Day: July 16, 2021

How to connect Alexa to a Bluetooth speaker

Amazon Echos waiting to be connected to Bluetooth speakers.

Amazon Echos don’t have the most powerful speakers. But you can synch your Amazon Echo with any Bluetooth speaker to have your music play from both your Amazon Echo and your Bluetooth speaker to add some more volume or spread out sound to multiple rooms in your home.

The Amazon Echo is a speaker and smart home device that houses Alexa, Amazon’s voice-operated virtual assistant. Alexa can do a variety of tasks from reading you the news to reminding you of an appointment and yes, Alexa can play music, even off Spotify. The Echo just isn’t that loud, so it’s helpful to pair your Echo with a Bluetooth speaker for the best listening experience.

Below you will find how to connect Alexa to a Bluetooth speaker.

How to connect Alexa to a Bluetooth speaker:

1. Make your Bluetooth speaker is available to pair.

Hold down the button on your speaker that makes it available to pair. This is likely different depending on your speaker.  

2. Open the Alexa app

3. Select “Devices” at the bottom of the app

4. Select “Echo & Alexa” in the upper right hand corner

5. Select the Echo you wish to pair with your Bluetooth speaker from the list

6. Select Bluetooth Devices

7. Tap “Pair A New Device”

8. Select your Bluetooth speaker from the list

To disconnect say “Alexa, disconnect from my speaker.”

Once you have paired your Bluetooth speaker with your Echo to reconnect you just need to say “Alexa, connect to my speaker.”

Now that you’ve mastered connecting Alexa to a Bluetooth speaker, you can try playing a podcast.

Daily Crunch: FedEx invests $100M in Indian logistics giant Delhivery

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for July 16, 2021. A PSA: A few of us at TechCrunch took some time this week to chat about funding rounds, covering them and how startups might stand out. If that’s your sort of thing, you can check out the chat here. OK, news time! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

Startups/VC

  • Blend is no longer a startup: Banking tech unicorn Blend went public this week. It’s now worth $4 billion or so, more than its final private round. So consider the company not only no longer a startup, but also no longer a private unicorn. Blend’s software powers the mortgage option in other apps, making it a company that you may not have heard of but may have used.
  • Halla raises $4.5M to help guess what you are going to eat: Buying groceries online is big business. Amazon is into it. It’s Instacart’s core remit. And European grocery delivery services have been raising oodles of money. Halla wants to help those companies sell more stuff by “using human behavior to steer shoppers to food items they want while also discovering new ones as they shop online.”
  • Rivian once again delays EV deliveries: The global chip shortage — see our earlier note regarding Intel — is showing up in a host of places, including Rivian’s ramp toward commercial production of its electric vehicles. Other issues are holding the company up, but this chip shortage is a real kettle of fish for companies of all shapes and sizes.
  • Yummy wants to build Venezuela’s superapp: Then there’s Yummy, which just raised a $4 million round. It has big aspirations: ride-hailing, delivery and more. The superapp model may have been spearheaded in Asia, but it’s going global. Yummy will need more than $4 million to build it, however. So if things go well, expect the company to raise again in short order.

From our recent Early Stage event, we have something new for your enjoyment: Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst explains how to get ready to raise your next round.

Outdoorsy co-founders detail how they expanded the sharing economy to RVs

Seven years ago, ad executive Jen Young and tech entrepreneur Jeff Cavins stepped away from the careers they’d built to launch Outdoorsy, an RV rental marketplace.

Last month, they announced a partnership with high-end camping company Collective Retreats and raised a $90 million Series D and $40 million in debt to speed up an already impressive rate of growth.

To learn more about their approach to building a transportation company that caters to people who crave a taste of nomadic existence, Rebecca Bellan interviewed Young and Cavins for Extra Crunch.

Their conversation explored the impacts of COVID-19, their business strategy and why they decided to take on $30 million in debt financing:

Jeff Cavins: We like to look at macro trends as a business and I think U.S. monetary policy is going to get us all in a little bit of trouble. So we wanted to lock in a credit facility for the company at advantageous terms.

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

Big Tech Inc.

  • FedEx pours $100M into Delhivery: First, we love the name for the Indian logistics startup. It’s rumored to be heading for an IPO this year. The deal underscores how key the Indian market is proving to be not merely for its domestic investors and founders, but also for global brands.
  • Paytm is going public: Indian fintech giant Paytm has filed to go public. We’re including it in this section of the newsletter because, as we reported, the private company “plans to raise up to $2.2 billion in an initial public offering.” That’s a huge, huge amount of money. It’s hard to call Paytm a startup when it’s raising a few venture capital funds’ worth of capital in a single go.
  • Tumblr’s parent company buys Pocket Casts: Automattic, famous for WordPress and the owner of what’s left of Tumblr, is buying popular podcasting service Pocket Casts. It’s not impossible to see how a publishing platform might integrate with a podcasting service, yeah?

To close us off from the world of Big Tech backing money, this from Connie Loizos: Traditional VCs turn to emerging managers for deal flow and, in some cases, new partners.

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

We interviewed Kathleen Estreich, formerly of Intercom, Box, Facebook and Scalyr, and Emily Kramer, formerly of Asana, Carta, and Astro (acquired by Slack), as part of TechCrunch Experts. We’re taking this conversation to Twitter Spaces on Tuesday, July 20, at 5 p.m. EDT. Join TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton and the MKT1 team as they dive further into the growth marketing trends they’re seeing.

Growth marketing roundup: SEO for 2021, pitch tactics, reviews and more

Google favors large sites more than ever, basically because it is trying to avoid providing misinformation in our polarized age. But sometimes the small sites have key new information — like the content that your startup is trying to share with the world. How can you stand out in the right search results, as algorithms continue to change?

Growth marketing expert Mark Spero writes that AI-driven content generators, careful trend tracking, great UX/UI and graphics, and inspiration from your competitors’ ads can all give you an edge. His article for Extra Crunch this week was one of our more popular ones with subscribers, but it’s not alone.

Check out our latest coverage of growth-related topics, below, plus a few of the many reviews we’ve received this week in our ongoing growth marketer survey. (Please fill it out if you haven’t already, we’re using founder recommendations to find the best growth experts around the world, and sharing the results back with all of our readers.)

Marketer: Maya Moufarek, Marketing Cube

Recommended by: Nikki O’Farrell, www.KatKin.club

Testimonial: “Expert ear and eye from the world of start ups/scale ups and growth. Her functional and direct approach allows you to execute at speed and see results quickly.”

Marketer: MuteSix

Recommended by: Rhoda Ullmann, Sense

Testimonial: “We’ve tried a number of different agencies, they demonstrate best in class expertise with Facebook and Google paid ad platforms. They also have a very smart and efficient approach to creative development that was critical to helping us scale.”

Marketer: Mitch Causey, Demandwell

Recommended by: Drew Beechler, High Alpha

Testimonial: “Mitch and the Demandwell team are some of the smartest content, SEO, and digital marketers I’ve ever met, and their results speak for themselves. Their process, proprietary software, and expertise around organic search and content is some of the best out there in helping companies think about organic search as a repeatable, proven method for growth and demand gen. Mitch and the Demandwell playbook worked so well that after being a client for two years and recommending to many in our portfolio, High Alpha ended up bringing Demandwell into the portfolio to turn their playbook into a scalable software platform.”

How pitch training can help startups get their story right: Anna Heim talks with Alex Barrera, Spanish marketing expert, about his consulting work and how he sets his clients up for success.

Kenya’s AIfluence closes $1M for its AI-powered influencer marketing platform: Tage Kene-Okafor dives into the seed funding of AIfluence, which has been developing software to run brand and performance campaigns for a range of global advertisers across Africa and Asia.

Announcing the agenda for the Disrupt Stage this September: Come hear from top founders and investors about how to build a company.

(Extra Crunch) 5 advanced-ish SEO tactics in 2021: Growth expert Mark Spera discusses using content generators, how to do keyword research and other ways to increase your SEO.

(Extra Crunch) How we got 75% more e-commerce orders in a single A/B test for this major brand: Managing partner of The Conversion Wizards, Jasper Kuria, pushed the limits of optimizing a page for conversions which led to a 75% increase in sales. Read the guest post to find out how.

Do you have a top-tier growth marketer who works with startups that you want us to know about? Let us know by filling out this quick survey.

Find a real relationship for $0 on these non-corny free dating sites

Finding your soulmate is priceless. Sure. But do you have to use a paid site to find a real relationship? Does a monthly fee really weed out people who aren’t taking the process seriously?

This wasn’t really an issue before 2012, but the Tinder-led surge of 30-second profiles and instant access to all single folks within 10 miles gave sites with tedious personality analyses and upscale subscriptions a run for their money — literally.

Vox said what we’re all really thinking: “At what point in the completely nightmarish process of online dating does one decide that it’s worth spending money on making that experience slightly less terrible?”

Is it worth paying for a dating site?

According to Reddit and Consumer Reports, not really. This Consumer Reports survey found that free sites actually scored better than paid sites on this when it came to overall satisfaction because they’re a “better value.” Unless you’re absolutely lost without those heavy-duty matchmaking algorithms, many free sites still offer the questionnaires, detailed bios, and compatibility ratings that indicate red flags and users you wouldn’t get along with.

There’s no one dating site that everyone is particularly psyched about. Swiping exhaustion and creepily persistent users are an omnipresent part of all online dating. Sorry, but a paid subscription isn’t a metal detector that pulls all of the upstanding, faithful singles up out of the crowd. When there are sites that can offer millions of users for free and success stories to prove they work, why not try them before spending $40 per month elsewhere?

A hefty price point doesn’t guarantee the absence of fakes or catfishes, either. (In 2019, some guy on Match.com posed as a millionaire and stole $80,000 from the woman he was talking to.) Many free sites are just as big on privacy and safety, requiring users to verify themselves through Facebook to increase transparency about age and first names. No paid sites have the safety features that Tinder does, which is the first of the Match Group apps to offer 911 assistance and location services to make meeting a stranger safer.

The aesthetic experience certainly isn’t what your money is going toward, either. Many of the older, subscription-based sites have been slow to modernize their UX designs, still relying on the very 2000s style of bombarding you with notifications for every wink, message, and whatever else.

Can you actually fall in love with someone online?

We’ve all accepted that online dating is great for finding a friend with benefits, but telling family members that it’s getting serious with that person you met online still takes convincing. However, recent studies show that meeting online can foster a pretty reliable romantic foundation.

A 2017 study cited in the MIT Technology Review found that people who meet online are more likely to be compatible and have a better chance at a healthy marriage if they decide to get hitched. Another study found that heterosexual couples who met online were quicker to tie the knot. These stats don’t take anything from correlation to causation, but they do make the case that people who sign up for dating sites that require thoughtful responses are in a better spot to settle down.

There’s an unspoken assumption that people on free dating sites are young, horny people with no disposable income and that people on paid dating site are mature, employed individuals who are ready to settle down. But eharmony, Match, Tinder, and OkCupid have rather similar age demographics, all with surprisingly close splits between people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Which dating sites are actually free?

Waters get muddied when basically every damn dating site has some sort of paid and free version. True free apps let users do all of this as a baseline, and then offer paid perks such as the ability to see everyone who has swiped right on you or boosting your profile for a certain amount of time. Free-but-not-really apps are the ones that are technically free to use, but you have to pay to do just about anything including read or respond to messages.

Premium memberships of freemium apps are an affordable way to give more control over your pool of potential boos, but they probably don’t do much to expedite the grueling swiping process. When Tinder released Tinder Gold, it beat out Candy Crush as the Apple Store’s top-grossing app. People were that willing to pay to see who swiped right on them. That might be handy knowledge if you’re looking to get laid, but it’s hard to tell if it would help find someone that you like enough to share your life with. No one I know has kept a paid version of a free app for more than a month.

At any rate, there’s a certain serendipitous feeling that comes with the possibility that, out of the millions of users Hinge could have shown you that day, your soulmate popped up in the crowd of 10 likes you can give out per day (compared to the unlimited likes that come with Hinge Preferred).

These are the best free dating sites for finding a serious relationship:

With open banking on the horizon, the fintech-SME love story is just beginning

Lee Li
Contributor

Lee Li is a project manager and B2B copywriter with a decade of experience in the Chinese fintech startup space as a PM for TaoBao, MeitTuan and DouYin (now TikTok).

The fintech sector has been hugely successful (and hugely profitable) for much of the last decade, and even more so during the pandemic. But it might come as a surprise to learn that many in the industry believe that the story is just beginning and the sector is poised to achieve much more, with fintech’s next decade expected to be radically different from the last 10 years.

Long before the pandemic, the way in which banks were regulated was changing. Initiatives like Open Banking and the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) were being proposed as a way to promote competition in the banking industry — allowing smaller challenger firms to break into a market that has long been dominated by corporate titans.

Now that these initiatives are in place, however, we’re seeing that their effect goes way beyond opening up a gap for challenger banks. Since open banking requires that banks make valuable data available via APIs, it is leading to a revolution in the way that small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) are funded — one in which data, and not hard capital, is the most important factor driving fintech success.

Open banking and data freedom

In order to understand the changes that are sweeping fintech and reconfiguring the way that the industry works with small businesses, it’s important to understand open banking. This is a concept that has really taken hold among governmental and supranational banking regulators over the past decade, and we are now beginning to see its impact across the banking sector.

Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

At its most fundamental level, open banking refers to the process of using APIs to open up consumers’ financial data to third parties. This allows these third parties to design, build and distribute their own financial products. The utility (and, ultimately, the profitability) of these products doesn’t rely on them holding huge amounts of capital — rather, it is the data they harvest and contain that endows them with value.

Open-banking models raise a number of challenges. One is that the banking industry will need to develop much more rigorous systems to continually seek consumer consent for data to be shared in this way. Though the early years of fintech have taught us that consumers are pretty relaxed when it comes to giving up their data — with some studies indicating that almost 60% of Americans choose fintech over privacy — the type and volume shared through open-banking frameworks is much more extensive than the products we have seen up until now.

Despite these concerns, the push toward open banking is progressing around the world. In Europe, the PSD2 (the Payment Services Directive) requires large banks to share financial information with third parties, and in Asia services like Alipay and WeChat in China, and Tez and PayTM in India are already altering the financial services market. The extra capabilities available through these services are already leading to calls for the U.S. banking system to embrace open banking to the same degree.

Serving SMEs

If the U.S. banking industry can be convinced of the utility of open banking, or if it is forced to do so via legislation, several groups are likely to benefit:

  • Consumers will be offered novel banking and investment products based on far more detailed data analysis than exists at present.
  • The fintech companies who design and build these products will also see the use of their products increase, and their profit margins alongside this.
  • Arguably, even banks will benefit, because even in the most open models it is banks who still act as the gatekeepers, deciding which third parties have access to consumer data, and what they need to do to access.

By far the biggest beneficiary of open banking, however, will be SMEs. This is not necessarily because open-banking frameworks offer specific new functionality that will be useful to small and medium-sized businesses. Instead, it is a reflection of the fact that SMEs have historically been so poorly served by traditional banks.

SMEs are underserved in a number of ways. Traditional banks have an extremely limited ability to view the aggregate financial position of an SME that holds capital across multiple institutions and in multiple instruments, which makes securing finance very difficult.

In addition, SMEs often have to deal with dated and time-consuming manual interfaces to upload data to their bank. And (perhaps worst of all) the B2B payment systems in use at most banks provide very limited feedback to the businesses that use them — a lack of information that can cost businesses dearly.

New capabilities

Given these deficiencies, it’s not surprising that fintech startups are keen to lend to small businesses, and that SMEs are actively looking for novel banking products and services. There have, of course, already been some success stories in this space, and the kinds of banking systems available to SMEs today (especially in Europe) are leagues ahead of the services available even 10 years ago.

However, open banking promises to accelerate this transformation and dramatically improve the financial services available to the average SME. It will do this in several ways. Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

Via APIs, fintech companies will be able to access information on different types of accounts, insurance, card accounts and leases, and consolidate data from multiple countries into one overall picture.

This, in turn, will have major effects on the way that credit-worthiness is assessed for SMEs. At the moment, there is a funding gap facing many SMEs, largely because banks have been hesitant to move away from the “balance sheet” model of assessing credit risk. By using real-time analytics on an SME’s current business activities, banks will be able to more accurately assess this risk and lend to more businesses.

In fact, this is already happening in countries where open banking is well advanced – in the U.K., Lloyds’ Business ToolBox offers unlimited credit checks on companies and directors in addition to account transaction data.

Open banking will also allow peer comparison analytics far ahead of what we have seen until now. APIs can be used to provide SMEs real-time feedback on how they are performing within their market sector. Again, this ability is already available in the U.K., with Barclays’ SmartBusiness Dashboard offering marketing effectiveness tools as part of a customizable business dashboard.

These capabilities will be so useful to SMEs that they are likely to drive the popularity of any fintech product that offers them. For SMEs, this value will lie mainly in intelligent data-analytics-based insights, recommendations and automatic prompts that can be built on top of account aggregation.

Then, additional insights generated from these same monitoring tools could enable banks and alternative lenders to be more proactive with their lending — offering preapproved lines of credit, in a timely manner, to SMEs that would have previously found it difficult to access funding.

The bottom line

Crucially for the fintech sector, it’s almost a certainty that SMEs will be willing to pay fees for data-analytics-based value-added services that help them grow. This is why some startups in this space are already attracting huge levels of funding, and why open banking is at the heart of the relationship between tech and the economy.

So if fintech has had a good year, this is likely to be just the start of the story. Backed by open-banking initiatives, the sector is now at the forefront of a banking revolution that will finally give SMEs the level of service they deserve and unleash their true potential across the economy at large.

In an increasingly hot biotech market, protecting IP is key

John Flavin
Contributor

John Flavin is founder and CEO of Portal Innovations, LLC.
Kevin O’Connor
Contributor

Kevin A. O’Connor, Ph.D., is a partner in the Intellectual Property practice group at Neal Gerber Eisenberg.

After a record year for biotech investment in 2020 — during which the industry saw $28.5 billion invested across 1,073 deals — the market for new innovations remains strong. What’s more, these innovations are increasingly coming to market by way of early-stage startups and/or their scientific founders from academia.

In 2018, for instance, U.S. campuses conducted $79 billion worth of sponsored research, much of it thanks to the federal government. That number spiked amid the pandemic and could increase even more if President Biden’s infrastructure plan, which includes $180 billion to enhance R&D efforts, passes.

Since 1996, 14,000 startups have licensed technology out of those universities, and 67% of licenses were taken by startups or small companies. Meanwhile, the median step-up from seed to Series A is now 2x — higher than all other stages, suggesting that biotech startups are continuing to attract investment at earlier stages.

When it comes to protecting IP, early and consistent communication with investors, tech transfer offices and advisers can make all the difference.

For biotech startups and their founders, these headwinds signal immense promise. But initial funding is only one part of a long journey that (ideally) ends with bringing a product to market. Along the way, founders will need to procure additional investments, develop strategic partnerships and stave off competition. All of which starts by protecting the fundamental asset of any biotech company: its intellectual property.

Here are three key considerations for startups and founders as they get started.

Start with an option agreement

Most early-stage biotechnology starts in a university lab. Then, a disclosure is made with the university’s tech transfer office and a patent is filed with the hopes that the product can be taken out into the market (by, for instance, a new startup). More often than not, the vehicle to do this is a licensing agreement.

A licensing agreement is important because it shows investors the company has exclusive access to the technology in question. This in turn allows them to attract the investments required to truly grow the company: hire a team, build strategic partnerships and conduct additional studies.

But that doesn’t mean jumping right to a full-blown licensing agreement is the best way to start. An option agreement is often the better move.

20 Snapchat tips and tricks for newbies and power users

Step up your Snap game with the hidden Snapchat features

Snapchat can really do it all these days – take a quick pic, send a text chat, Shazam a song, or even locate your friends on a map. Some of these features are pretty intuitive, but others are hidden away, waiting for true Snap aficionados to find them.

Maybe you’re new to the app, or maybe you’re just a power user looking to learn a new trick or two. In any case, this guide will show you Snapchat tips, tricks, and secrets to turn your basic Snaps into Snapsterpieces.


9 ways to create Snapsterpieces

1. Draw with secret color palettes

The secret  Snapchat color palettes are just a few taps away.

The secret  Snapchat color palettes are just a few taps away.
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Hate on the redesign all you want, but it did make finding secret colors easier.

Previously, users had to drag the rainbow slider in a very specific ways to access secret colors. Now, all it takes is a few taps. Tap on the pen tool, and tap the Venn diagram icon under the rainbow slider to access greyscale and pastel sliders, as well as a second version of rainbow slider.

2. Draw with emoji brushes

Turn a banana...

Turn a banana…
Credit: Screenshot / Haidee Chu

... into a happy banana

… into a happy banana
Credit: Screenshot / Haidee Chu

You can draw with emoji the same way you draw with the pen tool. Tap on the heart-eyed emoji under the Venn diagram icon, and you’ll find a range of emoji paintbrushes at your disposal.

3. Make Snapchat stickers

Some eyebrows, maybe?

Some eyebrows, maybe?
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Some shots are sooo good that you want to use them over and over again. So when life gives you a good shot, make stickers.

Tap the scissor icon, and trace the object you want to clone. Snapchat will automatically smooth out the edges for you and save your object as a sticker. Tap the memo icon to access your custom sticker, and place and scale it however you want.

4. Use grids, focus, and timer

3...2...1...smile, Appa!

3…2…1…smile, Appa!
Credit: screenshot: snapchat / jennimai nguyen

Appa perfectly centered on the grid.

Appa perfectly centered on the grid.
Credit: screenshot: snapchat/jennimai nguyen

These three features are simple but helpful.

Grids will help you stick with the rules of third.

Focus will blur out everything but faces.

And timer will help you take selfies.

To access these tools, all you have to do is hit the small arrow bubble under the flash icon when you enter camera mode.

5. Attach emoji and stickers to a moving object

This hidden feature will come in handy if you’re making a reveal video or a video with a moving object.

Once you record the video, hit the memo icon to access your stickers. Choose one of them, scale it to your desired size, and hold down the sticker — your video should freeze now. Attach the sticker to the moving object, and voila!

You can use this trick for text, too!

6. Make 3D paintings

Snapchat has some pretty cool augmented reality features, and one of them lets you create AR paintings.

Tap the search icon, and type in “3D Paint.” Select the lens of the same name, press and hold on your screen where you want to paint, and have at it!

You can choose between matte, metallic, rainbow, neon, and iridescent brushes. You get to change the paint color and brush size, too.

7. Add text effects

Why use static text when you can make it move?

To use Snapchat’s AR text feature, tap the search icon, and type in “3D Caption.” Select the lens with that name.

You can pick from a couple effects — round, spooky, bubble, wavy, layers, and script. This feature will not only animate text, but also add filters to your entire image or video.

8. Add filters

So! Many! Options!

So! Many! Options!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

There are two ways to add filters on Snapchat.

There’s the old way — swiping left or right when you take a photo or video — then there’s the new way. Tap the smiley face next to the recording button before taking a photo and video, and you’ll find an abundance of options under “browse” and “create.”

You can even adjust the intensity and colors of “create” filters by tapping either the icon with the three dots or with the Venn diagram.

9. Attach website to snaps

It's an easy way to share your favorite stories.

It’s an easy way to share your favorite stories.
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Maybe you’re sending a story to a friend; maybe you’re sharing your latest SoundCloud finds. In any case, the link button can come in handy. Once you take a photo or video, you’ll see a paperclip icon on the toolbar to your right. Tap on it, paste or type in a URL, and hit “attach to Snap.”

Whoever you’re sending your Snap to will now be able to open up the link by swiping up.

10. Add in some background music

The list of songs to choose from.

The list of songs to choose from.
Credit: screenshot: snapchat

You can adjust size and position of the song title once you take the Snap.

You can adjust size and position of the song title once you take the Snap.
Credit: screenshot: snapchat

Similar to Instagram stories, you can pick your favorite jam to play in the background of your Snaps, whether you’re sending them directly to a friend or posting to your story.

Just tap on the music note icon labeled “Sounds” before taking the Snap, choose from the list of songs available, and take your shot. A little icon showing the title of the song will appear on your Snap, which you can move around and place wherever you want.


4 ways to use Bitmoji and emoji on Snapchat

1. Snap Map status

Make your bitmoji look alive!

Make your bitmoji look alive!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

You probably already know how to use Snap Map to keep tab of your friends. But did you know you can update your friends on what you’re doing by setting a Snap Map status with Bitmoji?

Tap on your Bitmoji icon on the top left corner of the camera screen, then scroll to the bottom. Pick “set a status” under Snap Maps, then hit “choose a Bitmoji.” Your friends will now see your Bitmoji in action when they’re looking for you on Snap Map.

2. Bitmoji selfie

Don't be boring!

Don’t be boring!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Yes, you can make your Bitmoji look however you’d like — even the little one on the top left corner of your screen. Tap your Bitmoji icon, then hit the settings button on the top right corner. Go to “Bitmoji,” and pick “choose a selfie.” There, you can look angry, surprised, sad — and really, whatever else you’re feeling like.

3. Set a default emoji skin tone

Lego yellow hands? No, thank you!

Lego yellow hands? No, thank you!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

No one actually has Lego yellow skin — so save yourself some time and set your default emoji skin tone to match yours. You can do that under “manage” in your settings, in “emoji skin tone.”

4. Get yourself some Bitmoji swag

Rep your bitmoji loud and proud.

Rep your bitmoji loud and proud.
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Love your Bitmoji? You can rep it if you fancy. Snapchat offers custom Bitmoji merch at the Snap Store: stickers, mugs, t-shirts, sweatpants, phone cases.

Tap the Bitmoji on the top left corner of the camera screen, then scroll down to “shop Bitmoji merch.” It will take you to a page where you can customize different items. You get to choose different images of your Bitmoji, too.


4 other things you can do with the Snapchat camera

1. Find a product

See something you like? Scan it!

See something you like? Scan it!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Imagine this: You’re shopping, you see a shirt that you love, but you’re thinking you can get a similar one somewhere else for a much cheaper price. Snapchat’s product finder will come in handy in that situation.

Tap the smily face on your camera screen, and tap the “scan” icon at the bottom. Scroll to the left, and tap the shopping bag icon. Press and hold the screen to scan the item, and boom — Snapchat will show you a list similar products.

The catch? It only shows results that are available on Amazon.

2. Cheat on your math homework (just kidding…?)

We're not telling you to cheat, but...

We’re not telling you to cheat, but…
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Math is hard. Sometimes you’ll spend an hour on just one question to no avail. Snapchat’s Math Solver is there to help. You’ll find it just next to the Product Finder. Hold and press the screen to scan the problem, and Snapchat will show you a result via Photomath.

(Yes, it works with calculus problems, too.)

3. Find a song

Never miss a song again.

Never miss a song again.
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Not sure what a song is called? Good thing Shazam is built into Snapchat. You can access the Song Finder next to the Product Finder and Math Solver. When you hear a song, just hold the screen, and you have yourself a new song to add to your playlist.

4. Play games with friends

Why send photos when you can play games?

Why send photos when you can play games?
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

Snapchat has evolved. The apps isn’t just for sending photos and videos anymore, it’s for playing game with friends, too. Tap the smiley face on your camera screen and go to “browse.” Swipe left, and you can choose from games like tic-tac-toe, pool, “what’s that movie” and more.


2 ways to keep things on the low

1. Keep your snaps private

Shhhhh...

Shhhhh…
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

If you have something to hide on Snapchat, hide them under the “your eyes only” feature.

Swipe up while you’re on the camera screen to access the memories tab. Tap the checkmark on the top right corner, and select the photos you want to hide. Tap “more,” then “hide snap (my eyes only)” at the bottom toolbar to set up a password to enable the feature.

Once you have it set up, you’ll see a “hide” button at the bottom toolbar. You can use it to hide photos from your camera roll outside of Snapchat, too.

2. Ghost people on Snap map

Ha — they can't see you now!

Ha — they can’t see you now!
Credit: Screenshots / Mashable composite

If you find it creepy that your friends can see where you are on Snap Map, this feature is for you. You will still see your friends’ locations; but they won’t be able to see yours.

Tap on the bitmoji icon on the camera screen, then scroll to the bottom, where you see “Snap Map.” Click on “Sharing Location” and turn on “Ghost mode.” You have the option to go off-grid for three hours, 24 hours, or until you choose to disable the feature yourself. You can also choose to share your location with just a select few friends under “who can see my location.”

This story was originally published in March 2020 and updated in July 2021.

Visualping raises $6M to make its website change monitoring service smarter

Visualping, a service that can help you monitor websites for changes like price drops or other updates, announced that it has raised a $6 million extension to the $2 million seed round it announced earlier this year. The round was led by Seattle-based FUSE Ventures, a relatively new firm with investors who spun out of Ignition Partners last year. Prior investors Mistral Venture Partners and N49P also participated.

The Vancouver-based company is part of the current Google for Startups Accelerator class in Canada. This program focuses on services that leverage AI and machine learning, and, while website monitoring may not seem like an obvious area where machine learning can add a lot of value, if you’ve ever used one of these services, you know that they can often unleash a plethora of false alerts. For the most part, after all, these tools simply look for something in a website’s underlying code to change and then trigger an alert based on that (and maybe some other parameters you’ve set).

Image Credits: Visualping

Earlier this week, Visualping launched its first machine learning-based tools to avoid just that. The company argues that it can eliminate up to 80% of false alerts by combining feedback from its more than 1.5 million users with its new ML algorithms. Thanks to this, Visualping can now learn the best configuration for how to monitor a site when users set up a new alert.

“Visualping has the hearts of over a million people across the world, as well as the vast majority of the Fortune 500. To be a part of their journey and to lead this round of financing is a dream,” FUSE’s Brendan Wales said.

Visualping founder and CEO Serge Salager tells me that the company plans to use the new funding to focus on building out its product but also to build a commercial team. So far, he said, the company’s growth has been primarily product led.

As a part of these efforts, the company also plans to launch Visualping Business, with support for these new ML tools and additional collaboration features, and Visualping Personal for individual users who want to monitor things like ticket availability for concerts or to track news, price drops or job postings, for example. For now, the personal plan will not include support for ML. “False alerts are not a huge problem for personal use as people are checking two-three websites but a huge problem for enterprise where teams need to process hundreds of alerts per day,” Salager told me.

The current idea is to launch these new plans in November, together with mobile apps for iOS and Android. The company will also relaunch its extensions around this time, too.

It’s also worth noting that while Visualping monetizes its web-based service, you can still use the extension in the browser for free.

Save $1,000 on a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, plus more laptop deals this weekend


What’s better than a great laptop? A great laptop that’s cheap. Nowadays, even budget machines can pack the punch to carry you through whatever’s on your to-do list, whether it’s work, watching Netflix, or endlessly browsing your go-to social media sites. If you’re looking to pick up a new laptop yourself but don’t necessarily want to drop your life savings in one go, we’ll be compiling a list of the best deals on cheap laptops right here, each and every week. So, take a look at what we found this time around, and happy shopping.

OUR TOP PICK: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 — $969.99

The clean and elegant Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is up to two times faster than its predecessor and can last you most of the day with its 11.5-hour battery life (plus a one-hour quick charge feature that can get you back up to 80% battery). If you’ve been holding off on buying a MacBook because you have an aversion is Apple’s OS, the Surface Laptop 3 may be your answer.


Save $329.01 at Amazon

Credit: Microsoft

BEST LENOVO DEAL: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 — $1,829.40

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 is a fantastic work laptop, boasting excellent performance and features that’ll please any non-Mac user. The included 10th Generation Intel Core i7-10510U processor is speedy and responsive, making for a smooth experience each and every time you open the device. You’ll also get other sought-after perks like a fingerprint reader, Dolby Atmos speaker system, a 4K display, almost 20 hours of battery life on a single charge, and the tough construction that ThinkPad laptops have become known for.


Save $1,219.60 at Lenovo

Credit: Lenovo

BEST GAMING DEAL: Razer Blade 15 — $1,698.13

The Razer Blade 15 is packed with solid internals that’ll work well for PC gaming newbies and seasoned players alike. Under the hood, you’ll get a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10750H processor with up to 5.0 GHz max turbo and 6 cores, as well as an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card that has the power to run some pretty visually intense games. The 144Hz screen provides buttery-smooth framerate performance and offers full HD visuals within a bezel-less display. It’s all housed within a thin, compact body that you can take anywhere.


Save $601.86 at Amazon

Credit: Razer

BEST 2-IN-1 DEAL: Asus Chromebook Flip C434 — $434

Having your laptop and your tablet in one place is a convenience that you need in your life. The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is a fantastic budget 2-in-1 device, with speedy performance, a full HD touchscreen, and components that should be able to handle all of your daily tasks.


Save $135.99 at Amazon

Credit: Asus

Explore related content:

How to shop for a new laptop:

Choosing a laptop is entirely dependent on what you’ll be using it for. Beginner laptop owners need something user-friendly and straightforward, frequent travelers need something light with a long battery life, designers and gamers need top-notch 4K graphics and quick central processors, and everyone needs something that will last. 

The first thing you should do is ask yourself a simple question: PC or Mac? This is an important question, as it’s going to make a world of difference in what you can and can’t do with your computer. Are you a gamer? A video editor? A business professional? An Apple device owner? The answer to any of these will probably point you towards your final answer.

If you’re constantly buying the new iPhone every year, editing YouTube videos, recording a podcast, or other creative endeavors of the sort, your best bet may be a Mac laptop. Apple obsessives will be happy with their Mac’s compatibility with their other Apple products, and everyone can benefit from Macs’ propensity to have better virus protection than that of a PC. 

That brings us to the perks of picking up a PC. You can still complete a number of creative projects on a personal computer, but where PCs really shine are their options for customization. PCs are much easier to upgrade part-by-part, as they aren’t constrained to Apple-manufactured products (like Macs). And because there is a seemingly endless supply of PC manufacturers, there are a lot more options from what brand you chose, to the software you buy, to the type of graphics card you pick out for your gaming rig. Yes, gamers should always go the PC route — they are far more powerful than what a Mac laptop can handle, and also give you the option to connect VR headsets, if you’re into that sort of thing.  

What size laptop should you get?

This really comes down to two things: Personal preference and lifestyle. Personal preference is self-explanatory, really — do you like having a huge display, or do you prefer something more compact? Lifestyle is where practicality comes into play. If you’re traveling often and usually have your computer on your back in some way, you’re going to want to go with something more light and compact (thin, 11-inch models will most likely be the best). But, if you’re a huge movie buff who doesn’t normally take their laptop on the road with them, spring for a 15-inch (and higher) screen with a bulky construction so you can have epic Netflix and chill sessions. If you’re getting a gaming laptop, you should probably “go big or go home,” as well.  

How much should you spend on a new laptop?

This is much more subjective, and at the end of the day, it’s really going to come down to your budget. But, if money isn’t the number one concern for you, you should really think hard about what you’re going to use your laptop for. Need a device with lots of power under the hood and bountiful storage space? Aim for something in the $800 and beyond range. Only using your laptop to edit the occasional Google Doc? Then you can probably get away with spending way below the $500 mark. In other words, don’t blow your savings if you don’t need to. And if you’re looking to go all out, meaning buying a laptop with every bell and whistle imaginable, you can get a monster of a machine for somewhere closer to $2,000. Why not.  

Are cheap laptops worth it?

You know the old saying: You get what you pay for. But thanks to the technology boom of the last few decades, a cheap laptop can actually take you pretty far and won’t break down immediately. It’s all about knowing which one to select. Depending on what you use your laptop for the most, staying stingy might be your best option. Check out our roundups for the ones that we think are worth it — here are our favorite cheap laptop models under $500, and the best under $300.  

What does it mean when a laptop is certified refurbished?

Don’t let the words “refurbished” or “renewed” scare you away — these types of devices are usually perfectly viable options and can end up saving you a lot of money without sacrificing much of anything.

A refurbished device, in its simplest terms, is a product that has been bought, but then returned for some reason. Notice that we didn’t necessarily say that it was returned due to some sort of fault on the device’s part. While that can certainly be true in some cases, it isn’t always. Oftentimes, a certified refurbished laptop never even left its original packaging.

While yes, saving money is a huge benefit of buying a “refurb,” it’s far from the only reason to consider getting one. What’s great about refurbished devices is that they undergo rigorous performance tests to ensure that they are still in good condition (sometimes more strictly than the stuff coming right off the production line). There’s also a chance that any refurbished laptop you buy may have been so lightly used, that it could almost be considered brand-new (just way cheaper).

We’re big fans of buying refurbished gear for kids, especially when it comes to electronics. If you’re shopping for a laptop for a kid who is under the age of 15, then refurbished is really the way to go. For kids of high school age and beyond who are a bit more careful with their digital gear, then a new laptop isn’t as risky. Of course, it depends on the kid. Happy laptop shopping!

Tumblr’s parent company is buying popular podcast app Pocket Casts

Kris Holt
Contributor

Kris Holt is a contributing writer at Engadget.

Pocket Casts will soon have a new home. Automattic, the parent company of Tumblr and WordPress.com, is buying the podcast app from a collective of public radio groups, including NPR and BBC Studios. Automattic didn’t disclose how much it will pay for Pocket Casts.

Co-founders Russell Ivanovic and Philip Simpson will remain in charge of the Pocket Casts team. It seems Automattic is already thinking about ways of incorporating the multi-platform app into its blogging tools.

“As part of Automattic, Pocket Casts will continue to provide you with the features needed to enjoy your favorite podcasts (or find something new),” a WordPress.com blog post states. “We will explore building deep integrations with WordPress.com and Pocket Casts, making it easier to distribute and listen to podcasts.”

Both blogs and podcasts use RSS feeds for distribution, so integrating the two platforms makes sense. Earlier this year, Spotify-owned Anchor teamed up with WordPress.com to turn written material into podcasts via text-to-speech tech. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pocket Casts deal factors into that partnership, if at all.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Capture stunning aerial photos and videos with Ruko drones on sale

Enjoy up to an hour of battery life.

Deals on Ruko drones as of July 16:


Photography with a handheld camera can only go so far. You’re limited to the angles that you can physically reach. A drone, on the other hand, can take your shots to a whole new level with aerial views.

As of July 16, Amazon’s deal of the day section includes two Ruko drones with cameras. The Ruko F11 Gim drone is $180 off and the Ruko F11 Pro drone is $136 off.

BEST FOR STABLE IMAGES: Ruko F11 Gim drone — $319.99

The F11 Gim has a two-axis gimbal to stabilize your 4K shots for photos and videos that are clear, not shaky. The drone comes with two batteries, which provide up to 56 minutes of flight time. And you can fly it up to 4,000 feet, so you can really capture your surroundings and not have to worry about the drone dying on you. It also has a GPS.


Save $180 at Amazon

Credit: Ruko

BEST FOR BEGINNERS AND PROS: Ruko F11 Pro drone — $263.99

The Ruko F11 Pro also has a 4K camera and GPS flight features. There’s even an auto return mode and one-key take off/landing, making it a good drone for beginners. It does not include the same level of stabilization technology as the Gim, but you should still be able to capture clear and steady shots. It also comes with two batteries, giving it up to 60 minutes of flight time.


Save $136 at Amazon

Credit: Ruko

Explore related content:

Crypto investors like Terraform Labs so much, they’re committing $150 million to its ‘ecosystem’

There are many blockchain platforms competing for investors’ and developers’ attention right now, from the big daddy of them all, Ethereum, to so-called “Ethereum Killers” like Solana, which we wrote about in May.

Often, these technologies are seen as so promising that investors are willing to fund not only the blockchains but an ecosystem of products and projects that are built on their blockchain networks. On Wednesday, for example, Phantom, a digital wallet that resides on the Solana blockchain network, announced $9 million in  Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz (which in June also splashed out a lot of money for Solana’s digital tokens).

Similarly, a syndicate of investors today is casting their votes for Terraform Labs, a three-year-old platform that originally set out to mint different so-called stablecoins for e-commerce that mimic the value of various fiat currencies and has since expanded its offerings.

There is so much more to be built off the platform, in fact, that backers including Pantera Capital and Arrington XRP have just committed to investing $150 million on products tied to the Terra ecosystem, commitments that will be deployed over several years, says the company, and commitments that, should they prove fruitful, will boost Terraform’s underlying growth in a kind of virtuous circle.

Why are they so excited about Terraform? The Singapore-based company has apparently been gaining ground fast with merchants in users in South Korea by shortening settlement time from days to seconds, often without e-commerce customers knowing that their online (and sometimes offline) transaction involved a blockchain.

It’s been doing so well, says investor Mike Arrington, that it launched an e-commerce wallet called Chai that’s grown popular in Asia. It also launched Mirror Protocol, which creates fungible assets, or “synthetics,” that track the price of real world assets. (Arrington XRP led Mirror’s first round.)

Indeed, the market cap of Terraform’s tokens — they’re called LUNA — has skyrocketed from $300 million in January to $2.6 billion as excited buyers snap them up.

Whether these backers are getting ahead of themselves is an open question, but the company’s equity investors — which also include Coinbase Ventures and Mike Novogratz of Galaxy Digital — are plainly betting there is more to come.

Back in January, when Galaxy co-led a $25 million round in Terraform, Novogratz talked with Bloomberg about the investment. Among other praise heaped on the company, he said that: “What’s great about Terra is they are one of the first sandbox experiments that’s getting outside the sandbox. We are always looking at those projects because they are the canaries in the coal mines of what else is going to happen.”

Outdoorsy co-founders detail how they expanded the sharing economy to RVs

Jen Young and Jeff Cavins were sitting in a beige conference room at a downtown Vancouver hotel, wasting away under fluorescent lights, an endless PowerPoint and a pair of sad Styrofoam cups of coffee between them. Young was there on a marketing contract. Cavins was a board member. They shared one of those looks that only couples can understand. It said: There’s got to be something better than this.

With 40 years of running technology companies under Cavins’ belt and a successful ad agency career under Young’s, the two decided to craft a business around their shared passion of being out in nature. When they realized there are more than 20 million recreational vehicles all across the U.S., most of which are used only a handful of days, they saw an opportunity. They asked themselves: How do we create memorable outdoor experiences and make them available to everybody?

For seven months, the couple traveled across the U.S. to do market research on travelers and RV owners to form the basis of their company.

The sharing economy of Uber, Lyft and Airbnb had already laid the groundwork. Why not open it up to RVs?

In 2014, Young and Cavins invested their life savings into Outdoorsy, sold their homes and jumped into an Airstream Eddie Bauer trailer. For seven months, the couple traveled across the U.S. to do market research on travelers and RV owners to form the basis of their company.

In June, Outdoorsy raised $90 million in a Series D led by ADAR1 Partners, as well as an additional $30 million in debt financing from Pacific Western Bank. The money will be used in large part to accelerate the growth of Outdoorsy’s insurtech business, Roamly. In the same month, the company announced a partnership with glamping company Collective Retreats to expand its outdoor offerings.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

You’ve taken a personal approach to your business, spending months in the research phase actually living in an RV and interviewing RV owners and their families around the country. How do you think that’s shaped your business?

Jen Young: When we lived on the road, we had to experience that customer experience every day for hundreds of days. So this is where we were able to pick up and identify what the biggest pain points were on the renter and the owner side and start tackling those first.

For example, we understood what was most important from an insurance perspective because we could hear the voices of renters and owners — they consider these things their babies in many cases.

The owners that are more entrepreneurial-minded, they consider them more of a business asset, but both of them want to know, “What am I going to get for liability insurance? Comp and collision? Interior damage?” The detailed list of those things became the beginning of the product roadmap, as well as itemizing what things have to occur for a good guest experience.

In what ways have you had to pivot your model based on how people have used your platform? 

Cavins: One of the things we learned is most renters don’t want to drive these things, so owners started to do delivery, which became very popular on our platform. Sixty percent of all owners now will just deliver and set up for you so you can arrive at your campsite and everything’s just done. Your chairs are out, your barbecue is out, your awning is out and maybe a bottle of champagne in your fridge for you.

When Jen and I were traveling last year, we saw that most of the American landscape of campgrounds and campsites were overbooked. People couldn’t get their reservations closed the way that you would expect in a world of technologically evolved industries, and we thought there had to be something better in terms of the customer experience for camping, which really catalyzed our investment in glamping company Collective Retreats.

Vyrill, winner of the TC Early Stage pitch-off, helps brands discover and leverage user-generated video reviews

Vyrill helps brands discover and leverage video reviews created by authentic customers and users. The company presented its product at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, where it beat out nine other companies, winning the pitch-off. The judges were impressed with Vyrill’s novel approach and innovative technology around discovering and filtering relevant videos.

This is a struggle for companies of every size. User-generated content is highly sought after as its authenticity is often apparent and therefore powerful. But the challenge is finding the ideal video quickly and efficiently. Right now, that usually involves searching for a video based on its title and then screening the entire video — a process that’s haphazard and labor-intensive.

As Vyrill’s CEO Ajay Bam stressed during his presentation, brands increasingly turn to ordinary people for video advertising. Instead of slick marketing videos, brands are more often licensing and marketing content created by real-life product users. But discovery is challenging and the search tools built into video platforms only parse the text in the title and description. Vyrill claims to have the solution. For example, with Vyrill’s technology, L’Oreal can match millions of YouTube videos to their entire product catalog, organizing each video to the appropriate product category. This enables L’Oreal to identify and utilize the best user-generated videos for the company’s marketing purposes. In addition, with Vyrill’s system, L’Oreal can dig down and identify user-generated content specific to a particular product.

Vyrill’s system analyzes the videos and parses the video’s text, audio, and images against a handful of filters, including diversity, subject matter, engagement, and more. According to Vyrill, this system is the secret sauce, enabling brands to discover the best videos quickly. The system also helps brands connect with the content creators by displaying profiles and email addresses.

CEO Ajay Bam said during his presentation the company currently has 40 companies on its platform, and it’s doubling month over month. Bam and co-founder and CTO Dr. Barbara Rosario started the company in 2015 and raised a $2.1 million pre-seed round in 2018. The company is currently fundraising a seed round with $1.2 million already raised.

Watch Vyrill’s pitch-off presentation here.

Nym gets $6M for its anonymous overlay mixnet to sell privacy as a service

Switzerland-based privacy startup Nym Technologies has raised $6 million, which is being loosely pegged as a Series A round.

Earlier raises included a $2.5M seed round in 2019. The founders also took in grant money from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research fund during an earlier R&D phase developing the network tech.

The latest funding will be used to continue commercial development of network infrastructure which combines an old idea for obfuscating the metadata of data packets at the transport network layer (Mixnets) with a crypto inspired reputation and incentive mechanism to drive the required quality of service and support a resilient, decentralized infrastructure.

Nym’s pitch is it’s building “an open-ended anonymous overlay network that works to irreversibly disguise patterns in Internet traffic”.

Unsurprisingly, given its attention to crypto mechanics, investors in the Series A have strong crypto ties — and cryptocurrency-related use-cases are also where Nym expects its first users to come from — with the round led by Polychain Capital, with participation from a number of smaller European investors including Eden Block, Greenfield One, Maven11, Tioga, and 1kx.

Commenting in a statement, Will Wolf of Polychain Capital, said: “We’re incredibly excited to partner with the Nym team to further their mission of bringing robust, sustainable and permissionless privacy infrastructure to all Internet users. We believe the Nym network will provide the strongest privacy guarantees with the highest quality of service of any mixnet and thus may become a very valuable piece of core internet infrastructure.”

The Internet’s ‘original sin’ was that core infrastructure wasn’t designed with privacy in mind. Therefore the level of complicity involved in Mixnets — shuffling and delaying encrypted data packets in order to shield sender-to-recipient metadata from adversaries with a global view of a network — probably seemed like over engineering all the way back when the web’s scaffolding was being pieced together.

But then came Bitcoin and the crypto boom and — also in 2013 — the Snowden revelations which ripped the veil off the NSA’s ‘collect it all’ mantra, as Booz Allen Hamilton sub-contractor Ed risked it all to dump data on his own (and other) governments’ mass surveillance programs. Suddenly network level adversaries were front page news. And so was Internet privacy.

Since Snowden’s big reveal, there’s been a slow burn of momentum for privacy tech — with rising consumer awareness fuelling usage of services like e2e encrypted email and messaging apps. Sometimes in spurts and spikes, related to specific data breaches and scandals. Or indeed privacy-hostile policy changes by mainstream tech giants (hi Facebook!).

Legal clashes between surveillance laws and data protection rights are also causing growing b2b headaches, especially for US-based cloud services. While growth in cryptocurrencies is driving demand for secure infrastructure to support crypto trading.

In short, the opportunity for privacy tech, both b2b and consumer-facing, is growing. And the team behind Nym thinks conditions look ripe for general purpose privacy-focused networking tech to take off too.

Of course there is already a well known anonymous overlay network in existence: Tor, which does onion routing to obfuscate where traffic was sent from and where it ends up.

The node-hopping component of Nym’s network shares a feature with the Tor network. But Tor does not do packet mixing — and Nym’s contention is that a functional mixnet can provide even stronger network-level privacy.

It sets out the case on its website — arguing that “Tor’s anonymity properties can be defeated by an entity that is capable of monitoring the entire network’s ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ nodes” since it does not take the extra step of adding “timing obfuscation” or “decoy traffic” to obfuscate the patterns that could be exploited to deanonymize users.

“Although these kinds of attacks were thought to be unrealistic when Tor was invented, in the era of powerful government agencies and private companies, these kinds of attacks are a real threat,” Nym suggests, further noting another difference in that Tor’s design is “based on a centralized directory authority for routing”, whereas Nym fully decentralizes its infrastructure.

Proving that suggestion will be quite the challenge, of course. And Nym’s CEO is upfront in his admiration for Tor — saying it is the best technology for securing web browsing right now.

“Most VPNs and almost all cryptocurrency projects are not as secure or as private as Tor — Tor is the best we have right now for web browsing,” says Nym founder and CEO Harry Halpin. “We do think Tor made all the right decisions when they built the software — at the time there was no interest from venture capital in privacy, there was only interest from the US government. And the Internet was too slow to do a mixnet. And what’s happened is speed up 20 years, things have transformed.

“The US government is no longer viewed as a defender of privacy. And now — weirdly enough — all of a sudden venture capital is interested in privacy and that’s a really big change.”

With such a high level of complexity involved in what Nym’s doing it will, very evidently, need to demonstrate the robustness of its network protocol and design against attacks and vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis — such as those seeking to spot patterns or identify dummy traffic and be able to relink packets to senders and receivers.

The tech is open source but Nym confirms the plan is to use some of the Series A funding for an independent audit of new code.

It also touts the number of PhDs it’s hired to-date — and plans to hire a bunch more, saying it will be using the new round to more than double its headcount, including hiring cryptographers and developers, as well as marketing specialists in privacy.

The main motivation for the raise, per Halpin, is to spend on more R&D to explore — and (he hopes) — solve some of the more specific use-cases it’s kicking around, beyond the basic one of letting developers use the network to shield user traffic (a la Tor).

Nym’s whitepaper, for example, touts the possibility for the tech being used to enable users to prove they have the right to access a service without having to disclose their actual identity to the service provider.

Another big difference vs Tor is that Tor is a not-for-profit — whereas Nym wants to build a for-profit business around its Mixnet.

It intends to charge users for access to the network — so for the obfuscation-as-a-service of having their data packets mixed into a crowd of shuffled, encrypted and proxy node-hopped others.

But potentially also for some more bespoke services — with Nym’s team eyeing specific use-cases such as whether its network could offer itself as a ‘super VPN’ to the banking sector to shield their transactions; or provide a secure conduit for AI companies to carry out machine learning processing on sensitive data-sets (such as healthcare data) without risking exposing the information itself.

“The main reason we raised this Series A is we need to do more R&D to solve some of these use-cases,” says Halpin. “But what impressed Polychain was they said wow there’s all these people that are actually interested in privacy — that want to run these nodes, that actually want to use the software. So originally when we envisaged this startup we were imagining more b2b use-cases I guess and what I think Polychain was impressed with was there seemed to be demand from b2c; consumer demand that was much higher than expected.”

Halpin says they expect the first use-cases and early users to come from the crypto space — where privacy concerns routinely attach themselves to blockchain transactions.

The plan is to launch the software by the end of the year or early next, he adds.

“We will have at least some sort of chat applications — for example it’s very easy to use our software with Signal… so we do think something like Signal is an ideal use-case for our software — and we would like to launch with both a [crypto] wallet and a chat app,” he says. “Then over the next year or two — because we have this runway — we can work more on kind of higher speed applications. Things like try to find partnerships with browsers, with VPNs.”

At this (still fairly early) stage of the network’s development — an initial testnet was launched in 2019 — Nym’s eponymous network has amassed over 9,000 nodes. These distributed, crowdsourced providers are only earning a NYM reputation token for now, and it remains to be seen how much exchangeable crypto value they might earn in the future as suppliers of key infrastructure if/when usage takes off.

Why didn’t Mixnets as a technology take off before, though? After all the idea dates back to the 1980s. There’s a range of reasons, according to Halpin — issues with scalability being one of them one. And a key design “innovation” he points to vis-a-vis its implementation of Mixnet technology is the ability to keep adding nodes so the network is able to scale to meet demand.

Another key addition is that the Nym protocol injects dummy traffic packets into the shuffle to make it harder for adversaries to decode the path of any particular message — aiming to bolster the packet mixing process against vulnerabilities like correlation attacks.

While the Nym network’s crypto-style reputation and incentive mechanism — which works to ensure the quality of mixing (“via a novel proof of mixing scheme”, as its whitepaper puts it) — is another differentiating component Halpin flags.

“One of our core innovations is we scale by adding servers. And the question is how do we add servers? To be honest we added servers by looking at what everyone had learned about reputation and incentives from cryptocurrency systems,” he tells TechCrunch. “We copied that — those insights — and attached them to mix networks. So the combination of the two things ends up being pretty powerful.

“The technology does essentially three things… We mix packets. You want to think about an unencrypted packet like a card, an encrypted packet you flip over so you don’t know what the card says, you collect a bunch of cards and you shuffle them. That’s all that mixing is — it just randomly permutates the packets… Then you hand them to the next person, they shuffle them. You hand them to the third person, they shuffle them. And then they had the cards to whoever is at the end. And as long as different people gave you cards at the beginning you can’t distinguish those people.”

More generally, Nym also argues it’s an advantage to be developing mixnet technology that’s independent and general purpose — folding all sorts and types of traffic into a shuffled pack — suggesting it can achieve greater privacy for users’ packets in this pooled crowd vs similar tech offered by a single provider to only their own users (such as the ‘privacy relay’ network recently announced by Apple).

In the latter case, an attacker already knows that the relayed traffic is being sent by Apple users who are accessing iCloud services. Whereas — as a general purpose overlay layer — Nym can, in theory, provide contextual coverage to users as part of its privacy mix. So another key point is that the level of privacy available to Nym users scales as usage does.

Historical performance issues with bandwidth and latency are other reasons Halpin cites for Mixnets being largely left on the academic shelf. (There have been some other deployments, such as Loopix — which Nym’s whitepaper says its design builds on by extending it into a “general purpose incentivized mixnet architecture” — but it’s fair to say the technology hasn’t exactly gone mainstream.)

Nonetheless, Nym’s contention is the tech’s time is finally coming; firstly because technical challenges associated with Mixnets can be overcome — because of gains in Internet bandwidth and compute power; as well as through incorporating crypto-style incentives and other design tweaks it’s introducing (e.g. dummy traffic) — but also, and perhaps most importantly, because privacy concerns aren’t simply going to disappear.

Indeed, Halpin suggests governments in certain countries may ultimately decide their exposure to certain mainstream tech providers which are subject to state mass surveillance regimes — whether that’s the US version or China’s flavor or elsewhere —  simply isn’t tenable over the longer run and that trusting sensitive data to corporate VPNs based in countries subject to intelligence agency snooping is a fool’s game.

(And it’s interesting to note, for example, that the European Data Protection Supervisor is currently conducting a review of EU bodies use of mainstream US cloud services from AWS and Microsoft to check whether they are in compliance with last summer’s Schrems II ruling by the CJEU, which struck down the EU-US Privacy Shield deal, after again finding US surveillance law to be essentially incompatible with EU privacy rights… )

Nym is betting that some governments will — eventually — come looking for alternative technology solutions to the spying problem. Although government procurement cycles make that play a longer game.

In the near term, Halpin says they expect interest and usage for the metadata-obscuring tech to come from the crypto world where there’s a need to shield transactions from view of potential hackers.

“The websites that [crypto] people use — these exchanges — have also expressed interest,” he notes, flagging that Nym also took in some funding from Binance Labs, the VC arm of the cryptocurrency exchange, after it was chosen to go through the Lab’s incubator program in 2018.

The issue for crypto users is their networks are (relatively) small, per Halpin — which makes them vulnerable to deanonymization attacks.

“The thing with a small network is it’s easy for random people to observe this. For example people who want to hack your exchange wallet — which happens all the time. So what cryptocurrency exchanges and companies that deal with cryptocurrency are concerned about is typically they do not want the IP address of their wallet revealed for certain kinds of transactions,” he adds. “This is a real problem for cryptocurrency exchanges — and it’s not that their enemy is the NSA; their enemy could be — and almost always is — an unknown, often lone individual but highly skilled hacker. And these kinds of people can do network observations, on smaller networks like cryptocurrency networks, that are essentially are as powerful as what the NSA could do to the entire Internet.”

There are now a range of startups seeking to decentralize various aspects of Internet or common computing infrastructure — from file storage to decentralized DNS. And while some of these tout increased security and privacy as core benefits of decentralization — suggesting they can ‘fix’ the problem of mass surveillance by having an architecture that massively distributes data, Halpin argues that a privacy claim being routinely attached to decentralized infrastructure is misplaced. (He points to a paper he co-authored on this topic, entitled Systematizing Decentralization and Privacy: Lessons from 15 Years of Research and Deployments.)

“Almost all of those projects gain decentralization at the cost of privacy,” he argues. “Because any decentralized system is easier to observe because the crowd has been spread out… than a centralized system — to a large extent. If the adversary is sufficiently powerful enough all the participants in the system. And historically we believe that most people who are interested in decentralization are not expects in privacy and underestimate how easy it is to observe decentalized systems — because most of these systems are actually pretty small.”

He points out there are “only” 10,000 full nodes in Bitcoin, for example, and a similar amount in Ethereum — while other, newer and more nascent decentralized services are likely to have fewer nodes, maybe even just a few hundred or thousand.

And while the Nym network has a similar amount of nodes to Bitcoin, the difference is it’s a mixnet too — so it’s not just decentralized but it’s also using multiple layers of encryption and traffic mixing and the various other obfuscation steps which he says “none of these other people do”.

“We assume the enemy is observing everything in our software,” he adds. “We are not what we call ‘security through obscurity’ — security through obscurity means you assume the enemy just can’t see everything; isn’t looking at your software too carefully; doesn’t know where all your servers are. But — realistically — in an age of mass surveillance, the enemy will know where all your services are and they can observe all the packets coming in, all the packets coming out. And that’s a real problem for decentralized networks.”

Post-Snowden, there’s certainly been growing interest in privacy by design — and a handful of startups and companies have been able to build momentum for services that promise to shield users’ data, such as DuckDuckGo (non-tracking search); Protonmail (e2e encrypted email); and Brave (privacy-safe browsing). Apple has also, of course, very successfully markets its premium hardware under a ‘privacy respecting’ banner.

Halpin says he wants Nym to be part of that movement; building privacy tech that can touch the mainstream.

“Because there’s so much venture capital floating into the market right now I think we have a once in a generation chance — just as everyone was excited about p2p in 2000 — we have a once in a generation chance to build privacy technology and we should build companies which natively support privacy, rather than just trying to bolt it on, in a half hearted manner, onto non-privacy respecting business models.

“Now I think the real question — which is why we didn’t raise more money — is, is there enough consumer and business demand that we can actually discover what the cost of privacy actually is? How much are people willing to pay for it and how much does it cost? And what we do is we do privacy on such a fundamental level is we say what is the cost of a privacy-enhanced byte or packet? So that’s what we’re trying to figure out: How much would people pay just for a privacy-enhanced byte and how much does just a privacy enhanced byte cost? And is this a small enough marginal cost that it can be added to all sorts of systems — just as we added TLS to all sorts of systems and encryption.”

Save on your cybersecurity with the best VPN deals in July

The online world can be a seriously dangerous place, with hackers, viruses, and surveillance software absolutely everywhere. We’re not trying to worry you, but have you ever considered just how much of your personal data is exposed to this sort of thing whilst you’re browsing? If not, you probably should. You might be surprised.

Your personal data is seriously valuable stuff these days, and everyone is looking to get their hands on it. Once you come to understand that the internet is insecure, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little concerned about how much of your data is up for grabs. There’s no need to panic though, because there is a simple and effective way that you can stay protected.

To stay safe online, and keep all of your data and personal information secure, you should invest in a VPN.

What is a VPN?

VPNs provide protection for your data and identity by creating a private network that hides your real IP address. All of your activity is untraceable and secure because everything passes through an encrypted tunnel.

VPNs create a private network that hides your real IP address.

VPNs create a private network that hides your real IP address.
Credit: Pexels

Nobody can see into the tunnel, and everything inside is protected against online threats. This means that hackers, governments, and your internet service provider will be unable to access any of your information.

Do you really need to invest in a VPN?

We’ve already covered the fact that investing in a VPN is one of the best ways to ensure your safety and anonymity online. VPNs are vital tools in the fight against scammers and cybercriminals, but there’s another reason you might consider these security services. And it has nothing to do with security.

VPNs can be used to unlock streaming services from around the world, including the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+. How do they do this? It’s actually a really simple process, and it can significantly boost your content options. All you need to do is open up your preferred VPN, connect to a server from another country in order to spoof your IP to another address, and then head to your preferred streaming site. This process tricks the site into thinking you are based in another country, meaning you can watch all that great content that is normally blocked.

So VPNs are really useful for cybersecurity and streaming, which means they should be a worthwhile investment for just about everyone.

What are the most important features in a VPN?

Choosing a VPN that is right for you is not easy, because there are a lot of options all offering similar packages. To make your life a little easier, we have highlighted a selection of the most important things to consider before making any sort of decision:

Connection speed: This is absolutely vital whether you’re looking to use a VPN for online security or streaming. It’s normal for a VPN to result in a drop in your connection speed, but you shouldn’t accept anything significant.

Encryption: We know that a lot of people will be using VPNs for streaming, but these services are primarily designed to provide cybersecurity, so encryption is important. The best VPNs will offer powerful protection for your data, meaning that everything is unreadable and untraceable.

Number of connections: You should seek out a VPN that offers multiple simultaneous connections, so you can stay protected on all your devices at the same time. This is also beneficial for large families or households with multiple people likely to be online at the same time.

Privacy policy: The best VPNs should be very clear about how they handle, store, and use your data. These practices should be laid out in a privacy policy, and if they aren’t super clear, you should look elsewhere.

Browse, shop, and stream securely with a VPN.

Browse, shop, and stream securely with a VPN.
Credit: Pexels

Server network: The best VPNs provide access to thousands of servers located all around the world. This is useful as you should always be able to find a stable and speedy connection for streaming, shopping, or browsing.

There are plenty of other things that are worth considering, like bandwidth, apps for certain operating systems, and customer support, but these are probably the most important features to keep in mind.

What is the best VPN?

There are a lot of VPNs out there, and we recommend taking some time to carefully access all your options. Once you have established exactly what you need, you can turn your attention to finding the best deals on all the top VPNs.

We have reached out to partners in order to line up a list of the best deals on the most popular providers, to help you save big. You can find all the best deals on the likes of ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PureVPN, and more.

These are all the best VPN deals in July 2021.

‘Ted Lasso’ star Jason Sudeikis shows support for England footballers after racist abuse

Jason Sudeikis attends Apple's

Jason Sudeikis has shown his support for England footballers Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Bukayo Saka following the UEFA Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Sudeikis, who plays the titular football coach in the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, donned a “Jadon, Marcus & Bukayo” T-shirt to the Season 2 premiere at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California on Thursday.

The three players have faced racist online abuse over the past week after they missed penalties in the 3-2 shootout loss.

Amid the abuse, people took to Instagram to attempt to drown out racist comments and emoji on the players’ pages by posting positive comments of support and love.

Both Rashford and Saka have posted open letters apologising — unnecessarily, we might add — for missing their penalties.

In Rashford’s letter, he condemned the abuse he’d received as a Black footballer. “I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from,” he wrote.

Tweet may have been deleted

“I’m Marcus Rashford, 23 year old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that.”

Saka also penned an open letter and called out social media companies’ inaction on harassment and abuse. “To the social media platforms Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me, Marcus and Jadon have received this week,” he wrote. “I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

Tweet may have been deleted

Saka’s letter ended on a powerful note: “There is no place for racism or hate of any kind in football or in any area of society.”

Quick question, where can we get a T-shirt like Jason’s?

Netflix’s ‘Fear Street Part 3: 1666’ is a satisfying finish to a terrifying trilogy

Kiana Madeira crushes every 'Fear Street' role she gets.

Heading into Fear Street Part Three: 1666, I feared the story of the Shadyside Witch had hit a dead end. But like only a great final girl can, the last installment in Netflix’s R.L. Stine trilogy subverted my expectations and pulled off a harrowing eleventh-hour exit that was both satisfying and scary.

Part Three picks up where Part Two left off, with Deena (Kiana Madeira) hurdling through metaphysical impossibility to somehow “become” Sarah Fier. After reuniting the dead sorceress’ hand with the rest of her skeletal remains back in 1994, Deena wakes up in 17th century Shadyside acting, speaking, and, based on other characters’ reactions, seemingly appearing as the notorious witch.

But at this moment in our story, Sarah has yet to be accused of worshipping the devil or practicing dark magic. Like Deena, she’s just a young woman living her life in this allegedly cursed town. Getting to know Sarah and the puritanical world she inhabited makes up the first half of the film.

Emily Rudd and Sadie Sink return in 'Fear Street Part 3: 1666'

Emily Rudd and Sadie Sink return in ‘Fear Street Part 3: 1666’
Credit: netflix

Across the village, Deena is joined by lookalikes from Part One and Part Two, with Kate (Julia Rehwald), Simon (Fred Hechinger), Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), Ziggy (Sadie Fink), Cindy (Emily Rudd), and even Tommy (McCabe Slye) appearing as townspeople.

None of them act like time-traveling teens. They all go by different names. And while some of their relationships seemingly mirror those of the future — Deena’s brother Josh, for example, becomes Sarah Fier’s brother Henry — only knight in shining armor Sheriff Goode (Ashley Zukerman) truly parallels himself as the kind and benevolent Alderman Goode.

It’s a complicated concept to add to a story already neck-deep in killers and plot twists, and how this major development helps answer the mystery of Shadyside’s supposed curse isn’t immediately clear. But precise writing, passionate performances, and a keen understanding of period horror help the Fear Street trilogy achieve a finale worthy of its three-movie narrative.

It is so nice to see Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) not dead!

It is so nice to see Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) not dead!
Credit: netflix

As far as scares go, you’ll get all the witch trial paranoia and barnyard gore we’ve come to expect of nightmares set in this time period. But what could come across as a hokey reach to reference a horror subgenre far outside the slasher scope of Part One and Part Two instead feels fresh and fitting. To be sure, swinging from 1978 to colonial times is a lot to process as a viewer. And yet, Fear Street makes it worth it, tying Deena’s heroic journey to timeless terror that sticks the landing.

Better enjoyed sans spoilers, Fear Street Part Three: 1666 has everything you’d want and then some. Now, Netflix… Let’s talk about doing this again next summer. Because you killed it.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994, Fear Street Part 2: 1978, and Fear Street Part 3: 1666 are now streaming on Netflix.

Xiaomi pushes Apple down to become the number two smartphone maker

To continue its trajectory, Xiaomi will have to focus on sales of its priciest smartphones, such as the Mi 11 Ultra (pictured).

Things are looking great for Xiaomi.

The Chinese smartphone maker was recently removed from the U.S. blacklist, as the Department of Defense realized Xiaomi is not, in fact, a “Communist Chinese military company.”

And now, according to new data from Canalys, the company has overtaken Apple to become the number two smartphone vendor globally.

According to the report, Samsung held a 19 percent share of the global smartphone market in Q2 2021, followed by Xiaomi’s 17 percent and Apple’s 14 percent. China’s Oppo and Vivo hold the fourth and fifth spots, both with a 10 percent market share.

While all the companies on the list achieved some degree of growth compared to the same period last year, Xiaomi grew 83 percent, while Apple only grew 1 percent year-over-year.

Xiaomi’s results are due to strong growth globally, with shipments increasing more than 300 percent in Latin America, 150 percent in Africa, and 50 percent in Western Europe, Canalys’ Research Manager Ben Stanton claims. However, while the company is known for its excellent budget and mid-range phones, “major priority for Xiaomi this year is to grow sales of its high-end devices, such as the Mi 11 Ultra,” Stanton adds.

Tweet may have been deleted

One name that’s missing from the top five list is Huawei. The company was once the world’s top smartphone vendor, but its smartphone sales were on the decline ever since it was blacklisted by the U.S. government.

Traditional VCs turn to emerging managers for deal flow and, in some cases, new partners

Nasir Qadree, a Washington-based investor who just raised $62.1 million for his debut venture fund, recently told us that as his fundraising gained momentum, he was approached by established firms that are looking to absorb new talent.

He opted to go it alone, but he’s hardly alone in attracting interest. Anecdotally, bringing emerging managers into the fold is among the newer ways that powerful venture firms stay powerful. Early last year, for example, crypto investor Arianna Simpson — who founded and was managing her own crypto-focused hedge fund — was lured into the heavyweight firm Andreessen Horowitz as a deal partner.

Andy Chen, a one-time CIA weapons analyst who spent more than seven years with Kleiner Perkins, was in the process of raising his own fund in 2018 when another prominent firm, the hedge fund Coatue, came knocking. Today he helps lead the firm’s early-stage investing practice.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of such firms, which manage enormous funds and wield tremendous power with founders. Still, as older firms look to recruit from a widening pool of new managers, they might have to wait on the most talented of the bunch; in some cases, they might be out of luck entirely.

There is, of course, a long list of reasons that so many people are deciding to raise funds these days, from the glut of capital looking to make its way into startups, to tools like Angelist’s Rolling Funds and revised regulations around crowdfunding in the U.S.

Emerging managers also seem adept at capitalizing on the venture industry’s blind spots. One is the excessive wealth of more veteran VCs. An investor’s experience counts for a lot, but there’s a lot to be said for up-and-comers who are still establishing their reputation, who aren’t sitting on more than a dozen boards, and whose future will be closely aligned with their founders.

Yet there are other trends the establishment has long overlooked for too long. Many firms probably regret not taking crypto more seriously sooner. Many male-heavy teams have also ignored for too long the soaring economic power of women, which new managers are driving home to their own investors.

Not last, many have stubbornly resisted racially diversifying their ranks, creating an opening for investors of color who are acutely aware of changing demographics. According to census projections, white Americans will represent a minority of the U.S. population within 20 years, meaning today’s racial minorities are becoming the primary engine of the country’s growth.

That new managers have shaken up the industry is arguably a good thing. The question some are beginning to wonder is whether they can maintain their independence, and that answer isn’t yet clear.

Like the startups they fund, many of these new managers are right now operating in the shadows of the firms that came before them. It’s a seemingly copacetic arrangement, too. Venture is an industry where collaboration between business competitors is inescapable after all, and it’s easy to stay on the good side of giant firms when you’re investing a non-threatening amount into nascent companies you’ll later introduce to the bigger players.

Ensuring that things remain harmonious — and that deal flow keeps coming — a growing number of venture firms now plays the role of limited partner, committing capital to new managers. Foundry Group was among the first to do this in an institutionalized way five years ago, setting aside 25% of a new fund to pour into smaller venture funds. But it’s happening routinely across the industry. Jake Paul’s new influencer-focused fund? Backed by Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz. Katie Stanton’s Moxxie Ventures? Backed by Bain Capital Ventures.

The running joke is that big firms have raised so much money they don’t know where to plug all of it, but they’re also safeguarding what they’ve built. That was the apparent thinking in 2015, when a then-beleaguered Kleiner Perkins tried to engage in merger talks with Social Capital, a buzzed-about venture firm founded by Chamath Palihapitiya. (The deal reportedly fell apart over who would ultimately run the show. Kleiner subsequent underwent a nearly complete management change to regain its footing, while numerous members of Social Capital left to start Tribe Capital.)

It’s also why we might see more venture firms begin to gauge the interest of new fund managers who they think could add value to their brand.

Likely, some will say yes for the sheen and economics of a big firm and because teaming up can be far easier than going it alone. Early-stage investor Semil Shah — who has built up his own firm while also working as a venture partner with different, established outfits (including, currently, Lightspeed Venture Partners) — thinks it’s “natural to assume that lots of new rolling funds” in particular will either “burn out, stay small, or try to scale and realize how hard it is, and perhaps go to a bigger firm once they have established a track record.”

If true, it’s not a scenario that’s as widely embraced as some might imagine. Eric Bahn, who cofounded the Bay Area-based seed-stage firm Hustle Fund in 2017, predicted last week on Twitter< that “establishment VC funds will acquire emerging VC funds, who are building differentiated networks/brands.” While in a different era, that might be seen as a cushy landing, Bahn added: “Not sure how I feel about this. 🤔

He also later tweeted that “to be unequivocal, Hustle Fund is not for sale.”

For his part, Bahn says he’s “nervous about industry consolidation.” There have been “systemic issues with VCs being exclusionary in the past when it comes to women and other underrepresented groups.” He adds that even more recently he has “met LPs who — wink wink — really like men who come from Stanford and have computer science degrees,” leading him to fret that even a team with “good intentions can revert back to the mean.”

An industry friend of Bahn, Lolita Taub of The Community Fund —  a $5 million early-stage fund that is focused on community-themed startups and backed by the Boston-based seed-stage venture firm Flybridge — is more sanguine about emerging managers’ ability to remain independent. Rather than gobble up smaller funds, she foresees more established players begin to fund — and nurture — emerging funds that have overlapping areas of interest.

Taub suggests that it’s the next step beyond VCs who’ve worked with so-called scouts to find undiscovered gems. “I think older players are looking to expand their reach beyond what they know.”

Both may be right. Either way, the industry is changing shape and some form of consolidation, though not imminent, seems inevitable once the checks inevitably stop flying. Some firms will break out, while others team up. Some managers will find themselves at top firms, while others close up shop.

Almost the only certainty right now is that a larger fund “buying” a smaller fund is “not that complicated,” according to fund administration expert Bob Raynard of Standish Management in San Francisco.

Asked about the mechanics of such tie-ups, he shares that it “generally involves changing or adding members at the GP entity level [leading to a] change in control of the funds.”

Maybe, too, he says, there is a rebranding.

The real challenge, suggests Raynard, is just “getting two VCs to agree on a value.” And that depends entirely on their other options.

Paytm files for $2.2 billion IPO

Paytm, one of India’s most valuable startups, plans to raise up to $2.2 billion in an initial public offering, it said in draft papers submitted to the country’s market regulator on Friday.

The Noida-headquartered firm — backed by Alibaba, Berkshire Hathaway, and SoftBank among others — said it will issue new shares worth $1.1 billion and offer sale worth of $1.1 billion.

The startup, which competes with PhonePe and Google Pay, plans to use the fresh capital of $577 million to broaden its payments services offering and about $269 million to enter into new initiatives and explore acquisition opportunities, it said.

Paytm, which was launched in 2009, has expanded to a wide-range of services including money transfer, payments gateway, e-commerce marketplace, ticket booking, insurance, and digital gold. The platform has amassed over 333 million customers and onboarded over 21 million merchants, it said in the papers today.

“We have created a payments-led super-app, through which we offer our consumers innovative and intuitive digital products and services. We offer our consumers a wide selection of payment options on the Paytm app, which include (i) Paytm Payment Instruments, which allow them to use digital wallets, sub-wallets, bank accounts, buy-now-pay-later and wealth management accounts and (ii) major third-party instruments, such as debit and credit cards and net banking,” the Vijay Shekhar Sharma-led describes itself.

A look at Paytm’s numbers shared in the draft prospectus (Paytm)

Paytm’s IPO plans come at a time when the pandemic has fuelled India’s digital economy and local stock exchanges are showing good appetite for consumer tech stocks. Indian food delivery giant Zomato’s $1.3 billion IPO this week was quickly subscribed by retail and anchor investors.

A lot is riding on a successful IPO of Paytm — which reported a consolidated loss of $233.6 million for the financial year that ended in March this year, down from $404 million a year ago.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter may be developing a new layout that makes it look more like Facebook

Twitter's apparent layout change is still in development.

Twitter may soon make photos just a tiny bit wider on mobile.

Noted tech detective Jane Manchun Wong revealed on Thursday that Twitter appears to be developing a new timeline layout for its mobile app. Rather than the current format that gives images a margin around them, the new layout will make pictures large enough to reach the edges of your phone screen.

Wong’s screenshot of the potential changes also indicates that users’ profile images will be repositioned to accommodate for the new manner in which images are displayed. Rather than appearing next to the text of a tweet, profile images will appear above it next to the profile name and username.

It all looks very Facebook.

Tweet may have been deleted

Wong noted that reply tweets don’t appear to be affected by the design change, with a grey line still linking them to the tweet they’re responding to and the margin still present. Still, this could easily change. Twitter’s redesign is still in development, and there isn’t any guarantee that it will be released soon — if it is even released at all.

Mashable has reached out to Twitter for comment. However, CEO Jack Dorsey has already responded to Wong’s tweet to say the change is “much better,” lending even more credence to her historically credible reverse engineering. Wong previously revealed accurate details of subscription service Twitter Blue before it was even announced.

How to share your screen on Zoom

Your options for sharing a screen on Zoom.

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, and that means from now on we’re going to be using Zoom a lot more than we ever did before March 2020.

There are a ton of things you can do with the video conferencing app Zoom if you know where to look. From having a second source transcribe the call for you so you don’t have to listen in to allowing paid Zoom users to virtually “create, host, and monetize events,” to plenty of other ways to make your video conferencing just that much more fun and engaging. But there are small parts of Zooming that are equally important — like, for instance, if you’re hosting a meeting and want to share your screen, how, exactly, would you do that?

Join your Zoom meeting

To begin the process of sharing a screen during a Zoom meeting, you have to first be in a Zoom meeting.

To begin the process of sharing a screen during a Zoom meeting, you have to first be in a Zoom meeting.
Credit:

Launch the Zoom application and join the meeting — either by clicking a link that was sent to you, entering the meeting code, or starting the meeting yourself if you’re the one hosting.

Click “Share Screen”

Click that big, green "share screen" button

Click that big, green “share screen” button
Credit:

On the bottom of your Zoom app screen, you will see a list of options. Mute and Stop Video are on the bottom left. Security, Participants, Chat, Share Screen, Record, and Reactions are all on the bottom middle. The bottom right has the end call button.

Here, all you have to do is click “Share Screen.” You’ll have the option to share from multiple different sources, including a whiteboard that allows you to draw to your fellow Zoomers, an AirPlay option for your iPhone or iPad which allows you to share your phone screen, and more. Most often, you’ll want to share your Desktop 1, which will show everyone in your meeting what’s happening on on your computer screen.

Before you share anything, though, you’ll want to make sure your computer is ready to be shared with the office or your friends on the call, so close out of anything you don’t want your colleagues to see.

Starlink to improve latency for competitive online gaming, Musk says

Elon Musk speaks about the Starlink project at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Starlink will soon be able to support competitive online gaming, thanks to upcoming latency enhancements, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.  

Musk made the statement on Twitter while discussing his company’s ongoing efforts to improve Starlink, the company’s satellite internet network. 

“Ping should improve dramatically in coming months. We’re aiming for tweet. 

Currently, the latencies for SpaceX’s satellite internet network can range from over 20 milliseconds to as high as 88ms. As a result, you can already game over Starlink, but you may encounter significant lag during an online first-person shooter session, depending on the connection quality.

The company’s goal is to reduce the latencies to under 20ms later this year. To pull this off, Musk said SpaceX is working to establish more Starlink ground stations across the globe. These ground stations are connected to local fiber networks and beam the internet data to the Starlink satellites in orbit.

In addition, the company is working to streamline the internet packet routing across the network. “More ground stations & less foolish packet routing will make the biggest differences,” Musk wrote in a follow-up tweet

According to Musk, theoretically Starlink should only need 10 milliseconds to route the internet data, if all the impediments can be removed. “Looking at speed of light as ~300km per millisecond & satellite altitude of ~550km, average photon round-trip time is only ~10ms, so a lot of silly things have to happen to drive ping >20ms,” he added. 

Tweet may have been deleted

To further drive down the latency, SpaceX has been incorporating built-in lasers on the newest Starlink satellites to transmit data from one satellite to the next —all while in orbit. The company has previously said the lasers can “transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data” between the satellites. 

On Wednesday, Musk added: “Laser links in orbit can reduce long-distance latency by as much as 50%, due to higher speed of light in vacuum and shorter path than undersea fiber.”

The lasers might also make it possible for Starlink satellites to serve the internet data to users without fetching the information from ground stations on Earth. “Some traffic could just go terminal -> satellite -> satellite -> terminal and never touch the regular Internet,” Musk said

Tweet may have been deleted

SpaceX’s other major goal for this year is to double the download speeds for Starlink to 300Mbps. To achieve the faster speeds, the company has been launching new batches of Starlink satellites in orbit usually every few weeks. 

To sign up for Starlink, you can go to the company’s official website. The service costs $99 a month, along with a $499 one-time fee for the equipment. However, it’s mainly targeting users based in rural and remote regions.

Elago’s Siri Remote case puts Apple’s AirTags to good use

All Siri Remote owners will probably agree this is very necessary.

It’s not crazy to think that Apple should’ve injected its extensive Find My Network for lost devices into the Siri Remote. (It is, after all, annoyingly easy to lose between the couch cushions). But the company didn’t, so Elago went ahead and created the Remote R5 case — equipped with a slot for an AirTag.

The R5 case is made of a thick silicone that protects the Apple TV remote from accidental drops. It also has a strap attached to it for extra security if you’re the clumsy type and a dedicated Siri button on its right side.

On the case’s inside, there’s a circular slot made specifically to house an AirTag. Simply drop the Bluetooth tracker in and secure the remote into the case to keep tabs on it.

The silicone case has a strap on the outside, a dedicated Siri button, and a slot for an AirTag on the inside.

The silicone case has a strap on the outside, a dedicated Siri button, and a slot for an AirTag on the inside.
Credit: elgato

Whenever you lose the remote, you can use your iPhone to trigger the AirTag’s sound to help locate it. And if you have an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, you can also use the AirTag’s Precision Finding feature to locate the remote using a combination of haptic feedback, graphics, and sound.

There are, however, a few important things to note. For starters, the case is only compatible with the newest Siri Remote, and you’ll need to buy both the remote and AirTags separately.

Elago’s R5 case will set you back $15, while the Siri Remote costs $59 and a single AirTag costs $99. So, in total, the setup comes out to $173.

That’s a steep price if you don’t already own both of those Apple products. But for the sake of your sanity, it’s probably worth it.