Day: July 22, 2021

Commercial EV company Arrival to build electric buses for Anaheim

Arrival, the commercial electric vehicle company that is shaking up the traditional auto production line with AI-run microfactories, has been chosen to build electric buses for the City of Anaheim, California.

The Federal Transportation Administration awarded Anaheim a $2 million grant in 2019, and on Thursday the city’s transportation network announced the plan to partner with Arrival to achieve its goal of running California’s first all-electric bus fleet by 2025.

The U.K.-based company said Anaheim, which operates transit services to and from Disneyland and other local attractions, would be the first customer for its lightweight-battery bus. Arrival will start with five 40-foot buses, but did not respond to requests for more information about when the buses would launch and when to expect more additions to the fleet.

The buses for Anaheim will be built in Arrival’s first U.S. microfactory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Arrival’s other microfactory is in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the startup aims to have 31 microfactories all over the country by the end of 2024.

Arrival’s partnership with Anaheim Transportation Network also includes workforce development programs, according to a statement from the EV company. Local community colleges with electrical and mechanical engineering programs will be able to give eligible students internships to gain experience working with zero-emission transportation.

“The Arrival Bus will change the face of public transportation when it hits the roads,” said Mike Ableson, CEO of Arrival Automotive. “Our first order from a U.S. transit operator is just the beginning.”

Arrival, which recently went public via a SPAC merger, already has a number of notable  partnerships. Last year, it signed an agreement with UPS to roll out an initial order of 10,000 electric delivery vehicles through 2024. In May the company partnered with Uber to create a purpose-built EV for ride-hailing, and just last week, the company announced an initial order of 3,000 EVs from LeasePlan, a Dutch “car-as-a-service” company.

Unbound’s Pep is a great vibrator for beginner and experienced users alike

Pep in melon/violet.

As online consumers, we’re hit with waves of enticing branding every day — and many of us are understandably wary. We’ve fallen for too many Lisa Frank-esque social media posts and packaging only to find out that the actual product doesn’t live up to the hype.

These disappointments, however, make it that much sweeter when the quality of a company’s branding does match the quality of its product. Unbound’s newest sex toy, Pep, is one such product.

Unbound, the online sex toy retailer founded in 2014, has a pastel pink website and pastel toys to match with cutesy names like Puff and Stellar. The company’s Instagram account, boasting 150,000 followers, showcases its Gen Z-focused style with scrapbook photo layouts and cunnilingus memes.

Pep, which launched on July 15, is designed for beginners, and the reasons for developing the introductory toy were twofold, according to Unbound CEO and Co-Founder Polly Rodriguez.

Unbound’s team used customer feedback to develop Pep

The pandemic caused a spike in sex toy sales and ushered in first-time users, for one, and Unbound’s first beginner sex toy, Bean, left customers with something to be desired. It was too big for some to handle and wasn’t as powerful as users wanted, so Unbound wanted to improve the experience of a first-time vibe, said Rodriguez.

Unbound chatted with more than 50 customers to discuss what to change. Users wanted a more compact size yet versatility of use; a toy that could provide both broad and targeted external stimulation; and a vibrator with more intense vibration. The price had to remain affordable, too.

Over the course of 14 months, Unbound developed Pep with these features in mind. Does the toy measure up to what the team wanted to achieve? Given Unbound’s social media popularity and the (literal and figurative) buzz over the toy, we had to try it out.

The Pep experience

Unbound’s toys are inexpensive, and Pep is no different. At $40, it’s less expensive than my (and my Mashable colleague Jess Joho’s) favorite affordable vibrator, the Maude Vibe ($45).

“We’re able to offer higher quality products at a lower price because we do not sell to distributors,” explained Rodriguez, “who take a pretty big chunk of the margin in our industry.”

The price of this toy is unbeatable, as is its compact body: 3 inches by 2.5 inches, weighing less than 3 ounces. The toy comes in two color choices, melon/violet and aqua/teal. Users maneuver Pep with three buttons: An on button that looks like Unbound’s logo, and plus and minus buttons to switch between intensities and patterns.

Pep is waterproof, making for easy cleaning, and it can be fully submerged in water up to three feet deep for 30 minutes. Pep can be used with a water-based lube. (This goes for most sex toys — never use oil-based lubricant on body-safe silicone!).

The vibe is USB chargeable with a magnetic port. I’ve talked about how magnetic port chargers aren’t my favorite (they can sometimes be tricky to manage), but they enable the toy to be fully dunked in water, so I don’t mind it at the end of the day.

Powerful vibrations and a helpful guide so you know exactly how to use it

Due to customer reviews about Bean’s lack of powerful vibrations, the team at Unbound set out to source a motor with a heavier metal to achieve those stronger vibrations. They also added more speed variety, so the lowest setting is rumbly but “still packs a punch,” Rodriguez said. Pep is tiny but mighty with five intensity settings and three vibration patterns, all laid out in a booklet included in the toy’s packaging.

Pep is an easy introduction into toys without sacrificing quality of sensation.

Unbound gets points for this intensity/pattern breakdown alone. I’ve used many vibrators in my time, and some didn’t even tell me how many settings there were, let alone explain them.

Rodriguez understood my frustration: “​​I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a product I didn’t know how to use,” she said, “only to find a product manual with confusing diagrams and instructions (looking at you, Ikea).”

Pep and booklet.

Pep and booklet.
Credit: mashable

The refreshing sense of joy I felt flipping through Pep’s booklet carried over to actually using the vibrator.

Pep is egg-shaped, with the top for targeted stimulation — say, on your clit. Its body is for more general stimulation, like on the outer labia or elsewhere to tease your body. While there’s no technical break-down of Pep’s speeds, the toy revs up as much as bigger vibrators in my arsenal do.

Intensities two and three (medium-low intensity and medium intensity, respectively) were enough to get me over the edge, but there are numerous intensities and patterns to cycle through when using Pep; there’s lots of room to explore.

Pep’s body is pretty “squishy,” so it feels good on even the most sensitive areas. Besides non-stop rumblings, the other patterns are start-and-stop bursts and rev-up-to-slow-down waves.

The size was also perfect. I’ve been told by family, friends, and nail techs alike that I have small hands, and I was able to adeptly maneuver Pep while using it.

The toy wasn’t silent, but it wasn’t jackhammer loud like bigger toys — perhaps due to the size. Given that it’s not at all cumbersome — yet provides strong vibrations — Pep would be perfect for partner use if one partner wants to use it directly while the other does their own thing. I’m not sure if two people would be able to use it directly at the same time; I haven’t tested that.

Is Pep really good for beginners?

Pep is an excellent vibrator option for beginners. Given its affordable price, small size, and waterproof body, Pep is an easy introduction into toys without sacrificing quality of sensation.

The usefulness of Unbound’s booklet can’t be overstated. Not only does the pamphlet detail the different settings, but it also offers a thorough how-to for a masturbation session as well as a pep talk for users. The latter explains that the goal of self-love isn’t orgasm, which is a reminder everyone from sex toy novices to practiced users need.

All Unbound products come with instructional booklets, said Rodriguez, and the team strives for them to be straightforward, encouraging, and genuinely educational. Even as an experienced sex toy user, this was much appreciated.

My sole disappointment with Pep is that it didn’t come with a travel pouch. Because it’s so small, I envision traveling with the toy, whether on a plane or just to a partner’s place. This is easy to work around, as I can purchase a satin pouch online or even use an empty Glossier bag, but I would’ve loved a color-matching bag from Pep.

This one con doesn’t damper all of Pep’s pros. If you’re a beginner in the market for your first sex toy or a long-time user that wants an affordable, small-yet-powerful vibe for your collection, Pep is a great choice.

Look to sound quality and battery life when shopping for new headphones

There are literally thousands of different headphones, earphones, and earbuds out there to choose from. All have the same idea at heart — to provide you with audio without having to play it out loud for everyone to hear. But some achieve this result so much better than others.

You could just search for the cheapest pair, but in our experience, budget earbuds are not typically a great idea since they will most certainly fail you right when you need them most.

Instead, you’re going to want to get the best headphones for you, and that means you’ll have to think about how you plan on using them after you buy them. Are you planning on listening at home? Taking them on your commute? Is noise cancellation a requirement? Do you want to avoid lousy battery life? Go completely wireless?

We’ve checked out numerous pairs of headphones and have narrowed them down to our favorites to make your life easier. Regardless of your budget or requirements, there’s a perfect pair of headphones for you out there.

What to consider when buying a pair of headphones

The big thing before any purchase is to consider what you’re going to use them for. Are you going to be using them to listen to music quietly at home? Then it doesn’t really matter if they’re wired or not, since choosing the best headphones for this scenario really boils down to comfort and sound quality.

However, if you’re heading to the gym or going for a run, then you might want to consider a wireless option (or perhaps some bone conduction headphones.) Going wireless — even if they’re not true wireless earbuds in the sense that they’re wired together — means you won’t have to worry about wires getting tangled up when you’re working on beating your personal best.

Long battery life is great if you’re planning on using your headphones for hours on end, but how many of us really need to worry about that? As long as it covers the daily commute, most users will be fine.

Similarly, noise-cancelation features will depend on your needs. Passive noise-cancelation is fine if you’re not too worried about zoning out at the gym. If you’re keen to avoid all the background noise on the train or subway to work, however, then active noise-cancelation is a must.

Do you notice every fine nuance in the music you listen to? Or do you just know what you like? The musically minded will hate budget offerings with weak bass, mids, and highs, but plenty of average users will be just fine with these. If you’re keen on music sounding perfect, expect to pay more.

Trouble in fandom paradise: Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature

The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang: CEO coaching is ‘about having a second set of eyes’

Earlier this month, Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising, where he spoke about executive coaching and why he encourages founders in his portfolio to have a CEO coach. Wang, who has an executive coach himself, sees coaching as a key way to drive sustained personal growth, a factor that he believes separates the middling CEOs from the best ones.

Why CEOs need coaching

Just like professional athletes at the top of their game still need coaching, executives can need external validation and comment on where they are and aren’t delivering, Wang says. These insights can be tough for executives to catch on their own and might require a level of honesty that can be challenging for a CEO to expect from anyone involved with their company.

Roger Federer — the famous tennis player who has won 20 Grand Slam events — he has a coach, but he doesn’t just have a coach, he has a coach for tennis. I’m pretty sure Roger knows the rules of the game and all the different strokes he needs to hit, so why would he have a coach? The answer is really that it’s about having a second set of eyes; when you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself. (Timestamp: 4:52)

Coaches can help entrepreneurs reflect and reframe the things being communicated with them.

A good example — you might be at a board meeting and one of your board members is being critical of your VP of marketing, and one way to think of that is “Oh, OK, here are some things we need to solve for this person,” but another point of view that a coach might open your eyes to, is actually maybe this person thinks you’re not hiring the right people. (Timestamp: 8:59)

While advisers can help startups navigate tactical situations, therapists may be more focused on helping clients navigate emotional states and improve themselves. Coaching exists in a very nebulous gray area between startup advisers and licensed therapists, Wang says, but coaching is more focused on improving yourself as a business leader rather than solving a particularly vexing startup issue.

When you’re in the moment … it’s hard to be able to see yourself and assess yourself.

‘Old’ review: Why be subtle when you can be M. Night Shyamalan?

You can have subtle, or you can have M. Night Shyamalan.

Old isn’t subtle — but a movie about a magic beach that makes you age extra fast doesn’t really have to be.

In the latest supernatural thriller from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, visitors to a serene island resort become imprisoned by a mysterious force. Eleven hotel guests, headed to a picturesque nature reserve for a day oceanside, find themselves unable to leave a remote cove after a woman’s body washes up onshore. Though each of them attempts to go back the way they came, painful headaches keep them from getting far. Soon after, they realize everyone on the beach (a group that includes three children) is suddenly aging at rapid speed.

Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and artist Frederik Peeters, Old’s premise sounds like a Twilight Zone setup, and for the first 45 minutes or so, it plays like one. Unhappy couple Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), along with their children Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River), act as the story’s emotional center as we’re introduced to a cast of characters resembling one spectacularly screwed-up Gilligan’s Island.

Yeah, good luck huggin' this one out, folks.

Yeah, good luck huggin’ this one out, folks.
Credit: universal pictures

The potential for a hollow kill fest becomes glaringly apparent as we get to know the rules of the beach through its myriad victims. Of course, watching what happens to these poor people forced to live on fast-forward is what we’re all here for — but keeping audiences reasonably invested in any horror movie requires emotional finesse that has eluded Shyamalan in the past.

Making a premise this outrageous into something believable requires more of the director’s Signs-era stylings and less of his Lady in the Water side. Even as the film’s second act began to heighten, which end of the artist we’d wind up getting felt like anyone’s guess.

But as luck would have it, Old proves to be far more than its trippy schtick. Light on the jump scares but heavy on more complex fear, this particularly thorny nightmare plays with elements your average slasher or survival horror movie can’t. Portraying death’s inevitability as an immediate threat — by the group’s estimate, they have roughly 24 hours before they die of natural causes — Old builds its excruciating tension by accelerating life’s most inescapable horrors.

Yes, there’s sickness and pain experienced in record time. But there’s also loss of innocence, loss of beauty, loss of love, even loss of faculties. The result is a deeply uncomfortable experiment in cinematic suffering that allows for some gut-wrenching scenes sure to stick with you long after Old’s surprisingly straightforward final act. An existential haunted house that finds new ways to terrify throughout its 1 hour and 48-minute runtime, the setting makes for a consistently entertaining and satisfyingly unnerving watch.

Oh hey, Paimon.

Oh hey, Paimon.
Credit: universal

While the stark excellence of Sixth Sense’s “I see dead people” evades Shyamalan’s exposition here, Old manages to make even its clumsiest components work.

Unintentionally awkward dialogue bounces off intentionally disorienting visuals, beautifully crafted by Us and It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis. Self-aware humor — like having a therapist (Nikki Amuka-Bird) hysterically screaming “Maybe we should talk about what just happened!” and actually naming a rapper character “Mid-Sized Sedan” (Aaron Pierre) — smoothes out Old’s more under-developed characters and storylines.

Even as some of its child actors struggle to keep up with the material, Old’s committed ensemble consistently delivers the frantic emotion the movie’s plot demands. Chilling performances by Hereditary’s Alex Wolff, who plays an older version of Trent, and Neon Demon’s Abbey Lee Kershaw, who plays a vapid young mother named Chrystal, cement the pair’s credentials as horror heavyweights. An especially likable turn by Lost veteran Ken Leung, who plays ER nurse Jarin, serves as a kind of Easter egg for fans of the desert island subgenre. And Rufus Sewell shines in a role better left unspoiled.

Well, seems like you've got it handled here.

Well, seems like you’ve got it handled here.
Credit: universal pictures

Sure, some of Old‘s rougher edges will rub certain viewers the wrong way. But for longtime fans of Shyamalan’s work, the film marks an exciting development for the iconic director. Fearless and fun, Old doesn’t bother to waste time apologizing for the audacity of its bonkers premise. Instead, it lets Shyamalan create with reckless abandon, giving audiences something altogether new.

Old is in theaters July 23.

VOCHI raises additional $2.4 million for its computer vision-powered video editing app

VOCHI, a Belarus-based startup behind a clever computer vision-based video editing app used by online creators, has raised an additional $2.4 million in a “late-seed” round that follows the company’s initial $1.5 million round led by Ukraine-based Genesis Investments last year. The new funds follow a period of significant growth for the mobile tool, which is now used by over 500,000 people per month and has achieved a $4 million-plus annual run rate in a year’s time.

Investors in the most recent round include TA Ventures, Angelsdeck, A.Partners, Startup Wise Guys, Kolos VC, and angels from other Belarus-based companies like Verv and Bolt. Along with the fundraise, VOCHI is elevating the company’s first employee, Anna Bulgakova, who began as head of marketing, to the position of co-founder and Chief Product Officer.

According to VOCHI co-founder and CEO lya Lesun, the company’s idea was to provide an easy way for people to create professional edits that could help them produce unique and trendy content for social media that could help them stand out and become more popular. To do so, VOCHI leverages a proprietary computer-vision-based video segmentation algorithm that applies various effects to specific moving objects in a video or to images in static photos.

“To get this result, there are two trained [convolutional neural networks] to perform semi-supervised Video Object Segmentation and Instance Segmentation,” explains Lesun, of VOCHI’s technology. “Our team also developed a custom rendering engine for video effects that enables instant application in 4K on mobile devices. And it works perfectly without quality loss,” he adds. It works pretty fast, too — effects are applied in just seconds.

The company used the initial seed funding to invest in marketing and product development, growing its catalog to over 80 unique effects and more than 30 filters.

Image Credits: VOCHI

Today, the app offers a number of tools that let you give a video a particular aesthetic (like a dreamy vibe, artistic feel, or 8-bit look, for example). It can also highlight the moving content with glowing lines, add blurs or motion, apply different filters, insert 3D objects into the video, add glitter or sparkles, and much more.

In addition to editing their content directly, users can swipe through a vertical home feed in the app where they can view the video edits others have applied to their own content for inspiration. When they see something they like, they can then tap a button to use the same effect on their own video. The finished results can then be shared out to other platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Though based in Belarus, most of VOCHI’s users are young adults from the U.S. Others hail from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and parts of Europe, Lesun says.

Unlike some of its video editor rivals, VOCHI offers a robust free experience where around 60% of the effects and filters are available without having to pay, along with other basic editing tools and content. More advanced features, like effect settings, unique presents and various special effects require a subscription. This subscription, however, isn’t cheap — it’s either $7.99 per week or $39.99 for 12 weeks. This seemingly aims the subscription more at professional content creators rather than a casual user just looking to have fun with their videos from time to time. (A one-time purchase of $150 is also available, if you prefer.)

To date, around 20,000 of VOCHI’s 500,000 monthly active users have committed to a paid subscription, and that number is growing at a rate of 20% month-over-month, the company says.

Image Credits: VOCHI

The numbers VOCHI has delivered, however, aren’t as important as what the startup has been through to get there.

The company has been growing its business at a time when a dictatorial regime has been cracking down on opposition, leading to arrests and violence in the country. Last year, employees from U.S.-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in an act of state-led retaliation for their protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. In April, Imaguru, the country’s main startup hub, event and co-working space in Minsk — and birthplace of a number of startups, including MSQRD, which was acquired by Facebook — was also shut down by the Lukashenko regime.

Meanwhile, VOCHI was being featured as App of the Day in the App Store across 126 countries worldwide, and growing revenues to around $300,000 per month.

“Personal videos take an increasingly important place in our lives and for many has become a method of self-expression. VOCHI helps to follow the path of inspiration, education and provides tools for creativity through video,” said Andrei Avsievich, General Partner at Bulba Ventures, where VOCHI was incubated. “I am happy that users and investors love VOCHI, which is reflected both in the revenue and the oversubscribed round.”

The additional funds will put VOCHI on the path to a Series A as it continues to work to attract more creators, improve user engagement, and add more tools to the app, says Lesun.

Say hello to Yats: Why investors are paying thousands to ‘own’ emoji

Get 'em while they're hot.

The emoji gold rush is on.

Scores of people are quietly paying tens of thousands of dollars to buy emoji, lured with the promise that they, and only they, will forever own the emoji in question.

Say hello to the hidden world of Yats, the latest online speculative craze. Built on the belief that the familiar cute icons will supplant traditional online handles, the currently invite-only Yat marketplace offers investors a chance to lock in their emoji of choice now — before it’s too late.

And if CryptoKitties and NFTs are any indication, the early adopters stand to make, or lose, a fortune.

Yats to the 🌕

On an extremely basic level, a Yat is just a string of emoji that, for the right price, can be yours.

“Imagine being known as 🔥🐍 or 🤖👻👑 instead of coffeequeen98 or,” explains the team behind the project. “By owning a Yat – let’s say 🌊🔱🌴 – it’s yours forever. You are the ~only~ one on earth who owns these emojis.”

Despite how absurd that sounds on its face — after all, how can only one person own an emoji? — people are scooping up Yats in droves.

A nice day at the emoji beach.

A nice day at the emoji beach.
Credit: screenshot / yat

Built by the blockchain protocol company Tari Labs, Yats represent an attempt to unify all your online handles — be they for communication, payments, or whatever else — in one carefully selected combination of emoji. With the goal of moving Yats onto the blockchain (more on that later), Yats offer, at least in theory, a censorship-resistant form of pseudonymous identity for the internet era.

Instead of sending bitcoin or monero to a long cryptocurrency address, the argument goes, you could send it to 🌊💨☁️💦.

Tweet may have been deleted

At present, would-be Yat owners need an invite code to purchase the emoji. Tari Labs prices Yats based on when they were created (referred to as its Generation) and a hidden algorithm dubbed a Rhythm Score. At the time of this writing, all Yats are Generation Zero.

“The price is based on its Rhythm Score (RS), which is a measure of its rarity and uniqueness,” the Yat marketplace explains. “The RS is determined primarily by a Yat’s length. Other factors include the average popularity of the emojis used in the Yat (based on current worldwide usage) and the Yat’s pattern (i.e. repeating emojis or ‘bookend’ emojis).”

Yats with a lower RS, like 🌊🐾🐍😈, cost in the range of $4 to $6. More unique Yats, like 🚀🌕, have, according to Yat’s auction site, sold for six figures. The 🔑 emoji is listed as having sold for $425,000.

Owning forever.

Owning forever.
Credit: screenshot / yat

While the idea of throwing down $200,000 for a rocket and moon emoji (as one Yat owner supposedly did in an April closed auction) may sound like a joke, the team behind Yats is serious.

Cofounders Riccardo Spagni and Naveen Jain (who is not, in should be noted, the same Naveen Jain who ran the scandal-plagued InfoSpace) have a long list of cryptocurrency projects and investments behind them. Spagni is perhaps best known as the former lead maintainer of the privacy coin Monero, and is not the type of fly-by-night operator that has plagued the larger cryptocurrency industry for years.

A current job listing on Yat’s careers page shows the project is backed by numerous venture firms, including Blockchain Capital, which lists Tari Labs on its portfolio page. As a point of reference, Blockchain Capital’s other investments include Coinbase, Ripple, Diem, and Kraken — in other words, serious, if sometimes problematic, players.

And yes, this all has to do with the blockchain. Or, at least a blockchain. The current Alpha release of Yats is centralized, but Spagni has publicly claimed that the end goal is to move Yats onto the blockchain.

In other words, as things currently stand, if Tari Labs abandons Yats for any reason, Yats go with them. If Tari Labs can successfully decentralize Yats, however, then the project has the potential to live on regardless of what happens to the company.

This, according to Spagni, is very much in the works — though he declined to provide a specific timetable.

“No one should be able to be canceled by big tech companies, governments, or anyone else.”

“Yat will eventually live on Tari,” Spagni said via direct message, which is a “default-private digital asset protocol.”

Basically, Yats won’t live on the company’s servers, but be distributed on a blockchain.

We reached out Yat’s listed press contact with a host of questions, but the company did not respond. Spagni explained that the Yat team isn’t yet ready to speak to the press.

This future promise of decentralization via Tari is crucial, however, as it’s a fundamental part of Yat’s “censorship resistant” appeal.

“We believe that it’s critical for people to control their own identities, and that no one should be able to be canceled by big tech companies, governments, or anyone else,” explains Jain in a promotional video. “We believe that Yat is an important part of making this goal a reality.”

And maybe that’s true. But even so, it’s worth asking one key question: Can anyone actually even “own” emoji? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Sort of.

Companies like Apple own their own emoji set. On the other end of the spectrum are open-source emoji libraries. Yat has its own list of emoji. More broadly, however, emoji are governed by the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit funded by donations.

We reached out to the Unicode Consortium to ask what, if anything, it thought of Yat’s promise of owning emoji. We received no response.

Yat can only deliver on its grander promises if online service providers integrate with Yat’s API, thus tying those platforms to what is essentially a DNS for emoji. The web browser Opera has, according to Yat, already done this.

“Opera has 380 million users (!!) and now a huge percentage of them can simply enter Yat emojis into the URL bar to visit a Yat Page, or be redirected anywhere a Yat Creator chooses to send them,” explains Yat.

In other words, Yat owners haven’t exactly bought the emoji per se, but rather what is analogous to an emoji domain controlled by Yat. Yat does, however, make clear that a Yat is not limited to being a domain — again, it’s meant to represent an all-encompassing online identity.

That’s not all. There are also plans to permit the minting of Yats as NFTs — which would, at least in theory, turn emoji into non-fungible tokens on the Ethereum blockchain.

Dropping serious 💰 for ❤️, 🖼️, and 📈

Technical questions aside, the reasons people give for buying up Yats vary as widely as the Yat combinations themselves.

We spoke with six Yat owners over digital chat and email — some of whom asked to remain anonymous or be referred to by their online handles — in order to about what Yats they’ve purchased, how much they’ve spent, and why they believe in the project.

The answers to the latter question range from financial speculation, to creative expression, to a true belief in the idea of emoji as a universal online identity (emoji don’t need to be translated, though emoji-based puns might).

“My bet in yats is very speculative,” explained one Yat owner, going by the name loomdart, who told Mashable they’d paid $55,000 for 🦋🐝 and $30,000 for 🐱🎩, “but I am speculating that this new take on identities will take off worldwide.”

Another Yat owner, who described himself over chat as a late forties Canadian man working in the video game industry, explained why Yats appealed to him.

“The idea of a single online identity that ‘just works’ feels a bit like the Holy Grail to me.”

“I’ve always been fascinated with online identities and frustrated with having to recreate my same username and image on so many different sites, in so many different games etc. that the idea of a single online identity that ‘just works’ feels a bit like the Holy Grail to me,” he wrote.

The Canadian said he’d made around 500 different Yats — some of which were intended as gifts for family members — with the most expensive Yat in his collection costing approximately $900. In total, he estimated that he’s spent between $8,000 and $10,000 on Yats.

Another Yat owner, a 37-year-old man from Houston who claimed to own more than 150 Yats, explained what he sees as Yat’s potential.

“I work in B2B marketing and I’ve seen first hand how emoji has gone from a ‘we would never do emoji, it’s just silly’ to ‘let’s do a whole email subject in emoji’ in less than 18 months,” he wrote over direct message. “So I can see a future where CNN uses 📺📺📺 as their URL or Cirque du Soleil using 🎪.”

Some of the Yats the Houston resident says he owns include 🍽️😵💃♻️ (“eat sleep rave repeat”) and 🐍✈️🐍 (“snakes on a plane”).

Another Yat owner, Matthew Callahan, described himself as a “Yatcolyte,” and wrote via email that he has more than 500 Yats — his favorite being ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.

“I plan on reselling many of my Yats in the future, but I would have a hard time selling ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️,” wrote Callahan, a 37-year-old living in New York City. “It’s my online identity, my brand — it’s really special to me.”

Beyond Yat’s ostensible use case, at least one artist, Skye Nicolas, is incorporating Yats into their work.

Tweet may have been deleted

“This highly personal approach in intimately sharing my story, echoes the blockchain’s promise of transparency and openness, metaphorically,” Nicolas said of his Yat art series over email.

Perhaps surprisingly, when asked why they’d gotten into purchasing Yats, none of the Yat owners spoke exclusively in terms of pure market speculation. The man from Houston, for example, said he bought around 25 of his 150 or so Yats for “investment potential,” but that the ones he loved the most have much lower Rhythms Scores (i.e., are potentially less valuable).

Some version of this sentiment was echoed by all the Yats owners. Sure, getting rich would be nice, but it’s all about the big picture.

“I believe the true beauty lies in how this is all done on the blockchain, and the end user won’t even be aware of it,” wrote the owner of 🦋🐝 and 🐱🎩. “I view it as kind of like a gateway drug. If yats can pull it off, it’s giving users an uncensorable self-sovereign identity that they see as just some emojis!”

📈 or 📉, it all depends on 👐

Yat’s success depends on adoption.

For Yats to be anything other than a brief online craze that leaves the relatively few early adopters bitter and broke, both average internet users and online services need to see value in the project.

Thankfully for Yat, it has some high-profile advocates.

The rapper Lil Wayne has a Yat in his Twitter profile, for example, as does Wiz Khalifa.

Alien music indeed.

Alien music indeed.
Credit: screenshot / twitter

Check the Yat in the Twitter profile.

Check the Yat in the Twitter profile.
Credit: screenshot / twitter

And on July 20, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington tweeted about Yats — suggesting that he was the one who plopped down $200,000 for 🚀🌕. Indeed, that Yat links to Yat’s default landing page, which then points toward Arrington XRP Capital. Yat’s official Twitter account tweeted about the sale, tagging Arrington, back in May.

We reached out to Arrington XRP Capital in an attempt to confirm that Arrington really did spend $200,000 on 🚀🌕, but received no immediate response.

Tweet may have been deleted

As of the time of this writing, the Yat marketplace is still invite only. It won’t remain so for long. Generation Zero ends July 30, and Yat promises that owners will be able to mint their Yats as NFTs by the end of the month.

SEE ALSO: So you spent millions on an NFT. Here’s what you actually bought.

In other words, get ready to hear a lot more about the internet’s Next Big Thing. Just be careful with the FOMO.

Waymo to open offices in Pittsburgh, an AV tech hub

Waymo, Google’s former self-driving car project that’s now an independent business unit under Alphabet, is expanding its presence in the eastern U.S. The company said Thursday it would be opening offices in Pittsburgh, joining a growing suite of companies developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology in the Steel City.

The company will start by hiring around a dozen engineers, a source familiar with the move told TechCrunch, and they’ll co-locate in Google’s existing offices in the Bakery Square district. As of Thursday, only around three open positions for the Pittsburgh area were listed on Waymo’s website, but the company will be adding more roles soon.

Some of the new team will come from Pittsburgh-based RobotWits, a tech startup focused on autonomous vehicle decision-making. That includes RobotWits’ founder and CEO Maxim Likhachev, and other members of its engineering and technical team. While Waymo did not technically acquire the startup, it did acquire RobotWits’ IP rights, the source said.

There are no current plans to deploy the so-called Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, in Pittsburgh, the source added. Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing Driver. Thus far, Driver has seen deployment in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Its Waymo Via trucking and cargo service will be deployed in a test run with trucking logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Texas.

AV tech rivals Aurora, Motional, Argo AI have already established offices in the city; combined with talent at Carnegie Melon University, the city has established itself as a bona fide hub for autonomous engineering development. Pittsburgh is also home to many smaller AV startups, including Locomation, which is working on autonomous trucks.

Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Hyderabad, India.

Why ‘I Think You Should Leave’ Season 2 is a major meme event

My editor had never seen the Netflix sketch series I Think You Should Leave — a fact I insisted he remedy — but I could still reference the show to him. Let me explain.

Being capital-O Online is a prerequisite to what we do here at Mashable. So I told my editor, you know the hot dog guy meme? Yeah that’s the show.

And that’s a particularly interesting fact. It’s knowing a show without knowing a show. I mean, hell, a congresswoman tweeted that meme out.

Tweet may have been deleted

I Think You Should Leave (ITYSL), if you’re unaware, is a truly unhinged, hilarious sketch show helmed by comedian and SNL and Detroiters alum Tim Robinson. The name of the show is almost a thesis: Much of the humor in the series revolves around people acting unreasonable and detached from the reality in front of them. I Think You Should Leave is also memeable in a way most shows aren’t but it’s also particularly memeable to a certain crowd. For lack of a better phrase, it’s popular among the terminally online.

…it’s popular among the terminally online.

Season 1 was a goldmine of memes. Consider the Hot Dog Guy. In the sketch, a wienermobile plows through the front door of a clothing store. Everyone scrambles to figure out what happened, until they notice the a man in a hot dog suit, played by Robinson. The Hot Dog Guy refuses to admit, despite it being obvious, that he crashed the car into the store. Along the way he rants about porn, and his grandmother, and attempts to casually steal suits. But it gave us a man, in the hot dog suit, clearly guilty, saying, “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this.” The meme was born.

And it was far from alone. Season 1 also gave us the Focus Group Guy, Vanessa Bayer cursing wildly, Bart Harley Jarvis, and The Bones are Their Money Guy, to name a few.

Adam Downer, a senior editor at Know Your Meme, a site dedicated to cataloging and explaining memes, said I Think You Should Leave became a show that people felt like almost needed to reference. The show is so much like the best jokes you’ll see online that it became a show for the Online.

“It’s a particularly online sort of show,” Downer said. “You post about it to sort of gain cred online”

So when Season 2 dropped this month. It was like a sprint to post new memes. Seriously. Being online began spoiling the show for me the very day the new season came out. My favorite ITYSL meme account, I Think You Should League Pass, was firing off NBA/ITYSL posts right away. A site to search through screenshots popped up to make meme-ing easier. For me, it’s been a nonstop barrage of ITYSL memes. There were even memes about memes spoiling the show.

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

I corresponded with Ryan Perry, the 39-year-old head of the digital agency Pennant Digital, who is also, importantly, the mad genius behind I Think You Should League Pass (the handle is @NBALeave). It’s an account that somehow mashes up the NBA and I Think You Should Leave in memes that work impossibly well.

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Though Perry said that making memes based on I Think You Should Leave — even those that have to tie back to the NBA somehow — feels like breaking the rules.

“[It’s] cheating,” Perry wrote in an email. “The show is so tightly spun with hilarious lines, usually delivered in a super unique way, and the visuals are absurd. So the screengrabs and GIFs are inherently very funny, no matter how you use them.”

ITYSL is, by its very nature, an exceedingly memeable show. Think about it: What is more relatable to people online than kooky characters who are unreasonable and disconnected with reality?

ITYSL has had an online life kind of like Uncut Gems, the Adam Sandler-led film that’s had a long meme shelf-life due to its leading man and memorable dialogue that made for great screenshots with closed captioning turned on. There’s some sort of alchemy that has to happen for a show or movie to become heavily memed. It has to be popular but not like too popular because it has to also be cool. NBC’s This Is Us is incredibly popular, but when’s the last time you saw a This Is Us meme, if ever? There needs to be a little bit of cache, some humor, and some inherent outlandishness that lends itself to jokes on the internet.

“Within whatever fandom, the show needs to be quotable, needs to have extremely good lines, and memorable scenes,” Downer said about a show creating memes.

But ITYSL is different than say, The Sopranos, a show with a million memes, in that it’s not really all that popular by comparison. Downer seemed to suggest that while not all the Online people love ITYSL, all the people who love ITYSL seem to be very Online.

Perry, himself an Online person who spends much of his day on Twitter, said he started the @NBALeave account “thinking the niche was too tight to entertain anyone beyond my friends who incessantly quote the show.” It has more than 50,000 followers now.

That sort of incessant quoting made Season 1 an obsession for lots of folks. It kind of came out of nowhere, making it a fun surprise. After a pandemic and a long wait for Season 2, people were itching for new sketches and thus new, preposterous memes.

Perry said when he watched Season 2 for the first time, the potential memes were already flying through his head.

“The show has broken my brain to the point that any time something happens my head is flooded with ITYSL references. I need an intervention at a total party house,” Perry said, while, of course, making an ITYSL reference.

“There’s such a limited amount of content to work with, it’s a fun challenge to think of new ways to wring it for meme material,” he added. “You know how writers of sitcoms and short stories say the limitations of their medium drives them to create better material? It’s like that, but less pretentious and with more chode jokes.”

Pre-orders for Panic’s Playdate handheld will open on July 29th

Playdate, the adorable whimsy-and-nostalgia-box/handheld game system built by Panic (with some help from Teenage Engineering), has taken one more big step toward reality: it has an official pre-order date. And it’s soon!

The company announced this morning that pre-orders for the handheld will go live on July 29th at 10 a.m pacific.

Looking to get one from the first batch? Here’s the other stuff you need to know:

  • The handheld will cost $179, and they’ll be selling an optional case accessory for $29. They’re offering both as a bundle for $199, saving you a couple bucks if you already know you want both. No word yet on when the previously announced docking station will go on sale.
  • It sounds like the actual ship date still isn’t fully locked in, but Panic says the first batch (20,000 units or so) should start going out “towards the end of the year,” with additional units going out in 2022. The company stresses that they’re not capping pre-orders so they can’t really “sell out”, but ordering earlier means getting it sooner.
  • Pre-orders will be capped at two per person.

Panic first announced the Playdate in 2019. Games on the Playdate are released in “seasons”; in season one, two new titles will be released each week for twelve weeks. As experimental as it is charming, Panic is pretty open about what to expect of the titles. From their product page: “Some are short. Some are long. Will you love them all? Probably not. Will you have a great time trying them? Absolutely.”

The Roku Express 4K+ returns to its record low Prime Day price

Give any TV a quick and cheap upgrade with a Roku Express 4K+ streaming device.

Save $10.99: The 2021 Roku Express 4K+ streaming stick is back at its best price ever of $29 at Amazon as of July 22.

Accessories like soundbars and streaming devices can provide a more satisfying experience for your 4K Fear Street marathon. If you want to stream your favorite shows in their best possible quality, consider making a cheap upgrade with the Roku Express 4K+.

As of July 22, you could grab a Roku Express 4K+ streaming stick for just $29 at Amazon. This 27% discount means this Roku is back at its Prime Day price — which is also its lowest price to date.

To sum up Mashable’s Roku Express 4K+ review, this streaming device is just about the cheapest upgrade available if you want to stream in 4K, HDR, and regular HD. Whether you have a 4K TV or something more archaic, the Roku Express 4K+ provides an instant boost.

The Roku remote also supports voice controls for a quick and easy way to search for your favorite shows. That includes content on Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu, and more. On top of your paid subscriptions, you’ll get free access to over 150 live TV channels on the Roku Channel.

If you already dropped some money on a fancy 4K TV, a $29 Roku Express 4K+ is a really affordable way to get the most out of your investment.

Save $10.99 at Amazon

Credit: Roku

Explore related content:

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is coming to Disrupt

The myriad emerging and longer-term transportation technologies promise to change how people and packages move about the world or within their own neighborhoods. They also present myriad regulatory and policy hurdles that lawmakers, advocates and even investors and industry executives are attempting to navigate.

At the center — at least in the United States — sits Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The small-town mayor in Indiana turned presidential candidate and now cabinet member under the Biden administration oversees public transport, highway safety and nascent technologies like autonomous vehicles. The Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and former U.S. Navy officer is in a position to bring complexity or clarity to the future of transportation.

At Disrupt 2021, Secretary Buttigieg will join us for a fireside chat where we’ll dig into some of the thorniest questions around transportation and how to ensure that moving from Point A to Point B is a universal right, not a privilege. We’ll ask Buttigieg about micromobility and public transit, President Biden’s push for the federal government to use electric vehicles, autonomous vehicle guidance and new regulatory requirements around reporting vehicle crashes when an advanced driver assistance and automated driving system is engaged — a move that could spur a new wave of startups and benefit some in-car technologies.

The upshot: If it involves technology that moves people and packages, we aim to talk about it.

Secretary Buttigieg is just one of the many high-profile speakers who will be on our Disrupt Stage and the Extra Crunch Stage. During the three-day event, writer, director, actor and Houseplant co-founder Seth Rogen will be joined by Houseplant Chief Commercial Officer Haneen Davies and co-founder and CEO Michael Mohr to talk about the business of weed, Duolingo CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn will discuss gamifying education and prepping for a public offering and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong will dig into the volatile world of cryptocurrency and his company’s massive direct listing earlier this year.

Other speakers include Twitter CISO Rinki Sethi, Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona, Mirror co-founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson and Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Katie Haun.

Disrupt 2021 wouldn’t be complete without Startup Battlefield, the competition that launched some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Cloudflare and Dropbox. Join Secretary Buttigieg and over 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23Get your pass to attend now for under $99 for a limited time!

Navigating the shady world of influencer cryptocurrency giveaway scams

The shady cryptocurrency problems are far from over.

Influencers are still hawking cryptocurrency and scammy altcoins to take advantage of their gullible fans.

By now, you may have seen a typical crypto giveaway on social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram from some of your favorite internet celebrities. It’s a fairly common marketing tactic among altcoins — give away some free coins to a lucky winner and bring some attention to the crypto they’re promoting.

But are even the giveaways shady?

Most cryptocurrency transactions are public record thanks to the blockchain. The blockchain logs transactions between crypto wallets, which is where people generally store their cryptocurrency holdings, sort of like an online bank account.

But, this is where things gets murky. One person can have multiple wallet addresses. Also, an individual’s identity is not tied to a wallet address either, that is unless the person has shared their wallet address publicly.

A recent follow-up investigation spearheaded by two popular YouTubers looked into a former FaZe Clan member who was kicked out of the group due to his involvement with cryptocurrency.

And what they found seems to point to, well, yes, even the crypto giveaways promoting these coins may be scams.

YouTubers investigate

His name is just “Kay” now.

On July 1, the popular esports organization FaZe Clan kicked Frazier Kay, formerly known as FaZe Kay out of the group. In addition, it also suspended three other members – Jarvis, Nikan, and Teeqo – as well.

And, as Mashable can now confirm, Jordan Galen, a senior talent manager at FaZe Clan has recently separated from the organization as well.

Why? The influencers were all working as “ambassadors” for an alternative cryptocurrency called “Save the Kids” token which turned out to be a pump and dump scam. Mashable reported on the altcoin and the influencers’ involvement in promoting the scam last month.

Tweet may have been deleted

After FaZe Clan members promoted the Save the Kids token to their fans, there was a massive selloff among initial investors. Shortly after, it was announced that the founders of the altcoin had disappeared with the funding, thus rendering Save the Kids and all of the investments from fans as worthless. The entirety of Save the Kids, billed as cryptocurrency meant to raise money for children, was a scam.

The whole situation with Save the Kids caught the eye of YouTubers Coffeezilla and Mutahar Anas of the channel SomeOrdinaryGamers.

“The name of the charity token drew me in,” Anas told Mashable in a statement. “I couldn’t shake a token that was called ‘SaveTheKids’ and had a bad feeling. Usually these currencies are mostly memes and aren’t picked up on my radar. When I saw this announced, I was immediately keeping tabs to see how this story would play out.”

Pushing crypto schemes was bound to result in some real consequences for online influencers. However, it’s undeniable that the work these two YouTubers did, diving deeper into the involvement of each member of FaZe Clan, resulted in the gaming organization’s decisions on who to suspend and who to let go.

In a video released on Coffeezilla’s channel, the YouTubers alleged that Kay specifically had involvement in the Save the Kids token well before the altcoin was even in development. In a subsequent YouTube upload, Coffeezilla revealed that Kay’s legal team threatened legal action over his video.

Kay’s fake giveaways?

In a video posted last week on his SomeOrdinaryGamers channel, Mutahar Anas dove into the blockchain to view transactions in order to track the movement of the altcoin from wallet to wallet.

Anas was able to find a since-deleted tweet from Kay which included his wallet address. The wallet had transactions involving Save the Kids token as well as other altcoins Kay had hosted giveaways for, such as Eclipse token, SafeGalaxy, and Titscoin.

Due to how the blockchain works, every single transaction, including the wallet addresses, involving these cryptocurrencies are publicly logged.

Using the dates on the giveaway tweets and matching blockchain transactions for each altcoin, Anas alleges that the same wallets won multiple giveaways. In fact, some wallets appear to have won every single one of Kay’s giveaway that Anas investigated.

Simply put, it would be nearly impossible for the same few individuals to legitimately win every giveaway run by the same person.

A screencap of some of Kay's since-deleted crypto giveaway tweets.

A screencap of some of Kay’s since-deleted crypto giveaway tweets.
Credit: Someordinarygamers / youtube

Furthermore, some of the wallet addresses that won giveaways appear to have been involved in transactions with other giveaway winners. Separate addresses appear on a whitelist of approved Save the Kids pre-sale buyers that was provided to Anas by an anonymous source. Again, this would be an outlandish set of coincidences if these few wallets legitimately won these giveaways.

“The correlations of all these transactions is just too coincidental since some participated in the Save the Kids scheme and also received tokens on the dates of all three mentioned giveaways,” Anas said in an email to Mashable.

Anas was hoping to hear from Kay, even calling for an explanation in his video. According to Anas, “Frazier has not answered the allegations of giveaway fraud.”

Kay has, however, released a video statement of his own.

“Please, please, please, do not believe what you’re hearing online,” says a teary-eyed Kay in his statement.

Kay claims his legal team has uncovered “significant evidence which confirms that a dishonest person abused his trust with me to scam everybody.”

Mashable has reached out to Kay multiple times for more information and a comment but has not yet heard back.

However, Kay isn’t the only person from FaZe that seems to be wrapped up in this mess. Jordan Galen, a former senior talent manager for FaZe Clan also comes up in Anas’ investigation. In the video, Anas discovers that Galen appears to have played a role in landing these influencer deals with cryptocurrency founders. Anas claims that he spoke to an altcoin creator who had dealt with Galen when he had attempted to cut a deal to have FaZe Clan members promote his crypto. This particular deal ended up falling through and did not move forward.

Anas tells Mashable that Galen “strongly denied” any allegations of “giveaway fraud.” These transactions that Anas discovered were, according to Galen, “commissions” for putting the various deals together.

“I have my own reservations believing that without hard proof,” Anas tells me. “Honestly, the holders could be anyone. What is important is ‘some’ of these accounts receiving tokens on numerous giveaway timings like I’ve shown also participating in ‘Save The Kids.'”

Mashable can confirm that Jordan Galen is no longer working at FaZe Clan.

In addition, Galen’s own LinkedIn account was recently updated to show his time with FaZe Clan ended in July 2021 after nearly three years with the organization.

Mashable reached out to Galen for comment but has not yet heard back.

Debunking the claims would be easy

A few weeks ago, Mashable first reported on a failed influencer deal between FaZe Banks, the founder of the popular esports organization FaZe Clan, and an alternative cryptocurrency called BankSocial.

As part of the deal, Banks was to promote the altcoin via a Twitter giveaway. The contest was simple: retweet, like and follow the BankSocial Twitter account, and you can win $10,000.

Not long after Banks’ promotion of the token, BankSocial prices tanked. The influencer deleted his tweets shortly after, which caused many to speculate if there was even a winner.

According to BankSocial, there was a real winner. The giveaway winner even publicly backed Banks’ claim on Twitter and said he received his winnings from the giveaway. It would be very easy for Kay to do what Banks did and prove the giveaways were legitimate. He has not yet done this.

This isn’t the end of Anas’ crypto investigations either. The YouTuber tells me he is currently looking into other crypto influencer schemes. But, as for the situation he uncovered with Kay’s giveaways and Save the Kids, he tells me “it’s just odd and requires an incredible explanation.”

And if Kay happens to come through with an explanation as to how the same wallets won all his cryptocurrency giveaways, then one has to ask:

Why are they wasting time with shitcoins when they should be playing the lottery?

How to fast forward and rewind on TikTok

Having to watch a whole TikTok over again just to catch one specific moment is the worst.

If you’ve ever tried to follow along with a TikTok recipe, then you know the unique pain of missing one crucial bit of information and having to rewatch the entire video again, just to hear how many teaspoons of salt you should add. And if you miss something else? Run it back. Watch the whole thing again, bud.

Until recently, TikTok didn’t really let you fast forward or rewind videos in-app. But if you’re trying to follow a set of instructions for a recipe or a DIY project, it’s pretty necessary.

The app recently added in a fast forward and rewind feature, but it isn’t available to all users. The lucky ones that do have the feature have revealed that it only works on videos longer than one minute.

This is what the normal white line looks like before you tap on it.

This is what the normal white line looks like before you tap on it.
Credit: screenshot: mashable/tiktok

Once you drag the dot, a big time stamp should appear.

Once you drag the dot, a big time stamp should appear.
Credit: screenshot: Mashable/TikTok

If you do have the feature, all you have to do is tap and hold on the white line at the bottom of a TikTok. The line should get thicker and a white dot should appear. You can shuttle the dot forward or backwards to your desired moment, and a big time stamp should also show up to help you.

For those of us who don’t have the feature yet, there is a slight workaround that allows us to fast forward and rewind to our hearts’ content: downloading the video. Here’s how to do it.

1. Decide on the video you need to fast forward or rewind.

Because you will be downloading the video to your phone, you probably don’t want to go using this trick for every single video. We recommend doing this with instructional videos or something similar where you need to see small, specific moments for longer than a second.

2. Tap on the “Share” button.

Tap the share icon.

Tap the share icon.
Credit: screenshot: Mashable/TikTok

It looks like an arrow at the lower right corner, and houses all the sharing options for TikToks. If the creator enabled the feature, this is where you’ll find the option to save the video.

3. Tap on “Save Video.”

Tap "Save video" on the TikTok.

Tap “Save video” on the TikTok.
Credit: screenshot: mashable/TikTok

It should be the second or third option on the third row of circle icons (depending on if you’re on a creator’s profile or scrolling through your For You Page.)

If it’s grayed out, that means the creator did not enable the saving feature on this video, and we’re unfortunately out of luck. But if it’s turned on, go ahead and tap away.

4. Go to your Camera Roll, and the video should appear.

Here is where your downloaded video should be in your camera roll.

Here is where your downloaded video should be in your camera roll.
Credit: screenshot: apple

And this is where the scrubber will be in your camera roll once it's downloaded.

And this is where the scrubber will be in your camera roll once it’s downloaded.
Credit: screenshot: apple

The saved TikTok should be in the most recent position on your camera roll. From here, you can slide your finger along the scrubber at the bottom of the screen like any video you have saved in your camera roll. Fast forward, rewind, pause, or rewatch as much as you want!

Since this trick requires saving the video to your phone, we’d recommend deleting it as soon as you’re done using it, especially if you’re low on storage space. Gotta make room for the next video you’ll probably have to download while we wait for TikTok to give us all the ability to scrub through videos in the app!

Silicon Valley comms expert Caryn Marooney shares how to nail the narrative

Caryn Marooney, Silicon Valley communications professional turned venture capitalist, spoke extensively on storytelling at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising. During her talk, she broke down messaging into four critical parts.

Marooney knows what she’s talking about: Throughout her time in Silicon Valley, she helped companies like Salesforce, Amazon, Facebook and more launch products and maintain messaging. In 2019, she left Facebook, where she was VP of technology communication, and joined Coatue Management as a general partner.

The presentation is summarized below and lightly edited for readability. Marooney breaks down her method into the acronym of RIBS: Relevance, Inevitability, Believability and keeping it Simple. A video of her presentation is also embedded below and contains 20 minutes of Q&A where she answers audience questions and covers a lot of ground.

Marooney has written extensively on this subject for TechCrunch, including this article, where she describes her RIBS method in detail. Last month, she expanded on this topic with her go-to-market strategy around building a hamburger.

‘The gift of editing is critical. Do not just write all your ideas and get very excited about what you think and ship it.’


Why should anyone care? Does anyone care? That’s the point Marooney is making here. The message must be relevant to the audience before anything else.

The very first thing is why anyone should care. And it’s important to remember that as a startup, you’re in a situation where nobody knows you. And nobody thinks, “Oh, I should really care about this. So you need to be very specific about who your audiences are and why they should care and why it matters to them. Early on, too. Relevance is usually to a very small audience, and you earn the right every day to expand that audience.

So, for example, when I was first working with Salesforce, it was a very narrow set of salespeople, for small- and medium-sized businesses, there was always the sense that it was going to be a cloud provider for companies of every size, but you have to start somewhere. And when you’re starting somewhere, you can paint the bigger picture. But you have to be specific about the benefits to your smaller audience. (Timestamp: 1:48)


In addition to talking about Tesla, Marooney uses the counter-example of the Segway, which shows a great idea alone is not enough. Even though Segways were introduced as a world-changing mode of transportation, in 2021, Segways are mainly only used by mall cops and tourists.

Unfortunately, Tushy has named its summer sale ‘Hole-idays in July’

Adjust the bidet to get the right angle for the best clean.

Save up to $50: During Tushy’s Hole-idays sale, get $15 off $100, $30 off $150, and $50 off $200+ sitewide.

You’ve heard of Christmas in July, now get ready for Hole-idays in July. This is what the people at Tushy have decided to call their summer sale. I can’t even lie, I’m a sucker for Tushy’s weird branding, and I hate the word “hole-iday” so much that I’m starting to love it.

Gross name aside, this is actually a good sale that you should shop if you’ve been curious about trying a bidet. The deals include $15 off $100, $30 off $150, and $50 off $200+ across the entire site.

Tushy has two bidet attachments: The Classic 3.0 that has adjustable pressure and angles, and the Spa 3.0 that additionally has adjustable water temperature. Both attach to standard toilets, plus some one-piece toilets. They don’t require electricity — just unscrew your toilet seat, place the Tushy on, connect it to your toilet’s water source, and you’re good to go. In our guide to the best bidets, the Tushy Classic was our top choice for bidet attachments.

In addition to the bidets, you can also shop other bathroom products like a toilet ottoman, toilet brush, or tissue stand. Or maybe you want a T-shirt that says “Ask me about my butthole.” We’re not here to judge. Everything across the site is on sale. Just spend $100 to save $15, $150 to save $30, or $200+ to save $50.

Save up to $50 at Tushy

Credit: Tushy

Explore related content:

Uber Freight acquires Transpace for $2.25B

Uber Freight, the logistics business spun out of Uber in 2018, has acquired Transplace for about $2.25 billion from private equity group TPG Capital. The deal announced Thursday will involve $750 million in Uber stock with the remainder in cash.

The acquisition of Transplace marks a ramping up of Uber Freight’s business as it aims to carve out market share in its existing markets and an expansion in Mexico. Uber Freight also sees the acquisition as a means to accelerate the company’s path to profitability and help the segment to break even on an Adjusted EBITDA basis by the end of 2022, according to the company.

The union will fold one of the largest managed transportation and logistics networks into Uber Freight’s platform, which connects truck drivers with shippers that need cargo delivered. Uber Freight’s brokerage will continue to operate independently from Transplace’s services, the company said.

“This is a significant step forward, not just for Uber Freight but for the entire logistics ecosystem,” Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to bring together complementary best-in-class technology solutions and operational excellence from two premier companies to create an industry-first shipper-to-carrier platform that will transform shippers’ entire supply chains, delivering operational resilience and reducing costs at a time when it matters most.”

Transplace CEO Frank McGuigan said as a result, the combined company expects shippers will see greater efficiency and transparency. “All in all, we expect to significantly reduce shipper and carrier empty miles to the benefit of highway and road infrastructures and the environment,” he said.

Uber Freight launched in 2017. In August 2018, it was spun off into a separate business unit, a move that simultaneously allowed it to gain momentum and burn more cash. After spinning off of Uber, the freight company underwent an expansion. Uber Freight redesigned its app, an improvement that included adding new navigation features to make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize.

The company expanded to Canada and Europe. Uber Freight also established a headquarters in Chicago as part of its parent company’s broader plan to invest more than $200 million annually in the region, including hiring hundreds of workers. Uber said in September 2019 it would hire 2,000 new employees in the region over the next three years; most would be dedicated to Uber Freight.

Uber sold a stake in the freight business last year when investor group led by New York-based investment firm Greenbriar Equity Group committed to invest $500 million in a Series A preferred stock financing for the business. The deal valued the unit at $3.3 billion on a post-money basis.

Uber maintained majority ownership in Uber Freight and used the funds gained from Greenbriar to continue to scale its logistics platform, which helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies.

How to make a private playlist on Spotify

Spotify open.

In a recent update, Spotify removed the option to make a playlist private on the desktop version of Spotify. If you’re anything like us, you immediately noticed and then your group chat went crazy over this new information. Remain calm though because you can still make a playlist private in the Spotify mobile app, so no one needs to know what you actually listen to.

Now on desktop when you make a new playlist, you are only given the option to “Remove from profile,” which means “Friend activity” will still show your followers that you’re listening to the playlist even though it isn’t featured on your profile.

Titles of private playlists, on the other hand, won’t show up under “Friend activity,” and can only be seen if you share the link to the playlist with another user. However, the songs you are listening to will still show up in Friend activity unless you are listening in a Private Session.

If your playlist is just a little too revealing and you can’t risk anyone seeing you listen to it, follow the steps below to make your playlist private in the Spotify app.

How to make a playlist private in the Spotify app:

1. Open the Spotify app

2. Navigate to the playlist you want to make private

3. Tap the three gray dots

Tap the three gray dots.

Tap the three gray dots.
Credit: Screenshot: Spotify

4. Select “Make Private”

Select "Make Private" to make your playlist private.

Select “Make Private” to make your playlist private.
Credit: screenshot: spotify

There you have it, title your playlist whatever you want because no one will see it. Now try your hand at more Spotify hacks.

Index Ventures’ trio of new funds leads to $3 billion, and more TikTok

Index Ventures has closed a trio of new funds: a $900 million early-stage fund, a $2 billion growth-stage fund and a previously announced $200 million seed-stage fund. The close gives Index $3 billion in new capital, its largest tranche yet, to deploy into emerging startups and existing portfolio companies, which include the likes of Plaid, Deliveroo and Revolut, which was just valued at $33 billion.

Index’s new capital comes a little over a year since it closed its last funds, which were a duet of $1.2 billion for growth-stage investments and $800 million for early-stage investments. It also is announced while venture dollars more broadly seem to be growing at an unprecedented rate — In recent weeks, Accel announced that it has closed $3 billion across three funds, too, and Andreessen Horowitz landed a $2.2 billion fund dedicated entirely to crypto startups.

The influx of money means that check sizes and valuations are growing across the entire ecosystem. Index, for example, said that it has grown its Series A check size from $10 million to $15 million, while it increased its growth check from $35 million to $50 million. Its check size in the United States is about 20% higher compared to its check size in Europe, meaning that the former represents between 55% to 60% of the firm’s total investing dollars.

While Index’s check size is growing slightly bigger to keep up with competition, partner Mark Goldberg said that the firm is staying disciplined so it doesn’t fall prey to FOMO rounds or buzzy valuations.

“There have been situations where two years ago, I would have engaged,” in a competition for a late-stage round, he said. “And now I say that we probably are not going to compete … because at the heart of the matter, I think capital is a commodity.” The partner didn’t point to Accel’s $3 billion close, but instead noted how “Tiger Global and other crossover funds” have created a new capital product, which means that Index’s ability to compete must look different than just offering a ton of money.

“If you’re just looking for capital, we’re probably not going to be the best product for you,” Goldberg added.

Index Partner Martin Mignot thinks that a “bifurcation is really happening” in the fundraising market, where some founders are able to raise easily, but many continue to struggle if they’re not “at the right sector in the right place at the right time.” Mignot has been spending time looking at Africa as a potential investment area that continues to be underresourced. He hinted that an official initiative focused on Africa startups may be underway.

The firm said it has “several initiatives in place related to diversity including increasing the number of individuals on our investment from underrepresented groups and diversifying our investment funnel” but said that it does not track diversity statistics at a portfolio company level “yet.” Index said that its investment team is composed of 38% of individuals who identify as female and 14% of individuals who come from underrepresented groups, although its unclear whether they have check-writing power.

Index appears to be going through a period of experimentation when it comes to the services offered to portfolio companies. While the firm declined to give too many specifics on upcoming initiatives around diversity or more generally, it did note its growing TikTok presence as part of its strategy.

The Index Ventures TikTok has over 28,000 followers. Its most viewed video is about Costco’s business model, with 4.8 million views followed by an interview clip from Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, with 315,000 views.

“It’s not something where I think the next deal comes from the TikTok account, but it’s one of those initiatives where … I think it will pay dividends” in helping Index reach a younger audience that isn’t active on tech Twitter or Clubhouse. Index’s TikTok, led by Rex Woodbury, is reminiscent of how some emerging fund managers are approaching creative deal flow.

The firm is also experimenting with incubating startups in-house, which has historically never been a major focus. A tweet suggests that Index is actively recruiting entrepreneurs to join the incubator, which could be divided thematically. Goldberg declined to give more specifics around how incubation programs are structured and what the terms are, saying that the Index Incubator is not an official product yet.

That said, one can only imagine that a firm freshly capitalized with billions of dollars probably has some money to spare — from incubated projects to those growth-stage companies in need of active investors.

Visa acquires Currencycloud, which makes APIs for remittances and currency transfers, in a $963M deal

A year and a half after Currencycloud raised $80 million in a round that included Visa, the London-based developer of APIs that powered remittance and currency exchange services is getting even closer to the financial services giant. Today, Visa announced that it would acquire CurrencyCloud in a deal valued at $963 million (£700 million).

This price is a very decent leap from that last funding round, when sources told us the startup was valued at around $500 million.

(As Visa already has equity in the company, the amount it will actually pay will be reduced by that amount.)

CurrencyCloud has some 500 customers in 180 countries that use its APIs to power multi-currency wallets, currency exchange services, and account management, including some of the biggest startups around such as Monzo, Moneze, Starling, Revolut and Dwolla. These will continue, and on top of that Visa will use the startup’s technology to bolster its own currency exchange rails to provide a wider set of services to its own customers, which include financial institutions, fintechs and more, as well as to build new services for consumers as well.

“At Currencycloud, we’ve always strived to deliver a better tomorrow for all, from the smallest start-up to the global multi-nationals. Re-imagining how money flows around the global economy just got more exciting as we join Visa,” said Mike Laven, CEO, Currencycloud, in a statement. “The combination of Currencycloud’s fintech expertise and Visa’s network will enable us to deliver greater customer value to the businesses moving money across borders.”

Remittance and currency transfers to be big business in the world of financial services, and that opportunity is growing. Two of the factors driving this are that e-commerce has extended well outside of our national borders, especially in the past 18 months, and so have supply chains. (Visa notes that some 43% of all small businesses globally carried out some form of international trade in 2020.) And with the rise of cloud-based, mobile services to facilitate transactions, consumers are ever more globalised in their outlooks, too.

At the same time, remittances and currency transfers are two areas ripe for disruption, with incumbent services often costly and inefficient. All of this sets the stage for a company like CurrencyCloud, which has built a new implementation of currency transfer that can be embedded into other financial services to help them run more smoothly.

The exit is also a classic example of how larger, incumbent financial powerhouses typically find it harder to innovate and jump into new services, so instead they tap smaller and more agile startups that are taking big bets on technology, and pulling it off, to help propel themselves into the next generation of financial services. Whether Visa will be able to successfully integrate and use CurrencyCloud’s tech and work with its team are two things that were already tested out: the two were strategic partners prior to this deal.

“The acquisition of Currencycloud is another example of Visa executing on our network of networks strategy to facilitate global money movement,” said Colleen Ostrowski, Visa’s Global Treasurer, in a statement. “Consumers and businesses increasingly expect transparency, speed and simplicity when making or receiving international payments. With our acquisition of Currencycloud, we can support our clients and partners to further reduce the pain points of cross-border payments and develop great user experiences for their customers.” 

All the best laptops for working from home

Moaning about the office can be therapeutic. Constant criticism of the temperature, space, and snack selection is something that binds a workforce and helps everyone get through the day. It’s really not that bad, though.

The office definitely has its faults, but you quickly notice all the little comforts that it affords as soon as you start working from home. Yes, it’s nice to roll out of bed and join a meeting in your pyjamas, but you’ll quickly realise that the grass isn’t always greener at home.

Working remotely can actually be a real struggle, especially if you’re not fully prepared for the transition. A constant supply of snacks and drinks is a good place to start, but you also need to invest in all the devices and products that help you to work efficiently in the office. That means you’re going to have consider dropping some cash on a desk chair, keyboard, mouse, set of headphones, and even a laptop.

You could try and persist with a basic and uncomfortable set-up, but old habits die hard, and complaining is an inevitability. Except this time, there may not be anyone to complain to, and you’ll just be shouting at the wall, with nothing but your echo and maybe a disapproving pet for company.

What is the most important device for working from home?

Everyone is going to have different priorities when it comes to kitting out a home office with essentials products. For some, a chair is going to be top of the list. You will be sitting on the thing all day, so we get it.

If you expect to be working in a noisy environment, then a set of noise-cancelling headphones is going to come in handy. Likewise, if you suffer from joint pain, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse combo should be something to seriously consider. We understand that everyone has different needs, but the most important device for your home office is a laptop. Sorry, this isn’t up for debate.

Unless your employer has provided you with a laptop that you can take home, you could probably benefit from upgrading to something that can handle your workload. Fortunately, there are absolutely loads of impressive devices on the market that offer power, performance, and portability. It’s simply a matter of finding a model that works for you.

What are the most important laptop features?

Finding the right laptop for you is not easy, but the process can be made a little easier by understanding what makes a laptop tick. There are important inner components that every laptop has and it’s important to know what they are:

CPU — This is the central processing unit, sometimes called – quite simply – the processor. This is like the brain of the laptop. It controls and communicates with all of your laptop’s functions – including how fast it operates. If you’re a video editor or graphic designer – or do anything that means installing and running big-time software – you should look for a machine with a solid CPU processor.

GPU — This is the graphics processing unit, otherwise known as the graphics card. This is responsible for your laptop’s visuals. You might not need eye-popping graphics for answering emails or working on spreadsheets, but for design work, choose a machine with a powerful GPU.

RAM — This stands for random-access memory, and it gives your computer short-term memory for running various applications at the same time and using them as and when you need to access. This basically controls the speed and dexterity of your laptop. We recommend 8GB of RAM as a good starting point if you’re a multi-tasker or use the laptop for creative work.

Storage — Laptops usually come with one of two types of storage space – hard-disc drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD) storage. HDD is essentially a piece of metal inside the machine that holds all of your info. SSD stores the info on little flash-memory chips. A HDD typically holds far more than SSD, but HDD is much slower than SSD. It’s worth noting that there are also cloud and external storage options.

Display — The first thing that catches your eye on any computer is its display. We recommend a 1080p resolution as a base level. Some laptops also have touchscreen capabilities.

Other features to look out for are size and weight, as you don’t want to be left with something that is not portable if you need to travel for work. Also, you should research battery life and ports, particularly if you plan on using add-ons and other devices in collaboration with your laptop.

What is the best laptop for working from home?

It’s always nice to have options when making a purchase, but too much choice can pose a problem. How are you supposed to know which laptop is best for you when everything looks good in its own way? It’s important to do your own research, but we’ve done most of the hard work and lined up a selection of your best options to make the whole process much easier.

We’ve tracked down the very best laptops from top brands like Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and more. These devices have been chosen because they offer everything that you need for working from home, with something for every budget. We’re not going to pick a favourite, because all of these devices offer features that improve the remote working experience.

These are the best laptops for working from home in 2021.

Elon Musk on Bitcoin: The biggest takeaways from his chat with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey

Musk is talking about cryptocurrencies again.

Remember when Tesla CEO Elon Musk agreed — somewhat spontaneously — to chat with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about Bitcoin? Well, the talk actually happened.

The two rich dudes spoke on Wednesday, together with Ark Invest CEO Cathie Wood and moderator Steve Lee, at a livestreamed panel from Bitcoin conference The B Word. And even though Musk has been very vocal about Bitcoin on numerous occasions, this was perhaps his most level-headed and revealing public chat on the topic.

Here are the big takeaways from Musk’s side of things:

1. Elon Musk personally owns Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin

The world’s second richest man has spoken about all three cryptocurrencies before, especially Dogecoin, but this is the first time that he’s revealed, in fairly exact language, that he owns these three cryptocurrencies.

“I do own Bitcoin (…) and I do personally own a bit of Ethereum, and Dogecoin, of course,” he said.

While Bitcoin is often compared with digital gold, and is mostly used as a store of value, Ethereum is the world’s largest platform for decentralized apps. It opens up vast possibilities beyond what Bitcoin can currently do, so it’s interesting to see Musk publicly saying he owns some.

2. SpaceX owns Bitcoin

Yes, we knew about Tesla, but now we also know that Musk’s other company, SpaceX, owns Bitcoin. That’s pretty big.

In general, there was a lot of chatter about companies owning or doing things with cryptocurrencies. Wood things it’s something companies should explore, for example Bitcoin as a hedge against both inflation and deflation. And Musk asked Dorsey whether he’d take crypto payments from advertisers on Twitter; Dorsey said he’s open to the idea, but he’s more focused on creating economic incentives within Twitter, “without having to rely on advertisers.”

3. Musk does not partake (or at least he says he does not partake) in pump and dump schemes

In other words, he doesn’t hype up coins just to sell them, and then slam them just to buy them cheaper. “I might pump, but I don’t dump,” he said. “I definitely do not believe in getting the price high and selling, or anything like that.”

This is notable, because Musk does tweet about cryptocurrencies a lot, and it sometimes does seem like he’s trying to push the price of one coin up while slamming another coin. But he doesn’t do it. At least that’s what he says.

4. Musk tried to put Bitcoin nodes on Starlink

Bitcoin nodes are an important part of running the Bitcoin network. It’s important that there’s as many of them as possible, and that they are located in as many different locations as possible. Putting some nodes into orbit, aboard Starlink’s many satellites, does make some sense. Apparently, it was not meant to be, as Musk explained, but he seems to still be open to the idea.

5. Tesla will resume Bitcoin payments if Bitcoin cleans up its act

“I wanted a little bit more due diligence to confirm that the percentage of renewable energy usage is most likely at or above 50 percent, and that there is a trend toward increasing that number, and if so Tesla would resume accepting bitcoin,” Musk said. Wood chimed in on the topic as well, saying that she believes Bitcoin will ultimately be much more environmentally friendly than gold mining, and the traditional finance sector.

Tesla made quite an impact on the market in March 2021, when it started accept Bitcoin payments for cars, but the company suspended Bitcoin purchases over environmental concerns in May. The issue was left in a bit of a limbo, given that Bitcoin’s environmental issues were a known fact for years, but now we know that there’s still a chance that one day, you’ll be able to purchase that Model 3 with one, three, or 77 bitcoins. You know, depending on the state of the market.

6. Elon is learning

While this is a bit of an interpretation (by me), it appears that Musk has improved his overall knowledge of the cryptocurrency space since his notorious “fix Doge” tweet. He’s thinking about sending Bitcoin nodes into space, he’s looking into Ethereum, he’s looking into L2 blockchain technology. We’ve seen billionaires go to space, which felt like a dick measuring contest. But seeing Musk geek out with Wood and Dorsey about crypto feels…well, like fans geeking out over something they like. And that’s pretty cool.

Check out the entire conversation on YouTube.

Disclosure: The author of this text owns, or has recently owned, a number of cryptocurrencies, including BTC and ETH. 

Untitled Ventures joins the scramble for Russian & Eastern European startups with a $118M warchest

Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.

Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”

Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.

Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe

LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.

Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”

Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”

He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”

To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.

The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years

Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
Fixar Global –  efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
E-contenta – based in Poland
SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
•, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)

5 Tips on How to Do Video Marketing for Your Business?

Video content has become a phenomenon in all social media platforms and other public forums, helping every individual and company to sustain their business in the digital world. The conventional marketing methods have become less effective when compared to the current video marketing strategy.

The popularity of video content is skyrocketing every minute as video marketing has become the only effective source of communication with the audiences dominating all the other means.

Video marketing’s work does not just stop at grabbing the attention of many audiences but extends to increasing your website’s user traffic and conversion rates. A significant investment in video marketing can deliver substantial business returns faster than any other marketers or marketing strategy. Thus, video marketing is an impressive tool.

Why is video marketing important?

The whole world is watching videos on their mobiles, laptops, television screens, desktops, and other devices, at least at some point in their everyday lives. In the US, digital video marketing is a multi-million-dollar business ($26.3 billion in 2020) industry.
On average, people watch over a billion hours on YouTube every day, making video the most appealing means for any viewer. Organizations have started leveraging video content to their benefit by increasing sales and traffic to their websites.

Statistics establishing the video as the future of marketing

A Hubspot report states that 54% of people watch videos every day, and almost 78% of the people watch online videos every week. Hubspot also found out that 72% of the consumers would learn about a service or product of any company only by way of videos.
Google’s research demonstrates that 6 out of 10 people prefer to watch online videos rather than television.

Unbounce discovered that a video on a business’s landing page could boost the conversion rate up to 80% and is 53 times more likely to reach the Google front pages.
Cisco’s research states that by 2022, the online videos will accommodate more than 82% of all consumer online traffic, which is almost 15 times higher than in 2017.
So, if you haven’t started utilizing the video marketing features, now might be the best time to step in and secure your business future.

Valuable tips for doing video marketing for your business

1. Analyze your video goals

The initial step in creating a video strategy is to assess and decide on your video’s goals and objectives. The video goals should include increasing brand awareness, solving all consumer’s problems, providing cost-effective solutions for significant issues, displaying proof of customer satisfaction, and telling the viewers why they should choose you over the competition. Once you select all your goals, you can decide what kind of video content you want to create.

2. Find and concentrate on your target audience

Finding your target audience is a decisive step in any business, as the strategy is considered a flop if it cannot satisfy the intended target. A considerable amount of data and building buyer persona can provide a basic idea for the company to know who the target audience is. The buyer’s persona can include name, age, location, gender, interest, social media accounts, and designation to ease out the finding process.

3. Plan your video story and approach

The story or script is the fundamental element of the content, and the massive success of any viral video will primarily focus on the story only. The video should include an emotion attached to the story so that the viewers can feel a personal connection to the story and quickly convert them into potential customers.

However, the best success rates with video marketing are only delivered when you use the right tools. Programs like YouTube video editor online free, social media calendar, InVideo video maker, and the correct scheduler will help you keep all your workload manageable.

4. Add creative elements into your video

The modern world has made video creation easy, quick, and affordable. Tools like InVideo video maker, Adobe Premium, YouTube video editor online free, and other powerful video editors and makers can help you add voices, music, text, logos, animations, graphics, and other advanced features into the video.

Adding creative elements into the video is necessary as it is the easiest way to make your video stand out in the crowd and improve user traffic.

5. Limit to a realistic budget

Money is the ultimate factor that decides the outcome of any product. Do proper research on all the elements that would increase your budget and have basic knowledge on the hiring price of full-time professionals or freelancers for certain activities.
Decide on all the shooting factors, and make sure you know all the resources available at your disposal. Certain types of videos cost more, and outsourcing a production company will also cost higher. So, gather every information needed to move forward with the shooting and get approval for the estimated budget.

Final Words

The technological advancements in today’s world have made it easier to build a professional-looking short video within a few minutes. Video marketing has become the most successful strategy globally, and almost 60% of businesses use video as a marketing tool.

The ever-increasing rise of video content has made customers trust branded companies more due to their regular release of informative or review videos. So, start utilizing the powerful video marketing strategy in your business to generate profitable returns and improve higher customer engagement.


The post 5 Tips on How to Do Video Marketing for Your Business? appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

India’s BlackBuck valued at $1 billion in $67 million fundraise

India’s trucking system has a big inefficiency problem that continues to drag the economy. BlackBuck, one of the handful of logistics startups that is trying to overhaul this system, has just attained the unicorn status after securing new funds.

Tribe Capital, IFC Emerging Asia Fund and VEF led the $67 million Series E financing round in the six-year-old startup, valuing it at $1.02 billion (up from about $850 million in 2019 Series D round), BlackBuck chief executive Rajesh Yabaji told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this week. BlackBuck is the 16th Indian startup to become a unicorn.

BlackBuck connects businesses with truck owners and freight operators. It has developed a simplified app for truck drivers in India, who are typically not very literate, to help them accept work and easily navigate to their destination using Google Maps. On the client side, businesses can fire up a similar app to place orders.

About 700,000 truckers and 1.2 million trucks in India today are connected to the platform, which sees over 15 million transactions each month. “India’s truckers did not go truly digital till 2019. Since then, the supply activity has gone up by 20 times,” said Yabaji.

During this period, BlackBuck, too, has transformed considerably. The platform has moved away from relying on call centres for booking orders to an app-based system. Today, Yabaji said the startup has very little reliance left on brokers, who help connect them to truckers in smaller regions.

“India’s supply chain and logistics industry is moving from paper and pencil to digital. BlackBuck’s ability to measure output and productivity growth has streamlined logistical challenges for the industry over a short time frame. Its continued high velocity growth promises to bring even greater transformation to the Indian trucking ecosystem,” said Arjun Sethi, cofounder and partner at Tribe Capital, in a statement. (On a side note, Tribe Capital is in talks to back at least two more Indian startups, according to people with knowledge of the matter.)

This is a developing story. More to follow…

This powerful encryption software subscription is on sale for 91% off

A lifetime subscription to GhostVolt Encryption Software is on sale.

TL;DR: A lifetime subscription to GhostVolt Encryption Software is on sale for £22.01 as of July 22, saving you 91% on list price.

Rather than dwell on what-ifs, help ensure your private information stays private with a lifetime subscription to GhostVolt Encryption Software.

GhostVolt lets you encrypt documents, photos, videos, or files on your computer with AES encryption, then add a personal password in order to access them. It’s built to work just like a typical file explorer, so learning to use it will likely be easy.

Besides simply storing your files securely, GhostVolt allows for secure sharing through Microsoft OneDrive integration.

Ready to lock up your digital assets? Snag a lifetime subscription to GhostVolt Encryption Software for only £22.01 (regularly £257) for a limited time.

Indonesian B2B marketplace GudangAda raises more than $100M in new funding

A photo of GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda, a Jakarta-based marketplace that brings wholesalers closer to retail stores and other buyers, announced it has closed a Series B of more than $100 million. The company says the round was oversubscribed, passing its initial target of $75 million. The funding was led by Asia Partners and Falcon Edge, with participation from Sequoia Capital India, Alpha JWC and Wavemaker Partners.

This brings GudangAda’s total raised so far to about $135 million. Its last funding was a $25.4 million Series A last year, led by Sequoia Capital India and JWC Alpha Ventures.

Founded in January 2019, GudangAda is now used by half a million SMEs and covers 500 cities in Indonesia. Before raising its Series B, it had already grown to $6 billion in net merchandise value on $35 million of funding. Principal manufacturers and distributors on the platform range include food products company Sido Muncul, seasoning maker Sasa and British multinational consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser.

Founder and chief executive officer Stevensang spent more than 25 years in Indonesia’s fast-moving consumer goods and retail industries before starting GudangAda. Over the past 10 years, Stevensang told TechCrunch that logistics costs in Indonesia have increased to among the highest in the world, impacting the whole supply chain, especially SME buyers.

GudangAda helps lower operational costs by connecting principal manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and handling almost all aspects of B2B buying, including deliveries. Its mobile app includes a point-of-sale system and it can also be used to manage orders, track logistics and make payments.

Stevensang said GudangAda focuses on several things to make buying inventory easier for SMEs. One is optimizing inventory turnover to increase working capital for businesses on the platform. The company also provides market research and data for products and gives retailers a large selection of goods. Being connected to multiple suppliers on the same platform also lets small retail stores that sell a large selection of items, but don’t have the buying volume to order directly from distributors, to purchase inventory at competitive costs.

To keep logistics costs down, GudangAda partners with third-party vehicle and warehouse providers to build its coverage throughout Indonesia. For its logistics partners, it provides transportation and warehouse management systems to help them digitize their operations.

GudangAda also partners with banks to provide working capital for SMEs, enabling them to apply for loans using their data on the platform.

The funding will be used to expand GudangAda’s product categories, which now include fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, packaging, homeware and stationery. It also plans to develop AI-based tools that can provide personalized recommendations for merchant customers. For example, during COVID-19, the platform suggested how much disinfectants a store should stock.

In a statement, Falcon Edge co-founder Navroz D. Udwadia said, “GudangAda is definitively the largest SME e-commerce marketplace in Indonesia with best-in-class metrics. Our research and conversations with stakeholders (principals, wholesalers and retailers) has given us confidence on GudangAda’s distinctive ROI and value addition to the entire ecosystem.”

Indonesia “sea-to-table” platform Aruna hooks $35M led by Prosus and East Ventures Growth Fund

When Aruna’s founders first met at university, they wanted to find a way to use their studies in information technology to help family members who were running small fisheries. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest fisheries producers, but the industry is very fragmented. This means fisheries, especially small ones, deal with fluctuations in demand and price instability. Aruna was created to bring them closer to customers like restaurants and exporters, the way farm-to-table startups are aggregating the agricultural supply chain.

Aruna announced today it has raised $35 million in Series A funding led by Prosus Ventures and East Ventures Growth Fund, with participation from SIG and returning investors including AC Ventures, MDI and Vertex Ventures. Aruna says this is the largest Series A investment to date in Indonesia’s agritech and maritime sector.

The company works primarily with small fisheries (or ones that have boats with about one to two metric tonnes of capacity) and focuses on sustainability, helping suppliers adhere to the United Nations Goal 14’s targets. These include preventing overfishing, protecting coastal ecosystems and giving small-scale fisheries access to more resources and markets.

Aruna was founded in 2016 by Farid Naufal Aslam, Indraka Fadhlillah and Utari Octavianty, who met while studying information technology administration and management at Telkom University. Fadhlillah and Octavianty came from families in the fishing industry, and the three wanted to create something that would solve some of the challenges they faced.

“This was the main idea, but the bigger thing we saw at the time was the advantage of Indonesia’s position as a large agricultural country with big potential in the seafood industry,” Aslam told TechCrunch.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia is the world’s second largest fisheries producer. The sector creates about $4.1 billion in annual export earnings and supports more than 7 million jobs.

But Aruna’s founding team saw two major problems while analyzing coastal communities. The first one was market access and getting fair prices for seafood. The second was access to working capital.

To solve the first issue, Aruna was built to shorten the supply chain, which Aslam said can have six or seven layers between fisheries and buyers like restaurants, markets or exporters.

Buyers make purchase orders through the platform, which are then distributed to fishery communities that Aruna organizes to focus on particular types of seafood. This helps them predict demand, guarantee return business and prevent overfishing.

Aruna also built a logistics network that includes more than 45 collection sites, or warehouses where seafood is delivered by fisheries for quality checks, processing and packaging. Aruna’s warehouses are a combination of facilities that it owns or runs with partners. Deliveries are performed by third-party logistics providers.

The platform currently has about 20 product categories and will use its funding to expand into more. Its commodities include high-value products like lobster, which are shipped by exporters to markets like Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

One of Aruna’s main requirements for fisheries on the platform is sticking to its sustainability process. According to the World Bank, one of the biggest issues facing Indonesia fisheries is overfishing, which hurts marine biodiversity. Aruna team members work with fisheries to standardize their equipment so they comply with government regulations and chose locations that are not overfished.

By focusing on a few types of seafood each, fisheries that work with Aruna are better able to ensure the quality and traceability of their products, and manage pricing fluctuations.

The second problem Aruna is working on is lack of access to working capital. To help fisheries get low interest, collateral-free loans for equipment and other things they need for their businesses, Aruna partners with financial institutions and fintech companies. When an Aruna fishery applies for a loan, the platform is able to provide transaction data collected on the platform for credit scoring.

The company also announced today that it has appointed Budiman Goh as its president, and Octavianty as its chief sustainability officer. Its funding will be used to expand to new areas in Indonesia, hiring data analytics and tech development, including IoT devices to help perform quality checks.

Aruna plans to focus on Indonesia for the near future because of the large number of fisheries in the country.

“Currently we have 21,000 fishermen on the platform, yet there are about 2.7 million fishermen in Indonesia, so there is a lot of room to grow,” Aslam said.

In a statement, Sachin Bhanot, Prosus Ventures’ head of Southeast Asia investment said, “Having built a robust supply chain and technology infrastructure steeped with deep industry knowledge and expertise, we believe Aruna is uniquely positioned to service the growing global demand for sustainable fishery product, while supporting the livelihood of local fishermen.”


Watch Intel’s Mobileye test autonomous cars in NYC for the first time

Mobileye, an Israeli autonomous vehicle startup acquired by Intel, is putting its self-driving system to the ultimate test: the mean streets of New York City.

At an event this week, Intel announced that its Mobileye self-driving cars were approved to drive through NYC streets. It’s the only autonomous vehicle testing permit-holder in the city. It’s also the first company to have a dedicated testing program in the country’s most populous municipality.

San Francisco and the Bay Area, along with Arizona, have been the usual testing sites for other companies like Waymo, Cruise, and Aurora.

As the video shows, NYC is full of pedestrians (and jaywalkers!), buses, construction zones, aggressive drivers, double-parked cars, bridges, tunnels, delivery vans, and so much more.

The cars still have a safety driver at the helm, but the cameras (and backup radar and light-detecting LiDAR sensors) are guiding the ride. The driver keeps their hands off the wheel throughout the entire 40-minute drive.

The autonomous drive is unedited so you can see what it’s like for a machine to take on NYC at street level.