Day: July 21, 2021

Daily Crunch: India’s most valuable startup buys US-based digital reading platform Epic for $500M

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Hello and welcome to Extra Crunch for July 21, 2021. It’s been a good day for crypto fans, with major coins seeing some recovery from recent lows. Bitcoin and ether remain depressed on a seven-day time frame, however. And the stock market is up today. What more can we ask for on a Wednesday? Well, how about a huge run of startup and tech news? We can do that! — Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Clubhouse leaves beta: Clubhouse, the buzzy live-audio startup that captivated the technology world earlier this year, is out of beta. The move feels a hair late given the work that Twitter has done with its Spaces product, but is welcome all the same. Data indicates that Clubhouse is having a moment in India, a key tech market as Daily Crunch has discussed ad nauseam.
  • Tumblr goes pro: Feeling like a comeback story? Tumblr certainly does. After winding up as part of Yahoo thanks to a $1.3 billion deal, and later part of Verizon after the company (and still TechCrunch’s parent company’s parent company) bought the online portal giant, it got sold to Automattic for a song. Now it wants to join the creator economy boom by allowing its users to put up paywalls. We’re here for it — the internet would be more fun with a healthy Tumblr in the mix.
  • Byju’s comes to America: Indian edtech superstar Byju’s is coming to the U.S. on the heels of its newly announced $500 million deal for Epic, what TechCrunch described as a “California-headquartered reading platform.” The edtech market is hot, something that we’ve long known. Duolingo’s IPO is also in the mix, as is a recent $24 million round for Sololearn, a startup that wants to take the Duolingo model and apply it to learning to code.

Startups/VC

We have lots to chat about today from the world of startups thanks to the supercharged venture capital cadence around the world. Up top, if you are keeping tabs on the Robinhood IPO, our latest notes are here. Now, let’s talk tech upstarts and private capital, starting with some fintech updates.

Fintech

  • Lending startup Upgrade embraces crypto: Back in 2019, TechCrunch took note of Upgrade, a consumer lending startup from LendingClub founder Renaud Laplanche. Today the startup rolled out a credit card with bitcoin rewards. If you need a few more satoshis worth of $BTC and want to build credit, this might be for you.
  • No-code + Payments = WhenThen: WhenThen’s no-code payments service is not struggling to explain itself to investors, its latest $6 million round indicates. Its service, TechCrunch reports, allows customers to “autonomously orchestrate, monitor, improve and manage all customer payments and payments ops.” The no-code element likely means it’s a bit more friendly to the non-developers out there. We grade this idea neat out of 10.
  • $118M more for corporate spend management: Here in the U.S., the corporate spend wars have Ramp versus Airbase versus Brex on the front lines. But that doesn’t mean that the popular model of fusing corporate cards and software to help companies manage their overall dispensation of funds is fully figured out. Especially in a global context. And now Spendesk has a fresh €100 million in its own accounts to spend taking on the EU market. I wonder what service it will use to track those costs?

Software

  • Sequoia Capital India backs Outplay: The new $7.3 million investment will bolster the startup’s efforts to “help outbound sales teams scale their campaigns.”
  • Say hello to what may be the future of spreadsheets: Spreadsheet.com wants to flip the idea of turning spreadsheet usage into targeted apps on its head. Instead, the startup wants to put apps in your spreadsheets. And its general release is coming this October.
  • Aussies want to help D2C brands kick the Big Tech habit: Now flush with $5.3 million in new capital, Sydney-based Okendo wants to help “brands scale the quality of their first-party data and loosen their reliance on tech advertising kingpins for customer acquisition and engagement.” If they can manage that, hats off.

Closing our startup coverage, a few final notes. Pangaea has raised $68 million for its men’s personal care brands. That is cool. But don’t get it mixed up with Providence, Rhode Island-based Pangea, a recent Y Combinator grad that has some news coming up. More on that soon.

If you want a deeper dive into the latest in hot business books, the Equity team recently sat down with one of the authors of “The Cult of We” to chat all things WeWork.

These simple metrics will tell you if your startup is ready to scale

There’s a temptation inside early-stage startups to claim that the go-to-market strategy is fully operational. In reality, GTM is a stark numbers game, and even with a solid plan in place, it can be easily foiled by common problems like turf battles and poor communication.

Finding GTM fit is a milestone for any startup that can include anything from expanding the engineering team to launching your first media buy. But how do you know when you’ve reached that magic moment?

“You have to consider three metrics: gross churn rate, the magic number and gross margin,” says Tae Hea Nahm, co-founder and managing director of Storm Ventures.

High churn means customers aren’t delighted, low gross margins mean poor unit economics, and that so-called magic number?

“You can calculate it by taking new ARR divided by your marketing and sales spending,” according to Nahm. “But keep in mind that the magic number is a lagging indicator, and it may take you a few quarters to see a positive result.”

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

Big Tech Inc.

  • Remember Alexa? Amazon still wants you to build for it: Amazon’s voice assistant still wants developers to build for it, something that they may do. To entice more developer love, Amazon released a slew of new features for the service. Frankly, given the slow pace of growth in intelligence we’ve experienced with Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google’s “OK Google” setup, we are gently skeptical.
  • Can Ford, Argo and Lyft make self-driving taxis work? Recall that Google’s Waymo taxi service both exists and operates, albeit in micro compared to the riding networks that Uber and Lyft sport. Now Ford, a car company; Argo, a self-driving concern; and Lyft, a ride-hailing effort, “plan to launch up to 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.”

TechCrunch Experts: Growth Marketing

Illustration montage based on education and knowledge in blue

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

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

If you’re curious about how these surveys are shaping our coverage, check out this interview Miranda Halpern did with Maya Moufarek, founder of Marketing Cube: ”Marketing Cube founder Maya Moufarek’s lessons for customer-focused startups.”

Michael Arrington’s next act

As longtime TechCrunch readers know well, Michael Arrington cofounded TechCrunch and Crunchbase, as well as the venture fund CrunchFund, which was later renamed Tuesday Capital. But In 2017, Arrington announced that he was shifting gears and becoming a full-time crypto investor, and despite a volatile ride since, he isn’t looking back, seemingly. As he said during an interview late last week, “I like reinventing myself and I think more people should do that.”

On the heels of new fund announcement earlier this month, we decided to catch up with Arrington to learn more about the hedge fund firm he has been building in recent years with longtime business partner Heather Harde; longtime investor-entrepreneur Ron Palmeri; and Ninor and Ninos Mansor, brothers whose crypto firm merged with Arrington’s Arrington XRP Capital in 2019.

Our chat has been edited for length and clarity below. You can hear that longer conversation here.

TC: You recently moved to Miami. Why?

MA: I visited Miami earlier this year for the first time in a couple decades and was here just for fun on a vacation. Part of it might have been that it was one of the first times I’ve been out and social since COVID. Part of it might just be it’s actually wonderful here in the winter. I think it was February when I came. But we just fell in love with the city and got to know the mayor,  got to know some people here. A lot of my friends, particularly from New York and San Francisco, had already moved here, and it just felt very welcoming. The city’s government seems to care about its citizens and want them to be happy, or at least not explicitly trying to make them unhappy. So we came back to look at houses a couple times [and] moved here pretty quickly.

A number of venture firms have recently relocated to Miami — is there a kind of Sand Hill Road forming anywhere?

What I’ve learned so far is that there are three areas of Miami that people live in. The first is downtown Miami, which is very centrally located and where business gets done. Another area south of that is where all the schools are, and it’s more suburban, and that’s where we live. The last area is Miami Beach where all the fun happens.

If you’re a young entrepreneur, just trying to figure out where you’re going to make your mark, they all seem to be located downtown. A lot of the really wealthy entrepreneurs are in Miami Beach, and then people who have kids are generally down south.

Is the process of meeting with founders any different in Miami than in California?

Since I’m doing crypto now, it’s still a lot of Zoom meetings with Asia and Europe and Russia and all over the world. But there are a lot of in-person meetings here. I’ve already been to a few events here. It’s very much like Silicon Valley was in 2005 when I was starting TechCrunch. It’s a small community, people are very [helpful to one another].

People who haven’t followed your career might wonder why you veered so directly into crypto when you did. 

I started it just because it was new and I like reinventing myself and I think more people should do that. I think a lot of people become very good at something, and then keep doing that, and stop exploring the world. Even though some VCs I know are multibillionaires, they just keep doing [the same thing]. And it’s like, well, you’ve made all the money, why not just explore something else?

My career has always been a series of reinventions. TechCrunch was one of those reinventions. So for me, this is just the next step. And I’m 50. Now, I plan on doing this right now for the rest of my career, but we’ll see in five or seven years if something else takes my fancy.


When you announced your first crypto fund, there were some twists. It was a hedge fund, not a venture fund, and it was denominated in the crypto currency XRP, created by Ripple Labs. Why hitch your wagon to XRP, and what is your relationship with Ripple exactly?

As I was getting into crypto, I was talking to Brad Garlinghouse, who was CEO at the time, and he told me that some people had approached him about maybe doing a venture fund or a hedge fund that was funded by Ripple. And I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting, because I’m thinking about raising a fund.’ And so we explored it. And ultimately, we realized it didn’t work for tax reasons. Ripple holds a lot of XRP, and they do different things with it to try to make the ecosystem for XRP more robust, but if they were to put a sizable amount of XRP into a new fund, that’s a tax-free exchange, but as soon as a fund invests it, then that underlying XRP would be taxed at capital-gains rates based on a zero basis and it would just be a huge tax bill.

At that point, I started talking to some non-tax foundations about doing the exact same thing. And it does work with the foundations because they don’t have to pay taxes and gains, and so a couple of foundations in Silicon Valley contributed a relatively large amount of XRP to us for our first close. And that provided the foundation of our fund. And we went from there and took other LPs who put in money, or Bitcoin or whatever, but that started with them. And so we owe a lot to Ripple and to XRP. And we’ve been very loyal to them.

Why structure it as a hedge fund?

The reason why we wanted to create a hedge fund was we wanted to be able to recycle capital indefinitely. We make private investments very much like a venture fund. But we also have a pretty large active team based in Asia, and when you’re trading the venture fund, if you buy Bitcoin and then you sell Bitcoin, that’s it, you’re done. You return whatever you got from the sale to investors, and that’s it.

Now, there’s nuance to that. Venture funds usually can recycle 25% of their capital, for example, and over time, some of the newer venture funds and crypto funds have actually gotten to the point where they can recycle indefinitely for a period of time [and] look a lot more like hedge funds. But at the time we created our fund, that wasn’t state of the art.

Ripple has been battling with the SEC since the agency filed a lawsuit in December accusing the company of violating federal securities laws. What do you make of what’s happening?

I don’t understand it. The SEC basically let Ripple do its thing for half a decade before they said anything. And it’s odd to me that at some point, on [former SEC chief] Jay Clayton’s last day in office [as he was returning last year to private practice], they filed a lawsuit. So I don’t know if it’s political, I don’t know if it’s personal, I literally just don’t know. And I have no idea how this is going to come out. It hinges on whether or not XRP is a security. And that depends on securities laws that were created in the ‘40s. Frankly, I think it’s all bullshit. But who knows?

You’ve talked openly about having a terrible year in 2018. Your fund lost a lot of its value as the broader crypto market collapsed. You narrowly avoided entering into a death spiral. Where have you made the most money as a crypto investor?

Yeah, Bitcoin and ETH fell  80%. I think XRP fell 90%, something like that. We fell 42% that first year, so it was bad — 42% first year out the door is not good. But we beat the market. And so one of our main LPs actually re-upped in December of 2018 and gave us another $30 million in XRP that we ended up using mostly to buy Bitcoin at $3,500 and that provided a foundation of Bitcoin in our fund that we hold even until today

When Bitcoin is doing terribly, historically it’s been a wonderful time to buy it, and that will remain true until it isn’t true anymore. So we remain very bullish in down markets and very cautious in up markets. It’s not clear to me what market we’re in right now. We think we’re in the middle of an up market with a pause here for 60 or 90 days.

Why do you think we’re in the middle of an up market?

One of the things we look at are the derivatives markets — so people longing and shorting and and there’s a bunch of interesting derivatives markets with Bitcoin and ETH and others; there  are these perpetual futures contracts where people are betting and you see the longs and the shorts stack up. And right now we’re seeing a lot of shorting in different ways of Bitcoin. When that happens, you can have short squeezes, which tend to drive the price way up. So when the market gets super, super short, we get very, very bullish, because you can see squeezes happen and drive the price up as people are liquidated and have to buy to cover their positions. You see that all the time. It happens the other way, too. Sometimes the market gets very, very long, and you see long squeezes, and when that happens, we get nervous and we start to hedge our positions there.

You’re watching the derivatives markets. Are you also participating in them?

We don’t get too exotic. A lot of the really exotic stuff is on unregulated exchanges with fairly serious counter-party risk and it’s fine if you’re doing bets of $100,000. It’s definitely not fine if you’re doing bets of $30 million to $40 million at a time, which we sometimes do.

You’ve done well by stocking up on Bitcoin; where have you seen the biggest losses?

So we’re doing some equity investments, and it’s indistinguishable from venture investing . . . but most of our deals are in tokens that we’re purchasing well before they’re released l . . they these token deals tend to mature much more quickly than equity deals. Sometimes, it’s a year or two but usually it’s a much shorter time frame. We had a deal 50x this year like a month after we invested. They tend to fail faster, and succeed faster.. So we’ve had losses all over the place.

But our venture side, our losses are much smaller than they should be, so that worries me. It worries me that it’s not sustainable, because of course it isn’t, and so we were worried about that. We’re trying not to make long-term investment decisions based on short-term success. But the real losses just come in the wild swings of the market. I mean,  . . .. last year, we had well over $1 billion in assets under management and that has taken a dramatic haircut in the last several weeks . . . it’s just part of crypto’s volatility.

You’ve got other funds cooking. You recently announced you were launching a $100 million fund for bets on projects building on the Algorand blockchain.

That fund is just getting its legs under it now. . .

Why index so heavily on Algorand?

Algorand is a layer one coin, and that means it’s a network coin that has infrastructure to allow third parties to create new companies and protocols on the coin. And the founder Silvio [Micali] is literally, like, Einstein-level brilliant, and he has come up with what he thinks is a way to have your cake and eat it, too [in terms of developing a network that’s both decentralized and where transactions can happen quickly], and we believe he’s right.

Just before we hopped on this call, Dogecoin’s founder, Jackson Palmer, published a streak of tweets in which he accuses the crypto industry of all the things that already worry people about it. He says he believes that “cryptocurrency is an inherently right wing hyper capital capitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoidance, diminished regulatory oversight, and artificial enforced scarcity.” Have you seen these? Do you think there’s some truth to what he’s saying here?

I haven’t looked at these specific tweets yet, but based on what you just said, I don’t disagree entirely. Crypto — Bitcoin in particular — is fundamentally anti statist. It’s trying to rip the idea of money away from the state in the name of economic freedom, and people either agree with that or disagree with that.

I’m a libertarian and just happens to fit my world worldview perfectly. But there are tons of statists in crypto and tax avoidance is hard.  As an American, it’s pretty darn hard to avoid crypto taxes at this point, and I certainly don’t even try, I just pay the taxes and smile and go on my way. But there are a lot of people who are in crypto for the money and not for the politics of it, and that’s fine. I’m not sure they see the ultimate outcome of Bitcoin being what I see it as.

There are a lot of multi-billionaires who control large parts of crypto, but I think that’s why we need to see more and more people get into crypto, so that that [wealth] gets distributed among more people as well.

[Note: Arrington’s firm just today published a research report on Algorand. We also talked about his newest investment, we discussed a separate “yield fund” he is trying to put together right now, and much more. Again, you can listen to that interview with Arrington here. Worth mentioning: this editor has never worked for or alongside Arrington; I joined TechCrunch in 2015; he left in 2011 after a somewhat famous spat with AOL, which had acquired TechCrunch a year earlier.)

FTC puts hardware makers on warning for potential ‘unlawful repair restrictions’

As phones and other consumer devices have gained feature after feature, they have also declined in how easily they can be repaired, with Apple at the head of this ignoble pack. The FTC has taken note, admitting that the agency has been lax on this front but that going forward it will prioritize what could be illegal restrictions by companies as to how consumers can repair, repurpose, and reuse their own property.

Devices are often built today with no concessions made towards easy repair or refurbishment, or even once routine upgrades like adding RAM or swapping out an ailing battery. While companies like Apple do often support hardware for a long time in some respects, the trade-off seems to be that if you crack your screen, the maker is your only real option to fix it.

That’s a problem for many reasons, as right-to-repair activist and iFixit founder Kyle Wiens has argued indefatigably for years (the company posted proudly about the statement on its blog). The FTC sought comment on this topic back in 2019, issued a report on the state of things a few months ago, and now (perhaps emboldened by new Chair Lina Khan’s green light to all things fearful to big tech companies) has issued a policy statement.

The gist of the unanimously approved statement is that they found that the practice of deliberately restricting repairs may have serious repercussions, especially among people who don’t have the cash to pay the Apple tax for what ought to be (and once was) a simple repair.

The Commission’s report on repair restrictions explores and discusses a number of these issues and describes the hardships repair restrictions create for families and businesses. The Commission is concerned that this burden is borne more heavily by underserved communities, including communities of color and lower-income Americans. The pandemic exacerbated these effects as consumers relied more heavily on technology than ever before.

While unlawful repair restrictions have generally not been an enforcement priority for the Commission for a number of years, the Commission has determined that it will devote more enforcement resources to combat these practices. Accordingly, the Commission will now prioritize investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes…

The statement then makes four basic points. First, it reiterates the need for consumers and other public organizations to report and characterize what they perceive as unfair or problematic repair restrictions. The FTC doesn’t go out and spontaneously investigate companies, it generally needs a complaint to set the wheels in motion, such as people alleging that Facebook is misusing their data.

Second is a surprising antitrust tie-in, where the FTC says it will look at said restrictions aiming to answer whether monopolistic practices like tying and exclusionary design are in play. This could be something like refusing to allow upgrades, then charging an order of magnitude higher than market price for something like a few extra gigs of storage or RAM, or designing products in such a way that it moots competition. Or perhaps arbitrary warranty violations for doing things like removing screws or taking the device to third party for repairs. (Of course, these would depend on establishing monopoly status or market power for the company, something the FTC has had trouble doing.)

More in line with the FTC’s usual commercial regulations, it will assess whether the restrictions are “unfair acts or practices,” which is a much broader and easier to meet requirement. You don’t need a monopoly to make claims of an “open standard” to be misleading, or for a hidden setting to slow the operations of third party apps or peripherals, for instance.

And lastly the agency mentions that it will be working with states in its push to establish new regulations and laws. This is perhaps a reference to the pioneering “right to repair” bills like the one passed by Massachusetts last year. Successes and failures along those lines will be taken into account and the feds and state policymakers will be comparing notes.

This isn’t the first movement in this direction by a long shot, but it is one of the plainest. Tech companies have seen the writing on the wall, and done things like expand independent repair programs — but it’s arguable that these actions were taken in anticipation of the FTC’s expected shift toward establishing hard lines on the topic.

The FTC isn’t showing its full hand here, but it’s certainly hinting that it’s ready to play if the companies involved want to push their luck. We’ll probably know more soon once it starts ingesting consumer complaints and builds a picture of the repair landscape.

Jenna Fischer shares the 2 times she laughed the hardest while filming ‘The Office’

At one time or another everyone on set of The Office had to break. It was inevitable.

Since Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey started the Office Ladies podcast in October 2019 they shared that cast members broke when filming the “Branch Wars” episode, during “Women’s Appreciation,” during “Money,” and many other hilarious scenes. When chatting about the Season 5 episode, “Framing Toby,” however, Fischer finally revealed the two times she’s laughed the hardest on set.

If you need a little refresher, “Framing Toby” was packed with engaging storylines. Much to Michael’s dismay Toby returned from Costa Rica, the office fought over a dirty microwave, Ryan dumped Kelly, and of course, Jim surprised Pam with news that he purchased his parents’ house for them. (Creepy clown painting and all!)

The creepy, comical clown painting

Speaking of the clown painting that was inexplicably stuck to the wall, let’s talk about the scene in “Framing Toby” that made Fischer laugh the second hardest she’d ever laughed while filming.

“The scene where Jim is trying to take the clown painting off the wall for Pam is one of the hardest I’ve ever laughed on the show. It is the second hardest time,” Fischer told Kinsey. (The first, she said, was when they filmed the plasma TV scene in “Dinner Party.” Absolutely iconic.)

“This is the second. Every time John tried to lift the painting on the wall, I could not stop laughing. I don’t know what it was. Tears, tears, choking on our laughter. We laughed so hard,” she continued. “I looked for it in the bloopers and it’s not there. And I’m so upset it’s not there. It took us like an hour to shoot that tiny moment of him…”

“Trying to take that painting off the wall?” Kinsey asked? 

“Trying to take the painting off the wall,” Fischer confirmed.

“John is also so funny at physical comedy,” Kinsey added. “I laughed out loud when he pulled back that fake wood paneling and it kind of startled him.”

“Yes. So then at the end of the scene in the garage, when we’re hugging, I improvised the line, ‘What about the clown?’ And it made John laugh. And that’s why he’s like burying his head into my neck. And then when he said, ‘Yeah, I can’t do anything about that,’ it made me laugh. And so I’m like smashing my face into his shoulder,” Fischer explained. “You can totally tell we’re breaking. And that’s why. It was because we were still — any time we brought up the clown painting, we lost it.”

Seriously, though. What was up with the clown?

At this point in time you likely still have questions about that clown painting. I know I do. Sadly, Fischer and Kinsey don’t know the whole story, but they were able to share a few additional details.

“In the script, it just says, ‘Jim examines a hideous painting of some clowns putting out a fire. He tries to pull it off with all his might. Nothing. Jim grimaces,'” Fischer said. “[Producer] Randy Cordray told me that that clown painting was provided. It was made original for us by one of [prop master] Phil Shea’s go-to artists… But Randy said that the artist actually provided them with multiple preliminary choices and that Mindy [Kaling], Greg [Daniels], Paul [Feig], and Jen [Celotta] all had to stand and look at multiple clown paintings. And that’s the one they chose.”

“It cracked me up that it was on the wall like that and that he couldn’t remove it because I feel like that’s such a dad move,” Kinsey said. “You know, it’s like that moment where your mom is like, ‘That painting is always tilted, it’s always tilted.’ And then your dad goes and superglues it to the wall because he’s tired of it tilting. It just made me laugh. I want to know the story behind why they bolted it down.”

“Yeah. What is the story there? There’s a story. We don’t know what it is exactly,” Fischer said.

“We don’t know,” Kinsey confirmed.

What Office fans do know is that later on in the series Jim and Pam somehow get the creepy clown painting off the wall. In an amazing Easter egg, the work of art (?) was shown for sale at the warehouse in “Garage Sale,” Episode 19 of Season 7.

TELL US HOW YOU REMOVED THE CLOWN.

TELL US HOW YOU REMOVED THE CLOWN.
Credit: the office / nbc / peacock

Welp, there goes the structural integrity of the Halpert home.

Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for more behind-the-scenes details about Jim’s childhood home and stories from filming “Framing Toby.”

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

Mars rover ready to collect samples destined for Earth

The Perseverance rover's arm contains several instruments that examine different properties of Martian rocks, including looking for biosignatures.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is getting ready to collects its first rock samples on Mars, which should eventually make their way back to Earth.

Eyeing the floor of an ancient lakebed, Perseverance is traveling to a spot south of where it initially landed in February to begin the 11-day sampling process, NASA announced Wednesday. The rocks targeted are described as pale, flat paver stones, which NASA hopes will give a good baseline idea of what the broader region is like geologically.

The kind of flat, pale Martian rocks that Perseverance will sample can be seen in this image.

The kind of flat, pale Martian rocks that Perseverance will sample can be seen in this image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Before the actual sampling begins, Perseverance will use scientific instruments in its 7-foot arm to examine the makeup of the rocks. At the moment, NASA is unsure whether the rocks are volcanic or sedimentary. Figuring that out before sampling will give context to the samples collected, Perseverance team members explained during a news briefing Wednesday. These rocks are thought to be some of the most ancient in the area.

Using an abrading tool that looks like a wide drill bit, Perseverance will dig through the surface of a rock, blow the dust away with compressed air, and then take a look at the composition of the rock. After gathering that data, the rover will collect a sample from the same rock at a different spot.

The sample caching system contains a lot of moving parts, so the whole process takes quite a bit longer than, say, astronaut Neil Armstrong digging up the first moon samples in just a few minutes, as NASA pointed out in its announcement.

Once the sample is collected, it’s sealed and stored in the rover until the mission team determines where and when it will deposit the sample on the Martian surface.

Another mission will have to be sent to Mars to collect those samples and launch them back to Earth. Right now, NASA wants that mission to hit Mars in 2026, with samples returning for analysis in 2030.

A map shared by NASA gives an idea of where Perseverance has traveled and where it’s going. The rover started at the Octavia E. Butler Landing Site and has been traveling south toward the Crater Floor Fractured Rough, where it will collect its first sample. Other areas of geological interest that could help uncover the history of Mars include the Raised Ridges to the west, spotted by the Ingenuity helicopter during its ninth flight. The ridges are described as a “prime location to look for signs of ancient life.”

This map of Mars shows key points of interest for the Perseverance mission and potential travel routes.

This map of Mars shows key points of interest for the Perseverance mission and potential travel routes.
Credit: nasa/jpl-caltech

The spot labeled Three Forks marks what was once a river delta at the edge of the Jezero Crater lake. It was going to be the first destination for Perseverance, but the team decided after landing to hit the closer southern points of interest first. After it’s done in the south, Perseverance will head up and over to the Three Forks.

NASA hasn’t laid out a specific timeline, as operating machinery on another planet tends to come with unexpected detours, but things seem to be moving smoothly thus far. The first “witness” sampling tube, used to help scientists tell if Mars samples contain any contaminates from Earth, was successfully prepped and stored Wednesday.

Twitter tests Reddit-style upvote and downvote buttons

Twitter will test the use of Reddit-like upvote and downvote buttons as a way to better highlight the more interesting and relevant replies in a longer conversation thread. The company announced this afternoon it would begin what it’s calling a “small research experiment” that will add upvote and downvote buttons to replies, or even replace the “Like” button entirely. In some cases, the upvote and downvote buttons may be up arrows and down arrows, while in other cases they may be thumbs up and thumbs down buttons.

And in one group of testers, users may continue to see the “Like” button (the red heart) but will now find a downvote button alongside it. In this group, the upvote would count as a “Like,” Twitter said.

Twitter clarified to TechCrunch that only a small number of testers will see these options appear in their Twitter iOS app, and users’ votes will not become public.

The company also said it’s not currently using this vote information to rank the replies at this time. (If, however, such a system ever become a public feature, that could certainly change.)

The goal with the test is to help Twitter to learn what sort of replies users find most relevant during their conversations, which is something Twitter has studied for some time. According to Twitter user researcher Cody Elam, past studies determined that users tended believed replies that were informative, supportive, positive and funny were the “best” types of replies. However, some of the best replies wouldn’t surface quickly enough — an issue Twitter hopes to be able to address with an upvoting and downvoting feature.

Today, we’re launching an experiment for voting within replies — a way to give us feedback on what replies you find most relevant.

How did research and exploration get us here? ⬇https://t.co/hvmNuXvs9S

— Cody Elam (@codyelam) July 21, 2021

Elam says the feature would allow users to privately voice their opinion on the replies’ quality without having to publicly shame other users. Over time, this data could help Twitter to improve its conversation ranking systems.

If Twitter were to act on this information to actually rank the replies, it could make it easier and more enjoyable to read longer Twitter threads — like those that follow viral tweets, for example. But it could also help to better showcase the replies that add something informative or interesting or even just funny to a conversation, while pushing any trolling remarks down the thread.

Today, Twitter allows users to manually hide the replies that detract from a conversation by placing them behind an extra click. Perhaps, in time, it could do something similar for replies that received too many downvotes, too — like Reddit does. But none of these types of features are being tested right now, to be clear.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has shown interest in other types of engagement buttons beyond the Like and Retweet. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter was spotted surveying users about their interest in a broader set of emoji-style reactions, similar to what you’d find on Facebook. That feature has since been put into development, it seems.

The same survey had also asked users how they felt about upvote and downvote buttons, in addition to emoji reactions.

Twitter says the test is rolling out now to a small group on iOS only.

These simple metrics will tell you if your startup is ready to scale

Tae Hea Nahm
Contributor

Tae Hea Nahm is co-founder and managing director of Storm Ventures and is the co-author of the “Survival to Thrival” book and podcast series. For more, visit Unlock, his online resource.

Finding go-to-market fit (GTM) is a pivotal moment for a startup. It means you’ve found a repeatable formula for finding and winning lead that can be written into a repeatable GTM playbook. But before you scale up your sales and marketing, you should check the metrics to make sure you’re ready.

So, how do you know when your startup is ready to scale? I’ll help you answer this using numbers you can calculate on a napkin.

You have to consider three metrics — gross churn rate, the magic number and gross margin. With these, you can measure the health and profitability of your business. By combining them into a simple equation, you can get your LTV:CAC ratio (long-term customer value to customer acquisition cost), which is a measure of your business’ long-term financial outlook. If the LTV:CAC is over 3, you’re ready to scale.

Whatever your particular business, it’s worth spending some time with these metrics to find realistic targets that will push LTV:CAC over 3. Otherwise, you might be in danger of running off a cliff.

Let’s unpack the three basic metrics:

Gross churn rate (GCR) is a measure of product-market fit (PMF). GCR is the percentage of recurring revenue lost from customers that didn’t renew. It answers the question: Do your customers stay with you? If your customers don’t stick with you, you haven’t found PMF.

GCR = Lost monthly recurring revenue / Total MRR.

Example: At the beginning of March, the company brought in $60,000 in MRR. By the end of the month, $15,000 worth of contracts didn’t renew.

GCR = $15,000 / $60,000 = 0.25, or 25% GCR.

Clubhouse is finally open to everyone

Clubhouse is no longer exclusive.

The app has ditched its invite-only policy to grant everyone access to its audio chat rooms. Now anyone can host an audio panel about business strategies for sustainable wealth growth.

The update was announced during Clubhouse’s Town Hall on Wednesday. Previously, those who wanted to enter the Clubhouse had to be invited by someone already inside, like being vouched for by a regular at an exclusive club. Now you can simply rock up and jump straight into a room full of men who are in love with Elon Musk, just like a regular bar. All users on Clubhouse’s waitlist are being granted immediate access, with the app available to everyone globally on both iOS and Android.

​​Clubhouse has long had plans to expand to the general unconnected public, though we had no indication of when that might be until now. In a blog post published last July, Clubhouse co-founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth stated that the app’s invite system allowed it to grow its community slowly, enabling them to finetune features and fix problems as they arise, as well as putting less strain on their small team. Now it seems they’re finally confident enough to throw the doors wide open.

The social media audio app probably could use the burst of new users that opening up will bring. Though Clubhouse enjoyed significant interest in the months after its March 2020 launch, it seems to have cooled off notably since then. Vanity Fair reports that engagement is down in some areas of the app, and downloads of Clubhouse have also noticeably slowed, dropping to below one million in April this year — a far cry from its impressive surge of 9.6 million in February.

To be fair, the likelihood that people who want to join Clubhouse are already on it increases as time goes on, which would contribute at least a bit to dropping signup numbers. Still, those aren’t figures any app wants to see drop.

Clubhouse also recently made efforts to improve its user experience by adding text messaging feature Backchannel earlier this month. Audio conversations may be Clubhouse’s big drawcard, but convenience is the real appeal of any social media app, and some things are better read than said.

Dear Sophie: Should we look to Canada to retain international talent?

Sophie Alcorn
Contributor

Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I handle people ops as a consultant at several different tech startups. Many have employees on OPT or STEM OPT who didn’t get selected in this year’s H-1B lottery.

The companies want to retain these individuals, but they’re running out of options. Some companies will try again in next year’s H-1B lottery, even though they face long odds, particularly if the H-1B lottery becomes a wage-based selection process next year.

Others are looking into O-1A visas, but find that many employees don’t yet have the experience to meet the qualifications. Should we look at Canada?

— Specialist in Silicon Valley

Dear Specialist,

That’s what we’re all about — finding creative immigration solutions to help U.S. employers attract and retain international talent and help international talent reach their dreams of living and working in the United States.

I’ve written a lot on how U.S. tech startups can keep their international team members in the United States. One strategy is to help the startup employees become qualified for O-1As. Another is to obtain unlimited H-1B visas without the lottery through nonprofit programs affiliated with universities. Sometimes candidates return to school for master’s degrees that offer a work option called CPT, or curricular practical training.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

But sometimes, companies end up deciding to move some of their international talent to Canada to work remotely. Recently, Marc Pavlopoulos and I discussed how to help U.S. employers and international talent on my podcast. Through his two companies, Syndesus and Path to Canada, Pavlopoulos helps both U.S. tech employers and international tech talent when their employees or they themselves run out of immigration options in the United States. He most often assists U.S. tech employers when their current or prospective employees are not selected in the H-1B lottery.

Through Syndesus, a Canada-based remote employer — also known as a professional employment organization (PEO) — Pavlopoulos helps U.S. employers retain international tech workers who either no longer have visa or green card options that will enable them to remain in the United States or those who were born in India and are fed up by the decades-long wait for a U.S. green card. U.S. employers that don’t have an office in Canada can relocate these workers to Canada with the help of Syndesus, which employs these tech workers on behalf of the U.S. company, sponsoring them for a Canadian Global Talent Stream work visa.

Syndesus also helps U.S. tech startups without a presence in Canada find Canadian tech workers and employ them on the startup’s behalf. As an employer of record, Syndesus handles payroll, HR, healthcare, stock options and any issues related to Canadian employment law.

Pavlopoulos’ other company, Path to Canada, currently focuses on connecting international engineers and other tech talent working in the U.S. — including those whose OPT or STEM OPT has run out — who cannot remain in the U.S. find employment in Canada, either at a Canadian company or at the Canadian office of a U.S. company. These employees get a Global Talent Stream work visa and eventually permanent residence in Canada. Pavlopoulos intends to expand Path to Canada to help tech talent from around the world live and work in Canada.

Clubhouse is now out of beta and open to everyone

One year later, Clubhouse is finally out of beta. The company announced Wednesday that it would end its waitlist and invite system, opening up to everybody. Now, anybody can follow Clubhouse links, hop into a creator’s community or join any public event.

Clubhouse is also introducing a real logo that will look familiar — it’s basically a slightly altered version of the waving emoji the company already used. Clubhouse will still hold onto its app portraits, introducing a new featured icon from the Atlanta music scene to ring in the changes.

“The invite system has been an important part of our early history,” Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth wrote in a blog announcement. They note that adding users in waves and integrating new users into the app’s community through Town Halls and orientation sessions, helped Clubhouse grow at a healthy rate without breaking “but we’ve always wanted Clubhouse to be open.”

Clubhouse’s trajectory has been wild, even for a hot new social app. The then invite-only platform took off during the pandemic and inspired a wave of voice-based social networking that probably still isn’t anywhere near cresting. Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Discord and everybody else eventually followed suit, splicing voice chat rooms and voice events into their existing platforms.

Clubhouse’s rise is Interest in Clubhouse reached a fever-pitch early this year, and the app’s rise is inextricable from the pandemic-imposed social isolation that saw people around the globe desperate for ways to feel connected as the months dragged on.

The world is slowly, unevenly opening up and Clubhouse is gradually changing along with it. After a long iOS-only stretch, the company introduced an Android app in May. Now, Clubhouse says they’ve reached 10 million Clubhouse downloads in the Android app’s first two months. And earlier this month, Clubhouse introduced a text-based chat feature called Backchannel that broadened the singularly voice-centric app’s focus for the first time.

Clubhouse’s success is a double-edged sword. The app’s meteoric rise came as a surprise to the team, as meteoric rises often do. The social app is still a wild success by normal metrics in a landscape completely dominated by a handful of large, entrenched platforms, but it’s difficult to maintain momentum – or at least the perception of momentum. Opening the app up to everybody should certainly help.

Netflix’s cute ‘The Chair’ trailer sees Sandra Oh as a badass professor

Leave it to Sandra Oh to turn a comedy about elite academia into a must-watch.

On Wednesday, Netflix dropped the first trailer for The Chair, starring Oh as English professor Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim. In the series, Ji-Yoon is named the first chairwoman of her department at the prestigious Pembroke University — but only after a scandal involving her love interest professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) sends the institution’s reputation into free fall.

“I feel like someone handed me a ticking time bomb because they wanted to be sure a woman was holding it when it explodes,” our heroine says in the trailer.

Helmed by showrunner, writer, and executive producer Amanda Peet, The Chair will follow Ji-Yoon as she navigates not only this professional PR crisis, but mothering her young daughter Ju Ju (Everly Carginilla) and taking care of her father Habi (Ji Yong Lee). Holland Taylor, Bob Balaban, and David Morse round out the cast as professors in Ji-Yoon’s department.

The Chair arrives on Netflix Aug. 20.

5 Essential Items Every New Dog Owner Needs

If you’ve finally decided it is time to get a dog, perhaps this is something you’ve been planning for a long time, or maybe you’ve fallen in love with a dog unexpectedly during lockdown. Regardless of your situation, there are a few things you’re going to need to help your new addition settle into their new home and make your new life as a dog-owner run more smoothly.

Thankfully for you, we’ve devised a list of essential items you’ll need to get you started on your journey as a new puppy parent.

Dog Food

Your new pup needs to eat if you want them to grow big and strong. To the novice dog owner, deciding what to feed your furry friend can be somewhat overwhelming. Going with a reputable dog food brand like Earthborn Holistic is often a good place to start. However, if your puppy had a previous owner or breeder, speak to them to find out about the type of diet the dog is used to. Remember, any sudden change in diet can wreak havoc on a dog’s digestive system, so do some research.

Food And Water Bowls

dog needs dog bowls

Now you’ve got your furry friend some grub, remember they are going to need something to eat out of. You’ll also need to remember to keep them hydrated. Be sure to buy quality food and water that are made of something durable. Stainless steel is a good choice when it comes to dog bowls, as they are easy to clean and will last a lifetime. If you have a dog with little impulse control, buying a bowl with a slow feeding capacity could help ease the feeding process.

A Bed (And A Few Extra Blankets)

Your pooch might be a little ball of energy, but they do tire eventually. When they do, you’ll need to have a nice comfy dog bed where they can take a nap. Having some extra blankets on hand won’t do any harm, especially when the weather gets chilly. Be sure to get something durable because dogs love to chew at things and you won’t want to have to fork out for a new bed too soon.

A Collar With A Tag

Ideally, you should always have pets microchipped. However, in case your pup decides to go on a walkabout while you aren’t watching, it’s also wise to have them wear a collar and tag on so people can easily identify them. Make sure the dog’s name and your phone number are visible so in the event they do get lost, you can easily be reunited without too much fuss.

A Leash And Harness

Your little furball will need to get out and about for some daily dose of exercise. A good-quality leash and a sturdy harness are essential items for dog training and will also make it easier for you to keep your dog close to you at times. As your dog is likely to grow over time try to find a harness that is adjustable and can accommodate a bit of growth.

Toys

dogs need toys

Toys are a great way to keep your dog entertained at home and many of them don’t require much effort to keep your dog entertained. The dog toy market is growing rapidly, so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding something to keep your dog occupied. From traditional favorites like tennis balls, rope toys and frisbees, to more sophisticated items like doggy brain training puzzles, the options are endless.

A few key things to bear in mind when choosing toys for your dog is safety and durability. Firstly, you want to be sure that the material the item is made of isn’t toxic or harmful to your dog. If your dog is energetic, it’s wise to purchase toys that are extra durable and will last through long periods of chewing.

Now that you have a list of essentials, you’re ready to start your puppy parenting journey and it’s time to get shopping. Have fun and don’t stress too much. Being a dog owner can be stressful at times, but the fun quickly outweighs all the hard work you’ll need to do.

The post 5 Essential Items Every New Dog Owner Needs appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Putting a pool in your yard is easier than you think thanks to these above ground options

On a hot day, there’s truly nothing better than immersing yourself in a refreshingly cool swimming pool. Not all of us can afford to install an inground pool, and inflatable pools just don’t cut it when you actually want to swim.

Enter: above ground pools.

Above ground pools are generally pretty easy to set up, are way more affordable than inground pools, and are big enough that multiple people can swim around in them.

How to install an above ground swimming pool

First of all, you’ll need a decently sized yard if you want to set up an above ground pool. Sorry to all you apartment and city dwellers. (Also, check with your homeowner’s association if you have one to make sure they allow above ground pools in your neighborhood.) Second, you need a solid patch of ground — don’t put the pool on sand, mud, or loose soil, otherwise you’ll probably run into some sinking action.

Whichever pool you purchase will come with specific assembly instructions, but the gist is that you’ll have some metal or PVC tubing to put together with the pool lining wrapping around it. You can fill the pool up using your garden hose, and most of these pools come with their own filter pump to keep the water circulating and clean.

When you’re ready to take the pool down or swap out the water, you can attach your hose to the pool’s drain plug to let the water out away from the pool area and away from your house.

How to take care of an above ground pool

Stability is huge with above ground pools. If the pool collapses while it’s full of water, you’re going to have a pretty bad flooding problem. Just a note: If you live in an area prone to hurricanes and violent storms, your pool might not be able to withstand everything Mother Nature throws at it and it may break and flood your yard or home. So, keep that in mind when getting an above ground pool.

Because of the amount of water that sits in these pools, they require chlorine to maintain proper pH levels. A pool pump will do a lot of work, too, to keep the water looking clear. Pool water doesn’t need to be swapped out super often, and it actually helps to keep the pool full almost all of the time. When an above ground pool doesn’t have water in it, the lining can shrink, distort, and crack. Water helps it maintain its shape and moisture.

Inground pool vs. above ground pool vs. inflatable pool

Above ground pools are the “just right” in this Goldilocks trio — they fall right in that sweet middle spot when it comes to price and size. Inflatable pools are pretty cheap, with some options for less than $30. Inground swimming pools are not cheap. Having one installed can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Above ground pools range in price from a couple hundred bucks to a couple thousand, depending on size and material. Above ground pools are not as attractive looking as in-ground pools, but you get what you pay for.

Above ground pools relate more to inflatable pools when it comes to setup, but are closer to in-ground pools in terms of size. You’ll have enough room to practice swim strokes or just drift along on a pool float.

Here are our picks for the best above ground pools to make the most out of your summer.

Tumblr debuts Post+, a subscription service for Gen Z creators

As Twitter launches Super Follows, YouTube adds new monetization tools, and Instagram embraces e-commerce, the social media sphere is heating up with new ways for creators to make a living. Now, Tumblr is joining the fray with Post+, the platform’s first attempt at allowing users to monetize their content. Post+ is debuting today in limited beta for an exclusive selection of creators in the US, who were hand-picked by Tumblr.

Like Twitter’s Super Follows, Tumblr’s Post+ lets creators choose what content they want to put behind a paywall, whether that’s original artwork, personal blog posts, or Destiel fanfic. Creators can set the price for their subscriber-only content starting at $3.99 per month, with additional tiers at $5.99 and $9.99. The process of making content under Post+ is the same as any other Tumblr post — all creators will have to do is check a box to indicate that the post is for paying subscribers only, whether that’s a video, audio clip, text post, image, etc.

Image Credits: Tumblr

“Not reserved only for professionals, or those with 10K followers or higher, Tumblr’s Post+ will push the boundaries of what’s considered money-making content on the internet: Shitposters, memelords, artists, fan fiction writers, all of the above and everyone in between will be able to create content while building their community of supporters, and getting paid with Post+,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

For millennials who live-blogged their reading of the last Hunger Games” book on its release day in 2010, Tumblr might seem like a relic of the past. Founded in 2007, the platform has gone through plenty of change over the years. In 2013, Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion, and then Yahoo was later acquired by Verizon.

But a massive shift came for Tumblr in December 2018, when the platform banned all sexually explicit content and pornography. A month prior, the Tumblr app had been removed from the iOS App Store after child pornography passed through the app’s filtering technology, which led the platform to ban pornography entirely. Four months after the ban, Tumblr’s monthly page views had declined by 151 million, or 29%. Since then, the platform has retained a core userbase, hovering between about 310 million and 377 million page views per month, according to SimilarWeb, though the analytics still indicate a slight downward trend. Tumblr declined to provide its monthly active user numbers, but shared that the platform has over 11 million posts per day and 500 million blogs.

In 2019, the platform was sold to Automattic, the company that owns WordPress. Though Tumblr hasn’t exhibited significant growth since the fateful porn ban, under its new ownership, it’s exploring new ways to generate profit by creating features that appeal to its now younger demographic. According to Tumblr, over 48% of users are Gen Z. These Gen Z users spend 26% more time on the platform than older bloggers, and their average daily usage time is increasing over 100% from year to year.

How to put photo collages in your Instagram Stories

Instagram stories.

If you’re confused about how your friends are posting photo collages in their Instagram Stories, you’re not alone.

Instagram added its Layout feature to Stories in late 2019, which allows you to post a grid of your photos in a Story. Previously, you could only make a collage of photos with the Sticker hack, which is tricky and counterintuitive. While the Sticker hack is harder to navigate, it does give you more creative freedom as it allows you to place as many photos as you like over one background photo.

Here is how to use both ways to post photo remixes in your Instagram Story.

How to add a photo grid to your Instagram Story using Layout:

1. Open Instagram.

2. Select the blue plus sign next to your profile picture.

3. Select the Layout icon (white grid).

Select the Layout icon.

Select the Layout icon.
Credit: Screenshot: instagram

4. Select the Layout format you want.

Choose the Layout format you want.

Choose the Layout format you want.
Credit: screenshot: Instagram

5. Add photos by selecting the square in the bottom lefthand corner.

This will take you to your camera roll, where you have to add photos one by one. We found that the order photos are placed in the Layout grid to be counterintuitive, so you might have to play around to get the order of photos that you want.

6. Select your profile picture in the bottom lefthand corner to post your Story.

A finished Layout story.

A finished Layout story.
Credit: screenshot: Instagram

How to use Stickers to make a photo collage in your Instagram Story:

1. Open Instagram.

2. Select the blue plus sign next to your profile picture

3. Tap the square in the bottom left corner to select the photo you want to be the background of your Instagram Story.

4. Once you have your background photo uploaded, exit the Instagram app and open your Camera Roll.

5. Navigate to the photo you want to layer on top of the background photo.

6. Tap the blue arrow (the upload symbol) in the bottom lefthand corner of the screen.

Tap the blue arrow.

Tap the blue arrow.
Credit: Screenshot: Apple

7. Scroll down and tap “Copy Photo.”

Select "Copy Photo"

Select “Copy Photo”
Credit: screenshot: Apple

8. Exit Camera Roll and Open Instagram.

9. The photo you copied should appear in the bottom lefthand corner of your Instagram Story with the option to “Add Sticker.” Tap “Add Sticker” and drag the photo and adjust its size to your preference using pinch-to-zoom. (You have to tap “Add Sticker” very quickly or the picture will disappear and you have to go back and repeat the process.)

Tap "Add Sticker" to add the photo.

Tap “Add Sticker” to add the photo.
Credit: screenshot: Instagram

10. Repeat with as many photos as you want to feature on your Story. To delete a sticker, drag it down until a trash can appears and then drag it into the trash can.

11. Select your profile picture in the bottom lefthand corner to post your Story.

Who, exactly, is going to die on ‘The White Lotus?’

Don't get too attached to anyone at the White Lotus just yet

The White Lotus, HBO’s excellent satire taking place on a resort in Hawaii, begins with a chilling revelation. In the show’s opening scene, a couple waiting for their flight back to Honolulu pesters honeymooner Shane (Jake Lacy) about his vacation. Turns out he stayed at the White Lotus resort where – gasp! – someone was just killed.

Before we get any details about who died, the episode flashes back to a week earlier and introduces its cast of characters in what feels like the opening to a classic whodunnit. We meet several demanding vacationers and the high-strung resort staff who must satisfy their every need. Tensions are high, and they only escalate further in the second episode. There’s a real sense that the White Lotus is a powder keg ready to explode. And explode it will, since someone dies within the week.

Now that the first two episodes of The White Lotus have primed us on the show’s characters and their relationships, it’s time to grab some cork board and string and get to theorizing about who will die and how. Sure, it’s morbid, but we’ve got to get to the bottom of this somehow. Here’s a ranking of The White Lotus characters, on a scale of “100% alive” to “100% going to die.”

9. Shane

Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario)

Shane (Jake Lacy) and Rachel (Alexandra Daddario)
Credit: Mario perez/hbo

In a show filled with insufferable characters, entitled honeymooner Shane is one of the worst. His obsession with getting the perfect honeymoon suite (even though his current room is luxurious as all get out) is obviously going to ruin his vacation, as well as his new marriage to Rachel (Alexandra Daddario).

Shane may be horrible, but he’s also the only main character in the first airport scene, meaning that he is the only person who is completely safe from death. However, the show’s choice to focus on him in the opening scene implies that he must have had something to do with the death – or some personal connection to the deceased. That means that characters closely linked to Shane are in more danger. What we’re learning here is that people should just get away from Shane, which seems like a valuable life lesson.

8. Belinda

Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) and Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge)

Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) and Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

Spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) just wants to do her job. She doesn’t want to get caught up in guests’ business if she can help it, but Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) has grown attached to her thanks to her effective treatments. As of now, their storyline feels more removed from Shane’s, and Belinda hasn’t gotten too involved with his drama yet. It’s a smart move, and it means she probably won’t die.

7. Quinn

Quinn (Fred Hechinger) and Mark (Steve Zahn)

Quinn (Fred Hechinger) and Mark (Steve Zahn)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

Like Belinda, Quinn (Fred Hechinger) hasn’t interacted with Shane much, which puts him in a good place in terms of not dying. He actually hasn’t interacted much with anyone, preferring to play video games. The biggest risk to him right now is his upcoming scuba certification and dive with his father Mark (Steve Zahn), but The White Lotus doesn’t seem like a show where a scuba accident would be the payoff to its biggest mystery. Or maybe that’s what the show wants us to think…

6. Olivia and Paula

Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O'Grady)

Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

It feels wrong to split Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady) up, seeing as they’re almost always together. Despite unnerving Rachel in the first episode, they haven’t directly crossed paths with Shane yet, so it’s unlikely either of them will die. However, tensions are brewing between them, as Olivia seemed to be a bit jealous when Paula snuck off to meet a hotel employee. Could this jealousy lead to murder? Probably not, but you never know.

5. Mark

Nicole (Connie Britton) and Mark (Steve Zahn)

Nicole (Connie Britton) and Mark (Steve Zahn)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

The good news: Mark doesn’t have testicular cancer! The bad news: He’s currently processing the revelation that his father led a double life, which is enough to put a downer on any vacation. On top of that, his wife Nicole (Connie Britton) had a very tense poolside encounter with Rachel, who then complained about her to Shane. There’s a chance this could lead to a confrontation between Mark and Shane, but it’s unlikely, since Mark is dealing with his own personal issues and Shane is still on his quest for a slightly larger suite. Mark is on the safe side… for now.

4. Nicole

Nicole (Connie Britton)

Nicole (Connie Britton)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

Honestly, it seems like Nicole could implode from stress at any second, what with her high-profile job and dysfunctional family getting in the way of her vacation. Her verbal takedown of Rachel and her “hatchet job” piece about women in tech is proof of how intense she is about her work – and how venomous she can be if someone gets on her bad side. The tension between her and Rachel can only lead to disaster. Whether that disaster is death remains to be seen.

3. Tanya

Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and Armond (Murray Bartlett)

Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and Armond (Murray Bartlett)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

With her mother’s recent passing and her subsequent grief, it’s clear that Tanya is going through a lot. She uses Belinda’s treatments to help cope, but she also enjoys striking up conversations with strangers and getting into their business. Based on what we’ve seen of her so far, it’s highly likely she could get mixed up in the escalating Shane situation, which could lead to her untimely demise. Hopefully that doesn’t happen though, because it would be very disrespectful to kill off Jennifer Coolidge.

2. Rachel

Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) and Shane (Jake Lacy)

Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) and Shane (Jake Lacy)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

Rachel is the most obvious candidate for being dead. She and Shane go to the White Lotus for their honeymoon, yet Shane is alone in the airport scene at the start of the first episode. Something must have happened in the week between their arrival at the resort and Shane’s departure. Could it have been… murder? Or is Rachel’s absence in the airport opening just a massive red herring? If she isn’t dead, here’s hoping she broke things off with Shane, because it’s very clear from these first episodes that things will not work out between them in the long term.

1. Armand

Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) and Armond (Murray Bartlett)

Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) and Armond (Murray Bartlett)
Credit: MARIO PEREZ/HBO

Resort manager Armand (Murray Bartlett) and Shane have been locked in battle from the moment Shane complained about his and Rachel’s room. This isn’t your typical employee vs. customer clash: Shane’s continued complaints wore Murray down to the point that he used drugs after five years of sobriety. It’s clear that the two of them are headed for a showdown of epic proportions, and since we know Shane is still alive by the end of the week, things are not looking good for Armand.

Wild card: Kitty

Nothing like a late arrival to shake things up: Shane’s mother Kitty (Molly Shannon) has yet to appear at the White Lotus resort, but she does show up eventually according to the season preview. Her death would make a lot of sense considering Shane’s emotional state at the airport and the fact that the body is also on his flight. Aside from Armand and Rachel, she is character who is most likely to die.

The White Lotus is streaming on HBO and will run for six episodes. New episodes drop on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m. EST.

Sololearn raises $24M for its bite-sized, Duolingo-like mobile-first coding education app

Coding is not just for engineers and computer programmers anymore: the pace of technology and its growing ubiquity mean that even non-tech roles will require workers to have some degree of knowledge to do their jobs in the future. Today a company called Sololearn — which has built a popular mobile-first education platform to meet that demand, now with over 21 million users across some 25 curriculum categories like Python, JavaScript, Java, C++, HTML, and SQL — is announcing $24 million in funding to expand its business.

Drive Capital led the round, with participation from past backers from Sololearn’s previous $1.2 million Series A round in 2016. They include Learn Capital and Prosus Ventures.

Of note, Drive Capital was co-founded by two alums from Sequoia out of Columbus, Ohio, with a mission to focus on founders outside of the “usual” hubs. That’s precisely what they have done here: Sololearn comes from Yerevan, Armenia, which has produced a lot of engineering talent, but interestingly not as many startups. (PicsArt, which is actually also HQ’d in San Francisco, may the biggest name to come out of there.)

Sololearn was founded and is currently led by Yeva Hyusyan, who tells me that the impetus for the company came out of a previous project she worked on while working for Microsoft in the country, a startup accelerator.

One side effort to that was a coding bootcamp they put together to help upskill would-be entrepreneurs. The bootcamp took on a life of its own eventually, with tech companies in the country, and specifically the capital city, approaching Hyusyan to source interesting candidates for jobs, and soon after to take and train people in specific areas on behalf of the tech companies themselves. In the process, the accelerator started building tools that could be used outside of the classroom. Through all of that, Hyusyan said she realised that there was an opportunity in itself to focus just on this. And thus Sololearn was born.

Now I know what you must be thinking at this point: aren’t there already dozens, maybe hundreds, of decent online coding courses and tools out in the market already? Why fund Yet One More?

Key to what Sololearn is doing is that it has taken a realistic approach: on mobile people want short bursts of content, so coding education on that platform should follow from that. The “lessons” such as they are come in bite-size engagements, which can be run through in minutes if needed. Its target users are equally distributed among those who are focused on learning deeply about coding, and non-tech people who are trying to learn some specific skills for their jobs, and she said that both have taken to the format.

“Everyone was critical about the idea of learning coding on a mobile screen, so we built a compiler a few years ago,” she said. “But believe me, the younger generation prefers to code on mobile. It’s as normal as a desktop. You’d be amazed at the thousands of lines of code they put together, all on a phone.”

The Duolingo-like approach to the curriculum further followed by the fact that there are no formal “teachers” but if people need help they can turn to others in the Sololearn community. Helpers are incentivized, Hyusyan said, “because they learn and they get recognition from the community.”

“The best helpers are community influencers, experts that work with us for free and basically help everyone out. They are our best and most influential members,” she added.

The formula seems to have worked. Sololearn is adding between 200,000 and 300,000 new users every month, she said, with active users up 300% over last year. The 21 million people who are already using the platform essentially gravitated to it by word of mouth. (That will surely change now that Sololearn has raised this big round…)

The potential audience is a massive one. “Billions will need to re-skill in the next 10 years,” Hyusyan said, with the implication being that Sololearn (and others like it) will take on that re-skilling role. “We think the era of institutional learning is over. No one institution, not even a consortium, could cope with that demand.”

With the company also seeing a lot of traction for learning in platform-specific languages, such as C# and Swift for Apple iOS, Kotlin for Android, and Go for Google cloud computing, it will be using the funding both to continue expanding into more languages, but also more learning tailored to specific job categories.

With Dulingo and other bite-sized content players seeing huge growth, that speaks to a lot of potential in the educational realm, and with Sololearn specifically.

“Sololearn provides bite-sized habit-forming instruction at scale, a warm and supportive community, and amazing user-generated content,” said Masha Khusid, Partner at Drive Capital, in a statement. “And with Sololearn bringing that same proven approach to a subject matter with such a profound impact on millions of peoples’ financial futures, it’s particularly exciting and rewarding to be their Series B lead.”

All the best tablets according to online reviews

Tablets are compact and sleek devices that you can bring with you anywhere to get some work done on the road or use at home to watch a movie or read an e-book while sitting on the sofa. Tablets are wonderful if you need something a little more advanced than a smartphone, but smaller and more compact than a laptop.

However, with so many different types of tablets out there, it’s difficult to find the perfect one for you.

Do you want an Android tablet? Perhaps an iPad? Windows 10? Maybe an Amazon Fire tablet would be a good fit? We took the time and pored through countless reviews and articles from various sources to find the best tablet for just about anyone.

What is the best cheap tablet?

If you’re on a budget, the Fire HD 10 is going to be your best option. It’s durable, has excellent battery life, is kid-friendly, and is significantly less expensive than many of the other tablets on this list. It also doesn’t sacrifice size for the price – it’s comparable to iPads in terms of screen size (though the iPad is superior when it comes to functionality).

What is the best tablet to buy used?

Shopping for renewed or refurbished products is a great way to save money, especially if you’re making a purchase for your kids or are prone to destroying gadgets yourself. We really love Apple’s iPad (we know, you’re not surprised), which is pretty easy to source great used options. Other tablets on this list tend to be a bit more challenging when it comes to finding used devices.

How do you choose the right tablet for your kid?

Most tablets made specifically for kids will already be equipped with built-in parental accounts, timers, and pre-selected websites or apps that are strictly for kids. Easy enough.

General-purpose tablets aren’t a bad choice at all — many sites name the iPad as one of the best tablets for kids even though it’s technically for everyone. These won’t have the same built-in parental controls as tablets specifically for kids, though, so you’ll need to get creative if you’d rather your kid not have unlimited access to the internet. Apple and Android have features that can filter or block content and prevent purchases, but the closest thing you’ll be able to get to close monitoring is by installing parental control software. Opting for a tablet that’s not kid-specific might not be the best for parental controls, but it can save you money down the line because you won’t have to buy a whole new device when your child ages out of their kid tablet.

If you’d prefer to just make the family tablet more kid-friendly instead of purchasing a new one, Osmo is a super neat iPad and Fire Tablet add-on. The Osmo Genius Kit connects to your tablet for hands-on exercises that coincide with physical pieces that move on-screen when your kid moves them in real life. Subjects include numbers, words, tangram, Newton, and art, plus extra packs for more advanced stuff like STEM and coding.

Things to keep in mind when shopping for a tablet for kids: Screen resolution (depending on the amount of movie watching and gaming they’ll be doing), storage (they’ll probably have more apps than you do), the intensity of parental controls (for obvious reasons), and rugged-ness (because kids are basically adorable destruction machines).

What is the best tablet?

At this point you should know a little more about tablets, and feel ready to start shopping. To make your purchase process even easier, we have lined up a selection of the best tablets according to online reviews.

There is something for everyone and every budget in this list, with popular models from top brands like Apple and Samsung making the cut. You just need to consider all of these options and select the device that meets your requirements.

These are the best tablets in 2021.

Dwolla raises $21M to bring more customizable payment and money transfer options to fintechs and brands

Stripe, with its $95 billion valuation, has been taking on the payment landscape with a whole platform approach, bringing in dozens of adjacent services to snag a wider and deeper set of customers that use these services by way of APIs. But in the world of so-called “embedded finance” there still remains a lot of room for smaller players to bring a more sophisticated approach to the business of building complicated financial processes that can be integrated by third parties to carry out their own businesses, and today one of them is announcing some funding to support its own mission.

Dwolla, which provides an API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments, specifically with a focus on ACH (automated clearing house, or payments or transfers between banks or other financial institutions), has closed $21 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue building out the functionality of its service and specifically how it integrates and provides more of the responsiveness of card payments; hiring more talent; and starting the process of taking its rails to more markets outside of the U.S., most likely looking at Canada, the U.K. and Australia first.

Foundry Group is leading this round, with Park West Asset Management LLC, Union Square Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners, Firebrand Ventures and Next Level Ventures also participating. Jeremy Andrus, the CEO of Traeger, is also in the round as an individual investor. Other investors in the company include Andreesen Horowitz, High Alpha, Thrive Capital and Ludlow Ventures, and CEO Brady Harris in an interview said Dwolla would not be disclosing its valuation at the moment, but described it as “competitive in what’s happening with transactions and payments overall.”

Dwolla is based out of Des Moines, Iowa, and has been somewhat under the radar over the years. Since 2009 it had only raised just over $50 million before this round, a relatively modest amount for a fintech these days. This $21 million is its biggest-single round to date.

But it’s also been quietly seeing a lot of growth. In 2019, Dwolla processed $11 billion in gross payment volume over its platform. In 2020, that grew to $20 billion. This year it’s projected to be $30 billion, said Harris. Customers include both larger institutions and fintechs that want to incorporate faster and more efficient ACH-based payments into their own services without going through the grunt work of building them from the ground up, as well as businesses that want these also in their stack, with particular requirements around how they would like the white labelled and customised.

In total the company has some 3 million end users on its platform, which are channelled through some 500 customers using its services.  Those customers include real estate companies, educational institutions, and retailers and brands like GOAT, Ibotta, and Rally. Some of those customers are bigger than you might think. Harris noted to me that one of its customers using the Dwolla API in a white-label service is a fintech that sees some $9 trillion in gross transactions. (Dwolla is under NDA so cannot disclose the name.) That 3 million number, Harris said, is currently growing by 1.5 million each quarter, so it’s really seeing a lot of transaction traffic right now.

And $30 billion is, of course, just a small part of the payments pie, with transactions estimated to be valued at $5.4 trillion in 2020 and projected to grow to $11.29 trillion by 2026.

As Harris describes it, while there are a lot of options out there in the market today for companies that want to incorporate payments and specifically bank transfer-based payments into their stack, Dwolla’s unique approach is that it’s made this particular service more efficient, and easily customizable for those that want to add more features into the process. (That could include more timing, incorporating a blended approach including card payments or other payment methods, or something else altogether.)

“ACH products are something that a consumer can pull off the shelf at a payments company like Stripe, but this is about creating more customization,” said Harris. “We get a lot of people who are mid integration with another provider but it can’t do it what they would like it to, and so they come to us. We like to think of ourselves as programmatic and flexible.”

This focus and mastery of its space has helped Dwolla’s star rise not just with customers but also investors.

Dwolla continues to push the needle on innovating modern business payments. In pivoting to the B2B space, Dwolla was positioned to provide a much-needed solution for business payments,” said Chris Moody, Partner, Foundry Group, in a statement. “Now, Dwolla is using that drive and innovation to completely transform the way today’s leading brands move money. Doubling-down on our investment was a no-brainer as we continue to see the company’s value in modernizing B2B payments and the importance of financial technology for companies to function at their peak.”

 

Valoreo raises $30M more to acquire e-commerce brands across LatAm

Just over five months after securing $50 million in debt & equity, Valoreo has closed on a $30 million Series A funding round.

Mexico City-based Valoreo aims to invest in, operate and scale e-commerce brands as part of its self-described mission “to bring better products at more affordable prices” to the Latin American consumer.

Valoreo (which the company says is an extension of the Spanish word “valor,” meaning to add value), acquires merchants that operate their own brands and primarily sell on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Mercado Libre. The company targets brands that offer “category-leading products” and which it believes have “significant growth potential.” It also develops brands in-house to offer a broader selection of products to the end customer.

The startup was founded in late 2020 and has since swelled to more than 100 employees throughout Latin America. It has also since completed “multiple” acquisitions of local brands operating across a variety of industries, such as beauty, fitness and home goods.

California-based Presight Capital and Kingsway Capital out of the United Kingdom co-led the round, which also included participation from existing backers such as Kaszek, Upper90 and FJ Labs. The company declined to break down how much equity it raised in its seed round, but including debt, Valoreo has secured $80 million since inception.

It plans to use the new capital mostly to continue acquiring e-commerce brands across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as well as to do more hiring.

The company says its model differs from that of its U.S.-based competitors (such as Thrasio and Perch) in that it is tailored to “the specific needs of the Latin American market and is specifically focused on the Latin American end customer.”

Valoreo aims to help entrepreneurs who may lack the resources and access to capital to take their businesses to the next level.

At the time of its seed raise, co-founder and co-CEO Stefan Florea told TechCrunch that the company takes less than five weeks typically from its initial contact with a seller to a final payout. 

Then, the acquired and developed brands are integrated into the company’s consolidated holding. By tapping its team of “specialists” in areas such as digital marketing and supply chain management, it claims to be able to help these brands “reach new heights” while giving the entrepreneurs behind the companies “an attractive exit,” or partial exit in some cases.

Generally Valoreo acquires the majority of the business, with the purchase price typically being a combination of an upfront cash payment and a profit share component so sellers can still earn money.

Hernan Kazah, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, said the firm doubled down on its investment in the startup after seeing its “impressive growth over the past few months.”

Valoreo is not the only Latin American startup focused on this space. In April, Merama announced it had raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and secured $100 million in debt.

The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle said at the time.

Netflix’s ‘Sexy Beasts’ looks way more fun than it actually is

Hot under there, fellas?

I’ll always remember Sexy Beasts as the reality dating premise that got away.

Things started off well enough. When Netflix dropped the first trailer for its new matchmaking game last month, Twitter lit up with excitement. The potential for a The Masked Singer-meets-Love Is Blind hybrid, in which contestants look for love while disguised by zany prosthetic makeup, was immediately apparent. Watching a flirty panda bear spend a night on the town with a robot, a bull, and an alien? You have to admit: It sounds positively charming.

And yet, in its final form, Sexy Beasts doesn’t live up to the promise of its fantastical hook. It’s not that its creators and contestants fail to fully commit to the “hot animals” bit; they genuinely seem to get into the whole campy schtick. But a lack of stakes, a repetitive formula, and a few missed opportunities sink an otherwise good idea.

Each episode a heavily-disguised bachelor or bachelorette is presented with three just as heavily-disguised singles. Their heads and faces are completely covered, leaving only silhouettes and hands as clues to their real appearance.

Following a night of goofy first impressions, the four creatures gather at the regal “Sexy Beasts Manor” where the eligible person must choose one contestant to cut based on personality alone. The eliminated person then reveals what’s beneath their mask before the remaining singles duke it out during a second round of one-on-one dates.

Wow, that panda is bambootiful!

Wow, that panda is bambootiful!
Credit: netflix

From a romantic night of bowling to an adventure in skeet shooting, Sexy Beasts has these available animals do all sorts of activities to get to know each other better. Watching onlookers gawk at the weirdness of wannabe Animorphs cozying up is a solid source of fun, even when the couples’ connections get bumpy. But after the dates are finished, the starring sexy beast must choose a final mate before the remaining identities are revealed. And that’s when things fall apart.

Ostensibly, Sexy Beasts’ wacky disguises are a key element of yet another Netflix reality “experiment” testing how appearance impacts romance. But like a word or phrase repeated too many times, that conceptual framework has lost all meaning in its latest iteration.

With only the vague promise of “a second date” on the line and some remarkably unimaginative casting — everyone in this show is too conventionally hot and heteronormative for the facilitated anonymity to be meaningful — Sexy Beasts’ stakes are shockingly low. When you’re not invested in who ends up with whom on a dating show, that poses a real problem.

Even if this goes well, I'm not sure it's possible for them to kiss...?

Even if this goes well, I’m not sure it’s possible for them to kiss…?
Credit: netflix

Across six episodes, each running under 25 minutes, Sexy Beasts goes through the Dating Game-esque motions without ever giving us a reason to really care. While the participants are perfectly likable, the series struggles to move past the obvious silliness of the situation to capture the people behind the makeup.


It’s perfectly watchable — just not the beastly binge we’d hoped for.

There are nice enough moments and the brevity makes it bearable. Still, I struggled to keep the storylines and characters of different episodes distinct in my memory. Pressing play on another installment of Sexy Beasts feels less like starting a new chapter, and more like starting the same story over again. Of course, that gets boring fast.

The most obvious opportunity to introduce variety comes in the over-the-top costuming of the contestants. But, for whatever reason, the series chooses to treat the makeup strictly as a prop. We’re never given the reasoning behind why or how certain looks were chosen for certain people, and the actual transformations happen entirely offscreen. That choice means the most fun part of the show gets cut surprisingly short, and the most interesting aspect of the series never gets to shine.

Our apologies to the woman 'Sexy Beasts' dressed as an actual troll.

Our apologies to the woman ‘Sexy Beasts’ dressed as an actual troll.
Credit: netflix

Reasonably entertaining but never obsession-worthy, Sexy Beasts is a disappointment. Hilarious narration by voice-over host Rob Delaney helps keep things moving and there’s certainly some fun to be had in seeing these incredible creations. But just because Sexy Beasts is watchable doesn’t make it the beastly binge we’d hoped for.

Sexy Beasts is now streaming on Netflix.

Stephen Colbert makes some good points about Jeff Bezos’ joyride to space

Former Amazon CEO and billionaire Jeff Bezos took a very expensive joyride to space on Tuesday — and yes, he made it back.

Following the launch, The Late Show‘s Stephen Colbert examined the “momentous day in the history of some people having way too much money,” and exactly how important it was (or wasn’t).

“It was all billed like some big, official, important thing. It’s not. It’s fun, I love space travel, good for them! But it’s not important. Here’s how I know it’s not important: I hosted the last one of these, for Branson. Lot of fun, but talk show hosts don’t anchor historic events,” Colbert said.

“Plus, both times, when they landed, the billionauts sprayed each other with Champagne like it was the end of a yacht race. If something is really important, it doesn’t need a big, wet celebration. You’ll remember Buzz Aldrin didn’t douse Neil Armstrong with Gatorade.”

We all saw it, and Colbert noted the undeniably phallic shape of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, one that launched a thousand dick jokes and memes. “I guess it’s true what they say: Billionaires and their rockets end up looking just like each other,” he said.

Colbert also picked up the slap of a post-flight moment when Bezos said the quiet part out loud, telling a press conference, “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this.”

“Ha ha ha! It’s funny because he doesn’t pay taxes or his employees,” said Colbert.

Soldo raises $180M for its business expense management platform

Expense management has long been a pain point for employees and accounting departments: for many, tracking and parsing how money is spent on behalf of a company is just too bogged down in legacy software ill-equipped to handle more modern demands. Today, a UK startup building solutions to bring the process into the 21st century is announcing a major round of funding to double down on its growth.

Soldo, which provides a platform to issue employees with prepaid company cards that are linked through to an automated expense management system, has closed $180 million in funding. Soldo currently has some 26,000 customers, ranging from small medium-sized businesses, through to mid-market enterprises and up to large multinationals across 30 countries, with Mercedes Benz, GetYourGuide, Gymshark, Bauli, and Brooks Running among some of the more popular of them. Alongside that, by way of APIs, it also integrates with the popular accounting packages used by organizations today — NetSuite, QuickBooks, Zucchetti, and Xero, along with options to connect Soldo to more than 50 expense management platforms including Concur and Expensify.

The round, a Series C, is being led by Singapore’s Temasek, with Sunley House Capital, Advent International’s crossover fund, Citi Ventures, and previous backers Accel, Battery Ventures and Dawn Capital, also participating. Silicon Valley Bank also provided debt financing of an undisclosed amount.

London-based Soldo also did not disclose its valuation is in a statement on this latest investment, but as a point of reference, when it started to raise this money, back in December, the company was valued at around $278 million, according to PitchBook data. In the event, Soldo said the round was oversubscribed on the back of strong growth for the company: spend volume on its platform has grown four-fold since its series B, a $61 million round in 2019. (Note: Soldo’s main operations are in London, but it also has a small corporate HQ is in Dublin, as it picked up an e-money license in Ireland in 2019, part of its Brexit hedging.)

More generally — and perhaps because many of us are spending more time away from the head office, or perhaps because some of us are finally getting out on the road again to meet people — expense management is getting a lot of attention at the moment. Just earlier this month, one of Soldo’s bigger competitors, Denmark’s Pleo, raised $150 million at a $1.7 billion valuation.

It is a massive market to play for: Europe’s addressable market for expense management runs at $170 billion, the company said.

The crux of the challenge that Soldo aims to fix is that expenses is usually a very fragmented, non-digitised business, and employees that rack up expenses are usually not accountants: that is to say, handling them correctly is not one of their core competencies. The expenses themselves, meanwhile, have evolved to cover a lot of different things, a by-product of everything becoming easier to buy online and also how we work today: they might include subscriptions, travel and entertainment, office supplies for your home office, and making purchases on behalf of your company for marketing campaigns or online advertising, and more.

When expenses are happening digitally, they are easier to track, but very often they are for services or goods being purchased IRL, and that is when the other issues arise: people often forget to get receipts, or lose them before they fill out their reports, or pay for things out of their own pocket, and more.

And on top of that, expenses are made on corporate cards, or by way of bank transfers. The former can be expensive and hard to control, while the latter has its own challenges: it’s a slow process and often requires multiple people to clear a payment.

Soldo’s approach to fixing this is to first of all make it easier to issue employees with cards, prepaid in order to control spend on them better. It then links the card to an app, which creates automatic prompts that pop up for you every time you make a purchase with a card, to be reminded to capture a receipt and upload it.

“Soldo’s vision is manage the total spend across the breadth of a company, whether that be advertising, software subscriptions, travel and entertainment, vendor management or salaries across all payment methods. When we look at this way, expense management is only one of the many possible use cases and cards are only one of the many ways that a company might transfer money to suppliers,” Carlo Gualandri, CEO and founder of Soldo, told TechCrunch in an email. In contrast to competitors like Pleo, he noted “that we have a broader and more complete focus on managing all the possible needs of a company, way beyond travel and expenses. This is important because the value for the customer of using a spend management platform increases as a more significant share of company spend gets moved onto it.”

Without a doubt, the company’s growth since being founded five years ago hit a big speed bump in the form of Covid-19. Its recovery from that is a testament to how it’s found a place even in the current market.

“The pandemic did almost completely wipe out travel and expenses as a use case of companies’ spend – given limited numbers of workers were travelling, or expensing lunches, for example, in lockdown,” said Gualandri. “It was quite shocking to see all of Europe switch off, country by country, in the first weeks of March of last year as the lockdown kept people in their homes. And with that, a significant part of our financial services revenues also disappeared because business travel is the most common and widespread use of corporate cards.” But then, two things happened, he continued:

“The number of other company spend use cases grew significantly. We saw the global shift to ecommerce and the digitalisation of the finance department.  From supporting workers at home to other business activities there was a definite move toward online procurement and that requires a card for the payment,” he said. “Also, many companies started distributing their products or services online and with that they shifted a large share of their spend toward online marketing, an example of a key spend which is normally paid for using cards.  So, there was definitely a case of certain spend categories going down and others going up and rapidly so. A number of pandemic related problems emerged that we realised we could solve.”

“Our experience in software and payments technology gives us deep insight and we are confident Soldo stands at the forefront of finance digitalisation,” said Simon Lambert, a director at Sunley House, Advent International’s crossover fund, said in a statement. “The company operates in a large and fast-growing market, and we are thrilled to partner with its outstanding management team as they seek to build Europe’s leading pay and spend automation platform.”

UTEC launches a new initiative to help deep-tech founders commercialize their work

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) is launching a new program to address a problem the venture capital fund says many deep-tech founders face. They may raise pre-seed capital from an incubator or accelerator program, but reach a funding gap before moving on to early-stage rounds. Without financial resources, it takes longer to commercialize their technology, no matter how promising.

UTEC, an independent venture fund associated with The University of Tokyo and other academic institutions, created the UTEC Founders Program (UFP) to address that gap. It offers two tracks: equity, which invests up to $1 million with flexible terms, and grants, a non-dilutive donation of about $50,000 (or occasionally up to $100,000) awarded to recipients every six months.

UFP’s applications are open to deep-tech researchers and founders anywhere in the world.

UTEC launched a $275 million fund in May, and typically writes first checks of about $1 million to $5 million. Its aggregated assets under management are about $780 million, which the firm says makes UTEC the largest venture capital fund in Japan for science and tech companies, and one of the largest deep-tech funds in Asia.

After getting feedback from deep-tech researchers and entrepreneurs, the fund’s partners realized that even though they might have developed potentially impactful tech, it might not be immediately ready for seed funding. Many teams would also benefit from swift funding to continue preparing their tech for commercialization, instead of waiting through a lengthy due diligence process.

In an email, UTEC principals and UFP leads Hiroaki Kobayashi and Kiran Mysore told TechCrunch, “Just like entrepreneurs who create new product offerings to cater to unmet market needs, we at UTEC endeavor to be more nimble and offer new investment products to serve science and technology researchers and entrepreneurs. UFP is UTEC’s attempt to channel over 15 years of deep-tech investing experience and learnings into an early-stage technology commercialization initiative.”

The equity track is primarily for seed and pre-Series A startups, and offers flexible investment terms like SAFE notes, KISS and J-KISS (the Japanese version of Keep It Simple Security), convertible notes and bonds, or common stocks. It accepts applications throughout the year, and successful candidates are contacted for a first interview within three days. Mysore said that the entire due diligence and investment committee process will be completed within four weeks of the first interview.

The grant track is aimed at pre-launch or early-stage startups, and the funds can be used for things like prototyping, testing the market and recruitment. Applications are opened every six months, with about five teams selected each time. The deadline for the first batch of applicants is July 31 and decisions will be made in September.

Deep-tech teams who participate in UFP also get access to UTEC’s network of more than 115 Japanese and global startups, academic institutions, government organizations and corporations.

 

Learn Spanish at your own pace with this free all-in-one course

Learn Spanish for free with Udemy.

TL;DR: As of July 21, you can take the Learn Spanish Now: All-in-One Knowledge Course for free with the code NEWSTUDENT.


Voucher codes are wonderful little things that are difficult to find but have a big impact. Discount codes are great, but they don’t compare to codes that remove the cost entirely.

As of July 21, you can take the Learn Spanish Now: All-in-One Knowledge Course for free with the code NEWSTUDENT. This all-in-one course has a list price of £19.99 on Udemy, so this code is pretty handy.

This comprehensive course covers all aspects of Latin American Spanish, and is made for those who want to learn the language at their own pace. You’ll learn grammar rules and vocabulary, speaking and conversational skills, writing skills, and listening skills. Five hours of on-demand video is included in the course, with two articles, 47 downloadable resources, and two practice tests.

Get full lifetime access to the Learn Spanish Now: All-in-One Knowledge Course with the code NEWSTUDENT.

Explore related content:

Samsung’s getting ready to ‘unpack’ some shiny new foldables this August

It looks like more foldable phones are on the way.

Brace yourselves — Samsung’s about to drop a slew of next-generation Galaxy goodies.

The company officially confirmed its next Galaxy Unpacked event is set for August 11 and will be held via livestream at 10 a.m. ET.

As per usual, Samsung has attempted to be cryptic with its invite, but it’s fairly obvious those shapes below represent what’s likely the Galaxy Z Fold 3 (on the left) and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 (on the right).

This invite doesn't leave much to the imagination.

This invite doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
Credit: samsung

There’s plenty more we can glean from rumors, too. According to well-known leaker, Ice Universe, both of Samsung’s upcoming foldable phones will have much stronger glass this time around.

Tweet may have been deleted

While the original Z Flip wasn’t plagued by an influx of reported issues with its display like the first-generation Z Fold was — including peeling screens — it did prove to be easily prone to scratches (as demonstrated on JerryRigEverything’s YouTube video).

Though Samsung certainly redeemed itself last year with a more durable Z Fold 2, stronger glass on a foldable phone is always welcome. But whether it’s the strongest remains to be seen.

As for camera specs, it looks like the Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 will each sport the same triple-camera setup as the Z Fold 2, which includes a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens.

According to XDA Developers, Samsung may also announce an array of pastel-colored Galaxy Buds 2 with active noise cancelation. The first-generation Galaxy Buds launched in 2019 — with the Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Buds Pro following since then — so it’s about time for a follow-up to the original version.

One thing we do know for certain: Samsung will unveil a new Galaxy Watch at Unpacked. The company confirmed the news last month, alongside the announcement of its new One Watch UI smartwatch interface.

While Samsung’s only alluded to one smartwatch, it’s possible we could see two debut at the event.

Another well-known leaker, Evan Blass, took to Twitter last week to post two different styles of the unreleased Galaxy Watch. Based on the images below, it looks like Samsung might be announcing the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch Active 4.

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Of course, we’ll have to wait until August 11 to find out exactly what Samsung has up its sleeve. But based on rumors and leaks, it looks like the company has a lot to unpack next month.

Samsung will announce new foldables on August 11

Samsung just sent out invites for its next Unpacked event. There are those companies that like to sneak hints into their invites — and then there’s Samsung. The note leads with the big, bold words “Get ready to unfold” and features a pair of flat-colored objects that can reasonably be said to resemble the form factors of the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip, respectively.

In keeping with…the general state of the world over the past year-and-a-half, the event will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 11. Interestingly, the company is also opening up preorders on its “next flagship,” sights and specs unseen. Perks for early preorders include “12 free months of Samsung Care+, up to an extra $200 trade-in credit and a special pre-order offer.”

But honestly, it’s generally best to wait until you actually see the thing and maybe even read a review or two.

There’s a lot to unpack (so to speak) ahead of the event. First, I’m probably not alone in expecting that the company would focus its next big event on the upcoming Galaxy Watch. The big event at MWC was a bit of a dud (not unlike MWC itself), offering up more information on the upcoming wearable partnership with Google, in lieu of announcing any hardware.

As the company noted at the time, “The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.”

It seems reasonably likely that this will be the event where that will occur, even if the new watch doesn’t get top billing. For one thing we’re running out of summer. For another, rumors have the new Galaxy Watch set for a late-August (the 27th) release.

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— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 10, 2021

All told, this could well be a pretty huge summer event for the company, bucking last year’s trend of meting out devices one by one at virtual invents. Word on the street is we could be seeing a Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy S21 FE (“Fan Edition” — basically the latest version of the company’s budget flagship) and even the Galaxy Buds Pro, which will more directly take on the AirPods Pro (which are getting a bit long in the tooth).

What’s missing in all of this? No points if you said the Note. Samsung’s well-loved phablet is reportedly not coming this year, as chip shortages continue to plague the industry. That would be a big hit to Samsung’s six-month cycle, though we’ll see how that all plays out soon enough.

The August 11th event kicks off at 10AM ET / 7AM PT.

How to hide likes on Instagram

How to hide likes from your followers on Instagram.

In an attempt to make user’s experience more pleasant, Instagram rolled out the ability to hide like and view counts on all posts in their feed. This way users can focus on the content, rather than the popularity of the content.

This update also gave users the option to hide the like and view counts on their own posts from other users. You can hide the like and view count on a post before you post it or you can do so retroactively.

We will walk you through how to hide Instagram likes on your feed and on your own posts.

How to hide likes on other accounts:

1. Open your Instagram profile

2. Select the three black lines in the upper right corner

Select the three black lines to begin the process of hiding likes on your feed.

Select the three black lines to begin the process of hiding likes on your feed.
Credit: screenshot: instagram

3. Select “Settings”

Tap "Settings" to hide likes on your feed.

Tap “Settings” to hide likes on your feed.
Credit: screenshot: instagram

4. Search for posts and select “Posts”

Select "Posts" to hide the likes on your feed.

Select “Posts” to hide the likes on your feed.
Credit:

5. Turn on “Hide Like and View Counts”

Turn on "Hide Like and View Counts"

Turn on “Hide Like and View Counts”
Credit: screenshot: instagram

How to hide likes on your Instagram post before you share it:

1. On the final page before you post your Instagram photo (where you write your caption and tag accounts), scroll down and select “Advanced Settings” in grey.

Select "Advanced Settings" to hide likes on your Instagram post.

Select “Advanced Settings” to hide likes on your Instagram post.
Credit: Screenshot: Instagram

2. Turn on “Hide Like and View Counts on This Post”

Tap the white circle to hide like and view counts on your post.

Tap the white circle to hide like and view counts on your post.
Credit: screenshot: Instagram

How to hide likes on your Instagram post retroactively:

1. Go to the post you want to hide likes on

2. Tap the three gray dots in the right hand corner of the post

3. Select “Hide Like Count”

Select "Hide Like Count" to hide the number of likes on your Instagram post.

Select “Hide Like Count” to hide the number of likes on your Instagram post.
Credit: screenshot: Instagram

After hiding like counts beneath a post it will say “liked by one user and others.”

This is your sign to hide likes on your Instagram.