COVID-19

Auto Added by WPeMatico

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.”


‘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…

More about Memes, Ghana, Funerals, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

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.

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.

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…

More about Samsung, Nhs, National Health Service, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Commercial real estate could be in trouble — even after this is over

Commercial real estate owners, brokers, and landlords have collectively made many hundreds of billions of dollars a year in recent years as the economy zipped along.

Now, they’re getting clobbered by the pandemic-fueled economic crisis. Worse, their industry may be forever changed by it.

To state the obvious, extracting rent from nearly anyone right now is problematic. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, just 69% of U.S. households had paid their rent by April 5 compared with the 81% who’d paid by March 5 and the 82% who paid by the same time last year.

That statistic will almost assuredly look worse by May 5, given the soaring numbers of both laid-off and furloughed employees.

On the commercial side, the problem is beginning to look as dire. In addition to the countless small retail and restaurant businesses that may be forced to permanently vacate their commercial spaces because they can no long afford them, a growing number of corporate chains is also beginning to prove unwilling or able to pay their rent.

WeWork, for example, has stopped paying rent at some U.S. locations while it tries to renegotiate leases, says the WSJ, this even as the co-working company continues to charge its own tenants.

Staples, Subway and Mattress Firm have also stopped paying rent as a way to strong-arm building owners into rent reductions, lease amendments and other courses of action designed to offset the losses they are incurring because of the coronavirus.

Ch, ch, ch, changes

The question begged is what happens next. While some may look to muscle their way into distressed assets, it’s very possible that more broadly, the commercial real estate market will never look the same.

For one thing, while small retailers and restaurants melt away, some of their online rivals are beefing up. Amazon, despite no shortage of bad publicity, gains market share by the day. In fact, this week, it again sailed into trillion-dollar territory.

The online streetwear marketplace StockX is also booming, as we reported a few weeks ago. As said its CEO, Scott Cutler, at the time: “[W]e’ve always been a marketplace of scarcity, but now you can’t actually go into a real retail location, so you’re coming to StockX.”

The landscape may change particularly quickly in markets like San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York, where not only is there a density of independent shops and restaurants, but startup employees and other white collar workers are suddenly working from home — and perfecting the art of distributed teamwork.

Consider Nelson Chu, the founder and CEO of Cadence, a seed-stage, 17-person securitization platform startup in New York. After recently landing $4 million in funding, Cadence signed a lease last month with a landlord who has agreed to start charging the outfit only when it is able to move into its new uptown digs.

It’s a good deal for Cadence, which doesn’t have to worry about paying for square footage it can’t use. Nevertheless, Chu notes that being forced to work remotely has awakened him to the possibility of incorporating more remote work into the startup’s processes.

“You always question whether remote work will impact business continuity,” says Chu “But now that we’re forced to do it, we haven’t skipped a beat. There could be something to be said for having less office space and allowing the people who commute from out of state to not have to be in the office every day.”

It’s easy to imagine that, using tools like Slack, Google Sheets, and Zoom, other founders and management teams that hadn’t already joined the telecommuting trend are coming to the same conclusion.

Taking care of business

The possibility isn’t lost on real estate companies.

“Remote work is something we’re thinking a lot about right now,” says Colin Yasukochi, director of research and analysis at the commercial real estate services giant CBRE. “People are right now being forced to do it,” but “I think some will inevitably stick” to working remotely, he says. “The question of how many, and for how long, is unknown.”

Certainly, it’s not the trend CBRE or others in the real estate world were expecting this year. An “outlook” report published by CBRE last November sounded understandably rosy. “Barring any unforeseen risks,” it said at the time, “resilient economic activity, strong property fundamentals, low interest rates and the relative attractiveness of real estate as an asset class” collectively suggested that 2020 would be a “very good year” for commercial real estate.

In the ensuing months, of course, that unforeseen risk has prompted shutdowns that have led to layoffs across nearly every sector of the economy. It has also — by the very nature of it being a viral contagion — made it highly likely that even when people are allowed to re-occupy commercial spaces, they’ll be less enthusiastic about dense workspaces.

This is doubly true if they know they can get their work done outside the office.

It could well lead to reduced demand for office space later on. It could also mean the same amount of space — or perhaps even more —  with reconfigured office layouts. No one yet knows, including commercial estate brokers.

Mark George, a San Jose, Calif.-based broker with the commercial real estate company Cresa, is currently working from home, where he shares an office with his wife, who is also working remotely for the first time. It’s nice to be home with their children, says George, but being housebound makes it harder to get a pulse on industry changes, particular in his industry.

Brokers are “somewhat isolated,” he says. “Touring activity has dried up because we can’t show space. City Hall is closed in every municipality, so you can’t pull permits. The industry is really shut down.”

George said that “deals that were at the finish line probably got signed” before the coronavirus really took hold in the U.S. But the “deals that were close and not quite there? Every deal I’ve seen has been put on ice. Everyone is in a holding pattern.”

A Cresa colleague of George in San Francisco, Brandon Leitner, echoes the sentiment, saying that “things are not moving fast.” Still, Leitner expects the firm — which handles clients as big as Twitter to Series A and even seed-stage companies — will see a deluge of activity once the city’s current stay-in-place mandate is lifted and brokers can start showing properties again.

Specifically, Leitner expects the market to come down by “at least 10% and probably 20% to 30%” from where commercial space in San Francisco has priced in several years, which is $88 per square foot, according to CBRE. Driving the expected drop is the 2 million square feet that will come onto the market in the city as soon as it’s possible — space that companies want to get off their books.

That’s a lot, particularly given that there is roughly 3.2 million square feet of commercial space available already, according to CBRE’s Yasukochi, who adds that a “good amount” came onto the market in the last six months alone.

Say it ain’t so

That’s not great for landlords, who are “hesitant right now to put a new number on the market,” says Leitner.

He offers that they are “realistic” and likely to “make as many concessions as they can” to hang on to and attract new tenants. Of course, there’s only so much they can do. They typically have debt to contend with, meaning that if there’s a sustained downturn, or fewer people return to the office, they will themselves be relying on their relationships with lenders to see them through.

George, the San Jose-based broker, believes lenders will be inclined to help in order to preserve their own investments. The Federal Reserve may also give the banks the ability to defer mortgage payments, which would make it easier for property owners to put off charging rent.

Even still, whether the commercial real estate market comes all the way back after Covid-19 remains to be seen.

“This [pandemic] is something we’ve never experienced before,” notes Yasukochi. He says CBRE’s economists estimate the next two quarters will be “very tough.” At the same time, he says, the market “might see a substantial” uptick in the four quarter.

“It really depends on whether demand bounces back, and whether expansion plans will be put on hold, or permanently [shelved].”

For now, he seems optimistic about a return to business as usual, particularly within his home market of San Francisco.

It “feels like things go wrong really fast in the Bay Area,” says Yasukochi. “But typically, they come back really fast, too.”

No doubt industry players are counting on it.

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…

More about Twitter, Memes, Coronavirus, Covid 19, and Social Distancing

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.

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…

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

‘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…

More about Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Kimmel, Samuel L. Jackson, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

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.

Detroit Auto Show canceled in preparation for FEMA to turn venue into field hospital

The North American International Auto Show, which was scheduled for June in Detroit, has been canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and the city prepares to repurpose the TCF Center into a temporary field hospital.

NAIAS is held each year in the TCF Center, formerly known as the Cobo Center. Organizers said they expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency to designate the TCF Center as a field hospital.

“Although we are disappointed, there is nothing more important to us than the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan, and we will do what we can to support our community’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak,” NAIAS Executive Director Rod Alberts said in an emailed statement.

The NAIAS is the latest in a long line of events and conventions that have been canceled as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread from China to Europe, and now the U.S. and the rest of the world.

More than 100 convention centers and facilities around the country are being considered to potentially serve as temporary hospitals. Alberts said it became clear that TCF Center would be an inevitable option to serve as a care facility.

The NAIAS, also known as the Detroit Auto Show, will be held in June 2021. Organizers are discussing plans for a fundraising activity later this year to benefit the children’s charities that were designated as beneficiaries of the 2020 Charity Preview event.

This year’s show was highly anticipated because it had moved from January to summer, following years of encouragement to schedule it during the warmer months.

All tickets purchased for the 2020 NAIAS show, including tickets for the Public Show, Industry Preview and Charity Preview will be fully refunded, organizers said. Charity Preview ticket holders will be given the option of a refund, or the opportunity to donate the proceeds of their refund to one of the nine designated Charity Preview beneficiaries. The NAIAS ticket office will be in contact with all ticket holders, according to the organizers.

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.

Garry Tan and Alexis Ohanian on how to survive these crazy days (and what to learn from them)

Garry Tan and Alexis Ohanian founded Initialized Capital roughly nine years ago and they’ve closed four funds since, including most recently in late 2018.

That $225 million vehicle is roughly twice the size of their previous fund, but because of the coronavirus, the firm, and its portfolio companies — some of which include Opendoor, Instacart and Coinbase — could be facing a tougher road in 2020. Certainly, that’s true of nearly ever other venture firm and startup right now.

To get a sense of where the team is currently, what it’s telling its founders, whether it thinks the abrupt downturn might change founders’ behavior, as well as whether either thinks big tech should be broken up, we talked with the two last night about these issues and more. It was a fun conversation that you can check out here, beginning around the 23 minute mark. In the meantime, you can find highlights from our conversation right here. Among the many things we covered:

We first talked about how much runway startups need right now that the U.S. is largely closed for business.

Tan offered that because returning to normalcy could “well be six to nine months,” partly because the U.S. isn’t informally containing the virus and there’s not yet a vaccine for it. To “make sure you have the cash to last to the other side,” he said, founders need to think in terms of 18 months. “It’s a lot,” said Tan, “but that’s sort of what’s necessary, and that’s what we’ve been advising our portfolio companies.

The duo also talked about  how to actually squeeze 18 months of runway out of startup that hasn’t freshly raised a round.

Ohanian said to “renegotiate everything,” from office space to venture debt agreements. He also noted there are “obvious things that you get cut early, around like non-essential marketing,” saying, “I’m as bummed as the next person to not be able to go to Cannes Lions this year, but I think we all agree like these are very reasonable things to be cutting at times like this.”

Because Ohanian is fairly vocal on Twitter about U.S. efforts to contain the coronavirus and to help healthcare workers, we spent some time on this, too. 

Ohanian said that, “Like a lot of Americans, I’m pretty frustrated by the situation right now. I mean, I live in Florida, which I think is going to see some really staggering numbers [of sickened residents] here in the next couple of weeks [because of its] elderly population and . . .a governor that’s that’s taking too long to do the things we need to do to keep them safe.”

He added that he remains inspire by the “ingenuity and the resilience” of its citizens, including founders who’ve begun adapting to these new situations, including the Initialized portfolio companies Flexport, the logistics startup, and Ro, the tele-health startup that originally focused on men’s wellness.

Through a new initiative announced earlier this week, Flexport is “literally raising millions of dollars in donations to bring medical supplies to the Bay Area and to those healthcare workers,” noted Ohanian.

Ro is meanwhile offering a free Covid-19 assessment to anyone who wants to take it and if he or she is deemed at enough risk, Ro will connect that individual with a physician or RN. That medical professional can’t administer an FDA-approved test, Ohanian acknowledged, but it’s better than nothing, he suggested. “This is not a salve. This is not a magic wand at all. What hopefully this can do is give people more information quicker about the decisions they should be making about their own safety and the safety of people they might come in contact with.”

Naturally, we had to ask how a founder lands a check from Initialized, and whether the firm needs to see a product or momentum first.

On this front, Tan was clear that “no traction is fine,” explaining that the firm funded Around, a two-year-old, Redwood City, Ca.-based videoconferencing startup that this month announced $5.2 million in seed funding, with “a demo that kind of honestly barely worked” but whose approach to solving a particular problem really resonated with the team.

Tan also pointed to Instacart, the grocery delivery company that’s “doing insanely well right now,” as housebound Americans steer clear of grocery stores.

“When I met [founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta,” said Tan, “it was the early days of the iPhone app platform” and “everyone else was pitching that idea” at the same time. But where most ‘demoware’ is “jerky” or “not properly threaded,” Mehta’s “scrolled really smoothly and the images were properly threaded and I could see that he was a craftsman,” says Tan. As important to him, “Apoorva is not a person who accepts ‘no.’ He takes a no and turns it into a yes.” (Both Tan and Ohanian emphasized here that good salesmanship, meaning solid storytelling, can accomplish a lot.)

As for what’s happening day to day, we asked both if they’re spending time in board meetings, poring over financials and trying to figure out how keep the startups in their portfolio going during this downturn. They suggested they’d already done this before Covid-19 took hold in the U.S.

Said Tan, “Not to put other VCs on blast, but often they don’t actually keep track of the runway of their companies quite so closely. For us, we have quarterly reviews, [so] the day all this stuff happened, we immediately knew who we needed to spend time with. We’d started talking about this in February. I wore my first N95 mask to our retreat in Cabo San Lucas [early last month] and and people at the airport thought I was a little bit nuts, but it was already in our mind that [the virus] might come over here. So when we did our last portfolio review in February, we were already mindful of anyone who has short runway [because we wanted] to make sure we had that conversation.”

Added Tan, “There are some boards that I’m on where I was telling them this was going to happen, and they just didn’t believe me. But for a few teams, they were able to put the right things into place and start their fundraise a little bit earlier.”

Before we let them go, we asked if they had thoughts about the tech giants — on which we’re suddenly more reliant on ever  — being broken up, and whether they should be.

Ohanian, who famously cofounded the social media giant Reddit, declined to say much on this front, other than that Initialized has backed “companies that thrive in part because they’re giving everyone else a chance to compete with Amazon. So I don’t know if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what else would.”

For his part, Tan said he “probably” doesn’t want the government to intervene with big tech, but he’s concerned about their rise (and rise).  Said Tan, “What I want is our startups to be successful, and when they become successful, that they arm thousands of small businesses, medium-size businesses, and the retailers that could not possibly to hire an engineer to actually survive. . . because otherwise, Amazon’s going to run the table. 

We also asked if they worry big tech companies are more hesitant to shop, given the regulatory scrutiny they have been under. 

Tan suggested that Initialized hasn’t counted on M&A activity for its exits for some time.  “What’s weird about startups [[is that back] in 2008 when we came up, M&A was a much bigger part of what people talked about. These days, everything we fund, we want to fund it for the IPO.”

The reality, he continued is that none of the tech giants are acquisitive because they “sort of don’t know what to do with the cash. [There’s] definitely a Peter Thiel-ism that I totally believe, which is that Google is sitting on a cash hoard, and when you sit on a cash hoard, it means, ‘I don’t know what else to do. There are not projects that have a positive net IRR that I can put that money into. I could not hire people to go work on a thing that could make more money.’

Said Tan, “If anything, these companies have sort of become giant babysitting places for very, very smart tech people.”

Not last, we talked about their hopes for what comes next.

Ohanian is choosing to remain optimistic on a lot of fronts right now, he suggested, and that’s unsurprisingly true of his work. As he told us, “One of the fortunate parts about doing early-stage investing is also that this [frightening moment] is a time when founders are going to come solving real problems. I actually expect the next two years to be opportunities for some really great and hopefully impactful companies to get formed. “In the wake of all this,  [founders] can not just solve really important business leads; they can also do some good in the process.”

Before we parted ways, we also talked about founders and whether some had blown it by not taking their companies public while the window was still open.

Both Tan and Ohanian seemed to defend founders who’ve chosen to stay private longer in recent years while ceding that staying private isn’t good for employees or investors or the founders themselves. Indeed, “a lot of it comes back to governance,” said Ohanian, with both he and Tan expressing equal parts dismay over activist investors and the perpetual shareholder rights that founders have been demanding to protect themselves from said activist investors. (Ohanian called such voting rights an “ugly hack.”)

Both sang the praises of Long Term Stock Exchange — the stock exchange created by entrepreneur Eric Ries — and what it hopes to accomplish, which is to make it safer to go public without worrying about activist investors by rewarding longer-term shareholders who believe in a company.

Worth noting: LTSE, as it’s known, is an Initialized portfolio company.

Photo: Tim Daw for Initialized Capital

‘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…

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

Neighborhood ‘bear hunts’ are an adorable cure for kids’ social-distancing boredom

Neighborhood 'bear hunts' are an adorable cure for kids' social-distancing boredom

With schools closing and people warned to stay home due to the coronavirus, parents and caregivers are working extra hard to keep their children engaged and not climbing the furniture. Fortunately it’s still safe to take brief, socially-distanced walks outside, provided there aren’t many others out and it’s done responsibly. 

Just be careful — there are bears out there.

To heighten the fun of these jaunts, and keep local community spirit alive, people around the world are putting stuffed toys in their windows for children to spot on “bear hunts.” 

It isn’t clear exactly where the trend started, but it’s gained momentum over the past few days. Read more…

More about Parenting, Children, Teddy Bear, Covid 19, and Social Distancing

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…

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

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…

More about Video, Video Calling, Quarantine, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

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.”

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…

More about Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

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.”

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.

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

Microsoft moves its 2020 Build developer conference online

May is traditionally a month of big developer conferences, with Facebook F8, Google I/O and Microsoft Build often happening within the same two-week period. But not this year. After F8 and I/O were already canceled in favor of online events, Microsoft is now unsurprisingly following suit, too, and canceling the in-person element of Build, which was scheduled to run from May 19 to 21, citing concerns over the current coronavirus outbreak.

microsoft build logo“The safety of our community is a top priority. In light of the health safety recommendations for Washington State, we will deliver our annual Microsoft Build event for developers as a digital event, in lieu of an in-person event,” the company said in a statement to The Verge. “We look forward to bringing together our ecosystem of developers in this new virtual format to learn, connect and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come.”

The announcement doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Indeed, it was really only a question of when Microsoft would make the call and the real surprise was how long it took Microsoft to make this call, especially given how hard Washington state has been hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, a number of Washington state counties have banned events with more than 250 people. That ban was set to expire before Build.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft hasn’t actually updated the Build homepage yet and you can still buy a ticket. If I were you, I wouldn’t do that, though. You’ll get a refund, but it’s not worth the hassle.

Asian stock markets fall as COVID-19 is declared a pandemic

American stock markets plunged on Wednesday, after the World Health Organization officially declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. In Asia, meanwhile, almost all the major stock indexes were also trading lower the morning after the WHO’s announcement, with the Asia Dow Index down 4% by midday.

Morning trading in East Asian markets was ongoing by the time President Donald Trump made an address in which he announced a 30-day travel ban from the European Union to the United States.

In Japan, the benchmark index, the Nikkei 225, had fallen 3.6% as of mid-afternoon. The Nikkei Jasdaq, seen as an index for smaller companies and startups, was down 3.4%. Both recovered slightly in the afternoon after a morning drop.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange fell 3.6% by early afternoon, while the Shanghai Stock Exchange composite index was down 1.6%.

The FTSE Straits Times Index, the benchmark index for Singapore, fell 3.7% by early afternoon, while Taiwan’s TSEC was down 4%.

The Mumbai Sensex was down 6.8% as of late morning trading in India.

Microsoft will pay hourly workers regular wages even if their hours are reduced because of COVID-19 concerns

As more COVID-19 cases are identified in the United States, some companies are asking employees to work from home if possible. But that impacts the jobs of people who work in on-site operations, including many who are paid by the hour. Today Microsoft said that it will continue paying all vendor hourly service providers in Puget Sound and Northern California their usual wage, even if their work hour are reduced.

The announcement specifically refers to Microsoft workers in the Puget Sound region and Northern California, but the company said it will “[explore] how to best move forward in a similar way in other parts of the country and the world that are impacted by COVID-19.”

In a blog post, Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote that employees in those regions who can work from home have been asked to do so.

“As a result, we have reduced need in those regions for the on-site presence of many of the hourly workers who are vital to our daily operations, such as individuals who work for our vendors and staff our cafes, drive our shuttles and support our on-site tech and audio-visual needs,” he said. “We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees. As a result, we’ve decided that Microsoft will continue to pay all our vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs.”

Smith added, “While the work to protect public health needs to speed up, the economy can’t afford to slow down. We’re committed as a company to making pubic health our first priority and doing what we can to address the economic and social impact of COVID-19. We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business, but we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so.”

Microsoft is among several tech companies that have asked employees in places where COVID-19 cases have been identified to work from home, like Washington state and California, including Google, Lyft and Square. Concerns about the COVID-19 have also led to the cancellations of major events, like Mobile World Congress and Google’s I/O developer conference.