis Uzzaman is founder and partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures, whose portfolio includes SpaceX, 23andme, Airbnb, Sofi, Coinbase, Robinhood, DoorDash and many more. Before Pegasus, he was at IBM and Cadence, where he drove strategic investments in software development, microelectronics and e-commerce. And if that weren’t enough, he’s founded several companies.

On July 28, our VC judges include Nicole Johnson from Forerunner and Mor Assia from iAngels.

REGISTER HERE FOR FORERUNNER VENTURES AND iANGELS

REGISTER HERE FOR FORERUNNER VENTURES AND iANGELS

Nicole Johnson has a background in psychology and brings that experience into the world of consumer tech, focusing on the consumer psyche to both evaluate and help grow startups in which she is investing. Her portfolio includes Calibrate, Neighborhood Goods, Nécessaire, Heroes, Thingtesting, Prose, Stadium Goods and others.

Mor Assia is founding partner and co-CEO of iAngels. Hailing from Israel, and part of the IDF’s elite intelligence unit 8200, Assia leads the iAngel’s investment committee, deal screening, due diligence and portfolio management. She has a background with SAP, IBM and Amdocs, and specializes in the areas of fintech, AI and automotive technology.

These upcoming episodes are sure to be as exciting as they are informative, and we’ll be hitting you with more special edition Startup Alley pitch-off episodes of ECL throughout the rest of the summer.

Also, buy a ticket to Disrupt. Trust me. The agenda is lit. Along with the heavy hitters on the Disrupt Stage, you can get your founder how-to knowledge at sessions on the Extra Crunch Stage, breakout sessions and intimate roundtable discussions. You’ll be able to find and engage with people from all around the world through world-class networking on CrunchMatch and our virtual platform — all for under $100 for a limited time with even deeper discounts for nonprofit/government agencies, students and up-and-coming founders!

T-Mobile’s 5G outpaces Verizon and AT&T in latest Speedtest rankings

T-Mobile subscribers are once again at the top of the 5G food chain.

It turns out that combining two 5G networks into one might have some benefits after all.

Ookla, master of internet speed measurement (which, we should note, is owned by Mashable parent company J2 Global), has just released its second quarter study of mobile 5G speeds and consistency for 2021 using its Speedtest platform.

Last time around, T-Mobile was sitting pretty atop the overall rankings, and going purely by median download speed (or the speed with which your network can retrieve information from a server), that standing hasn’t changed:

  1. T-Mobile: 99.84 Mbps

  2. Verizon: 78.33 Mbps

  3. AT&T: 75.61 Mbps

T-Mobile being on top isn’t necessarily surprising. The so-called “uncarrier” absorbed Sprint’s 5G network in a blockbuster corporate merger in 2020 to build on top of the 5G infrastructure it had already built out prior to that. The fact that its median download speed is more than 20 megabits per second higher than second-place Verizon is wild, though. The same goes for its 69 percent 5G availability rating, which Ookla says measures “the percentage of users on 5G-capable devices that spend the majority of their time on 5G, both roaming and on-network.”

AT&T, for context, is in a distant second place at 38.4 percent.

The only 5G category that T-Mobile didn’t run away with was consistency, specifically the ability to deliver download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. Verizon just barely edged out T-Mobile with a 79.5 percent consistency score compared to T-Mobile’s 78.6 percent and AT&T’s 77.1 percent. Put simply, speed and availability differ greatly from provider to provider, but consistency is fairly solid across the board.

If you don’t like looking at numbers, just know that T-Mobile customers in the U.S. are generally having a better time with the gradual 5G rollout than their Verizon and AT&T brethren. That could also get flipped on its head by the end of the year because 5G is still in its relative infancy and everything is constantly changing. If you use T-Mobile, just enjoy the 5G supremacy while it lasts.

Xiaomi global shipments push past Apple for No. 2 spot

A banner quarter for Xiaomi helped the Chinese mobile company snag the No. 2 spot in global smartphone shipments, according to newly posted Q2 numbers from research firm Canalys. It’s pretty stunning growth for the company, up 83% year-over-year for the quarter and capturing 17% of the global market.

The surge puts Xiaomi at No. 2, globally, behind only Samsung’s 19% by a relatively small margin. Apple is at third with 14% (after its own solid growth has slowed), while fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo round out the top five at 10% a piece.

Huawei, of course, is nowhere to be seen among the top companies. It’s a pretty massive drop, due in no small part to blacklisting that has both barred the company from certain markets (namely, the U.S.) and cut off access to U.S. mobile products, including Google’s Android and various apps.

Image Credits: Canalys

Canalys cites aggressive pricing as a big factor in Xiaomi’s success — particularly contrasted with premium priced offerings from Samsung and Apple.

“It is now transforming its business model from challenger to incumbent, with initiatives such as channel partner consolidation and more careful management of older stock in the open market,” the analyst firm’s Research Manager Ben Stanton said in a release. “It is still largely skewed toward the mass market, however, and compared with Samsung and Apple, its average selling price is around 40% and 75% cheaper respectively. So a major priority for Xiaomi this year is to grow sales of its high-end devices, such as the Mi 11 Ultra.”

The company certainly isn’t a household name in the States (the company has dealt with its own issues here), but of late it has found particular success in Latin America, Africa and Western Europe. It seems that there are still plenty of markets available to continue its expansion as it looks to take on Samsung, even as Oppo and Vivo hope to continue their own respective rapid global growth.

5 Ways To Boost Your Self Confidence Later In Life

It is an undeniable blessing to experience life for as long as you can. There are so many people that don’t make it past their twenties. If you’re able to experience life in your 50s, 60s and beyond, remember that life is a special gift. Unfortunately, it’s easy for people to look at the things in their life that didn’t go well. After reflecting and focusing on the things that don’t go well, many people tend to lose their sense of self-confidence. Thankfully, there are some strategic ways you can continue to boost your self-confidence later on in life. Consider implementing the five tips.

1. Develop A Weight-Lifting Regimen

growing confidence in myself

If you’d like to look better as you age, one of the most dynamic ways you can transform your appearance is by regularly lifting weights. There’s something about weight lifting that can improve your hormones and your metabolic performance. It’s also excellent for burning fat. When you build muscle, this process can assist you in an effort to naturally look younger for a longer period of time. Plus, there’s nothing like being able to transform your body by strategically building muscle. If you’ve been insecure about a certain part of your body, focus on building the muscles in that area first. You’d be surprised at what you can do with a great weight lifting regimen and a clean diet.

2. Transform Your Insecurities

Take inventory of the areas of your life where you feel the most insecure. If you feel insecure regarding your finances, take up a new skill. Learn how to invest in the stock market so that you can earn more without taking up too much time. If you are not in love with your teeth, consider getting snap on veneers or another type of dental work in order to improve your smile. If you don’t really love the way you put yourself together, hire a personal stylist to help you curate your closet. Spend quality time researching and learning how you can transform your insecurities. Then, put the knowledge into action. Within a matter of time, you can have a completely different experience and eliminate the insecurity all together.

3. Read Daily

Sometimes, a person might have a low sense of self-confidence because they’re not secure in their own knowledge. They feel like they don’t have anything to contribute to a conversation or add to an organization. As a result, they shrink in public settings or remain stagnant at a job. The best way to improve your level of self-confidence within the realm of knowledge involves reading on a daily basis. You don’t have to go back to school and get a whole new degree in order to feel smart. While earning a degree is an amazing accomplishment, don’t complicate your efforts to learn more. Pick up a book within a specific subject that you’d like to learn more about. If you’d like to advance into a leadership position, start to read more books about how to be a better leader. When you’re in circles where health or current events are discussed a lot, start to read books on those subject matters. As you improve your knowledge base and feel confident in what you have to say, your self-confidence will rise.

4. Set New Goals

how to have confidence in myself

There’s an adrenaline rush that comes with conquering a new goal and surprising yourself. Even if you conquer the fear of heights by getting on a roller coaster, there’s something exhilarating about the experience. Set new goals that challenge you. Give yourself a chance to conquer those new goals. When you do this on a regular basis, this process can help you remember how strong, resilient, and capable you really are.

5. Get Therapy

Life can hand out its fair share of challenges. As those challenges chip away at your self-confidence, it’s important to address those experiences, heal and move forward in a more productive manner. By investing time in therapy, a professional therapist can help you work through your trauma, address your strengths and weaknesses and equip you to increase your self-confidence as you work to elevate your personal view of yourself.

If you try to adopt all of these tips within a matter of weeks, you might burn yourself out. Instead, create reasonable goals in order to steadily move toward a better version of yourself. When you focus on improving yourself and remembering that life is all about the journey, you’ll boost your confidence and feel better about yourself with each passing day.

The post 5 Ways To Boost Your Self Confidence Later In Life appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Announcing the agenda for the Disrupt Stage this September

Disrupt 2021 stands to be the best Disrupt yet. We have an incredible lineup of speakers both on the Disrupt Stage and the Extra Crunch Stage. And, of course, we can’t forget the Startup Battlefield, which has been a launch pad for some of the biggest tech companies in the world today, including Dropbox, Mint, and Cloudflare.

Today, we’re excited to give you a closer look at the Disrupt Stage, where the biggest names in tech talk about their companies, their plans, and what’s next for the greater tech ecosystem.

And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the three jam-packed days we’re planning for you at Disrupt. Along with these heavy hitters on the Disrupt Stage, you can get your founder how-to knowledge at sessions on the Extra Crunch Stage, breakout sessions and intimate roundtable discussions. You’ll be able to find and engage with people from all around the world through world-class networking on CrunchMatch and our virtual platform — all for under $100 for a limited time with even deeper discounts for non-profit/government agencies, students and up-and-coming founders!

So without any further ado, check out the current agenda for the Disrupt Stage:

HEALTH/BIOTECH

Saving the World with Ugur Sahin (BioNTech) and Ursheet Parikh (Mayfield Fund)

COVID-19 changed everything. It not only threatened our individual health and well being, but shook industries and economies across the globe. But the same could be said about the COVID-19 vaccines. Hear from BioNTech cofounder and CEO Ugur Sahin on the process of rapidly developing the world’s most sought after vaccine, alongside Pfizer, and the long-term potential of mRNA-based therapies. Sahin will be joined by Ursheet Parikh of Mayfield Fund to discuss what’s next for startups in this rapidly evolving industry.

Democratizing Healthcare with Toyin Ajay (Cityblock Health), Adrian Aoun (Forward), and Eren Bali (Carbon Health) 

It’s no secret that the current healthcare system in America is broken. Technology stands to make a huge difference, especially in the backdrop of eased regulations due to COVID-19. Hear how startup founders from Forward, Carbon Health and Cityblock Health decided to tackle the behemoth, backward industry of healthcare, as well as talk through their plans to democratize access and digitize the industry.

Pot, Pottery and Beyond with Seth Rogan (Houseplant), Haneen Davies (Houseplant), and Michael Mohr (Houseplant)

Somehow we live in world where alcohol is sold in grocery stores and weed is considered a gateway drug. But that is rapidly changing. The legalized cannabis industry is estimated to be worth more than $13 billion in 2021, and major players from big food, pharma, etc. all want a slice of the pie. Hear from actor and comedian Seth Rogan on his well-known passion for pot, and how it led him to start Houseplant. Rogan will also be joined by Houseplant chief commercial officer Haneen Davies and cofounder and CEO Michael Mohr.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 1

TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000

IMPACT

From ABC’s to IPO with Luis Von Ahn (Duolingo)

Language learning company Duolingo was founded in 2011 and has raised more than $167 million in private capital, and recently filed to go public. Despite avoiding monetization for years, the startup saw revenue growth of 120+ percent in 2020, with no signs of slowing. CEO and cofounder Luis Von Ahn will join us on the Disrupt stage to talk about gamifying education, prepping for a public offering, and how he and the team built the anti-Rosetta Stone with an owl as a mascot.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 2

TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000

FINTECH

Collecting Crypto Opportunities with Roham Gharegozlou (Dapper Labs)

Dapper Labs launched the digital collectible craze into the mainstream earlier this year with its smash hit NBA Top Shot, but even amid sinking NFT sales, CEO Roham Gharagozlou has big ambitions for the space. His startup most recently hit a $7.5 billion valuation and has aims to own the NFT ecosystem with their Flow blockchain product.

Breaking the Bank with Brian Armstrong (Coinbase)

Coinbase’s massive direct listing earlier this year couldn’t have come at a better time as peaking crypto enthusiasm reached market exuberance, but now amid a major market correction, CEO Brian Armstrong is once again tasked with building for the future and navigating volatility while fending off global competitors knocking at their door.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

ENTERPRISE/SAAS & SECURITY

Staying a Step Ahead with Rinki Sethi (Twitter)

In 2020, in the midst of an already-frantic year, Twitter was breached in a very public way. Behind the scenes, Twitter spends a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy on user protection and platform integrity. A big part of that is through information security. CISO Rinki Sethi will join us at Disrupt to talk through how Twitter tries to stay ahead of malicious actors, and how tech companies large and small can do the same.

From Bootstrapped to Billions with Tope Awotona (Calendly)

Dozens have tried to reinvent the calendar, and dozens have failed. Tope Awotona built Calendly not as a way to reinvent the wheel, but to add a layer of simplicity to the chaos of human communication and time management. And boy did it work! The once-bootstrapped company is now worth more than $3 billion, serving individuals and enterprises alike. Hear from the founder and CEO on how he got Calendly off the ground, why he decided to finally take institutional investment, and how the company has changed as it grows.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 3

TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000

An Unstoppable Force and an Immovable Object with Stewart Butterfield (Slack) and Bret Taylor (Salesforce)

Slack and Salesforce are two of the biggest names in all of tech. The communication tool (born from one of the odder pivots in tech history) is commonplace across organizations from almost every industry. It’s an unstoppable force. The sales CRM behemoth is used all over the world by sales teams small and large. An immovable object. In December of 2020, the pair announced a $27.7 billion merger. Hear from Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor about the future of the combined entity, why the deal made sense, and what it’s like to write down that many 0’s.

Dogmatic Design with Melanie Perkins (Canva)

The rapid evolution of the design industry can’t be understated. From better collaboration among designers and other departments, to collaboration among designers themselves, to the democratization of design across an organization, the landscape is changing. Canva has led the charge in this evolution, building one of the simplest (and yet full-featured) tools on the market. Hear cofounder and CEO Melanie Perkins talk about scaling the business to now be worth upwards of $15 billion, and expanding the business from B2C to B2B, all while continuing to iterate the product.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 4

TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000

HARDWARE

Reflecting on Success with Brynn Putnam (MIRROR)

Mirror cofounder and CEO Brynn Putnam first hit the Disrupt Stage years ago to launch her idea for a better, more beautiful, fitness product. This year, she’s returning to our stage to talk through the ups and downs of building a hardware product, how she manages the variety of moving pieces of this business (from the instructor network, to the content and subscription business, to sales and marketing, etc.) and walk us through the company’s $500 million acquisition by Lululemon.

A Fictional Future Built with Real AI with Kai-Fu Lee (Sinovation Ventures) and Chen Quifan (World Chinese Science Fiction Association)

A leading mind in AI research and investment and a bold new voice in science fiction collaborate in “AI 2041,” a remarkable new collection of stories imagining a future shaped by technology being built today. Hear Sinovation Ventures Chairman and CEO Kai-Fu Lee and author Chen Quifan (AKA Stanley Chan) discuss the tech that inspired their book and the changes they expect over the next two decades.

Drones, Self-driving Cars, and Everything in Between with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (U.S. Department of Transportation)

Pete Buttigieg first came on the scene as a small town Mayor in Indiana. He launched onto the national stage as a presidential candidate for the Democratic party in 2020. He now serves as Secretary of Transportation under the Biden administration, and oversees everything from public transport to autonomous vehicle regulation. Hear Secretary Buttigieg’s take on micromobility, the future of cities, drone delivery, autonomous vehicles and more in this fireside chat.

Crafting a Lunar Trajectory in Newspace with Peter Beck (RocketLab)

Rocket Lab has upgraded its ambitions from building a global launch empire to designing its own spacecraft and visiting the Moon and beyond. Founder and CEO Peter Beck will speak to the challenges and opportunities lying ahead for his fast-growing space and tech outfit.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

VENTURE CAPITAL

Bankrolling Web 3.0 with Katie Haun (Andreessen Horowitz)

At $2.2 billion, Andreessen Horowitz’s third crypto-centric fund is their largest vertical-specific bet ever and a signal of just how crucial blockchain tech and decentralized finance is to the firm’s future. General Partner Katie Haun co-leads the crypto team tasked with tracking down the firm’s next Coinbase, which returned billions for the firm.

Checking In with Chris Sacca (Lowercarbon Capital)

Chris Sacca has been a judge on “Shark Tank” and appeared on the show “Billions.” But he’s best known for sharing his opinions on Twitter, a company in which he invested early and often, and for placing a wide range of other hugely successful bets, including Uber, Instagram and Twilio. Now, at his newest firm, Lowercarbon Capital, Sacca is focusing his attention and dollars on finding and funding solutions to climate crisis, and we’re excited to talk with him about where he’s seeing the most opportunity bubbling up in this fireside chat.

Speaking SPAC with Chamath Palihapitiya (Social Capital)

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital, is one of the world’s most well-regarded and respected investors, and has been at the forefront of the recent SPAC craze. Hear Palihapitiya’s thoughts on the future of SPACs, what tech sectors are primed for a boom, and what excites him most in terms of future investments.

The Disrupt Desk

Industry experts and TechCrunch editors break down the panels you missed with analysis, insight, and likely a laugh or two.

Startup Battlefield Competition – Final Round

TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Startup Battlefield Cup and $100,000

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

Esports Everywhere with Nicole LaPoint Jameson (Evil Geniuses)

The pandemic not only spurred the growth of gaming as a hobby, but gave an extra boost to the world of esports. Hear Evil Geniuses’ CEO Nicole LaPoint Jameson outline where esports is headed, how data and technology are driving the players, teams, leagues and beyond, and what opportunities lie in this ever-growing industry.

American Express taps startup BodesWell for expansion into financial planning

American Express is branching out into financial planning, with a little help from a seven-person startup called BodesWell.

This week, the credit card giant launched a pilot of its first self-service digital financial planning tool, dubbed “My Financial Plan (MFP).” The six-month pilot kicked off on July 11 with about 25,000 select Amex cardmembers.

American Express quietly invested in BodesWell in late 2020 via its venture arm, Amex Ventures. Since then, the financial services behemoth teamed up with the tiny startup to develop the financial planning tool for its users. The new product is designed to give users a complete picture of their financial health and help them make and achieve major life goals, such as buying a house or retirement.

TechCrunch talked with Amex Ventures’ Julia Huang, who led the investment and strategy around the new product, and BodesWell co-founder and CEO Matthew Bellows to learn more details.

The pair actually met while serving on a panel together in 2019. 

“I was drawn to the fact that it was not a round-up savings tool, but rather a holistic tool to understand your full financial picture that could be used to plan for the financial impact of your life decisions,” Huang told TechCrunch.

Before deciding to invest in BodesWell, Huang says Amex Ventures — which over time has backed more than 70 startups — had “evaluated the space quite extensively.”

Huang introduced Bellows and his staff to Amex’s Digital Lab team and they embarked on jointly developing a specialized offering for Amex customers. (While Bellow is based in Boston, he says the startup is “globally distributed.”)

“Our goal is to democratize financial planning with our cardmembers by providing detailed insights and forecasts to help them with their holistic planning,” she told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Amex Ventures

Bellows started BodesWell in early 2019 with the goal of empowering clients and customers to build their own financial plan.

“So much of financial planning software is aimed at financial advisors, and requires them to run it,” he said. “So, most people can’t get the benefits of financial planning…Our hope is to expand benefits to a lot more people.”

BodesWell will guide users in setting up a financial plan and will work even better if they sync with their other financial information via Plaid so it can “update in real time,” Huang said.

The tool “takes into account income, assets, expenses and liabilities — what cash flow looks like holistically so that users can drag & drop to plan life events,” Bellow said. 

An estimated 85 million American households don’t have a financial, planner for a variety of reasons — including mistrust of a planner’s intentions or just feeling overwhelmed by the process.

The product is free during the pilot phase and American Express hasn’t yet determined if it will charge for it afterwards.

“We’re gauging first for engagement and the power of the product for our customers,” Huang told TechCrunch. “We want to make sure the product resonates and that we iterate on the product to make sure it’s good for the broader population. Our primary goal is that our customers use it and find it valuable.”

Amex Ventures has formed “some level of partnership” with more than two-thirds of its portfolio companies, she added.

“We try to engage with our portfolio in that way, to provide value with our startup ecosystem,” Huang said.

For its part, BodesWell had previously raised about $1.5 million from investors such as Cleo Capital, Ex Ventures, Riot.vc, GritCapital and Argon Capital and angels like HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan and Kintent CEO Sravish Sridhar.

Thales Alenia Space to develop pressurized modules for Axiom’s private space station

More details are beginning to emerge on Houston-based Axiom Space’s ambitious project to build and operate the world’s first commercial space station.

Thales Alenia Space, a European aerospace manufacturer, will develop the two pressurized modules of the Axiom Space Station. The two elements, which are scheduled to launch in 2024 and 2025, will dock to the International Space Station before eventually detaching and operating as fully independent, commercial station.

The two companies announced the signing of the final contract, valued at €110 million ($130 million), on Thursday. Each module will be able to accommodate four people. Thales will also be designing the micrometeoroid and debris protection system for each module.

The modules are still in their design phase, Thales Alenia said. The company recently completed development of the first module’s four radial bulkheads at its facility in Turin, Italy. The bulkheads, once connected, will form a cylinder. That structure will attach to the common berth mechanisms, parts of the module that will can connect to the ISS, and hatches.

The two modules have a long road ahead of them. Thales Alenia, a joint venture between French company Thales Group and Italian conglomerate Leonardo, will begin welding on the first module this September through to next year. That module will be sent to Axiom’s Texas facilities in July 2023, where Axiom will then integrate the core systems and prepare it for launch in 2024.

NASA tapped Axiom to build the first commercial living quarters for the ISS in January 2020. Once the ISS is decommissioned, Axiom’s station will detach and function as a commercial center for future missions and scientific experiments. It’s a major part of NASA’s plans to encourage the growth of the burgeoning low Earth orbit economy and the buildout of other private orbital labs and commercial facilities.

Axiom will also operate the first fully private mission to the ISS, scheduled for January 2022. Axiom Mission 1 will send four private astronauts to space onboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, for an eight-day mission.

Blue Origin rounds out passenger list with youngest person ever to fly to space

A New Shepard rocket from Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin private spaceflight company

Teenagers in space! Well, one of them.

There’s a new passenger on the roster for the July 20 launch of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ first crewed spaceflight from his private space company Blue Origin. His name is Oliver Daemen, and he’s an 18-year-old aspiring pilot starting his education in physics and innovation management at the Netherlands’ University of Utrecht this fall.

Daemen will join Bezos; Bezos’s brother Mark; and legendary aviator Wally Funk, who balances out the age range at 82 years old for the first crewed ride aboard the New Shepard rocket, developed and operated by Blue Origin, the company announced Thursday. Mark and Funk were both asked to join the flight, which makes Daemen the first paying customer flying to space with Blue Origin.

At 18, Daemen will be the youngest person to ever travel to space. Alongside him, 82-year-old Funk will be the oldest, making the flight a doubly historic one.

Tweet may have been deleted

Daemen’s attendance on the first fully crewed Blue Origin spaceflight diverges from the company’s original plans. The fourth seat was supposed to go to a mysterious person who bought a $28 million ticket at auction, but that person had to delay to a future flight due to scheduling conflicts, Blue Origin said in its announcement. (We still do not know who the buyer is nor why they had to delay their spaceflight.)

Daemen’s ticket was purchased by his father, Joes Daemen, the CEO of private equity firm Somerset Capital Partners, CNBC reported. The fact underlines the divide between the wealthy and the rest of the world as the private space tourism industry gets off the ground.

Flying to space on a New Shepard rocket involves a vertical launch sending up to six passengers more than 62 miles up into the sky past the Kármán line, the widely recognized altitude where space begins. Near the top of the journey, the passenger cabin separates from the rocket booster. While passengers unbuckle and experience zero gravity with views that are literally out of this world, the reusable rocket lands itself carefully on the launchpad. After a few minutes, the cabin descends slowly back to Earth with the help of a parachute. The whole trip lasts about 11 minutes.

The New Shepard has performed 15 successful test flights thus far and received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to take people to space on Monday. July 20’s planned launch comes hot on the tail of Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight of its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane on Sunday, featuring billionaire founder Richard Branson.

Blue Origin has not announced when future spaceflights will commence for hopeful space tourists, including the $28 million auction winner.

Announcing Sight Tech Global 2021

Shortly after the first  Sight Tech Global event, in December last year, Apple and Microsoft announced remarkable new features for mobile phones. Anyone could point the phone camera at a scene and request a “scene description.” In a flash, a cloud-based, computer vision AI determined what was in the scene and a machine-voice read the information. Learning that “a room contains three chairs and a table” might not seem like a big advance for the sighted, but for blind or visually impaired people, the new feature was a notable milestone for accessibility technology: An affordable, portable and nearly universal device could now “see” on behalf of just about anyone.

Technologies like scene description will be on the agenda at the second annual Sight Tech Global event, December 1-2, 2021. The free, sponsor-supported, virtual and global event will convene many of the world’s top technologists, researchers, advocates and founders to discuss how rapid advances in technology, many centered on AI, are altering — both improving and complicating — accessibility for people with sight loss.

Register today — it’s free.

At the heart of Sight Tech Global is the hard question: How do highly advanced, AI-based technologies actually become compelling, affordable products that folks who are blind or visually impaired readily adopt? It took 40 years, for example, for the $50,000 “Kurzweil reading machine,” a boxy desktop device, to evolve into what blind people take for granted today, a free app available on any mobile phone that can “read” just about any text. As anyone working in the field will tell you, shaping technologies into truly useful, everyday, affordable tools for people with vision loss is no less demanding than it was 40 years ago.

The agenda for last year’s Sight Tech Global convened many of the best minds across the spectrum of accessibility-related technologies, including Microsoft’s Saqib Shaikh, Amazon’s Josh Miele, Apple’s Chris Fleizach, Orcam’s Amnon Shashua, civil rights lawyer Haben Girma, author and professor Sara Hendren and researcher and professor Danna Gurari. In addition to those speakers were a dozen well attended breakout sessions led by Perkins Access, Salesforce, APH, Humanware and others.

Because the event was free, virtual and highly accessible, more than 4,000 people from 70 countries attended the event last December. All the sessions (video and transcript) are still available on demand via the agenda or on YouTube. Attendees gave the event a generous thumbs up: 4.7 out of 5  for programming and 4.6 out of 5 for accessibility.

Now is the time to register so that our all-volunteer team can keep you posted on agenda updates and ensure you have a chance to sign up for limited-attendance breakout sessions. You can register here.

Got programming ideas? We are happy to hear from you — especially founders, inventors and researchers who have working technology products! The programming committee includes Jim Fruchterman (Benetech / TechMatters), Larry Goldberg (Verizon Media), Matt King (Facebook), Professor Roberto Manduchi (UC Santa Cruz) and Will Butler (Be My Eyes). Contact us Info@sighttechglobal.com.

Calling all sponsors! We’re delighted that Google, TechCrunch and Verizon Media have already signed on for 2021, and nearly all last year’s sponsors have signaled that they plan to renew their support for this significant event. Private donors are also welcome! To learn more, read here or contact us a sponsor@sighttechglobal.com.

Sight Tech Global is a production of the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a 501(c)(3), that has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years. Vista’s executive director, Karae Lisle, is the event’s chair. Vista is the beneficiary of all sponsorships and donations to Sight Tech Global. In 2020, 92% of the proceeds from Sight Tech Global went to support the Vista Center’s work to help thousands of people with vision loss in the Bay Area lead their best life.

Please join us at Sight Tech Global in December!

 

Get outdoors this summer with sweet deals on camping and hiking gear

It’s not too late to go on an outdoor adventure this year. Check out these deals on camping and outdoor gear as of July 15:


While it can be intimidating to buy camping gear if you’re not a well-seasoned outdoors enthusiast, you don’t need a ton of overpriced products to enjoy time out in nature.

With a few good-quality essentials like a tent and an outdoor stove, you’ll be a basecamp expert in no time. Check out these deals on camping and outdoor gear that will fuel this summer’s trips.

BEST FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: Coleman 8-Person Tent — $157.99

With an eight-person tent, you can go camping with all your friends and family. This Coleman tent is big enough to fit three queen-sized air mattresses and is tall enough to stand up in. It’s also waterproof, and it has an extended awning to keep shoes and other gear dry in case of rain.


Save $62 at Amazon

Credit: Coleman

FOR DRINKING WATER ANYWHERE: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter — $17.47

True outdoorsy folks are always prepared with a high-quality water filter. LifeStraw is a simple way to make sure the water you drink is 99% free of bacteria, parasites, microplastics, and more. A single LifeStraw can filter up to 1,000 gallons of water before it needs to be replaced, so it’s a worthy investment. And yes, you really can just stick it in any body of water and know that you’ll be safe drinking from it.


Save $12.48 at Amazon

Credit: Lifestraw

FOR CAMPSITE COOKING: Camp Chef Yukon 2 Burner Outdoor Camping Stove — $124

If you’re planning on feasting in the great outdoors, a good camp stove is a must. This one has two full-sized burners, so there’s plenty of room to cook for bigger groups. It also features a three-sided wind screen, so the elements are no match for your basecamp meal.


Save $20.99 at Walmart

Credit: Camp Chef

OTHER GREAT DEALS:

REI Co-op Flash Trail Seat — $32.93

Whether you get tired while hiking or just need some solid back support for all of this season’s outdoor picnics, this foldable trail seat is a good investment. With closed-cell foam padding and adjustable connector straps, you’re sure to sit comfy outside all the time.


Save $12.02 at REI

Credit: REI Co-op

Klean Kanteen TKWide Insulated Water Bottle with Loop Cap — $19.93

An insulated reusable water bottle is the key to staying hydrated while camping and hiking — especially during the summer. This durable Klean Kanteen bottle holds 32 ounces and keeps drinks cold for up to 75 hours. You can use it in the winter too, since it’ll keep coffee or other warm drinks hot for up to 22 hours.


Save $20.02 at REI

Credit: Klean Kanteen

Explore related content:

A complete review of all the retro-magical TVA tech in ‘Loki’

Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) and Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in Marvel Studios' 'Loki'.

Wow, does this post have some spoilers — if you’re not up to date with Loki, turn back now.

For a show built around a master of magic, Loki sure leans on some retro-looking tech.

With the God of Mischief charged as a time criminal following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s Disney+ series spends a significant amount of time within the sprawling halls of the mysterious Time Variance Authority. The TVA spends its budget on ’60s and ’70s modernist-meets-space age interiors, flying cars, old-school computers seemingly able to track speech in real time but probably not play YouTube videos, and some nifty gadgets — all thanks to Loki production designer Kasra Farahani. The TVA’s files aren’t even digitised, with agents having to sort through folders upon folders worth of paperwork. But those Timedoors!

Burdened with glorious purpose, Mashable couldn’t help but obsess over the tech that He Who Remains has equipped the TVA with to dictate the “proper” flow of time. Their gadgets help with tracking Variants, gaining access to Nexus Events, and resetting anything outside the Sacred Timeline. Is this the greatest power in the universe? Maybe, but at the very least, the TVA’s got some good toys, including Ravonna Renslayer’s sweet AKAI stereo system (YouTuber JoJo Chuang did a great breakdown of the equipment used to create this).

From smartphone-like TemPads to the nifty but sinister Time Twisters, the TVA’s got its tech sorted. Hold onto your horned helmets.


TemPads

Mobius (Owen Wilson) loves using the TemPad's flipped screen more than anyone in the TVA.

Mobius (Owen Wilson) loves using the TemPad’s flipped screen more than anyone in the TVA.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Like the smartphone of the TVA, TemPads are probably the most important device in Loki. They are in one sense, small versions of the large suspended screens in TVA HQ, constantly monitoring the Sacred Timeline, but come equipped with way more practical applications.

TemPads seem to be the main way to open a Timedoor (unless you have a nifty wearable version like He Who Remains), and they primarily monitor Nexus Events (when Variants step off the Sacred Timeline). Importantly, the TemPad screen shows the timeline branch and how many “units” of time the team has until they reach the red line, which indicates the time limit after which the TVA can no longer reset a Nexus Event — which, as Miss Minutes puts it, “would lead to the destruction of the timeline and the collapse of reality as we know it.” They can also measure variance energy and identify Variants, as well as scanning objects for anachronistic existence.

Design-wise, TemPads boast a damn fine wooden inlay and a screen that flips up like a Nintendo 3DS, with a keyboard, touchpad, and navigation buttons hidden beneath the screen (usable on both sides). A menu of very cute retro software icons let the user open a Timedoor (or many, as Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie does in episode 2), activate Miss Minutes, adjust Settings, or open a Directory. In the Action List, you can run different programs or clear your cache, suggesting these devices get pretty clogged up with all that time monitoring data. In the bottom left corner is the date, next to what appears to be coordinates for the “timeline segment.” The device can play video files, as Owen Wilson’s Mobius plays C-20’s interrogation file, though images appear very pixelated. Usually handheld, the device can also be worn on the forearm.

Just look at those keys.

Just look at those keys.
Credit: screenshot / marvel studios

But they can also do fun stuff! Mobius gains the trust of a child in 1549 in Aix-en-Provence by drawing then projecting an animated hologram of a walking stick figure. Mobius also uses this projection tech to brief the team on the guises of Loki Variants, flipping up the screen like a half-open Samsung Galaxy Fold.

The TempPads seem to have decent battery life, though this thwarts Sylvie when she tries to prune Loki in episode 3 and they need to source a huge amount of power on Lamentis-1, a desolate moon with limited power points. “The TempPad requires a massive power source, not a night light,” she says. Given the swift nature of TVA missions, they probably don’t need much power each time. This explains the frankly terrible UI of the device when it comes to battery — Miss Minutes doesn’t give a “low battery” heads up before you’re completely outta juice, but once the battery is dead, she pops up on screen. It’s pretty sturdy too, unless you’re being thrown out of a moving train by guards, in which case it’ll end up smashed and useless.

Timedoors

Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) has used more than a few Timedoors.

Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) has used more than a few Timedoors.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Timedoors are some of the most elegant pieces of technology in Loki, and one of the most useful for both solving crimes and hatching nefarious plans. Generated from a TimePad through the device menu, the Timedoors open up at a set destination saved or punched into the device — TVA agents and minutemen mainly open them at the points of Nexus Events to track Variants, but they can also be used to travel back to the TVA or anywhere in time, really.

They’re transparent yet solid-looking doors of a golden hue, and make a truly satisfying sound when opened or travelled through, and it seems to take little to no toll on one’s physical constitution to walk through one. As we see in episode 4, if the door is glowing red instead of gold, you’re headed for a bad memory prison. Just a heads up.

Miss Minutes

Miss Minutes is so much better than Alexa or Siri. Sure, she works for the TVA, but she's so friendly? Right?

Miss Minutes is so much better than Alexa or Siri. Sure, she works for the TVA, but she’s so friendly? Right?
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Like an AI digital assistant from Cuphead, which was itself inspired by 1930s cartoons, Miss Minutes is the sweetest last thing you’ll hear before being pruned as a time criminal. This adorable little clock character (voiced by Tara Strong) first appears in the TVA processing room for those arrested for crimes against the Sacred Timeline, providing a handy explainer on the multiversal war, the emergence of the Time-Keepers, and the Authority itself. But she’s more than a friendly tour guide.

Miss Minutes can be accessed in the TemPads, for whatever reason you’d need a quick explainer in the field. She’s on hand to pull up important files in a flash (the TVA library could really use a Miss Minutes) or test you with questions like, “What happens when a Nexus Event branches past the red line?” Like Siri or Alexa, Miss Minutes can be tailored to the user, using their name and tracking personalised progress in TVA training modules. One can also set a subtle security “skill” with Miss Minutes, as Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Judge Renslayer does in episode 5.

Importantly, she can reside within our space, walking with the user or sitting on physical objects like books, and tries to avoid being thwacked with a jetskiing magazine by Loki. (Luckily for Miss Minutes, the mischievous scamp doesn’t connect, and the digital assistant then transfers herself into the computer to hide, so it’s unclear what would happen to the little animated character if it were clubbed.)

In the season finale, it seems Miss Minutes is more self-aware then we thought, showing her allegiance to her creator, He Who Remains. So, what is Miss Minutes made of, exactly? “Can you hear me? Are you a recording, or are you alive?” Loki asks in episode 2. “Uh, sorta both,” Miss Minutes replies. Eep.

TVA Batons

Don't get on the wrong end of one of these.

Don’t get on the wrong end of one of these.
Credit: Chuck Zlotnick

Judge Renslayer, agents, and minutemen of the TVA rely on long batons to “prune” or reset Variants, sending them to the Void in what initially appears to be an atomic pulverisation of the target. On the end of each weapon sits seven half-dome lights, which seem to concentrate the substance for resetting, held in the lantern-like tip of the baton. They’re also used for incapacitating targets, as seen when Wunmi Mosaku’s Hunter B-15 slows Loki to 1/16th the speed of regular time in one of the most impressive shots of the series in episode 1 (Tom Hiddleston blew a raspberry for that shot, FYI).

Reset charges

The primary piece of technology used by the TVA to maintain the Sacred Timeline, timeline reset charges do exactly what it says on the label. As Loki smugly explains amid his TVA training in episode 2, “Reset charges prune the affected radius of a branched timeline, allowing time to heal all its wounds — which, by the way, sounds like a nice way of saying ‘disintegrate everything in its vicinity.'”

Once a Variant is captured, these reset charges, resembling tiny little lanterns, are used “to set time back on its predetermined path,” and erase anything and anyone connected with that timeline branch. Importantly, the charges must be set and detonated before the branch hits the red line on the TemPad. I will say, the amount of time the reset charges give the TVA agents to get the hell out of there and through a Timedoor is extremely slim. Whether this is adjustable or not, it really should be — the potential for an accidental workplace injury/life-altering reset is high.

Time Twisters

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). One has a Time Twister.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). One has a Time Twister.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

These gadgets create chaos in the first episode of Loki. A light, pocket-sized, gold, handheld device with a maneuverable disc protruding from its side, a Time Twister manipulates time for a singular target. They’re connected to the TVA’s version of an electronic house arrest ankle bracelet — in this case, it’s a collar, activated and deactivated by a button on the Time Twister. By dialling the Twister’s disc, the user can move its connected collar-wearer forward or backward through time but seems to limit this geographically to where the wearer has previously been.

The Time Twister doesn’t bring anything but the collar-wearer with it, as Loki hurls a chair at Mobius which continues through the air and through the Holoprojector 35 (we’re getting to that) as Loki is pushed backward through time. “The Time Twister just loops you, not the furniture,” says Mobius. Loki is able to steal Mobius’ device to escape the interrogation room and transport himself back into the hallways of the TVA where he originally entered with Hunter B-15 through a Timedoor. Because Loki had already been to this spot within the TVA, the Time Twister could take him there, but could not transport him out of the building or the timeline, it seems.

Unlike the Timedoors, it does not seem to be a pleasant experience to be Time Twisted. During Loki’s fight with Hunter B-15, he deactivates the collar and attaches it to her, then moves the dial with his finger like an iPod click wheel or tiny turntable, just to mess with her. The niftiest bit? Time Twisters seem able to be attached to the TemPads, as Renslayer pulls her Time Twister from her device in episode 4. It’s the coolest move! Even if it’s, y’know, a villainous one.

Holoprojector 35

Mobius uses the Holoprojector 35 to guilt-trip Loki. It kinda works.

Mobius uses the Holoprojector 35 to guilt-trip Loki. It kinda works.
Credit: Chuck Zlotnick

Amongst the TVA’s manilla folders and piles of paperwork lies a projector that’s at once extremely old-fashioned and seemingly high-tech. Used to interrogate the God of Mischief himself with some good ol’ guilt-tripping, the Holoprojector 35 shows Loki a highlight reel of his actions on the Sacred Timeline (“A sampling of your greatest hits, if I may,” says Mobius). Through what looks like an RCA cable (shoutout to pre-HDMI days), the sophisticated hologram projector is connected to an almost circular computer monitor that resembles a bright scooter helmet, equipped with a tiny screen that shows the current projection and a twin tape deck. The need for the actual tape escapes me, as the screen shows Loki’s reel “loading” at one point, but it fits in with the retro technology favoured by the TVA.

As for the image itself, the Holoprojector projects from three sources — a retro orange-cased central hub and two additional projectors on either side. Transparent PNG-like videos turn into large pixels between frames, and each image almost looks like you’re seeing it with 3D glasses. If the image is paused, it revolves like a 3D model, which is a nice feature but a kick in the gut for Loki when it pauses on a heroic pose from the Avengers.

I want me a Holoprojector 35, even if I can't explain the need for the keyboard.

I want me a Holoprojector 35, even if I can’t explain the need for the keyboard.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

It’s got a neat screensaver, showing little rectangles floating in space when not in use, and the image itself can be disrupted by physical objects — Loki demonstrates this by flinging a chair at Mobius and it dissolves into the screen.

One element of this tech I don’t get is that for some reason, the projector’s computer has a keyboard. You’d think this would be used to bring up Variant files but we already know it’s using a physical tape. Mobius hits play using a button on the monitor and Loki uses the keyboard to rewind and hit play, so maybe it can do both, who knows? All I know is that I want a Holoprojector 35 for Christmas, thanks.

TVA Variant screening tech

This robot has one job: to DEROBE.

This robot has one job: to DEROBE.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

When Loki gets hauled into the TVA under arrest, he’s put through many levels of screening before his trial — and there’s some tricky tech involved. First of all, Hunter B-15 cranks one of the most hectic looking elevator levers in screen history without pushing a button, so I’m going to guess that the massive camera on the panel did the work figuring out where they were going. In the elevator shaft room, Loki comes face-to-face with an enormous four-armed robot. It’s like Boston Dynamics meets a Bioshock Big Daddy with a sprinkling of the machine that unplugs Neo when he’s freed from the Matrix — but look at its little smiling animated face! It has robotic arms, speaks little, and functions only to undress Variants, relieving Loki of his fine Asgardian leather and sense of identity in a second. The robot uses the same golden substance used in the timeline reset charges and TVA batons to erase Loki’s clothes but not him, so it seems to be able to separate materials.

Variants must also pass through what looks like a metal detector but instead pulsates, offers up a photo flash, and produces a Polaroid that measures one’s “temporal aura” — this also helps the TVA identify particular Variants. Importantly, the machine would “melt you from the inside out” if you were a robot.

And for one last bit of screening tech, we’ve got to shout out the tiny lamp-like computer/fax machine combination that’s apparently able to track “everything you’ve ever said” in real time (and across time), but what’s the TVA agent using it primarily for? If you pause the screen in episode 1, you can see he’s playing Solitaire.

The Time-Keepers

Well, this was unexpected. Good tech!

Well, this was unexpected. Good tech!
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios

If you got this far, you’re probably not worried about spoilers. In episode 5, finding out that the Time-Keepers were just robots was one of the biggest twists of the show! Nothing much more to say here than “woah, cool tech move” and no one tell the TVA about deepfakes.

Casey’s wearable

What do you do?

What do you do?
Credit: screenshot / marvel studios

Just a simple shoutout from a design fan. Seen in episode 1, desk guy Casey (Eugene Cordero) has an ambiguous wearable that looks incredibly useless and its purpose is TBC but it looks awesome. The face is made up of two slim vertical rectangles, which are for…something? Whatever it is, it’s going to be hard to read.

Loki is now streaming on Disney+ — and it’ll be back for Season 2.

The CockroachDB EC-1

Every application is a palimpsest of technologies, each layer forming a base that enables the next layer to function. Web front ends rely on JavaScript and browser DOM, which rely on back-end APIs, which themselves rely on databases.

As one goes deeper down the stack, engineering decisions become ever more conservative — changing the location of a button in a web app is an inconvenience; changing a database engine can radically upend an entire project.

It’s little surprise then that database technologies are among the longest-lasting engineering projects in the modern software developer toolkit. MySQL, which remains one of the most popular database engines in the world, was first released in the mid-1990s, and Oracle Database, launched more than four decades ago, is still widely used in high-performance corporate environments.

Database technology can change the world, but the world in these parts changes very, very slowly. That’s made building a startup in the sector a tough equation: Sales cycles can be painfully slow, even when new features can dramatically expand a developer’s capabilities. Competition is stiff and comes from some of the largest and most entrenched tech companies in the world. Exits have also been few and far between.

That challenge — and opportunity — is what makes studying Cockroach Labs so interesting. The company behind CockroachDB attempts to solve a long-standing problem in large-scale, distributed database architecture: How to make it so that data created in one place on the planet is always available for consumption by applications that are thousands of miles away, immediately and accurately. Making global data always available immediately and accurately might sound like a simple use case, but in reality it’s quite the herculean task. Cockroach Labs’ story is one of an uphill struggle, but one that saw it turn into a next-generation, $2-billion-valued database contender.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Bob Reselman. Reselman has been writing about the enterprise software market for more than two decades, with a particular emphasis on teaching and educating engineers on technology. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, figures were designed by Bob Reselman and stylized by Bryce Durbin, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

CockroachDB had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Reselman has no financial ties to CockroachDB or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The CockroachDB EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,100 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what we’ll be crawling over:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

Bird attempts to make it harder to scoot under the influence

If you want to ride, make it past this screen.

Electric scooter company Bird is putting up a digital speed bump to keep riders from scooting under the influence.

A new “checkpoint” feature in the Bird app was announced in a blog post on Thursday. Once the feature is rolled out, before you can access the app to unlock and pay for an e-scooter for any late-night or early-morning rides, you’ll need to pass through the checkpoint Bird calls “Safe Start”: If you can’t type out a keyword you’ll be unable to use Bird until you can get it right.

It’ll first roll out between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. in U.S. cities before spreading to global locations by the end of summer. Bird is available in more than 200 American, European, and Middle Eastern cities.

Safe Start is a very basic test to see if you should be able to rent and ride an e-scooter. During nighttime hours the app will serve as a reCAPTCHA of sorts. Instead of checking if you’re a robot, it checks to see if you’re drunk.

But unless you’re obliterated, typing out a keyword, like the word “SAFE” — as shown in Bird’s example photo — seems more like a hassle than a true barrier.

Bird is aware that correctly typing a simple word won’t eliminate intoxicated riding, but it might give some riders pause. At the very least, Bird’s efforts may place the problem of drinking and riding top of mind, as it has done with other safety issues. For years, Bird and other scooter-share companies have added safety videos, checklists, and scooter features like “skid detection,” which spots and notifies potentially unsafe riders.

If you can’t make it past the in-app checkpoint, the Bird app will encourage you to find an alternate way to get around, like a taxi or rideshare. But it’s more of a gentle nudge in the direction of safety than is implied by the word “checkpoint,” which evokes a police DUI checkpoint.

Besides, without industry-wide adoption, users who manage to fail the Safe Start test can switch to another scooter-share app without such a hoop to jump through. So much for safe scooting.

SPACs keep rolling as autonomous vehicle startup Aurora targets blank-check debut with $13B valuation

Aurora Innovation, the autonomous vehicle startup that acquired Uber’s self-driving unit in December, is going public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners Y.

The deal announced Thursday confirms TechCrunch’s reporting in June that the startup was in final talks with the SPAC launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.

The combined company, which is will  be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR, will have an implied valuation of $13 billion. Aurora was last valued at $10 billion following its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving unit.

Through the deal, Aurora is capturing $1 billion from private investors including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., PRIMECAP Management Company, Reinvent Capital, XN, Fidelity Management and Research LLC, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures, and Sequoia Capital, as well as strategic investments from Uber, PACCAR, and Volvo Group.

The combined company said it’s expected to have about $2.5 billion in cash at closing, including up to $977.5 million of cash held in Reinvent’s trust account from its initial public offering which closed on March 18, 2021, according to regulatory filings.

“This is a big next step for the company,” CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson said in an interview Thursday. “Obviously we need to bring our product to the market, but we really couldn’t be more excited for our team, the resources this transaction brings and our partners.”

Aurora has gone from buzzy startup to publicly traded company-via-SPAC in a span of four years. The company was founded in 2017 by Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Urmson, all whom have a history of working on automated vehicle technology.

In December, the company reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that valued the combined company at $10 billion. Under the terms of that acquisition, Aurora did not pay cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment in 2019 from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. Uber received a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since the acquisition, Aurora has spent the past several months integrating Uber ATG employees and now has a workforce of about 1,600 people. Aurora more recently said it reached an agreement with Volvo to jointly develop autonomous semi-trucks for North America. That partnership, which is expected to last several years and is through Volvo’s Autonomous Solutions unit, will focus on developing and deploying trucks built to operate autonomously on highways between hubs for Volvo customers.

Venture capital at scale

Hoffman, Pincus and Thompson have promoted a concept  that they call “venture capital at scale.” To date, SPACs have been the conduit to reach that scale. The trio have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies.

Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.

Their third SPAC — the one now merging with Aurora — is called Reinvent Technology Partners Y, priced its initial public offering of 85 million units at $10 per unit to raise $850 million. The SPAC issued an additional 12.7 million shares to cover over allotments with total gross proceeds of $977 million, according to regulatory filings. The units are listed on the Nasdaq exchange and trade under the ticker symbol “RTPYU.”

In many ways, the Aurora-Reinvent SPAC is a union that makes sense.

Aurora already has a relationship with Hoffman. In February 2018, Aurora raised $90 million from Greylock Partners and Index Ventures. Hoffman, who is a partner at Greylock, and Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi became board members of Aurora as part of the Series A round. The following year, Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital and included Amazon and T. Rowe Price Associates. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Geodesic, Shell Ventures and Reinvent Capital also participated in the round, as well as previous investors Greylock and Index Ventures.

Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal is not unprecedented. It’s not commonplace either. Urmson told TechCrunch that to avoid potential conflicts of interest Hoffman didn’t particpate in discussions

“On the one hand, Reid, given his understanding and history with the company, is one of the people best suited to understand the opportunity here,” Urmson said in an interview Thursday morning, adding that to avoid a conflict of interest on both sides Hoffman wasn’t involved in any discussions on the Aurora or Reinveint side.

This story is developing.

Ireland must ‘swiftly’ investigate legality of Facebook-WhatsApp data-sharing, says EDPB

Facebook’s lead regulator in the European Union must “swiftly” investigate the legality of data-sharing related to a controversial WhatsApp policy update, following an order by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB).

We’ve reached out to the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) for a response.

Updated terms had been set to be imposed upon users of the Facebook-owned messaging app early this year — but in January Facebook delayed the WhatsApp terms update until May after a major privacy backlash and ongoing confusion over the details of its user data processing.

Despite WhatsApp going ahead with the policy update, the ToS has continued to face scrutiny from regulators and rights organizations around the world.

The Indian government, for example, has repeatedly ordered Facebook to withdraw the new terms. While, in Europe, privacy regulators and consumer protection organizations have raised objections about how opaque terms are being pushed on users — and in May a German data protection authority issued a temporary (national) blocking order.

Today’s development follows that and is significant as it’s the first urgent binding decision adopted by the EDPB under the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Although the Board has not agreed to order the adoption of final measures against Facebook-WhatsApp as the requesting data supervisor, the Hamburg DPA, had asked — saying that “conditions to demonstrate the existence of an infringement and an urgency are not met”.

The Board’s intervention in the confusing mess around the WhatsApp policy update follows the use of GDPR Article 66 powers by Hamburg’s data protection authority.

In May the latter ordered Facebook not to apply the new terms to users in Germany — saying its analysis found the policy granted “far-reaching powers” to WhatsApp to share data with Facebook, without it being clear what legal basis the tech giant was relying upon to be able process users’ data.

Hamburg also accused the Irish DPC of failing to investigate the Facebook-WhatsApp data sharing when it raised concerns — hence seeking to take matters into its own hands by making an Article 66 intervention.

As part of the process it asked the EDPB to take a binding decision — asking it to take definitive steps to block data-sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook — in a bid to circumvent the Irish regulator’s glacial procedures by getting the Board to order enforcement measures that could be applied stat across the whole bloc.

However the Board’s assessment found that Hamburg had not met the bar for demonstrating the Irish DPC “failed to provide information in the context of a formal request for mutual assistance under Article 61 GDPR”, as it puts it.

It also decided that the adoption of updated terms by WhatsApp — which it nonetheless says “contain similar problematic elements as the previous version” — cannot “on its own” justify the urgency for the EDPB to order the lead supervisor to adopt final measures under Article 66(2) GDPR.

The upshot — as the Hamburg DPA puts it — is that data exchange between WhatsApp and Facebook remains “unregulated at the European level”.

Article 66 powers

The importance of Article 66 of the GDPR is that it allows EU data protection authorities to derogate from the regulation’s one-stop-shop mechanism — which otherwise funnels cross border complaints (such as those against Big Tech) via a lead data supervisor (oftentimes the Irish DPC), and is thus widely seen as a bottleneck to effective enforcement of data protection (especially against tech giants).

An Article 66 urgency proceeding allows any data supervisor across the EU to immediately adopt provisional measures — provided a situation meets the criteria for this kind of emergency intervention. Which is one way to get around a bottleneck, even if only for a time-limited period.

A number of EU data protection authorities have used (or threatened to use) Article 66 powers in recent years, since GDPR came into application in 2018, and the power is increasingly proving its worth in reconfiguring certain Big Tech practices — with, for example, Italy’s DPA using it recently to force TikTok to remove hundreds of thousands of suspected underage accounts.

Just the threat of Article 66’s use back in 2019 (also by Hamburg) was enough to encourage Google to suspend manual reviews of audio reviews of recordings captured by its voice AI, Google Assistant. (And later led to a number of major policy changes by several tech giants who had similarly been manually reviewing users’ interactions with their voice AIs.)

At the same time, Article 66 provisional measures can only last three months — and only apply nationally, not across the whole EU. So it’s a bounded power. (Perhaps especially in this WhatsApp-Facebook case, where the target is a ToS update, and Facebook could just wait out the three months and apply the policy anyway in Germany after the suspension order lapses.)

This is why Hamburg wanted the EDPB to make a binding decision. And it’s certainly a blow to privacy watchers eager for GDPR enforcement to fall on tech giants like Facebook that the Board has declined to do so in this case.

Unregulated data-sharing

Responding to the Board’s decision not to impose definitive measures to prevent data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook, the Hamburg authority expressed disappointment — see below for its full statement — and also lamented that the EDPB has not set a deadline for the Irish DPC to conduct the investigation into the legal basis of the data-sharing.

Ireland’s data protection authority has only issued one final GDPR decision against a tech giant to date (Twitter) — so there is plenty of cause to be concerned that without a concrete deadline the ordered probe could be kicked down the road for years.

Nonetheless, the EDPB’s order to the Irish DPC to “swiftly” investigate the finer-grained detail of the Facebook-WhatsApp data-sharing does look like a significant intervention by a pan-EU body — as it very publicly pokes a regulator with a now infamous reputation for reluctance to actually do the job of rigorously investigating privacy concerns. 

Demonstrably it has failed to do so in this WhatsApp case. Despite major concerns being raised about the policy update — within Europe and globally — Facebook’s lead EU data supervisor did not open a formal investigation and has not raised any public objections to the update.

Back in January when we asked about concerns over the update, the DPC told TechCrunch it had obtained a ‘confirmation’ from Facebook-owned WhatsApp that there was no change to data-sharing practices that would affect EU users — reiterating Facebook’s line that the update didn’t change anything, ergo ‘nothing to see here’. 

“The updates made by WhatsApp last week are about providing clearer, more detailed information to users on how and why they use data. WhatsApp have confirmed to us that there is no change to data-sharing practices either in the European Region or the rest of the world arising from these updates,” the DPC told us then, although it also noted that it had received “numerous queries” from stakeholders who it described as “confused and concerned about these updates”, mirroring Facebook’s own characterization of complaints.

“We engaged with WhatsApp on the matter and they confirmed to us that they will delay the date by which people will be asked to review and accept the terms from February 8th to May 15th,” the DPC went on, referring to a pause in the ToS application deadline which Facebook enacted after a public backlash that saw scores of users signing up to alternative messaging apps, before adding: “In the meantime, WhatsApp will launch information campaigns to provide further clarity about how privacy and security works on the platform. We will continue to engage with WhatsApp on these updates.”

The EDPB’s assessment of the knotty WhatsApp-Facebook data-sharing terms looks rather different — with the Board calling out WhatsApp’s user communications as confusing and simultaneously raising concerns about the legal basis for the data exchange.

In a press release, the EDPB writes that there’s a “high likelihood of infringements” — highlighting purposes contained in the updated ToS in the areas of “safety, security and integrity of WhatsApp IE [Ireland] and the other Facebook Companies, as well as for the purpose of improvement of the products of the Facebook Companies” as being of particular concern.

From the Board’s PR [emphasis its]:

“Considering the high likelihood of infringements in particular for the purpose of safety, security and integrity of WhatsApp IE [Ireland] and the other Facebook Companies, as well as for the purpose of improvement of the products of the Facebook Companies, the EDPB considered that this matter requires swift further investigations. In particular to verify if, in practice, Facebook Companies are carrying out processing operations which imply the combination or comparison of WhatsApp IE’s [Ireland] user data with other data sets processed by other Facebook Companies in the context of other apps or services offered by the Facebook Companies, facilitated inter alia by the use of unique identifiers. For this reason, the EDPB requests the IE SA [Irish supervisory authority] to carry out, as a matter of priority, a statutory investigation to determine whether such processing activities are taking place or not, and if this is the case, whether they have a proper legal basis under Article 5(1)(a) and Article 6(1) GDPR.”

NB: It’s worth recalling that WhatsApp users were initially told they must accept the updated policy or else the app would stop working. (Although Facebook later changed its approach — after the public backlash.) While WhatsApp users who still haven’t accepted the terms continue to be nagged to do so via regular pop-ups, although the tech giant does not appear to be taking steps to degrade the user experience further as yet (i.e. beyond annoying, recurring pop-ups).

The EDPB’s concerns over the WhatsApp-Facebook data-sharing extend to what it says is “a lack of information around how data is processed for marketing purposes, cooperation with the other Facebook Companies and in relation to WhatsApp Business API” — hence its order to Ireland to fully investigate.

The Board also essentially confirms the view that WhatsApp users themselves have no hope of understanding what Facebook is doing with their data by reading the comms material it has provided them with — with the Board writing [emphasis ours]:

“Based on the evidence provided, the EDPB concluded that there is a high likelihood that Facebook IE [Ireland] already processes WhatsApp IE [Ireland] user data as a (joint) controller for the common purpose of safety, security and integrity of WhatsApp IE [Ireland] and the other Facebook Companies, and for the common purpose of improvement of the products of the Facebook Companies. However, in the face of the various contradictions, ambiguities and uncertainties noted in WhatsApp’s user-facing information, some written commitments adopted by Facebook IE [Ireland] and WhatsApp IE’s [Ireland] written submissions, the EDPB concluded that it is not in a position to determine with certainty which processing operations are actually being carried out and in which capacity.”

We contacted Facebook for a response to the EDPB’s order, and the company sent us this statement — attributed to a WhatsApp spokesperson:

“We welcome the EDPB’s decision not to extend the Hamburg DPA’s order, which was based on fundamental misunderstandings as to the purpose and effect of the update to our terms of service. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone and will work with the Irish Data Protection Commission as our lead regulator in the region in order to fully address the questions raised by the EDPB.”

Facebook also claimed it has controls in place for ‘controller to processor data sharing’ (i.e. between WhatsApp and Facebook) — which it said prohibit it (Facebook) from using WhatsApp user data for its own purposes.

The tech giant went on to reiterate its line that the update does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook.

GDPR enforcement stalemate

A further vital component to this saga is the fact the Irish DPC has, for years, been investigating long-standing complaints against WhatsApp’s compliance with GDPR’s transparency requirements — and still hasn’t issued a final decision.

So when the EDPB says it’s highly likely that some of the WhatsApp-Facebook data-processing being objected to is already going on it doesn’t mean Facebook gets a pass for that — because the DPC hasn’t issued a verdict on whether or not WhatsApp has been up front enough with users.

tl;dr: The regulatory oversight process is still ongoing.

The DPC provisionally concluded its WhatsApp transparency investigation last year — saying in January that it sent a draft decision to the other EU data protection authorities for review (and the chance to object) on December 24, 2020; a step that’s required under the GDPR’s co-decision-making process.

In January, when it said it was still waiting to receive comments on the draft decision, it also said: “When the process is completed and a final decision issues, it will make clear the standard of transparency to which WhatsApp is expected to adhere as articulated by EU Data Protection Authorities.”

Over a half a year later and WhatsApp users in the EU are still waiting to find out whether the company’s comms lives up to the required legal standard of transparency or not — with their data continuing to pass between Facebook and WhatsApp in the meanwhile.

The Irish DPC was contacted for comment on the EDPB’s order today and with questions on the current status of the WhatsApp transparency investigation.

It told us it would have a response later today — we’ll update this report when we get it.

Back in November the Irish Times reported that WhatsApp Ireland had set aside €77.5M for “possible administrative fines arising from regulatory compliance matters presently under investigation”. No fines against Facebook have yet been forthcoming, though.

Indeed, the DPC has yet to issue a single final GDPR decision against Facebook (or a Facebook-owned company) — despite more than three years having passed since the regulation started being applied.

Scores of GDPR complaints against the Facebook’s data-processing empire — such as this May 2018 complaint against Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp’s use of so-called ‘forced consent’ — continue to languish without regulatory enforcement in the EU because there’s been no decisions from Ireland (and sometimes no investigations either).

The situation is a huge black mark against the EU’s flagship data protection regulation. So the Board’s failure to step in more firmly now — to course-correct — does look like a missed opportunity to tackle a problematic GDPR enforcement bottleneck.

That said, any failure to follow the procedural letter of the law could invite a legal challenge that unpicked any progress. So it’s hard to see any quick wins in the glacial game of GDPR enforcement.

In the meanwhile, the winners of the stalemate are of course the tech giants who get to continue processing people’s data how they choose, with plenty of time to work on reconfiguring their legal, business and system structures to route around any enforcement damage that does eventually come.

Hamburg’s deputy commissioner for data protection, Ulrich Kühn, essentially warns as much in a statement responding to the EDPB’s decision in a statement — in which he writes:

“The decision of the European Data Protection Board is disappointing. The body, which was created to ensure the uniform application of the GDPR throughout the European Union, is missing the opportunity to clearly stand up for the protection of the rights and freedoms of millions of data subjects in Europe. It continues to leave this solely to the Irish supervisory authority. Despite our repeated requests over more than two years to investigate and, if necessary, sanction the matter of data exchanges between WhatsApp and Facebook, the IDPC has not taken action in this regard. It is a success of our efforts over many years that IDPC is now being urged to conduct an investigation. Nonetheless, this non-binding measure does not do justice to the importance of the issue. It is hard to imagine a case in which, against the background of the risks for the rights and freedoms of a very large number of data subjects and their de facto powerlessness vis-à-vis monopoly-like providers, the urgent need for concrete action is more obvious. The EDPB is thus depriving itself of a crucial instrument for enforcing the GDPR throughout Europe. This is no good news for data subjects and data protection in Europe as a whole.“

In further remarks the Hamburg authority emphasizes that the Board noted “considerable inconsistencies between the information with which WhatsApp users are informed about the extensive use of their data by Facebook on the one hand, and on the other the commitments made by the company to data protection authorities not (yet) to do so”; and also that it “expressed considerable doubts about the legal basis on which Facebook intends to rely when using WhatsApp data for its own or joint processing” — arguing that the Board therefore agrees with the “essential parts” of its arguments against WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing.

Despite carrying that weight of argument, the call for action is once again back in Ireland’s court.

 

Spotify is down so you can’t listen to podcasts while making breakfast

Well, maybe not right now.

If your Spotify isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do today, you’re not alone.

According to Downdetector, as well as numerous complaints on Twitter, Spotify isn’t working for a lot of people right now.

Mashable Image

For us at Mashable, it’s a mixed bag; in parts of Europe it works, in the UK and the U.S. it doesn’t. And waking up and realizing you can’t listen to your favorite podcast while making breakfast…well, that’s just inhumane.

We’ve checked Spotify’s official accounts, and the company doesn’t seem to be aware anything is up. Check out this exchange, below, in which the company’s official support account suggests a user should reinstall their app. If it were just that, Spotify, there would be no ugly red spike on Downdetector. (DownDetector is owned by Mashable’s parent company, J2 Global.)

Mashable Image


Credit: twitter

We’ve sent an inquiry to Spotify to see what’s up and when we can expect a fix. In the meantime… Apple Music, maybe?

National Spelling Bee champion Zaila Avant-garde combines her incredible spelling and basketball skills

Ever wonder what you’ve been doing with your life? Well, if you haven’t, you’re definitely about to.

14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde, the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with guest host Phoebe Robinson to show off her epic skills. But spelling isn’t her only forte, it seems.

Zaila can also dribble multiple basketballs at a time and is a Guinness World Record holder, to boot. But can she spell polysyllabic words while dribbling basketballs at the same time? You bet she can.

First, she deftly manages to keep three balls bouncing while spelling “machiavellian” — no mean feat without the addition of ball sports. Then, just to make things even more challenging, Zaila was asked to dribble six balls at once while spelling “amaryllis.” Just to top everything off and make you feel like an underachiever, Bill Murray stopped by (she’d referenced the actor just before spelling her winning word “murraya” at the Spelling Bee) and challenged Zaila to balance on a foam roller while dribbling three balls and spelling the word “portmanteau.”

She nailed it!

Leap, a ‘social learning’ platform aimed at over 55s, raises a $3.1M Seed round

Leap, a platform for people over 55 to learn via social interaction, has raised $3.1M funding in a seed round led by European early-stage investor Creandum, and SF-based South Park Commons. Also participating was Learn Start/Learn Capital, alongside angels Michelle Kennedy (Peanut founder), Sahil Lavingia, and Tim Tuttle.

Leap members gather online to collectively “learn, connect and grow together,” says the company, via small online groups built around shared interests. Users connect over audio and video, in groups of between five and ten. The current beta features conversations and classes hosted by specially recruited members.

Leap was founded by Swedish entrepreneur Caroline Ingeborn, former CEO of Toca Boca, a Swedish app development studio that builds learning apps for kids, and Vishal Kapur, former CTO and co-founder of Screenhero, which was acquired by Slack in 2015. The two founders met through South Park Commons, an intentional learning community that practices many of the concepts applied in Leap.


In a statement, Caroline Ingeborn said: “When I looked at other online offerings created for this demographic, I didn’t feel that they particularly encouraged meaningful connections. Groups described as ‘small’ were often bursting at the seams, and experiences often felt flimsy and random. In most instances, it felt like we were all just alone, together. It motivated me to create something far more tailored and intimate.”

Fredrik Cassel, General Partner at Creandum: “Leap is targeting an interesting segment of society: retirees – the wealthiest and fastest-growing demographic who have been largely overlooked by tech developers. It is a generation of people with considerable time, energy, and spending power that have smartphones at their fingertips. The diverse founding team convinced us with their determination and unique experiences to build a product that is truly engaging.”

‘Never Have I Ever’ Season 2 leans in to Devi’s imperfections

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Lee Rodriguez, and Ramona Young in

When Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s Never Have I Ever Season 1 premiered on Netflix in 2020, it’s hotheaded protagonist Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) polarized some viewers. Here was the three-dimensional, flawed, complex South Asian character we craved on a mainstream comedy — but she was often selfish, rash, and unpleasant; hardly the perfect girl many wanted representing their community.

Personally, I loved Devi’s imperfections, and they made sense. She was angry, horny, and grieving — often all at the same time — fighting through her tumultuous teen years while desperately holding onto her mental and emotional health. These aren’t problems with overnight or one-season solutions. I wanted to watch her work on herself as much as I wanted to see what happened next.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 turns its focus squarely to Devi and her character development through various obstacles, but the rest of the characters end up noticeably sidelined. It’s still heartfelt, funny, and a sweet TV rom-com, but while Devi learns to look outside herself, the show does not.

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) dabbles in being a player in "Never Have I Ever" Season 2.

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) dabbles in being a player in “Never Have I Ever” Season 2.
Credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Season 2 picks up not even seconds after the Season 1 finale, when Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Devi kissed in his car after he drove her to the beach to scatter her father’s ashes. But Paxton (Darren Barnet) still wants to hang out, and Devi finds herself once again pulled between the two of them. With only a month left before her family moves to India, she decides to date both boys.

The love triangle dominates early episodes, and while it’s entertaining it is noticeably thin. Ben is presented as providing brainy banter boyfriend and Paxton as a dumb hottie, a dichotomy that the shows doesn’t sufficiently explore, instead opting for false equivalence. Even after a whole Paxton-centric episode, he goes back to having no discernible qualities beyond looking good and needing a tutor, which are not enough to sustain the tension.

Enter Aneesa (Megan Suri), an ultra-cool Indian girl freshly transferred from another school. Devi is instantly threatened by everything about her, especially her chemistry with Ben. At the same time, the girls can’t help being drawn to the only person at school who effortlessly understands life as an Indian-American teen. Their relationship feels authentic, if a little cut-and-dry at times, offering Devi ample opportunities to explode with rage and humbly face her actions.

As excellent as the show’s secondary cast is, most characters this season get one episode’s worth of plot stretched painfully into 10 — and most of those involve romance. Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) are also in new relationships, Kamala (Richa Moorjani) is pre-engaged to Prashant (Rushi Kota), and even Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) considers dating for the first time since losing her husband. It’s not surprising that rom-com lover Kaling steers the ship in this direction after The Mindy Project and Four Weddings and a Funeral — but there is so much fertile ground untilled.

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is threatened by her cool new classmate, Aneesa (Megan Suri).

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is threatened by her cool new classmate, Aneesa (Megan Suri).
Credit: ISABELLA B. VOSMIKOVA / NETFLIX

Never Have I Ever’s grasp on grief remains its greatest strength. The way Mohan’s (Sendhil Ramamurthy) sudden passing still pains his family, the way his absence bonds wife Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and mother Nirmala (Ranjita Chakravarty). Devi pours herself into school, friends, and romance, but whenever things get tough she finds a moment alone to listen to her father’s last voicemail. The prospect of moving on without Mohan terrifies all of them.

Season 1 might have been a love triangle with Paxton and Ben, but it was more broadly about Devi processing her father’s death and learning how to live with loss. Season 2 has no such foundation and flounders as a result. The closest it gets is leaning into Devi’s “disagreeable personality” in ways that are both problematic and promising. More characters call Devi out on her anger, but sometimes it helps her to briefly kick a trash can or help Kamal out of a tough situation. Ben cheerfully informs Devi she probably has a mood disorder and we just move on from this as she alternately embraces and flees from the “crazy Devi” label.

It may not be as tightly written or skillfully plotted as its predecessor, but Never Have I Ever Season 2 serves Crazy Devi well (sorry). She’s still damaged, self-centered, and impulsive, but there’s something to be said for spotting and responding to those traits instead of just following them into chaos. Slowly but surely, our Devi is growing up outside of her romantic relationships. Maybe next season everyone else can too.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

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Revolut confirms a fresh $800M in funding at a $33B valuation to supercharge its financial services superapp

The fintech funding continues to roll in at a rapid pace, a result of the huge shift underway in how consumers spend and manage their money. In the latest development, Revolut — the London-based financial “superapp” that provides banking, investing, currency transfer and other money management services to some 16 million users globally — this morning confirmed that it has raised $800 million. The company said that this Series E round of funding values Revolut at $33 billion.

This makes Revolut the most valuable fintech out of the UK, as well as one of the biggest of the privately-backed scaled-up startups not just in Europe, but the world. It’s also following in the footsteps of Klarna, the buy-now-pay-later startup out of Sweden that is also diversifying into a wider range of other services for consumers and the businesses that integrate it. Klarna last month raised $639 million valued at just under $46 billion. Stripe in the US earlier this year raised at a $95 billion valuation.

This latest Series E is being co-led by Softbank Vision Fund 2 and Tiger Global, who appear to be the only backers in this round. It comes on the heels of rumors earlier this month Revolut was raising big. Revolut last raised about a year ago, when it closed out a Series D at $580 million, but what is stunning is how much its valuation has changed since then, growing 6x (it was $5.5 billion last year).

“SoftBank and Tiger Global’s investments are an endorsement of our mission to create a global financial superapp that enables customers to manage all their financial needs through a single platform,” said Nikolay Storonsky, Revolut’s founder and CEO, in a statement.

As a further point of reference, when Revolut reported financial figures for 2020 last month, it noted that it made $361 million in revenue (£261 million) in the fiscal year, a 57% increase versus 2019 revenue of $229 million (£166 million). Gross profit in the period was $170 million (£123 million) last year, although it still operates at a net loss, with Q1 2020 racking up an adjusted operating loss of $76 million (£55 million), with  $277 million (£200.6 million) in operating losses for the whole of the year. In other words, the big money being placed down now, and this big valuation, are long-term bets.

Revolut now has over 16 million customers and sees over 150 million transactions/month, and the plan will be to bring on a wider range of services and promotions both to grow that base, and to get its users putting more money and time into the app. That will also include exploring newer areas like insurance and a deeper dive into investing and trading, and likely a significant increase in credit services (which have been a big growth engine for other neobanks and financial tech companies). Revolut will also be doing more to build out its user bases in the U.S. and India, it said.

Like other “neobanks” that have emerged in recent years, Revolut has been built around the idea of tapping already-built banking and financial services infrastructure, which it uses by way of APIs and integrates into its service. Revolut then focuses on creating a slick and user-friendly experience both within its app and with its customer service.

The focus of its technology, then, is to improve personalization in the service, and to create new tools that aren’t as commoditized, such as budgeting tools and other financial management features.

“We believe Revolut’s superior customer experience and focus on rapid product development put the company in a strong position to continue scaling in both existing and new geographies,” said Scott Shleifer, partner, Tiger Global, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Nik and the Revolut team as they build the next generation of financial services.”

This has particularly appealed to younger users, who not only are more comfortable using digital services, but will be less experienced jn all things finance.

But it will be interesting to see how and if Revolut brings more core financial infrastructure into its app, or whether embedded finance reigns supreme.

In the meantime, investors believe that there is plenty of room for developing technology in its current model.

“Revolut’s rate of innovation has redefined the role of financial services, placing [Revolut] at the forefront of Europe’s nascent neobanking sector. The company’s rapidly growing user base reflects a sustained demand for Revolut’s expanding suite of services,” said Karol Niewiadomski, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We look forward to supporting Nikolay and the team in continued product innovation and bringing their services to new markets globally.”

 

How to send a text message in Clubhouse

Clubhouse: It's not just for audio anymore.

Clubhouse has introduced a new text messaging feature called Backchannel, allowing users to chat to each other in writing while simultaneously chatting to each other verbally. The social media app’s big point of difference may be that it’s audio-based, but even Clubhouse can’t deny the practical benefits of being able to shoot off a quick DM.

Here’s how to send a text message in Clubhouse.

  1. Open Clubhouse.

  2. Tap the paper airplane icon in the bottom right corner of the screen.

  3. Tap the pen and paper icon in the top right corner of the screen.

  4. Type the name of the person you want to chat to and select them. If you’re following their profile, they’ll appear. You can also add more than one name, forming a group chat of up to 15 people.

  5. Hit Done and the text chat will open, ready for you to type in your written missives.

You can also message people that you don’t follow. Simply navigate to their profile and click the paper airplane icon to the left of the follow button.

This doesn’t mean you have full access to spam the Bee Movie script to everyone on the app though. If your recipient doesn’t follow you then your messages will appear in their Requests tab, and users can turn off message requests from people they don’t follow.

Backchannel currently has no image or video sharing and you can’t react to messages, leaving it markedly less robust than Twitter and Facebook’s direct messaging systems. However, Clubhouse has stated that it intends to update Backhannel to include more features in the future.

India’s Inshorts raises $60 million following Public social network app growth

Indian startup Inshorts, which operates an eponymous news aggregator service, has raised $60 million in a new financing round as its last year’s bet — launch of a new social media app called Public — takes off, the startup confirmed to TechCrunch on Thursday.

Vy Capital led the new round in Inshorts, which has raised $140 million in the last one year. The new investment values the startup at about $550 million, up from about $250 million valuation in $41 million fundraise in March and $125 million valuation in September last year, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Azhar Iqubal, co-founder and chief executive of Inshorts, confirmed the size of the round and lead investor but declined to comment on the valuation. The startup counts Addition, Tiger Global, SIG, A91 and Tanglin Venture Partners among its investors.

“The world is changing every minute, and each one of us has an inherent desire to remain updated about these changes,” he said in a brief statement. “Both Inshorts app and Public app are aimed to help some of these people in their quest of keeping themselves informed and we are thrilled to have Vy Capital join us in our journey.”

Inshorts is a popular aggregator app that summarizes news articles in 60 words and covers a wide-range of topics including tech and business. But it’s the startup’s expansion into the social media category that has helped it scale widely and attract investors.

Launched last year, Public app has already emerged as one of the most popular social apps in the South Asian country. The location-based social network connects individuals to people in their vicinity. Think about people living in the same society, or people in a mall or within a few miles from each other.

The app, which is available in several major Indian languages (including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Assamese, Gujarati and Marathi), allows shop owners to drive e-commerce, and also serves as a classified, entertainment and recruiting platform.

“We are excited to partner with Azhar and team in their journey to build one of the largest content platforms out of India, running two market leading properties with a rapidly growing user base. We look forward to working closely with the company and the team as it enters the next phase of scaling,” said Vamsi Duvvuri, Partner, Vy Capital, in a statement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter is memeing ‘The French Dispatch’ stars’ wildly contrasting Cannes fashion

Timothée Chalamet, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray appear to have all dressed for different occasions.

The Cannes Film Festival is currently underway in France, with actors and filmmakers showing off a few of the films that will be helping us disassociate from our pandemic reality for the next few months. Among them were director Wes Anderson and actors Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, and Tilda Swinton, all of whom attended to promote their upcoming film The French Dispatch. They also all looked as though they’d dressed for different occasions.

While Chalamet was relaxed in a pink graphic Elara T-shirt, Anderson was significantly more formal in a pinstripe suit. Meanwhile, Swinton’s blue Haider Ackermann suit struck a more modern, edgy tone, and Murray’s extremely loud patterned shirt, shorts, and fedora ensemble made it look like he was ready for a day at the beach. Together, the group looked as though somebody misunderstood the assignment, but it isn’t clear exactly who.

This is what happens when nobody shares their fit in the group chat.

Twitter users have taken great delight in the visual contrast between Chalamet, Anderson, Swinton and Murray, comparing them to other things which exist within the same category but are still vastly different from each other.

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Tweet may have been deleted

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Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

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The French Dispatch is scheduled to arrive in theatres on October 22.

Singapore-based Tinvio raises $12M Series A to build financial services for supply chain merchants

First created to give supply chain merchants a streamlined way to communicate with buyers, Tinvio is now preparing to launch financial services, including financing and credit card issuing. The Singapore-based startup announced today it has raised a $12 million Series A to build out its B2B transactions platform. The round was led by AppWorks Ventures, with participation from strategic investor MUFG Innovation Partners (MUIP), a venture capital firm for collaborations between startups and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

All of Tinvio’s existing investors—Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, Global Founders Capital and Partech Ventures—also returned for its Series A, which brings Tinvio’s total raised to $18.5 million.

Tinvio’s last funding announcement was a $5.5 million seed round in April 2020. The company was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, whose prior professional experience included leading initial public offering and merger and acquisition transactions as a fintech investment banker for Credit Suisse in London.

Since its seed funding, Tinvio says its client base has increased four times to over 5,000 businesses in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian markets. Gopal told TechCrunch that as its user base grows, it is acquiring more new customers through word-of-mouth and referrals. For example, Southeast Asian F&B supplier QQ Group onboarded all of its merchants onto Tinvio and now uses the platform for all trade orders.

One of the reasons Tinvio focuses on F&B businesses is because they deal with a lot of perishable goods and constantly need to manage orders and inventory. Gopal said the company also has clients in the healthcare and automotive sectors, but plans to keep targeting growth in F&B.

Tinvio app was originally launched as a way to consolidate orders from different places, including email, SMS and WhatsApp, and let suppliers keep real-time digital ledgers.

It recently entered financial services by adding a digital payments collection and reconciliation features. Gopal says many suppliers still take payment in the form of bank transfers or cash and paper checks on delivery, making it difficult to keep manage their cash cycles. So Tinvio launched a “super dirty pilot” for on-platform payments late last year in Indonesia, and after validating it, added B2B payments to its core product. Tinvio supports payments through credit cards, direct debits and automated bank transfers, and is integrated with regional payment gateways. Over the last two months, 95% of suppliers on the platform have continued to use Tinvio to collect payments from their merchants.

“It’s only been live for a couple of months, but we’ve already gotten so much feedback from our users and we’re sprinting to unlock new capabilities such as real-time payments and credit,” said Gopal.

The company has a 12-month roadmap for its other financial services, including transaction financing, credit card issuing and invoice factoring, with pilots planned for the next two quarters. “In this Series A, we’ve teamed up with MUFG bank,” Gopal said. “This sets us up in a fantastic position to go-to-market even sooner with our financial technology stack that we’ve been building.”

In a statement, AppWorks Ventures managing partner Jessica Liu said, “Tinvio’s focus on modernizing B2B trade with a seamless user experience has seen it onboard and digitalize thousands of merchant and supplier teams without disrupting their daily routines or procurement workflows. Despite COVID-19, we still see great growth momentum, led by increasing network effects, leaving Tinvio well positioned to dominate this category.”

 

Easy Eat AI raises $5M to help Southeast Asian restaurants digitize their operations

Easy Eat AI, a Singapore-based startup that wants to “transform restaurants into technology companies,” announced today it has raised $5 million in funding. Easy Eat AI offers an operating system for restaurants that lets them digitize all parts of their business, from inventory and customer orders to delivery, and gain AI-based data analytics to improve revenue.

Many food and beverage businesses started digitizing orders and payments so they could offer deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Easy Eat AI lets restaurants integrate with third-party food ordering apps, it also has its own delivery infrastructure, including on-demand riders, that costs just 4% per order, compared to the 20%-30% that many of the largest food delivery platforms charge.

Founded in 2019 by Mohd Wassem, Rhythm Gupta and Abdul Khalid, Easy Eat AI currently has operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into other Southeast Asian markets. The funding included participation from Aroa Ventures, the family office of OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal; Reddy Futures Family Office; Prophetic Ventures; OYO global chief strategy officer Maninder Gulati; Alarko Ventures managing partner Cem Garih; and Esas Ventures founder and managing partner Fethi Sabancı Kamışlı.

Wassem told TechCrunch that Easy Eat AI was created because even though Southeast Asia “is a food paradise, everyone eats out, eating out is a culture here,” the restaurant industry is still one of the least advanced digitally. Before the pandemic, he said that about 80% of restaurant business came from in-person dining, but taking orders manually resulted in very little data kept about who customers are, what they like to order or how often they return.

Easy Eat AI’s platform helps restaurants create that digital connection with their customers. Some of its clients include chains like Richiamo Coffee, Mr. Fish Fishhead Noodles, WTF Group and Hailam Toast. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Easy Eat AI has helped restaurants fulfill deliveries and its other features, like targeted marketing campaigns and loyalty reward programs, are relevant to in-person dining, too.

A menu created with Easy Eat AI

A menu created with Easy Eat AI

Easy Eat AI’s consumer interface is based on QR code ordering—customers scan the code with their smartphone and are taken directly to the restaurant’s menu online. They pick what they want, then create an account or sign-in by entering their mobile number. Payments and reward programs can also be accessed through the platform.

The company says that after analyzing 100,000 orders at more than 50 restaurants over six months, it found that people spend about 30% more when they order digitally compared to through a waiter—similar to when people go shopping for a specific item online and end up adding more items to their cart while browsing.

After a restaurant uses Easy Eat AI for about 30 to 45 days, it is able to build a customer database for targeted online marketing strategies, sending offers to the people who are most likely to use them.

For example, a month after launching in its third outlet of Mr. Fish, the platform had collected data from more than 1,400 customers. The restaurant was able to see that about 20% visited the restaurant more than once, and the average duration between their visits was 12 days. Based on that information, it created marketing campaigns to draw back people who hadn’t returned in 20 days. During that time, Mr. Fish also started fulfilling delivery orders through Easy Eat AI, and by the end of the month, 13.4% of its orders were coming through the platform, reducing its reliance on third-party delivery apps.

In a statement about the funding, Keshav Reddy, managing partner of Reddy Futures Family Office, said, “The team is customer obsessed and understands the pain problems of the industry. Their innovative software platform will be disruptive to the entire F&B ecosystem and how customers engage through the entire F&B lifecycle in the online-to-offline world.”

Make travel easier and cheaper with this flight-finding service on sale

A TravelHacker Premium Subscription is on sale.

TL;DR: A TravelHacker Premium Subscription is on sale for £28.17 as of July 15, saving you 84% on list price.


We’re all eager to get out and see the world after being forced to stay home for a year plus. But, along with everything else, airline prices have surged. With such high demand, it’s difficult to jet out for leisurely air travel whenever you please. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, with a TravelHacker Premium Subscription, you can see the world again without breaking the bank.

TravelHacker is a flight-finding service that makes post-pandemic travel easier and cheaper. It automatically uncovers low airfare deals for you, while simultaneously detecting the reopening status and restrictions in 124 countries and 3,800 airports worldwide. It’s all updated in real-time as well, so you don’t have to worry about researching everything for yourself. All you need to do is prepare yourself to finally leave the house, while TravelHacker does all the hard work. Thanks to a simple “set it and forget it” technology, it basically gives you psychic powers.

You can set up alerts from your home airport, select from any number of ideal destinations (or even just general regions), set price points, choose the months or even weeks you wish to travel, and more. Then TravelHacker will shoot you alerts in real-time when the cheapest fares that match your preferences open up. These include special promotions, seasonal price drops, and “error fares” you can take advantage of. When you see a price that looks good, you can buy directly through popular booking sites like Google Flights or Skyscanner.

More importantly, for those who are apprehensive about traveling, TravelHacker also gives you the scoop on restrictions and protocols in each location. You can even filter your destinations based on these restrictions if that’s your primary concern. All the stress is out of your hands and you can shift your focus to what outfits you want to pack. 

If ever there was a time that the entire world collectively needed a vacation, it’s now. Sign up for a one-year subscription to TravelHacker for only £28.17 (regularly £180) for a limited time and start saving.

YC-backed Deskimo, an on-demand coworking space app, launches in Singapore and Hong Kong

A photograph of Arcc, one of Deskimo's coworking spaces in Singapore

Arcc, a coworking space in Singapore available for bookings on Deskimo

Part of Y Combinator’s current batch, Deskimo wants to make finding coworking spaces easier. Its on-demand booking app is currently available in Singapore and Hong Kong, with plans to enter more markets after Demo Day. Its founders are former Rocket Internet executives who say that their main competition aren’t spaces like WeWork or other hot desk booking apps. Instead, its Starbucks, since Deskimo caters to people who usually work from home, but occasionally need a place nearby where they can get away from distractions or take meetings. Deskimo partners with employers and charges them by the minutes their workers spend at space, instead of a monthly or yearly fee.

Deskimo was launched in February by Raphael Cohen, Rocket Internet’s former head of Asia, and Christian Mischler, who co-founded Foodpanda and served as its global chief operating officer. After Rocket Internet, the two started HotelQuickly, an on-demand booking app they sold in 2017.

The pandemic has quickly changed attitudes toward remote work, with a McKinsey survey finding that 62% of respondents said they only wanted to return to the office a few days a week, or not at all. As a result, many companies, especially startups, will continue offering flexible arrangements.

Mischler and Cohen already have experience watching peoples’ behavior shift after Foodpanda was launched. “Back in 2012, people were saying that food ordering is not going to work online, people just order on the home or in person,” Cohen said. “What we learned from on-demand restaurant delivery, the shared market-based model, is very similar in that case to setting up with workspace partners.”

 

Deskimo now has about 40 properties in Singapore and 25 in Hong Kong, and wants to expand in both residential and business districts, since many remote workers prefer to find a space close to their homes. It works with several different types of property owners and is approaching each group step-by-step. The first are office spaces that are already set up for coworking and see Deskimo as an additional distribution channel. The second are hotels that are converting some of their space into coworking areas. Finally, Deskimo plans to partner with spaces like social clubs and event venues that usually sit empty during weekdays.

Deskimo app's QR code

Deskimo app’s QR code

On the client side, Deskimo contracts with companies, who then offer the app to their employees. Each person gets a monthly budget on Deskimo, and their employers are only billed for the time they spend at a space. The Deskimo app generates a QR code that workers use to gain access to one of its spaces, and they also scan it when checking out to record how long they were there. Pricing ranges from about $2 to $4 USD per minute, with desks in central business districts typically costing more. Aggregated invoices are sent to clients each month and revenue is then shared with coworking space owners.

“Many companies realize they can save a lot of costs by having people work from home so they can reduce their office space, and instead of adding more fixed costs, they just add variable costs,” said Mischler. “They provide their employees with the ability to go to an office, but if they don’t want to because they have a great home to work from, employees are also more than welcome to work from home.”

In Deskimo’s current markets, other on-demand coworking space apps include Switch, Flydesk, WorkBuddy and Booqed. But Mischler says its main competitors are large F&B chains like Starbucks, since they are easy to find. He adds that Deskimo is more efficient for workers, who are guaranteed a table and don’t need to worry about finding outlets or the quality of Wi-Fi. Besides expanding into more markets, Deskimo also wants to add other services on top of coworking to give it a competitive edge.

“Once we have the company relationships and their employees use Deskimo for their bookings, there’s a lot of different things we can build on top of it, whether it’s employee engagement or workforce management, not just workplace management,” says Mischer. “But we’re focused on the transactional model right now because that’s the biggest pain point.”

 

Clubhouse’s hot new feature is… text

Audio-based social media app Clubhouse has now turned to text.

Clubhouse’s leaked text messaging feature has finally officially arrived. Called Backchannel, the new messaging system allows users to talk to each other via the written word, just like in practically every other social media app that came before it. Tech is a circle.

The audio-based app announced its new feature in a blog post on Wednesday. Backchannel allows users to talk to each other through text outside Clubhouse’s audio rooms, as well as during them.

To start a Backchannel chat, simply tap the paper airplane icon on the bottom right of the app. From there, tap the pen and paper icon on the top right corner to search for the person you want to chat with. Alternatively, the icon also appears to the left of the follow button on users’ profiles. You can also swipe left in a Clubhouse room to access the Backchannel.

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While the app’s big selling point is that conversations are audible rather than written, having the ability to text other users will certainly make organising rooms a bit easier. Users can message their co-hosts to plan what to talk about next, as well as receive questions from the audience. Meanwhile, listeners can discuss the conversation with each other while it’s still happening, and without interrupting the hosts.

Backchannel’s supports both one on one conversations as well as bigger group chats of up to 15 members. Not just anybody can jump into a chat though — only the moderator can add or remove people (though you can voluntarily remove yourself at any time). You’ll also be warned if you’re added to a group that includes someone you’ve blocked, so you can promptly exit.

Anyone can message you by default, though messages from people you don’t follow are placed under a separate Requests tab. Fortunately you can change your settings so you only receive messages from the people you follow. You can also report chats as well as specific messages.

Backchannel is still missing a few features. It currently doesn’t support sending photos or videos, there are no message reactions, and you can’t start an audio Clubhouse room directly from Backchannel. You also can’t delete Backchannel chats, though the app plans to add this ability in the future.

Even so, Backchannel’s text message will certainly make coordinating a Clubhouse room a little bit easier — for all who are actually still using the app.