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10 Zurich-area investors on Switzerland’s 2020 startup outlook

European entrepreneurs who want to launch startups could do worse than Switzerland.

In a report analyzing Europe’s general economic health, cost of doing business, business environment and labor force quality, analysts looked for highly educated populations, strong economies, healthy business environments and relatively low costs for conducting business. Switzerland ended up ranking third out of 31 European nations, according to Nimblefins. (Germany and the UK came out first and second, respectively).

According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Zurich tends to take the lion’s share, as the city’s embrace of startups has jump-started development, although Geneva and Lausanne are also hotspots.

As well as traditional software engineering startups, Switzerland’s largest city boasts a startup culture that emphasizes life sciences, mechanical engineering and robotics. Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has a low regulatory burden and a well-educated, highly qualified workforce. Google’s largest R&D center outside of the United States is in Zurich.

But it’s also one of the more expensive places to start a business, due to its high cost of living, salary expectations and relatively small labor market. Native startups will need 25,000 Swiss Francs to open an LLC and 50,000 more to incorporate. While they can withdraw those funds from the business the next day, local founders must still secure decent backing to even begin the work.

This means Switzerland has gained a reputation as a place to startup — and a place to relocate, which is something quite different. It’s one reason why the region is home to many fintech businesses born elsewhere that need proximity to a large banking ecosystem, as well as the blockchain/crypto crowd, which have found a highly amenable regulatory environment in Zug, right next door to Zurich. Zurich/Zug’s “Crypto Valley” is a global blockchain hotspot and is home to, among others, the Ethereum Foundation.

Lawyers and accountants tend to err on the conservative side, leading to a low failure rate of businesses but less “moonshot innovation,” shall we say.

But in recent years, corporate docs are being drawn up in English to facilitate communication both inside Switzerland’s various language regions and foreign capital, and investment documentation is modeled after the U.S.

Ten years ago startups were unusual. Today, pitch competitions, incubators, accelerators, VCs and angel groups proliferate.

The country’s Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) supports CTI-Startup and CTI-Invest, providing startups with investment and support. Venture Kick was launched in 2007 with the vision to double the number of spin-offs from Swiss universities and draws from a jury of more than 150 leading startup experts in Switzerland. It grants up to CHF 130,000 per company. Fundraising platforms such as Investiere have boosted the angel community support of early funding rounds.

Swiss companies, like almost all European companies, tend to raise lower early-stage rounds than U.S. ones. A CHF 1-2 million Series A or a CHF 5 million Series B investment is common. This has meant smaller exits, and thus less development for the ecosystem.

These are the investors we interviewed:

 

Jasmin Heimann, partner, Ringier Digital Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Consumer-facing startups with first revenues.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
AirConsole — a cloud-gaming platform where you don’t need a console and can play with all your friends and family.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I really wish that the business case for social and ecological startups will finally be proven (kind of like Oatly showed with the Blackstone investment). I also think that femtech is a hyped category but funding as well as renown exits are still missing.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
I am looking for easy, scalable solutions with a great team.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
I think the whole scooter/mobility space is super hyped but also super capital intensive so I think to compete in this market at this stage is hard. I also think that the whole edtech space is an important area of investment, but there are already quite a lot of players and it oftentimes requires cooperation with governments and schools, which makes it much more difficult to operate in. Lastly, I don’t get why people still start fitness startups as I feel like the market has reached its limits.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
Switzerland makes — maximum — half of our investments. We are also interested in Germany and Austria as well as the Nordics.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Zurich and Lausanne are for sure the most exciting cities, just because they host great engineering universities. Berne is still lagging behind but I am hoping to see some more startups emerging from there, especially in the medtech industry.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Overall, Switzerland is a great market for a startup to be in — although small, buying power is huge! So investors should always keep this in mind when thinking about coming to Switzerland. The startup scene is pretty small and well connected, so it helps to get access through somebody already familiar with the space. Unfortunately for us, typical B2C cases are rather scarce.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I think it is hard to make any kind of predictions. But on the one hand, I could see this happening. On the other hand, I also think that the magic of cities is that there are serendipity moments where you can find your co-founder at a random networking dinner or come across an idea for a new venture while talking to a stranger. These moments will most likely be much harder to encounter now and in the next couple of months.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
I think travel is a big question mark still. The same goes for luxury goods, as people are more worried about the economic situation they are in. On the other hand, remote work has seen a surge in investments. Also sustainability will hopefully be put back on the agenda.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Not much. I think we allocated a bit more for the existing portfolio but otherwise we continue to look at and discuss the best cases. The biggest worries are the uncertainties about [what] the future might look like and the related planning. We tell them to first and foremost secure cash flow.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Totally! Some portfolio companies have really profited from the crisis, especially our subscription-based models that offer a variety of different options to spend time at home. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum after the lockdown.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
What gives me hope is to see that people find ways to still work together — the amount of online events, office hours, etc. is incredible. I see the pandemic also as a big opportunity to make changes in the way we worked and the way things were without ever questioning them.

 

Katrin Siebenbuerger Hacki, founder, Medows

Where to buy reusable face masks in the UK

Where to buy reusable face masks in the UK

TL;DR: Etsy, Amazon, and ASOS are still stocking a wide range of face coverings, with options available for under £1.


Just in case you hadn’t heard, there are a bunch of new coronavirus restrictions in the UK that could last up to six months.

Some of these new restrictions are related to face coverings, with face masks compulsory for bar staff and non-seated customers, shop workers, waiters, and taxi drivers. Also, the fine for people not wearing face coverings in shops, supermarkets, public transport, taxis, and hotels will double to £200 for a first-time offence.

More about Face Mask, Mashable Shopping, Shopping Uk, Uk Deals, and Coronavirus

It’s time to build against pandemics

Rish Joshi
Contributor

Rish is an entrepreneur and investor. Previously, he was a VC at Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI fund), co-founded a fintech startup building an analytics platform for SEC filings and worked on deep-learning research as a graduate student in computer science at MIT.

We’re a few years out from the call to action Bill Gates made in his TED Talk on preparing for pandemics back in 2015, yet the state of scalable software for important workflows like data collection and contact-tracing has greatly lagged expectations during the current pandemic.

The Trump administration’s letter to health agencies regarding data-sharing guidelines asked for daily Excel uploads, and manual contact-tracing efforts without software have proven difficult given the scale of the current pandemic. 

Everything is being built right now. 

Research universities are helping build models used by the CDC for case prediction, and that’s brought to light the dire issues around incomplete data sharing between health institutions and governments. 

Dozens of contact-tracing apps are springing up, surfacing design decisions around privacy, the need for newer technologies beyond Bluetooth for near-field communication and leading companies like Google and Apple to strike partnerships to power cross-platform mobile capabilities.

The good news is that the current efforts are taking seriously the need for better software and driving necessary innovation to help society better prepare for pandemics.

How can detailed case data be shared by hospitals with governments to better predict case and mortality numbers, and used to better allocate medical and labor resources? 

How can software help local and state governments make better policies, and help digitize contact tracing while appeasing privacy concerns?

Software has the ability to power many of these capabilities, and it is creating new opportunities for startups to vet the newly formed appetite for better data and digitized workflows on the part of health agencies, local and state governments and other organizations involved in fighting pandemics.

ICE to foreign students: If you’re just taking online classes, you can’t stay in the U.S.

ICE to foreign students: If you’re just taking online classes, you can’t stay in the U.S.

The coronavirus pandemic has made education hard enough with the abrupt shift to online learning that schools, teachers, and students have had to suddenly make these past few months. Now, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would like to make that move even harder for foreign students.

On Monday, ICE posted an update to its Student and Exchange Visitor Program which disallows foreign students from remaining in the U.S. if they’re enrolled in a college or university that’s planning all online courses for the fall semester. 

Basically, if you’re in the U.S. on a student visa and attending a school with all remote learning, you have two options: You must leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person learning. Any failure to comply will result in deportation.  Read more…

More about Immigration And Customs Enforcement, Coronavirus, Tech, Other, and Politics

Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

Stephen Colbert mocks Pence’s search for positives as U.S. coronavirus cases reach record high

Stephen Colbert mocks Pence's search for positives as U.S. coronavirus cases reach record high

Despite President Donald Trump’s previous claims that the coronavirus would magically disappear in April, the deadly pandemic reached an all-time peak in the U.S. this week. The country set a new personal record for most new cases in a single day on Wednesday — then promptly beat it with 39,327 new cases on Thursday.

However, as Late Show host Stephen Colbert notes, Vice President Mike Pence is stubbornly ignoring these dire signs in favor of more “encouraging” ones.

“Yeah, 2.5 million infected Americans!” quipped Late Show host Stephen Colbert on Thursday. “Don’t look at the glass as half empty. Look at your lungs as half full.” Read more…

More about Donald Trump, Stephen Colbert, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Coronavirus, and Face Masks

India rejects Walmart-owned Flipkart’s proposed foray into food retail business

The Indian government has rejected Flipkart’s proposal to enter the food retail business in a setback for Walmart, which owns majority of the Indian e-commerce firm and which recently counted its business in Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the worst impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a wing of the nation’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told Flipkart, which competes with Amazon India, that its proposed plan to enter the food retail business violates regulatory guidelines.

Flipkart’s proposed food retail business, called Flipkart FarmerMart, cannot be structured on a 100% foreign direct investment, the Indian agency said. Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart, told TechCrunch that the company was evaluating the agency’s response and intended to re-apply.

“At Flipkart, we believe that technology and innovation driven marketplace can add significant value to our country’s farmers and food processing sector by bringing value chain efficiency and transparency. This will further aid boosting farmers’ income & transform Indian agriculture,” he added.

While announcing the plan to enter the nation’s growing food retail market, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart Group CEO, said in October last year that the company planned to invest $258 million in the new venture.

Flipkart planned to invest deeply in the local agriculture-ecosystem, supply chain, and work with tens of thousands of small farmers, their associations, and the nation’s food processing industry, Krishnamurthy said. The food retail unit would help “multiply farmers’ income and bring affordable, quality food for millions of customers across the country.”

Several e-commerce and grocery firms in India, including Amazon, Zomato, and Grofers, have previously secured approval from New Delhi, which earlier permitted 100% foreign direct investment in food and a handful of other sectors, for entering the food retail business.

The Indian government has since revisited the guidelines to clarify that food retail, like any other e-commerce sector, can only operate as a marketplace that allows third-party sellers to engage with buyers — and not offer their own inventories, nor have equity in any of the players who sell on the platform.

Food and grocery are compelling categories for e-commerce businesses in India as it enables them to engage with their customers more frequently. According to research firm Forrester, India’s online food and grocery market remain significantly tiny, accounting for just 1% of the overall sales.

In the most recent quarterly earnings call, Walmart said limited operations at Flipkart had negatively affected the group’s overall growth. New Delhi announced one of the world’s stringent lockdowns across the nation in late March that restricted Amazon and Flipkart from delivering in many states and only sell “essential items” such as grocery and hygienic products.

India maintains the stay-at-home orders for its 1.3 billion citizens, though it has eased some restrictions in recent weeks to resuscitate the economy.

Helena Bonham Carter’s relatable quarantine video is pure chaos energy

Helena Bonham Carter's relatable quarantine video is pure chaos energy

Celebrity quarantine videos have ranged from the fantastic to the pandering. But Helena Bonham Carter and Sam Neill’s Das Fone Hell (a “Cinema Quarantino Production”) is by far the most relatable.

Neill shared the short film (which we can imagine making the rounds at the next Sundance) with his Twitter followers on Saturday, detailing its vast budget and sprawling production across two continents. What resulted from their efforts is two minutes of pure quarantine madness with an evocative meditation on the ills of digital life.

HELENA BONHAM CARTER stars in this groundbreaking Cinema Quarantino Production DAS FONE HELL. At vast expense, filmed on two continents over what (seemed like) five years , this profound and heartbreakingly candid insight into Modern Life will shake you to the core (Pilates 101) pic.twitter.com/aVXCfvAyfd

— Sam Neill (@TwoPaddocks) May 23, 2020 Read more…

More about Entertainment, Web Culture, Helena Bonham Carter, Quarantine, and Coronavirus

Jon Stewart’s ‘Irresistible’ with Steve Carell skips theaters for video-on-demand

Jon Stewart's 'Irresistible' with Steve Carell skips theaters for video-on-demand

Irresistible has joined the long list of films skipping theaters amid the coronavirus pandemic

On Friday, Focus Features announced the second feature-length movie from writer-director Jon Stewart would head straight to video-on-demand starting June 26. The film will be available to rent on services including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV,  Google Play, Fandango Now, and more for $19.99.

The political comedy, starring Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as warring election consultants in small-town Wisconsin, was originally slated to hit theaters May 29 — just in time for the presidential election race to start heating up. But with few theaters in the United States open and only a handful of major films holding out for re-openings later in the summer, Irresistible may do better on-demand. Read more…

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Steve Case and Clara Sieg on how the COVID-19 crisis differs from the dot-com bust

Steve Case and Clara Sieg of Revolution recently spoke on TechCrunch’s new series, Extra Crunch Live. Throughout the hour-long chat, we touched on numerous subjects, including how diverse founders can take advantage during this downturn and how remote work may lead to growth outside Silicon Valley. The pair have a unique vantage point, with Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO of AOL turned VC, and Clara Sieg, a Stanford-educated VC heading up Revolution’s Silicon Valley office.

Together, Case and Sieg laid out how the current crisis is different from the dot-com bust of the late nineties. Because of the differences, their outlook is bullish on the tech sector’s ability to pull through.

And for everyone who couldn’t join us live, the full video replay is embedded below. (You can get access here if you need it.)

Case said that during the run-up to the dot-com bust, it was a different environment.

“When we got started at AOL, which was back in 1985, the Internet didn’t exist yet,” Case said. “I think 3% of people were online or online an hour a week. And it took us a decade to get going. By the year 2000, which is sort of the peak of AOL’s success, we had about half of all the U.S. internet traffic, and the market value soared. That’s when suddenly, when any company with a dot-com name was getting funded. Many were going public without even having much in the way of revenues. That’s not we’re dealing with now.”

Venture partner Sieg agreed, pointing to the number of funds currently available in the venture capital asset class. Unlike twenty years ago when valuations were based on unsubstantiated future growth, the current crisis happened during a period of steady expansion. Because of this, funds and startups are in a better position to make it to the other side of this pandemic, she said.

Sieg pointed to one of Revolution Venture’s portfolio companies, Mint House, which aims to build a better temporary housing experience for business travelers. The company raised $15 million in May 2019, and according to Sieg, it focused on being capital-efficient from the start instead of chasing growth for its own sake. She said the company went from almost 90% occupancy to zero overnight and yet now, after a slight pivot, it’s back to a 60-65% occupancy rate by moving quickly to providing housing to healthcare workers.

The company’s strong balance sheet gave it room to pivot, she said.

And yet there are challenges. Sieg pointed out that for the first time in Revolution’s history, the firm’s funds are investing without meeting founder teams in person. It’s a longer process than the old way, she said, though noted that it levels the playing field for founders outside of the traditional circle. Investors have more time on their hands now, so she encourages founders to be persistent and keep reaching out for virtual meetings.

“I think it is important to take advantage of this time where you have people sitting around with more availability on their calendars and more willingness to engage,” Sieg said. “The nice thing about removing some of the in-person components is there’s a stronger focus on market opportunity, product and company, and the real metrics that [founders] can show. Removing some of that person-to-person noise and just focusing on the business means that a lot of these biases are going to be overcome.”

The pair said they believe some companies will have a strong tailwind coming out of this crisis. Case and Sieg pointed to trends that are rapidly accelerating: e-commerce, telehealth and direct-to-consumer companies. In this new environment, Case said location will matter more than ever. While he points out there are many smart people in Silicon Valley, there’s a reason why, for example, Monsanto is in St. Louis. “Some of the smartest people around healthtech are in Minneapolis where UnitedHealth is, or Rochester, Minnesota where Mayo is, or with MD Anderson in Texas or in Ohio with Cleveland Clinic or Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.”

“There are also specific categories that resonate now more than ever,” Sieg said. “We’re investors in a company called Bright Cellars that ships wine to your house. Obviously, people are staying at home, and they’re drinking a lot more. And [Bright Cellars] has been positively impacted by [stay-at-home orders] from a revenue perspective. There’s a company like Bloomscape, which is in Detroit, Michigan, and they’ve had their challenges with keeping their supply chain up and running, but they managed to do so. People are finding a lot of comfort in gardening and taking care of plants because it is something that can be done at home and feel like you’re engaged with something that’s alive, and you see the progression when you’re stuck at home.”

Steve Case is looking at founders who are managing today, but also imagining for the future. One example is Clear, he said, which fast-tracked the development of a flight pass for healthcare workers. And now, when people start flying again, the company will return to its strong core business while having additional momentum around this new business that provides passes to hospitals and arenas. This wouldn’t have happened if it was not for this crisis, Case said.

“I think [the COVID-19 crisis] is one of those shake-the-snowglobe moments where things are being reassessed,” Case said, “and one of the areas I think it’s going to accelerate is what I’ve called the ‘third wave of the internet.’”

Case explained he wrote about this new phase a few years ago in his book, aptly titled “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future.” According to Case’s thesis, the first wave was when AOL and other providers were introducing and onboarding users to the Internet. The second wave was when apps and software could be created using existing infrastructure. And now, according to this thought, the internet is meeting the real world with new solutions. The current crisis is accelerating the development of telehealth, smart cities, and industries in regulated sectors.

“Perseverance is going to matter more,” Case said. “The tough problems don’t lend themselves to overnight successes. It’s going to be a slog, and kind of like AOL of a 10-year in the making overnight success.”

The dot-com bust upended a lot of startups, and the COVID-19 crisis will do the same though with different results.

“The third wave of the Internet is when the Internet meets the real world, Steve Case said. “It’s things like health care, food, smart cities, and many other areas that haven’t changed much in the first and second waves that are going to change a lot in the third wave. We believe it’s going to be a different playbook.”


Contact-tracing app caught sharing location data with Foursquare

Contact-tracing app caught sharing location data with Foursquare

Contact-tracing apps are problematic, and that’s before they violate their own privacy policies. 

The Care19 app, developed for the North Dakota Department of Health by developer ProudCrowd, was intended to assist health officials in their battle against coronavirus by logging users’ location data. In the process, according to a report released Thursday, it also sent users’ location data to Foursquare.

The findings, published by the makers of the privacy-focused app Jumbo, highlight the risks inherent in contact-tracing apps. When you have software designed to log your location, or your interactions with other people, and then share that data, you run the risk of said data ending up in unintended hands.  Read more…

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‘It’s the Mayo Clinic, not Daft Punk’: Seth Meyers teaches Mike Pence how masks work

'It's the Mayo Clinic, not Daft Punk': Seth Meyers teaches Mike Pence how masks work

“Trump’s like a high school student doing a book report who not only didn’t read the book, but even if he did you know it would go way over his head anyway,” said Late Night host Seth Meyers on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump is continuing to cop criticism for ignoring warnings about the coronavirus for months. Reports state Trump routinely neglects to read his daily intelligence briefings, and sometimes even shows disinterest in the oral summaries provided a few times per week.

“What do they have to do to keep this guy’s attention? Have his daily briefings delivered by pageant contestants?” said Meyers. “‘My name is Brianna, I’m from Battle Creek, Michigan, and a new virus spreading across the globe has a 3.4 percent mortality rate!‘” Read more…

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‘Crop dusting us with corona’: Seth Meyers tells joggers to keep their social distance

'Crop dusting us with corona': Seth Meyers tells joggers to keep their social distance

One of the few legitimate reasons for leaving your home amidst the coronavirus pandemic is to get some safely socially-distanced exercise. Unfortunately, as Late Night host Seth Meyers noted on Tuesday, some joggers are eschewing simple precautionary measures in favour of running up behind people and panting spittle like germ sprinklers.

“It’s like a horror movie, except Jason had the decency to wear a mask,” quipped Meyers.

Some people who are infected with the coronavirus only display mild symptoms, or even no symptoms at all. They’re still contagious though, meaning joggers could be spreading the disease without even realising. The risk may be relatively small but it isn’t non-existent, and it’s still extremely disconcerting to come in close contact with a gasping stranger in the current climate. Read more…

More about Seth Meyers, Late Night With Seth Meyers, Jogging, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Australia’s new coronavirus tracking app was downloaded a million times in just 5 hours

Australia's new coronavirus tracking app was downloaded a million times in just 5 hours

The Australian government’s new coronavirus contact tracing app was downloaded one million times within five hours of launch, meaning approximately one out of every 25 Australians is using it. It’s a notable uptake considering some Australians had expressed concerns about privacy issues.

Released on Sunday, COVIDSafe uses Bluetooth to connect with other phones within 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) which also have the app installed. If they are in contact for over 15 minutes, the app records data such as the date, time, contact distance and duration, and the other user’s encrypted identification code. This information is stored on the user’s phone for 21 days, after which it is automatically deleted. Read more…

More about Australia, Tracking, Phone Tracking, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Coronavirus PSA meets the Ghanaian pallbearer meme in very 2020 horror sketch

Coronavirus PSA meets the Ghanaian pallbearer meme in very 2020 horror sketch

Do not challenge the death. Stay at home.

A viral video from Malaysia is using the Ghanaian pallbearer meme to deliver an important coronavirus public health announcement — as well as a hilarious horror film.

Created by ad agency 75insanity, “How To Summon The Death” follows an unfortunate man (played by in-house actor HauYen Tan) who is relentlessly dogged by the ominous EDM strains of Tony Igy’s “Astronomia.” The song is a reference to the popular video meme of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing while carrying a casket, which is frequently used to imply imminent death.

Though the funky funeral footage originally came from 2017 AP and BBC stories, the lively pallbearers only rose to meme status this year. It’s a very on-brand meme considering the year 2020 has been. Read more…

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6 investment trends that could emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic

Rocio Wu
Contributor

Rocio Wu is a venture partner at F-Prime Capital who focuses on early-stage investments in software/applied AI, fintech and frontier tech investments.

While some U.S. investors might have taken comfort from China’s rebound, we still find ourselves in the early innings of this period of uncertainty.

Some epidemiologists have estimated that COVID-19 cases will peak in April, but PitchBook reports that dealmaking was down -26% in March, compared to February’s weekly average. The decline is likely to continue in coming weeks — many of the deals that closed last month were initiated before the pandemic, and there is a lag between when deals are made and when they are announced.

However, there’s still hope. A recent report concluded that because valuations are lower and there’s less competition for deals, “the best-performing vintages tend to be those that invest at the nadir of a downturn and into the early stage of recovery.” There are countless examples from the 2008 recession, including many highly valued VC-backed businesses such as WhatsApp, Venmo, Groupon, Uber, Slack and Square. Other early-stage VCs seem to have arrived at a similar conclusion.

Also, early-stage investing seems more resilient. During the last recession, angel and seed activity increased 34% as interest in the stage boomed during a period of prolonged growth.

Furthermore, there is still capital to be deployed in categories that interested investors before the pandemic, which may set the new order in a post-COVID-19 world. According to data provider Preqin Ltd., VC dry powder rose for a seventh consecutive year to roughly $276 billion in 2019, and another $21 billion were raised last quarter. And looking at the deals on the early-stage side that were made year to date, especially in March, the vertical categories that garnered the most funding were enterprise SaaS, fintech, life sciences, healthcare IT, edtech and cybersecurity.

Image Credits: PitchBook

That said, if VCs have the capital to deploy and are able to overcome the obstacle of “having never met in person,” here are six investment trends that could emerge when the pandemic is over.

1. Future of work: promoting intimacy and trust

Clubhouse voice chat leads a wave of spontaneous social apps

Forget the calendar invite. Just jump into a conversation. That’s the idea powering a fresh batch of social startups poised to take advantage of our cleared schedules amidst quarantine. But they could also change the way we work and socialize long after COVID-19 by bringing the free-flowing, ad-hoc communication of parties and open office plans online. While “Live” has become synonymous with performative streaming, these new apps instead spread the limelight across several users as well as the task, game, or discussion at hand.

The most buzzy of these startups is Clubhouse, an audio-based social network where people can spontaneously jump into voice chat rooms together. You see the unlabeled rooms of all the people you follow, and you can join to talk or just listen along, milling around to find what interests you. High-energy rooms attract crowds while slower ones see participants slip out to join other chat circles.

Clubhouse blew up this weekend on VC Twitter as people scrambled for exclusive invites, humblebragged about their membership, or made fun of everyone’s FOMO. For now, there’s no public app or access. The name Clubhouse perfectly captures how people long to be part of the in-crowd.

Clubhouse was built by Paul Davison, who previously founded serendipitous offline people-meeting location app Highlight and reveal-your-whole-camera-roll app Shorts before his team was acquired by Pinterest in 2016. This year he debuted his Alpha Exploration Co startup studio and launched Talkshow for instantly broadcasting radio-style call-in shows. Spontaneity is the thread that ties Davison’s work together, whether its for making new friends, sharing your life, transmitting your thoughts, or having a discussion.

It’s very early days for Clubhouse. It doesn’t even have a website. There’s no telling exactly what it will be like if or when it officially launches, and Davison and his co-founder Rohan Seth declined to comment. But the positive reception shows a desire for a more immediate, multi-media approach to discussion that updates what Twitter did with text.

Sheltered From Surprise

What quarantine has revealed is that when you separate everyone, spontaneity is a big thing you miss. In your office, that could be having a random watercooler chat with a co-worker or commenting aloud about something funny you found on the internet. At a party, it could be wandering up to chat with group of people because you know one of them or overhear something interesting. That’s lacking while we’re stuck home since we’ve stigmatized randomly phoning a friend, differing to asynchronous text despite its lack of urgency.

Clubhouse founder Paul Davison. Image Credit: JD Lasica

Scheduled Zoom calls, utilitarian Slack threads, and endless email chains don’t capture the thrill of surprise or the joy of conversation that giddily revs up as people riff off each other’s ideas. But smart app developers are also realizing that spontaneity doesn’t mean constantly interrupting people’s life or workflow. They give people the power to decide when they are or aren’t available or signal that they’re not to be disturbed so they’re only thrust into social connection when they want it.

Houseparty chart ranks via AppAnnie

Houseparty embodies this spontaneity. It’s become the breakout hit of quarantine by letting people on a whim join group video chat rooms with friends the second they open the app. It saw 50 million downloads in a month, up 70X over its pre-COVID levels in some places. It’s become the #1 social app in 82 countries including the US, and #1 overall in 16 countries.

Originally built for gaming, Discord lets communities spontaneously connect through persistent video, voice, and chat rooms. It’s seen a 50% increase in US daily voice users with spikes in shelter-in-place early adopter states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Washington. Bunch, for video chat overlayed on mobile gaming, is also climbing the charts and going mainstream with its user base shifting to become majority female as they talk for 1.5 million minutes per day. Both apps make it easy to join up with pals and pick something to play together.

The Impromptu Office

Enterprise video chat tools are adapting to spontaneity as an alternative to heavy-handed, pre-meditated Zoom calls. There’s been a backlash as people realize they don’t get anything done by scheduling back-to-back video chats all day.

  • Loom lets you quickly record and send a video clip to co-workers that they can watch at their leisure, with back-and-forth conversation sped up because videos are uploaded as they’re shot.

  • Around overlays small circular video windows atop your screen so you can instantly communicate with colleagues while most of your desktop stays focused on your actual work.

  • Screen exists as a tiny widget that can launch a collaborative screenshare where everyone gets a cursor to control the shared window so they can improvisationally code, design, write, and annotate.

Screen

  • Pragli is an avatar-based virtual office where you can see if someone’s in a calendar meeting, away, or in flow listening to music so you know when to instantly open a voice or video chat channel together without having to purposefully find a time everyone’s free. But instead of following you home like Slack, Pragli lets you sign in and out of the virtual office to start and end your day.

Raising Our Voice

While visual communication has been the breakout feature of our mobile phones by allowing us to show where we are, shelter-in-place means we don’t have much to show. That’s expanded the opportunity for tools that take a less-is-more approach to spontaneous communication. Whether for remote partying or rapid problem solving, new apps beyond Clubhouse are incorporating voice rather than just video. Voice offers a way to rapidly exchange information and feel present together without dominating our workspace or attention, or forcing people into an uncomfortable spotlight.

High Fidelity is Second Life co-founder Philip Rosedale’s $72 million-funded current startup. After recently pivoting away from building a virtual reality co-working tool, High Fidelity has begun testing a voice and headphones-based online event platform and gathering place. The early beta lets users move their dot around a map and hear the voice of anyone close to them with spatial audio so voices get louder as you get closer to someone, and shift between your ears as you move past them. You can spontaneously approach and depart little clusters of dots to explore different conversations within earshot.

An unofficial mockup of High Fidelity’s early tests. Image Credits: DigitalGlobe (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

High Fidelity is currently using a satellite photo of Burning Man as its test map. It allows DJs to set up in different corners, and listeners to stroll between them or walk off with a friend to chat, similar to the real offline event. Since Burning Man was cancelled this year, High Fidelity could potentially be a candidate for holding the scheduled virtual version the organizers have promised.

Houseparty’s former CEO Ben Rubin and Skype GM of engineering Brian Meek are building a spontaneous teamwork tool called Slashtalk. Rubin sold Houseparty to Fortnite-maker Epic in mid-2019, but the gaming giant largely neglected the app until its recent quarantine-driven success. Rubin left.

His new startup’s site explains that “/talk is an anti-meeting tool for fast, decentralized conversations. We believe most meetings can be eliminated if the right people are connected at the right time to discuss the right topics, for just as long as necessary.” It lets people quickly jump into a voice or video chat to get something sorted without delaying until a calendared collab session.

Slashtalk co-founder Ben Rubin at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015

Whether for work or play, these spontaneous apps can conjure times from our more unstructured youth. Whether sifting through the cafeteria or school yard, seeing who else is at the mall, walking through halls of open doors in college dorms, or hanging at the student union or campus square, the pre-adult years offer many opportunities for impromptu social interation.

As we age and move into our separate homes, we literally erect walls that limit our ability to perceive the social cues that signal that someone’s available for unprompted communication. That’s spawned apps like Down To Lunch and Snapchat acquisition Zenly, and Facebook’s upcoming Messenger status feature designed to break through those barriers and make it feel less desperate to ask someone to hang out offline.

But while socializing or collaborating IRL requires transportation logistics and usually a plan, the new social apps discussed here bring us together instantly, thereby eliminating the need to schedule togetherness ahead of time. Gone too are the geographic limits restraining you to connect only with those within a reasonable commute. Digitally, you can pick from your whole network. And quarantines have further opened our options by emptying parts of our calendars.

Absent those frictions, what shines through is our intention. We can connect with who we want and accomplish what we want. Spontaneous apps open the channel so our impulsive human nature can shine through.

Stephen Colbert blasts Trump’s decision to defund WHO during coronavirus pandemic

Stephen Colbert blasts Trump's decision to defund WHO during coronavirus pandemic

“Folks, if you watch the show you know I criticise Donald Trump a lot,” said host Stephen Colbert during Wednesday’s episode of the Late Show. “But with this coronavirus gripping our nation it’s made me realise I don’t do it enough.”

President Donald Trump has been roundly condemned for his glacially slow response to the coronavirus crisis, which included him downplaying the threat a whole month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global emergency. It’s abundantly clear now that the situation was and is much, much worse than Trump insisted. 

Nevertheless, Trump has never one to accept fault. Instead, he has attempted to shift blame by accusing WHO of mismanaging the crisis — even going so far as to announce on Tuesday that the U.S. government is pulling funding from the organisation. Read more…

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India’s FarEye raises $25M to grow its logistics SaaS startup in international markets

More than 150 e-commerce and delivery companies globally use an Indian logistics startup’s service to work out the optimum way before they ship items to their customers. That startup, Noida-based FarEye, has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in international markets.

M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, led the seven-year-old startup’s Series D financing round. Eight Roads Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, and existing investor SAIF Partners participated in the round, which pushes FarEye’s total raise-to-date to $40 million.

FarEye helps companies orchestrate, track, and optimize their logistics operations. Say you order a pizza from Domino’s, the eatery uses FarEye’s service, which integrates into the system it is using, to quickly inform the customer how long they need to wait for the food to reach them.

Behind the scenes, FarEye is helping Domino’s evaluate a plethora of moving pieces. How many delivery people are in the vicinity? Can it bundle a few orders? What’s the maximum number of items one can carry? How experienced is the delivery person? What’s the best route to reach the customer? And, would the restaurant need the same number of delivery people the following day?, explained Kushal Nahata, co-founder and chief executive of FarEye, in an interview with TechCrunch .

Gautam Kumar (left), Gaurav Srivastava (centre), and Kushal Nahata co-founded FarEye in 2013

“The level of digitization that logistics firms have made over the years remains minimal. The amount of visibility they have over their own delivery network is minimal. Forget what a customer should expect,” said Nahata, explaining the challenges the industry faces.

FarEye is addressing this by using AI to parse through more than a billion data points to identify the optimum solution. In the past one year, it has fine-tuned its algorithm to handle last-mile and long-haul deliveries to offer a full-suite of services to its clients.

The startup, which employs about 350 people, said it is already handling more than 10 million transactions a day. The more transactions it processes, the better its algorithm becomes, he said.

FarEye today has clients across several categories including transportation and logistics, retail (which includes grocery, furniture, and fashion), and FMCG in 20 nations. Some of these clients include Walmart, FedEx, DHL, Amway, Domino’s, Bluedart, Future Group, and J&J. Nahata said the startup will use the fresh capital to improve its predictive tech and grow its footprint in the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific region.

“We are solving certain problems for our customers today, but I feel we can solve much larger problems and help digitize the entire supply chain network,” he said.

As the coronavirus pandemic jeopardises grocery and e-commerce firms’ ability to timely deliver items to customers, FarEye said it is making Serve, one of its services that focuses on enabling movement of everyday essentials, free for any firm to use for more than a year.

“The global pandemic has accelerated the need for enterprises to scale their supply chain operations efficiently to meet the rising share of online deliveries. FarEye’s highly configurable last-mile and long-haul logistics platform has been validated by leading global enterprises across the 3PL, retail and manufacturing categories,” said Shweta Bhatia, a partner at Eight Roads Ventures, in a statement.

FarEye has been making money since day one, but Nahata said an IPO is not something on the table for the foreseeable future. “Our biggest focus right now is to grow,” he said.

India’s lockdown is making life hard for its most popular apps

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced billions of people to stay home, has led to a surge in new downloads of several consumer and enterprise focused apps in the west. But in India, the biggest open market globally, things have taken a slightly different turn.

Daily downloads for several popular apps including TikTok, WhatsApp, Truecaller, Helo, Vmate, Facebook, Google Pay, and Paytm have either remained unchanged in the last three months or taken a dip, according to a TechCrunch analysis of figures provided by research firm Apptopia.

Additionally, several popular apps that offer in-app purchases have seen their revenue dramatically drop in the last four weeks as most companies in India recommended employees to work from home and New Delhi imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown — now extended to May 3.

TikTok was downloaded 20.2 million times in India in a 31-day period ending April 12, down from 21.6 million times it was downloaded in the month of January, for instance. During the same period, WhatsApp’s download plummeted to 12 million from 17 million; Hotstar fell from 9.8 million to 3 million; and ByteDance’s Helo dropped from 10.5 million to 7.5 million.

For most of February, TikTok saw more than 700,000 downloads a day in India, peaking at 891,000. In the last one week, volume of daily downloads of the app has fallen below 450,000. WhatsApp’s figure has dropped from about 650,000 to below 250,000, according to Apptopia .

Aarogya Setu, an app launched by the Indian government to help people know if they have been in the vicinity of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, is currently topping the chart in India with more than 780,000 downloads a day.

Tinder clocked $319,102 in in-app revenue on the App Store and Google Play Store in India between March 13 to April 12, down from $547,103 in January. Netflix’s in-app revenue fell from $285,562 to $192,154 during the same period. LinkedIn and YouTube also observed a decline.

One app that has seen its in-app revenue improve noticeably is Hotstar, which went from $173,253 to $329,675. Disney launched Disney+ atop Hotstar in India earlier this month.

Grocery delivery apps BigBasket, which raised $60 million last week, and Grofers have surged considerably, while Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal that have halted taking non-essential orders in recent weeks have seen a decline in volume of daily downloads and active users on Android in India, according to marketing research firm SimilarWeb.

Zoom, a popular video chat app, has seen its daily downloads surge to over 500,000 in recent weeks, up from about 9,000 in early February. Ludo King, a popular game in Asian markets, has seen its daily download figure jump from about 150,000 in early February to over 450,000 in India in recent days.

As people stay at home, desktop usage has also increased in India, a mobile-first nation with nearly half a billion smartphone users.

“India has consistently seen mobile web browsing account for the heavy majority compared to the desktop, however from February to March, desktop usage increased its share of total visits to the top 100 sites by 1.6%. While this may seem small, it is 1.6% of 31.32 billion visits, so it is still rather significant,” a SimilarWeb representative told TechCrunch.

What do we do with the positives?

Here come the blood tests, and it’s about time. Serosurveys, to determine what percentage of populations have already contracted COVID-19. And, individually, tests to indicate whether you, too, already caught it, but suffered only mild symptoms, or none at all.

In America alone, millions will soon be recovered from COVID-19 infection. Half the people I know, including myself, seem to have had Schrödinger’s Respiratory Infection in the last couple of months, and are beyond eager to know if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Even if they do, though — to be clear, most won’t — what then? Suppose antibodies indicate immunity, for a while at least. That seems somewhat likely, he said cautiously. Suppose the tests are accurate enough to rely on. What do we as a society then do with that information?

The immune — the positives — could return to relative normality with no immediate fear of further infection, while everyone else — the negatives — could not. Do we want to create a two-tier society like that? Do we want to make a point of replacing negatives with positives in high-risk contexts like nursing homes? Do we want people’s test status to be publicly known, or available upon demand by the government? How about their employer? How about their healthcare provider?

Most of these are hard questions with no easy answers, and while I, like you, have opinions, some strong, about which are the least bad options, I also think this is mostly a subject about which reasonable people can disagree. Still, no matter what our collective answers are, we can all agree we want them to be implemented in the most privacy-preserving way. That’s where technology comes in.

Lots of techies and trust-safety-privacy professionals are looking for some way to contribute to COVID response other than some silly hackathons.

I have an idea: let’s start thinking about a robust, counterfeit-resistant, privacy-preserving mechanism to prove immunity to nCoV.

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) March 30, 2020

It’s worth noting that proving immunity is far from a new problem. I’ve traveled to many countries which require proof of yellow-fever vaccination before they allow visitors to enter. Some even enforce it. The solution is venerable, simple, and decentralized; a slip of paper stamped, dated, and signed by a doctor.

This solution is relatively privacy-preserving — authorities can’t demand to see anyone’s yellow-fever papers at any given moment, because they’re only needed at border posts. It is very hard to verify, and relatively easy to forge … but it’s good enough to have worked. Its purpose is not to eliminate the risk of transmission with absolute 100% efficacy, but to reduce it to a manageable amount.

The same applies to COVID-19. As Harvard epidemiologists Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch wrote back in February, it’s important to “distinguish between whether something ever happens and whether it is happening at a frequency that matters.” We don’t have to worry about freakish edge cases. A 99% effective solution should be just fine.

So what would that solution be? Something simple, decentralized, reasonably effective, and privacy-preserving. Suppose that you go to your doctor’s office to get a test, and while you’re there, your picture is taken, and you choose a passcode. Then, along with your test result, you may receive some kind of wristband with a QR code. When your status needs to be verified, the QR code is scanned, you enter your passcode (or choose not to, or conveniently forget it), and then your headshot pops up, confirming your identity and status.

I’m not pretending this is any kind of perfect solution; real cryptographers will likely come up with something different and better. (In particular, to pseudonymize your individual test sample to the extent possible, and ensure that whoever hosts the central database, if any, cannot decipher the data therein.) This is to illustrate the key points that 1) only those you approve of can see your status, and 2) that status can be verified to ensure it’s actually yours, via some personal identifier like a headshot.

What do we then do with such a system? Well, after the curve flattens and recedes, perhaps we will consider reopening restaurants so long as every other table remains empty, and stores as long as only 1 (masked) customer is within for every 100 square feet of floor space. Alternatively, perhaps, restaurants and stores will also have the option of opening only to the positives — meaning with no internal restrictions, but COVID-19 positive status must be verified before allowing entry, in the same way that bars check your age before letting you enter.

Would those requirements be desirable? Again, that is eminently debatable. Would some people hack such a system in the same way that kids use fake IDs? Sure. Will this happen “at a frequency that matters?” That seems quite unlikely. In cases where it seems more likely, presumably more stringent rules can be applied.

The important thing to which technology can contribute is to make this all simple, straightforward, effective, and privacy-preserving, while consonant with our collective goals as a society. Regardless on what we agree on as those goals, if it turns out previous infection confers immunity, the positives will have a key part to play as we try to resume our lives — to the extent possible — in the ever-present shadow of the pandemic.

How Easter and Passover are going digital during the coronavirus outbreak

How Easter and Passover are going digital during the coronavirus outbreak

While many are modifying their family rituals for the springtime holidays Easter and Passover as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, it’s even more imperative this year that big religious institutions overhaul tradition.

From communal Jewish Passover seders (that’s the ceremonial meal to kick off the eight-day holiday) to Good Friday mass to Easter Sunday activities, coronavirus fears and social distancing requirements mean any large celebration better happen online

Churches, synagogues, and religious groups are getting creative. Especially since the pressure to maintain social distance is on, most notably after coronavirus infections were traced back to religious gatherings in South Korea and in Sacramento County in CaliforniaRead more…

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How to cope with the unique pain of synced menstrual cycles in quarantine

How to cope with the unique pain of synced menstrual cycles in quarantine

Quarantining during the coronavirus outbreak with my roommates was going well. I live with two friends from college, Madde and Nicole, and we planned out activities and shows to watch together.

Things in the outside world may have been very bad, but we did actually manage to make the best of the situation — until we all got our periods at the same time, and the energy in our apartment changed. 

Menstrual syncing is the idea that pheromones cause people who spend a lot of time together to get their periods at the same time. It’s a much-debated phenomenon, but there is no conclusive evidence to support it. Whatever the reason, my roommates and I have managed to get our cycles matched up, give or take a couple days. Read more…

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It’s ‘bullshit’ that VCs are open for business right now (but that could change in a month)

Earlier today, to get a sense of what’s happening in the land of venture capital, the law firm Fenwick & West hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with New York investors Hadley Harris, a founding general partner with Eniac Ventures; Brad Svrluga, a co-founder and general partner of Primary Ventures; and Ellie Wheeler, a partner with Greylock.

Each investor is experiencing the coronavirus-driven lockdown in unique ways, unsurprisingly. Their professional experiences are very much in sync, however, and founders should know the bottom line is that they aren’t making brand-new bets at this very moment.

On the personal front, Wheeler is expecting her first child. Harris is enjoying lunch with his wife every day. Svrluga said that he hasn’t had so many consecutive meals with his kids in more than a decade. (He described this as a treat.)

Professionally, things have been more of a struggle. First, all have been swamped in recent weeks, trying to assess which of their startups are the most at risk, which are worth salvaging and which may be encountering unexpected opportunity — and how to address each of these scenarios.

They are so busy, in fact, that none is writing checks right now to founders who might be trying to reach them for the first time. Indeed, Harris takes issue with investors who’ve said throughout this crisis that they are still very open to pitches. “I’ve seen a lot of VCs talking about being open for business, and I’ve been pretty outspoken on Twitter that I think that’s largely bullshit and sends the wrong message to entrepreneurs.

“We’re completely swamped right now in terms of bandwidth” because of the work required by existing portfolio companies. Bandwidth, he added, “is our biggest constraint, not money.”

What happens when bandwidth is no longer such an issue? It’s worth noting that none thinks that meeting founders exclusively remotely is natural or normal or conducive to deal-making — not at their firms, in any case.

Wheeler noted that while “some accelerators and seed funds that are prolific have been doing this in some way, shape or form for a bit,” for “a lot of firms,” it’s just awkward to contemplate funding someone they have never met in person.

“The first part of the diligence process is the same, that’s not hard,” said Wheeler. “It’s meeting the team, visiting [the startup’s workspace], meeting our team. How do you do that [online]?” she asked. “How do you mimic what you pick up from spending time together [both] casually and formally? I don’t think people have figured that out,” she said, adding, “The longer this goes on, we’ll have to.”

As for what to pitch them anyway, each is far less interested in sectors that aren’t highly relevant to this new world. Harris said, for example, that now is not the time to float your new idea for a brick-and-mortar business. Wheeler separately observed that many people have discovered in recent weeks that “distributed teams and remote work are actually more viable and sustainable than people thought they were,” suggesting that related software is of continued interest to Greylock.

Svrluga said Primary Ventures is paying attention to software that enables more seamless remote work, too.  Telecommuting “has been a culture-positive event for the 18 people at my firm,” he said.

Naturally, the three were asked — by Fenwick attorney Evan Bienstock, who moderated the discussion — about downsizing, which each had noted was a nearly inescapable part of lengthening a startup’s runway right now. (“It sucks,” said Svrluga. “People are losing their jobs. But to continue to run teams with the same organizational structure as 60 days ago, [which was] the most favorable environment for building industries, you can’t do it.”)

Their uniform advice for management teams that have to cut is to cut deeply to prevent from having to do it a second time.

Though no one wants to part ways with the people who they’ve brought aboard, “no CEO has ever told me, ‘Dammit, we cut too far,’ ” said Svrluga, who has been through two downturns in his career. In contrast, “at least 30%” of the CEOs he has known admitted to not going far enough to insulate their business while also keeping its culture intact.

The “second cut hurts way more,” added Wheeler. “It’s the second [layoff] that really throws people.”

If you’re wondering what’s next, the VCs all said that they’ll be receptive to new ideas after working through layoffs and burn rates and projected runways, along with the new stimulus package that they’re trying to find a way to make work for their startups.

As for how soon that might be, Wheeler and Svrluga suggested the world might look less upside down in a month. They proposed that four or so more weeks should also give founders more needed time to adjust some of their expectations.

Harris seemed to agree. “It will probably be a gradual thing . . . I’m not sure what next week holds, but feel free to ping me in a month and I’ll let [founders] know if I think it’s opening up.”

Samsung is donating 2,000 glove-friendly phones to NHS workers

Samsung is donating 2,000 glove-friendly phones to NHS workers

Samsung announced today that it will donate 2,000 devices to the U.K. National Health Service’s Nightingale Hospitals, as well as provide them with UV phone sanitising machines. With the coronavirus pandemic currently stretching healthcare systems to their limits, hospital staff could use all the help they can get.

“Healthcare workers are working tirelessly to protect our nation at its time of greatest need,” said a Samsung U.Kpress release. “This is why we have developed a series of measures to ensure these individuals are able to defy the barriers they are faced with, day in and day out.”

The BBC reports the devices Samsung is providing are Galaxy XCover 4s phones, designed to be robust and capable of being operated while using gloves. Staff will be able to sterilise them as well, with Samsung installing at least 35 UV phone sanitising machines in the hospitals. Read more…

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Twitter’s quarantine house meme is full of terrible roommates and hard choices

Twitter's quarantine house meme is full of terrible roommates and hard choices

The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to hole up at home for weeks now, and cabin fever is sweeping the globe. Millions are climbing the walls, wistfully reminiscing about last year and wishing they were anywhere but where they are.

Being confined to your home for weeks on end tends to do a number on your mental health. However, a new Twitter meme reminds us that, for those whose homes are otherwise safe and comfortable, it could be much, much worse.

Twitter users have been compiling lists of (usually terrible) housemates, and asking each other to choose which group they would socially distance with if forced. It’s like 2019’s cafeteria meme, only instead of sitting with them for an hour you’re stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Read more…

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Apple has sourced over 20 million protective masks, now building and shipping face shields

As it mobilizes its supply chain, employees, and partners to provide personal protective equipment to medical workers and others working to stop the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, Apple has sourced over 20 million face masks and is now building and shipping face shields, according to a statement from chief executive Tim Cook.

Apple is dedicated to supporting the worldwide response to COVID-19. We’ve now sourced over 20M masks through our supply chain. Our design, engineering, operations and packaging teams are also working with suppliers to design, produce and ship face shields for medical workers. pic.twitter.com/3xRqNgMThX

Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 5, 2020

The company is working with governments around the world to distribute its supply of face masks to where it’s needed most.

Meanwhile, the first delivery of the company’s Apple face shields went out to Kaiser hospital facilities in the Santa Clara valley earlier this week, according to Cook.

As Cook noted, the masks pack flat and ship 100 to a box. They can be assembled in less than two minutes and are fully adjustable. Cook said that the company would ship 1 million by the end of the week and will expect to ship an additional 1 million face shields weekly, with a goal to expand distribution beyond the U.S. 

“For Apple this is a labor of love and gratitude and we will share more of our efforts over time,” Cook said. 

Apple is joining an effort that several 3D printing startups and maker facilities have already spent time working on.

In Canada, INKSmith, a startup that was making design and tech tools accessible for kids, has now moved to making face shields and is hiring up to 100 new employees to meet demand.

“I think in the short term, we’re going to scale up to meet the needs of the province soon. After that, we’re going to meet the demands of Canada,” INKSmith CEO Jeremy Hedges told the Canadian news outlet Global News.

3D-printing companies like Massachusetts-based Markforged and Formlabs and Brooklyn’s Voodoo Manufacturing are all making personal protective equipment like face shields in the US.

Shocking unemployment graph and GameCube’s intro music fit together perfectly

Shocking unemployment graph and GameCube's intro music fit together perfectly

A graph tracking unemployment in the United States somehow works with the iconic GameCube intro music. And seems to highlight our current state of dread with a surreal flair.

Last week, 6.6 million Americans, a 3000 percent increase, filed for unemployment as the coronavirus pandemic continued to devastate the economy. On Thursday, evolutionary anthropologist Dorsa Amir tweeted an animated graph that shows the massive jump alongside data from 1965 to earlier in the year. She also posted it on a data appreciation subreddit

“We’re dealing with truly staggering numbers here,” Amir tweeted, emphasizing the jaw-dropping increase in unemployment so far.  Read more…

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Zoom admits some calls were routed through China by mistake

Hours after security researchers at Citizen Lab reported that some Zoom calls were routed through China, the video conferencing platform has offered an apology and a partial explanation.

To recap, Zoom has faced a barrage of headlines this week over its security policies and privacy practices, as hundreds of millions forced to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic still need to communicate with each other.

The latest findings landed earlier today when Citizen Lab researchers said that some calls made in North America were routed through China — as were the encryption keys used to secure those calls. But as was noted this week, Zoom isn’t end-to-end encrypted at all, despite the company’s earlier claims, meaning that Zoom controls the encryption keys and can therefore access the contents of its customers’ calls. Zoom said in an earlier blog post that it has “implemented robust and validated internal controls to prevent unauthorized access to any content that users share during meetings.” The same can’t be said for Chinese authorities, however, which could demand Zoom turn over any encryption keys on its servers in China to facilitate decryption of the contents of encrypted calls.

Zoom now says that during its efforts to ramp up its server capacity to accommodate the massive influx of users over the past few weeks, it “mistakenly” allowed two of its Chinese data centers to accept calls as a backup in the event of network congestion.

From Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan:

During normal operations, Zoom clients attempt to connect to a series of primary datacenters in or near a user’s region, and if those multiple connection attempts fail due to network congestion or other issues, clients will reach out to two secondary datacenters off of a list of several secondary datacenters as a potential backup bridge to the Zoom platform. In all instances, Zoom clients are provided with a list of datacenters appropriate to their region. This system is critical to Zoom’s trademark reliability, particularly during times of massive internet stress.”

In other words, North American calls are supposed to stay in North America, just as European calls are supposed to stay in Europe. This is what Zoom calls its data center “geofencing.” But when traffic spikes, the network shifts traffic to the nearest data center with the most available capacity.

China, however, is supposed to be an exception, largely due to privacy concerns among Western companies. But China’s own laws and regulations mandate that companies operating on the mainland must keep citizens’ data within its borders.

Zoom said in February that “rapidly added capacity” to its Chinese regions to handle demand was also put on an international whitelist of backup data centers, which meant non-Chinese users were in some cases connected to Chinese servers when data centers in other regions were unavailable.

Zoom said this happened in “extremely limited circumstances.” When reached, a Zoom spokesperson did not quantify the number of users affected.

Zoom said that it has now reversed that incorrect whitelisting. The company also said users on the company’s dedicated government plan were not affected by the accidental rerouting.

But some questions remain. The blog post only briefly addresses its encryption design. Citizen Lab criticized the company for “rolling its own” encryption — otherwise known as building its own encryption scheme. Experts have long rejected efforts by companies to build their own encryption, because it doesn’t undergo the same scrutiny and peer review as the decades-old encryption standards we all use today.

Zoom said in its defense that it can “do better” on its encryption scheme, which it says covers a “large range of use cases.” Zoom also said it was consulting with outside experts, but when asked, a spokesperson declined to name any.

Bill Marczak, one of the Citizen Lab researchers that authored today’s report, told TechCrunch he was “cautiously optimistic” about Zoom’s response.

“The bigger issue here is that Zoom has apparently written their own scheme for encrypting and securing calls,” he said, and that “there are Zoom servers in Beijing that have access to the meeting encryption keys.”

“If you’re a well-resourced entity, obtaining a copy of the internet traffic containing some particularly high-value encrypted Zoom call is perhaps not that hard,” said Marcak.

“The huge shift to platforms like Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic makes platforms like Zoom attractive targets for many different types of intelligence agencies, not just China,” he said. “Fortunately, the company has (so far) hit all the right notes in responding to this new wave of scrutiny from security researchers, and have committed themselves to make improvements in their app.”

Zoom’s blog post gets points for transparency. But the company is still facing pressure from New York’s attorney general and from two class-action lawsuits. Just today, several lawmakers demanded to know what it’s doing to protect users’ privacy.

Will Zoom’s mea culpas be enough?

Seth Meyers mocks Trump’s plan to slow coronavirus with scarves

Seth Meyers mocks Trump's plan to slow coronavirus with scarves

This week the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed toward one million, with the U.S. accounting for the highest number of infections in the world. As Late Night host Seth Meyers noted on Thursday, other countries such as Taiwan and South Korea have been much more successful at slowing the spread, their governments executing quick and decisive plans to minimise infections. 

Meanwhile, U.S. president Donald Trump recommended people use scarves as makeshift masks on Tuesday. 

“Oh great, so now the president is Martha Stewart,” quipped Meyers, recording from the confines of his home. “‘Using a blanket, a bike helmet, and some Saran Wrap, you can make your own hazmat suit, homemade. Pretty great.'” Read more…

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‘Stay the f**k at home’: Samuel L. Jackson reads you a sweary, poetic social distancing PSA

'Stay the f**k at home': Samuel L. Jackson reads you a sweary, poetic social distancing PSA

Almost a decade ago, Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of bedtime poem “Go the Fuck to Sleep” captivated the internet. Now the actor has returned to spoken word, presenting author Adam Mansbach’s timely new adaptation of the classic: “Stay the Fuck at Home.”

“The ‘rona is spreading, this shit is no joke — it’s no time to work or roam,” read Jackson, delivering the important PSA on a video call with Jimmy Kimmel. “The way you can fight it is simple, my friends: stay the fuck at home.” 

Jackson has taken his own advice and is social distancing in his own home with his wife and daughter. He also encouraged people to donate to Feeding America, a charity that works to relieve hunger in the U.S. Read more…

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Investors tell Indian startups to ‘prepare for the worst’ as Covid-19 uncertainty continues

Just three months after capping what was the best year for Indian startups, having raised a record $14.5 billion in 2019, they are beginning to struggle to raise new capital as prominent investors urge them to “prepare for the worst”, cut spending and warn that it could be challenging to secure additional money for the next few months.

In an open letter to startup founders in India, ten global and local private equity and venture capitalist firms including Accel, Lightspeed, Sequoia Capital, and Matrix Partners cautioned that the current changes to the macro environment could make it difficult for a startup to close their next fundraising deal.

The firms, which included Kalaari Capital, SAIF Partners, and Nexus Venture Partners — some of the prominent names in India to back early-stage startups — asked founders to be prepared to not see their startups’ jump in the coming rounds and have a 12-18 month runway with what they raise.

“Assumptions from bull market financings or even from a few weeks ago do not apply. Many investors will move away from thinking about ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘reasonable growth with a path to profitability.’ Adjust your business plan and messaging accordingly,” they added.

Signs are beginning to emerge that investors are losing appetite to invest in the current scenario.

Indian startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, research firm Tracxn told TechCrunch. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

New Delhi ordered a complete nation-wide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people for three weeks earlier this month in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown, as you can imagine, has severely disrupted businesses of many startups, several founders told TechCrunch.

Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce, said he is prepared for a 90-day slowdown in the business.

Founder of a Bangalore-based startup, which was in advanced stages to raise more than $100 million, said investors have called off the deal for now. He requested anonymity.

Food delivery firm Zomato, which raised $150 million in January, said it would secure an additional $450 million by the end of the month. Two months later, that money is yet to arrive.

Many startups are already beginning to cut salaries of their employees and let go of some people to survive an environment that aforementioned VC firms have described as “uncharted territory.”

Travel and hotel booking service Ixigo said it had cut the pay of its top management team by 60% and rest of the employees by up to 30%. MakeMyTrip, the giant in this category, also cut salaries of its top management team.

Beauty products and cosmetics retailer Nykaa on Tuesday suspended operations and informed its partners that it would not be able to pay their dues on time.

Investors cautioned startup founders to not take a “wait and watch” approach and assume that there will be a delay in their “receivables,” customers would likely ask for price cuts for services, and contracts would not close at the last minute.

“Through the lockdown most businesses could see revenues going down to almost zero and even post that the recovery curve may be a ‘U’ shaped one vs a ‘V’ shaped one,” they said.

Twitter removes Giuliani tweet pushing misinformation about coronavirus

Twitter removes Giuliani tweet pushing misinformation about coronavirus

Twitter removed a tweet from Rudy Giuliani on Friday that contained several pieces of misinformation related to coronavirus.

The tweet, which quoted another tweet from right-wing personality Charlie Kirk, falsely claimed that the drug hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat lupus, arthritis, and malaria, has “a 100% effective rate treating COVID-19.” This is not true: Despite Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for the drug, there is still only anecdotal evidence that it can effectively treat coronavirus.

The tweet also alleged that Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer is “the latest Democrat to ban doctors from prescribing the lifesaving drugs hydroxychloroquine and Z-Paks to save senior citizens in the state.” (Trump has specifically touted the combination of hydroxychloroquine and axythromycin — which is sold as Zithromax, or a Z-Pak — as a treatment; again, there is not clinical evidence to support his excitement.) Read more…

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A new FDA-authorized COVID-19 test doesn’t need a lab and can produce results in just 5 minutes

There’s a new COVID-19 test from healthcare technology maker Abbott that looks to be the fastest yet in terms of producing results, and that can do so on the spot right at point-of-care, without requiring a round trip to a lab. This test for the novel coronavirus causing the current global pandemic has received emergency clearance for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will begin production next week, with output of 50,000 per day possible starting next week.

The new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test uses the Abbott ID NOW diagnostics platform, which is essentially a lab-in-a-box that is roughly the size of a small kitchen appliance. It’s size, and the fact that it can produce either a positive result in just five minutes, or a negative one in under 15, mean that it could be a very useful means to extend coronavirus testing beyond its current availability to more places including clinics and doctor’s offices, and cut down on wait times both in terms of getting tested and receiving a diagnosis.

Unlike the rapid tests that have been used in other countries, and that received a new type of authorization under an FDA guideline that doesn’t confirm the accuracy fo the results, this rapid testing solution uses the molecular testing method, which works with saliva and mucus samples swabbed from a patient. This means that it works by identifying a portion of the virus’ DNA in a patient, which means it’s much better at detecting the actual presence of the virus during infection, whereas other tests that search the blood for antibodies that are used in point-of-care settings can only detect antibodies, which might be present in recovered patients who don’t actively have the virus.

The good news for availability of this test is that ID NOW, the hardware from Abbott that it runs on, already “holds the largest molecular point-of-care footprint in the U.S.,” and is “widely available” across doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and other medical facilities.

In total, Abbott now says that it believes it will produce 5 million tests in April, split between these new rapid tests and the lab tests that it received emergency use authorization for by the FDA on March 18.

Testing has been one of the early problems faced by the U.S. in terms of getting a handle on the coronavirus pandemic: The country has lagged behind other nations globally in terms of per capita tests conducted, which experts say has hampered its ability to properly track and trace the spread of the virus and its resulting respiratory disease. Patients have reported having to go to extreme lengths to receive a test, and endure long waits for results, even in cases where exposure was likely and their symptoms match the COVID-19 profile.

Joe Biden joins Jimmy Kimmel to talk cooking, coronavirus, and calling out Trump

Joe Biden joins Jimmy Kimmel to talk cooking, coronavirus, and calling out Trump

“With all that’s been going on over the past couple of weeks virus-wise, I feel like we’ve almost forgotten about the presidential election,” said Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday. All elections are important, but the coronavirus pandemic and a severely divisive U.S. president have raised the stakes particularly high this year.

As such, Democratic candidate Joe Biden joined Kimmel via video call to discuss his campaign, how he’s social distancing, and Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t quite understand the lack of willingness to move rapidly and to let science dictate,” said Biden, referring to Trump’s slow reaction to the pandemic. Read more…

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‘This is sociopathic’: Seth Meyers blasts Trump’s plan to end coronavirus lockdown by Easter

'This is sociopathic': Seth Meyers blasts Trump's plan to end coronavirus lockdown by Easter

The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep countries in lockdown, with over 400,000 confirmed cases around the globe. Medical experts are warning that social distancing is pivotal to slowing the spread of the virus, which would put less strain on overburdened medical systems and save more lives. 

Of course, U.S. president Donald Trump has a much different view of the matter, aiming to send everyone back to work in time for Easter — less than three weeks away.

“It’s like those stories you hear about a small town that elects a dog as mayor every year,” quipped Late Night host Seth Meyers, taking one of this trademark Closer Looks (from home) about how utterly ill-equipped Trump is to handle this health crisis. “Sure, you know, it might seem like fun at the time. Dog mayor. But what happens when there’s a thunderstorm and you need the mayor to coordinate disaster relief, but he won’t come out from underneath the couch?” Read more…

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Fox Sports to broadcast the full season of NASCAR’s virtual race series

Esports racing, helped by record-setting viewership, is hitting the big time.

Fox Sports said Tuesday it will broadcast the rest of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series, following Sunday’s virtual race that was watched by 903,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

While those numbers are far below the millions of viewers who watch NASCAR’s official races — the last one at Phoenix Raceway reached 4.6 million — it still hit a number of firsts that Fox Sports found notable enough to commit to broadcasting the virtual racing series for the remainder of the season, beginning March 29.

The races will be simulcast on the FOX broadcast network, Fox Sports iRacing and the FOX Sports app. Races will be available in Canada through FOX Sports Racing.

Virtual racing, which lets competitors race using a system that includes a computer, steering wheel and pedals, has been around for years. But it’s garnered more attention as the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has prompted sports organizers to cancel or postpone live events, including the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, NBA, NHL and MLB seasons as well as Formula 1 and NASCAR racing series.

Classic. @JimmieJohnson checks in live with @JeffGordonWeb during the #ProInvitationalSeries and says he needs to “learn different cars” for his 2021 schedule. 👀

(And Jeff helps him notice a bit of damage 😂) pic.twitter.com/5gFgl1f0e3

— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020

NASCAR ran its first virtual race in the series on Sunday in lieu of its planned race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was canceled due to COVID-19. Not only was it the most watched esports event in U.S. television history, it was Sunday’s most-watched sports telecast on cable television that day.

50 seconds of #ProInvitationalSeries virtual engines. CRANK IT UP! pic.twitter.com/wyG1JhFkPQ

— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 22, 2020

“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way,” Brad Zager, FOX Sports executive producer said in a statement. “We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”

Granted, there aren’t any live sports to watch in this COVID-19 era. Still, it bodes well for the future of esports, perhaps even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“The response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible,” said four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who is announcer for Fox NASCAR. “We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of ‘normalcy’ back to the weekend, and I can’t wait to call the action Sunday at Texas.”

You can see what the virtual racing looks like here in this clip from Fox Sports.

NASCAR isn’t the only racing series to turn to esports. Formula 1 announced last week that it would host an esports series, the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, with a number of current F1 drivers alongside a number of other stars.

The virtual Formula 1 races will use Codemaster’s official Formula 1 2019 PC game and fans can follow along on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, as well as on F1.com. The races will be about half as long as regular races, with 28 laps. The first race took place March 22. The first-ever virtual round of the Nürburgring Endurance Series kicked off on March 21.

Seth Meyers blasts beachgoers, Trump, and Rand Paul for not taking coronavirus seriously

Seth Meyers blasts beachgoers, Trump, and Rand Paul for not taking coronavirus seriously

The stock market is plummeting, the coronavirus infection rate is soaring, and countries all over the world are going into lockdown. Still, some younger people continue to go out, apparently under the impression that they can’t contract the virus.

As Late Night host Seth Meyers noted from home, President Trump’s failure to take the crisis seriously for weeks now has only contributed to a dangerous lack of urgency. The lack of social distancing even prompted New York governor Andrew Cuomo to issue a stern, all-caps warning on Saturday: “YOU ARE WRONG.”

“That is serious big dad energy,” said Meyers. “‘You are wrong. Now go to your room for two months. Think about what you did. Better hear you washing your hands in there.'” Read more…

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Too-real video captures the awkwardness of all your glitchy FaceTime calls

Too-real video captures the awkwardness of all your glitchy FaceTime calls

As more countries go into lockdown due to the coronavirus, people are substituting video calls for face-to-face human interaction in an attempt to maintain both social distancing and their sanity. Unfortunately, video calling is a laggy, pixellated mess even at the best of times — and these are definitely not the best of times, what with everyone stuck bingeing Netflix indefinitely.

Dealing with the problems of these dystopian times, comedians Eva Victor and Alyssa Limperis have released a short clip demonstrating the irritating struggles of chatting on a video call, complete with cut-off sentences and misheard words.  Read more…

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Jumia adapts Pan-African e-commerce network in response to COVID-19

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia is adapting its digital retail network to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — announced a series of measures on Friday. Jumia will donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.

The company has offered African governments use of of its last mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers. Jumia will also reduce fees on its JumiaPay finance product to encourage digital payments over cash, which can be a conduit for the spread of coronavirus.

Governments in Jumia’s operating countries have started to engage the private sector on a possible COVID-19 outbreak on the continent, according to Jumia CEO Sacha Poignonnec .

“I don’t have a crystal ball and no one knows what’s gonna happen,” he told TechCrunch on a call. But in the event the virus spreads rapidly on the continent, Jumia is reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” Poignonnec said.

Africa’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits until recently, but those numbers spiked last week leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm. “About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

By the World Health Organization’s latest stats Monday there were 1321 COVID-19 cases in Africa and 34 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.

Dr. Moeti noted that many socioeconomic factors in Africa — from housing to access to running water — make common measures to curb COVID-19, such as social-distancing or frequent hand washing, challenging. She went on to explain that the World Health Organization is looking for solutions that are adoptable to Africa’s circumstances, including working with partners and governments to get sanitizing materials to hospitals and families.

As coronavirus cases and related deaths grow, governments in Africa are responding. South Africa, which has the second highest COVID-19 numbers on the continent, declared a national disaster last week, banned public gatherings and announced travel restrictions on the U.S.

Kenya has imposed its own travel and crowd restrictions and the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta urged citizens and businesses to opt for digital-payments as a safer means for transactions.

Across Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has seen significant growth in startups and now receives $2 billion in VC annually — a number of actors are stepping up.

Jumia Nigeria Fleet

Image Credit: Jumia

In addition to offering its logistics and supply-chain network, Jumia is collaborating with health ministries in several countries to use its website and mobile platforms to share COVID-19 related public service messages.

Heeding President Kenyatta’s call, last week Kenya’s largest telecom Safaricom waived fees on its M-Pesa mobile-money product (with over 20 million users) to increase digital payments use and lower the risk of spreading the COVID-19 through handling of cash.

Africa’s largest innovation incubator CcHub announced funding and a call for tech projects aimed at reducing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.

A looming question for Africa’s tech scene is how startups in major markets such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa will weather major drops in revenue that could occur from a wider coronavirus outbreak.

Jumia is well capitalized, after going public in a 2019 IPO on the New York stock exchange, but still has losses exceeding its 2019 revenue of €160 million.

On managing business through a possible COVID-19 Africa downturn, “We’re very long-term oriented so it’s about doing what’s right with the governments and thinking about how we can help,” said Jumia’s CEO Sacha Poignonnec.

“Revenue wise, it’s really to early to tell. We do believe that e-commerce in Africa is a trend that goes beyond this particular situation.”

NYC issues iconic guide to banging during coronavirus

NYC issues iconic guide to banging during coronavirus

It’s reasonable to assume that the spread of coronavirus is likely causing a spike in horniness (just look at all these free sex toy offers). We’re scared. We’re trapped inside. We’re lonely. We miss human touch. We need sweet, sexual release.

So in an act of true due diligence, the New York City government released a guide to fucking during the pandemic. And it comes bearing some truly iconic lines, while also delivering extremely pertinent safety information. 

Shortly after it caught the attention of Twitter, though, the guidelines were removed from the government’s website. At the time, NYC Department of Health Press Secretary Patrick Gallahue offered only that, “Our guidance is updated regularly and we are working on having it back up soon.” As of 5:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, the document had returned, unchanged. Read more…

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Apple TV+ joins Netflix in reducing European streaming quality

Apple TV+ joins Netflix in reducing European streaming quality

Europeans quarantined at home will be riding out the coronavirus pandemic in low-res.

Apple TV+ has joined the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming giants this week in downgrading streaming video quality across the continent in an apparent effort to reduce strain on the internet. 

We reached out to Apple, which confirmed the move, in an attempt to determine when the decision was made, how long it will last, which specific countries or regions are affected, and how degraded the streaming quality is. The company did not respond to any of our specific questions. 

9to5Mac reported that European customers are seeing resolutions “as low as 670 pixels tall” — a far cry from the service’s oft-touted 4K. Mashable is unable to independently confirm 9to5Mac’s reporting, however, there are Twitter accounts echoing the low-resolution claims.  Read more…

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Jimmy Kimmel and Julia Louis-Dreyfus share coronavirus cabin fever tips

Jimmy Kimmel and Julia Louis-Dreyfus share coronavirus cabin fever tips

“Thank you for joining me during corona-geddon,” Jimmy Kimmel quipped from his coronavirus-induced home isolation on Thursday. “This is day, what, 75?”

Millions of people worldwide are cooped up inside in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and people are already going a bit stir-crazy. In Kimmel’s case, this has translated to baking bread and committing to dressing up for #FormalFriday tomorrow. Unfortunately, as Kimmel notes, the U.S. government has said this situation could last over 18 months.

“I am not sure how many rolls of toilet paper that is, but I know I don’t have them,” said Kimmel. “Eighteen months of quarantine means we are about to see a lot of our friends’ real hair color.” Read more…

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Facebook’s $1,000 bonus only applies to full-time employees working from home, not contractors

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an internal memo earlier this week that the company will give employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic a $1,000 cash bonus. But, as the Intercept first reported, contractors will not receive the bonus.

When TechCrunch asked Facebook why contractors won’t get the bonus, a company spokesperson sent us a statement similar to the one it gave the Intercept, saying that “The $1,000 is for full-time employees who are working from home. For contract workers, we are sending them home and paying them in full even if they are unable to work, which is much more meaningful than a one off payment.”

The BBC reported earlier today that Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters that contract workers will also get their full salaries even if they are unable to complete all their usual tasks. But Joe Rivano Barros of the Worker Agency, which coordinates campaigns for advocacy groups like Gig Workers Rise and RAICES Texas, told the publication, “it’s great that they are letting them work from home, but it seems like the bare minimum Facebook could do.”

Facebook has an estimated 15,000 content moderators, working through third-party contractors. In the call covered by the BBC, Zuckerberg said that Facebook full-time employees will take over decisions about sensitive topics, including self-harm and suicide, in part to reduce the mental health impact of viewing such content on contractors, and added he was “personally quite worried that the isolation from people being at home could potentially lead to more depression or mental health issues, and I want to make sure that we are ahead of that supporting our community.”

A portion of Facebook’s content moderation is also performed by algorithms, though the shortcomings of its filters was highlighted this week when a bug blocked sharing of coronavirus-related content on the platform, even from legitimate new sources (posts were later restored). Human workers are still essential to Facebook’s content moderation system.

The impact of screening content, including violent or disturbing material, on human moderators was brought to attention last year after a major report from The Verge in February 2019 about the mental health toll experienced by many contractors. Afterward, Zuckerberg said the company would commit to paying all Facebook contractors in the U.S. “a wage that’s more reflective of the local costs of living. And for those who review content on our site to make sure it follows our community standards, we’re going even further. We’re going to provide them a higher base wage, additional benefits, and more supportive programs given the nature of their jobs.”

As part of its COVID-19 response, Facebook also said that it will pay contingent workers who cannot work as offices close because people have been ordered to work from home, following similar measures from Microsoft and other companies.

But as TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber and Alex Wilhelm noted, many tech companies have created a “dual-class worker system in recent years, keeping their more technical and product-oriented staff as full-time workers for the main company, while exporting elements of labor to third-party companies… Moving to comp more, or all workers, is not only good PR, though it is also that, it’s simply good ethics.”

It’s not just you: A Facebook glitch marked authentic coronavirus news as spam

It’s not just you: A Facebook glitch marked authentic coronavirus news as spam

Social platforms and big tech companies have stepped up amid the coronavirus pandemic, moving aggressively to try and combat misinformation and put expert, reliable sources front and center for users. And people have been using Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and various other platforms to share community information, offer help, and shame their peers and parents into social distancing.

But over the past day or so, there was an unexplained spike in removals and flagging of posts relating to the coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. Users on Facebook and Twitter reported that innocuous, informative, or authentic news posts about the outbreak were being flagged as spam or removed. Read more…

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UNESCO updates distance-learning guide for the 776.7 million children worldwide affected by school closures

As schools around the world close or move classes online to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many parents and educators are scrambling for ideas. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has assembled an online guide with links to distance learning apps and other resources.

According to UNESCO, “an unprecedented number of children, youth and adults are not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19,” with governments in 100 countries having announced or implemented closures. In 85 countries, schools nationwide have been closed, affecting more than 776.7 million children.

In addition to a list of national learning portals, UNESCO is also updating a list of digital education tools, including digital learning management systems like ClassDojo and Google Classroom; apps designed for smart featurephones like KaiOS; and software with a strong offline component, including Can’t Wait to Learn, Kolibri, Rumie and Ustad Mobile.

The list also covers MOOCs, self-directed learning platforms, mobile reading apps, educational software development tools and live-video platforms like Dingtalk, Hangouts Meet and Zoom.

Workers at America’s largest companies are not covered under coronavirus aid package

Workers at America’s largest companies are not covered under a bill passed by the House of Representatives on Friday that is supposed to support American workers impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The bill still has to be voted on by the Senate and approved before it can be signed into law, but its structure leaves a gaping hole in the prevention strategy the government has said is necessary to reduce the COVID-19 outbreak in the US.

“No American worker should worry about missing a paycheck if they’re feeling ill,” said Vice President Mike Pence at the Sunday press briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force. “If you’re sick with a respiratory illness stay home.”

However, millions of Americans potentially don’t have the ability to make that choice under the congressional aid package touted by both Democrats and Republicans. By excluding companies with more than 500 employees from the Congressional aid, the health and welfare of millions of Americans in industries providing goods, manufacturing, and vital services to most of the country is being left up to the discretion of their employers.

Details of the legislative compromise were first reported by The New York Times yesterday. And chart published by The New York Times illustrated just how many companies didn’t have paid sick leave policies in place as the coronavirus began to spread in the US (companies have changed policies to respond to the coronavirus).

Image courtesy of The New York Times

Big technology companies took the lead early this month in changing policies for their workers and by the end of last week many of the country’s largest employers had followed suit. But it looks like their work won’t be covered under the government’s current plan — and that any measures to extend sick leave and paid time off will be limited to a response to the current outbreak.

These large employers have already responded by closing stores or reducing hours in areas where most cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed — and companies operating in most of those states are required by law to offer paid leave to their hourly employees and contractors.

Companies who have responded to the outbreak by changing their time-off and sick leave policies include Walmart, Target, Darden Restaurants (the owner of the Olive Garden restaurant chain), Starbucks, Lowes, and KFC, have joined tech companies and gig economy businesses like Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instacart, Microsoft, Postmates, Salesforce, and Uber in offering extended leave benefits to employees affected by the coronavirus.

These kinds of guarantees can go a long way to ensuring that hourly workers in the country don’t have to choose between their health and their employment. The inability to pass a law that would cover all workers puts everyone at risk.

Without government stepping in, industries are crafting their own responses. Late Sunday, automakers including GM, Ford, and FiatChrysler joined the United Auto Workers union in announcing the creation of a coronavirus task force to coordinate an industrywide response for the automotive sector.

As the Pew Research Center noted last week, the bill proposed by House Democrats had initially proposed temporary federal sick leave covering workers with COVID-19 or caring for family members with two-thirds of their wages for up to three months; expiring in January 2021. The measure would have also guaranteed private employers give workers seven days of paid sick leave with another 14 days available immediately in the event of future public health emergencies.

Most workers have less than nine days of sick leave covered under current state legislation. There is no national mandate for paid sick leave. After one year on the job, 22 percent of workers have access to less than five days, while another 46 percent of employees can get five-to-nine days of paid sick leave. Only 38 percent of workers have between ten and fourteen days of leave.

The Pew Research Center also reported that the lack of access to paid sick leave increases as wages decline. Over 90 percent of workers receiving hourly rages over $32.21 have some form of paid sick leave. Only about 50 percent of workers who make $13.80 or less have access to some form of paid sick leave. For Americans who make under $10.80 an hour, only about 30 percent receive any sick leave.

How big tech is taking on COVID-19

Over the past week, one thing has become painfully clear for U.S. residents: COVID-19 is going to permeate every aspect of our lives for a long time to come. Those of us in and around tech have been noticing this for months now. First through the impact on our friends and colleagues in Asia, who have been facing fallout from the pandemic head-on for some time, and then through the domino effect on tech conferences.

First there was MWC, then Facebook’s F8, E3, WWDC. The list goes on and on. Yesterday, TechCrunch announced that we would be postponing a pair of our own events. It was the right thing to do, and increasingly not really a choice, to be honest, as more and more cities have banned large gatherings.

Tech has been keenly aware of COVID-19’s impact for a while now because being a tech company is being a global company almost by default. Now, however, the virus’s threat has come to nearly everyone’s back door. If you don’t yet know someone who has been infected with the virus, odds are good you will soon. This is our reality, for now, at least.

If there’s hope to be mustered from this event, it’s in the prospect of people helping people. Coming together, separately, at a safe social distance. The response of the current administration leaves much to be desired at the moment. As yesterday’s press conference involved praise of the “private sector” and a parade of high profile executives, the reality is that many of us may have to rely on corporates and execs to help fill in the gaps of gutted government departments.

There will be plenty of time to call out the inevitable opportunism of corporate America (and it looks like I’m going to have a lot more free time on my hands in the coming months to do exactly that), but for now, let’s note some of the folks who are pitching in by donating supplies or easing some of the burden on a strained and uncertain population.

Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma today released a statement noting plans to donate 500,000 test kits and one million face masks. The donation follows similar ones to Japan and Europe, following the devastating impact on his own country.

“Drawing from my own country’s experience, speedy and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” Ma said in a statement. “We hope that our donation can help Americans fight against the pandemic!”

Yesterday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced that his video conferencing platform would be available for free to K-12 schools in Japan, Italy and the U.S. The move comes as the service is seeing a massive spike in downloads as many businesses and schools are attempting to adapt to working and learning remotely.

Earlier this week, Bill Gates, who recently left his position on Microsoft’s board, announced the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was teaming up with Wellcome and Mastercard to fund treatments to the tune of $125 million. Yesterday, Facebook announced it was committing $20 million in donations to support relief efforts. Apple announced a similar $15 million in donations, along with letting customers skip the March payment on their Apple Cards without risking interest payments. IPS like AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Cox, meanwhile, have promised not to overcharge, charge late fees or terminate service, in an attempt to keep people connected.

Likely we’ll continue to see more such announcements in the coming weeks and months as companies struggle with impact to their workforces and bottom lines. Some will no doubt be more crass that others, but there’s little doubt that such gestures will be a big part of our ability to emerge from one of the scariest and most surreal moments in recent memory.

Here are the places on coronavirus lockdown so far

Here are the places on coronavirus lockdown so far

To halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, some cities countries are taking a drastic measure: Stopping the population from entering or leaving certain areas, otherwise known as lockdown. 

Italy was the first in Europe (now the pandemic’s epicenter, according to the WHO) to institute the policy, but a whole slew of countries followed suit over the weekend. 

Here’s a list of places around the world that have come under lockdown, or partial lockdown measures, so far:

Italy

Italians in lockdown all over Italy are keeping each other company by singing, dancing and playing music from the balconies. A thread to celebrate the resilience of ordinary people. This is Salerno: pic.twitter.com/3aOchqdEpn

— Leonardo Carella (@leonardocarella) March 13, 2020 Read more…

More about France, Italy, Spain, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Shared bikes, e-scooters, cars are still OK to use during coronavirus outbreak

Shared bikes, e-scooters, cars are still OK to use during coronavirus outbreak

If you can’t even shake someone’s hand and you’re supposed to keep a solid 3-foot social distance as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, jumping on a shared electric scooter can’t possibly be a safe activity. Right? But with the proper precautions, it should be less risky to partake in the sharing economy. 

While the coronavirus is shown to stick around on certain surfaces for up to four days, it’s defenseless against disinfectants. So we can literally wipe it away

Dr. Daniel Berliner, a physician at PlushCare, wrote in an email to Mashable that it’s risky to touch anything used by more than one person, but noted that “disinfectant cleaning with Clorox-type wipes must become the standard procedure prior to use of these items and devices.”  Read more…

More about Uber, Lyft, Bike Sharing, E Scooters, and Coronavirus