Tech Crunch

Y Combinator is going after Chinese startups with its first official event in China

High-profile U.S. startup accelerator Y Combinator is making a push to bring more China-based startups into its program after it announced its first official event in the country.

YC has made a push to include startups from outside of North America in recent years. That has seen it bring in companies from the likes of India, Southeast Asia and Africa, but China remains underrepresented. According to YC’s own data, fewer than 10 Chinese companies have passed through its corridors. YC counts over 1,400 graduates.

“Startup School Beijing” is scheduled for May 19 in the Chinese capital at Tsinghua University. The event will be free to attend — though attendees might apply for a ticket — with the goal of showing the benefits of participation in its U.S. program.

To help make its case, the organization has pulled in star graduates like Airbnb and Stripe while its president Sam Altman himself is scheduled to appear.

The event will include sessions with graduates, YC partners and “live on-stage office hours.” That’ll see three companies picked from the audience to get advice and tips from the attending partners, as happens in the program. Sessions will be in both English and Chinese with live translations available.

YC partner Eric Migicovsky, who founded Pebble, is leading the event, which will include the following speakers:

In addition to helping U.S. hardware founders, Migicovsky was brought on specifically to make inroads into China and he is optimistic that there is strong demand.

“We’re hosting Startup School in Beijing to meet local entrepreneurs and start a dialogue about how YC can help,” he told TechCrunch. “The event and the founders we meet will help to inform our strategy going forward. Naturally, we hope to find Chinese startups to apply to our core Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley.”

YC officially announced the event today but the organization’s brand is so strong that word already got out in local media once it began sending out invitations, as our Chinese partner Technode reported.

Looks like Google is changing Android’s gun emoji into a water gun

Back in 2016, Apple swapped out the graphic used for its gun emoji, replacing the realistically drawn handgun with a bright green water gun.

Just a few days ago, Twitter followed suit.

And now, it seems, so will Google . The gun emoji on Android will likely soon appear as a bright orange and yellow super soaker lookalike.

As first noted by Emojipedia, Google has just swapped the graphics in its open Noto Emoji library on GitHub. These are the Emoji that Android uses by default, so the same change will presumably start to roll out there before too long.

At this point, Google making this change seemed inevitable. It seemed likely to happen as soon Apple made the jump; once others started following suit (Twitter earlier this week, and Samsung with the release of the Galaxy S9) it became a certainty.

It’s a matter of clarity in communication. If a massive chunk of people (iOS users) can send a cartoony water toy in a message that another massive chunk of people (Android users) receive as a realistically drawn handgun, there’s room for all sorts of trouble and confusion. Apple wasn’t going to reverse course on this one — and now that others have made the change, Google would’ve been the odd one out.

The makers of the virtual influencer, Lil Miquela, snag real money from Silicon Valley

Brud, the actual company behind one of Instagram’s most popular virtual influencers (it’s a thing), has raised millions of dollars from Silicon Valley investors because this is 2018 and everything is awful.

Last week, the Los Angeles-based startup led by Trevor McFedries, outed itself as the collective consciousness behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela and her less well known contemporaries Blawko22 and BermudaisBae in a choreographed melodrama worthy of Los Angeles’ best reality television.

i am deeply invested in the drama surrounding lil miquela and now you all have to be too. sorry!!! https://t.co/ta1T4rDFGz

— maya kosoff (@mekosoff) April 19, 2018

The subject of numerous glowing profiles in online and print fashion and lifestyle magazines (including, most recently, in High Snobiety), Lil Miquela’s stardom (and her fellow avatars) fascinated because the characters’ creators coyly toed the line around “her” self-awareness and their own. In the process, they created a sensation that’s become well-known worldwide.

It’s less well-known that the company is backed by some of the biggest names in venture capital investment — firms like Sequoia Capital. Our sources put the company’s funding somewhere around $6 million in its recent funding round.

There are other notable investors from Silicon Valley and New York rumored to be in the round — like New York’s BoxGroup and the Bay Area’s SV Angel. Sequoia declined to comment for this article and Box Group’s David Tisch did not respond to a request for comment.

All of the virtual drama with Miquela started late last week when news outlets (including TechCrunch) reported that Miquela’s Instagram account (or that of her handlers) was hacked by operators of a social media account belonging to another virtual personality known as “Bermudaisbae” (a more right wing social media persona with fewer followers).

McFedries, brud‘s founder and chief executive, confirmed that the Miquela account had been hacked in a text exchange with me, writing, “some redditor idiots hacked the page we think.”

That was a lie.

The account “hack” was architected by brud as part of an ongoing virtual reality drama playing out on Instagram and other social media platforms between avatars it had developed, all designed to attract media attention, according to people with knowledge of brud and its plans. It worked. 

McFedries has not responded to further requests for comment after confirming that the Miquela account was “good”.

One Los Angeles investor familiar with the company said brud was “using conflict to introduce new characters… same as the Kardashians always have.”

The investor added that two years into the development of the Miquela persona, brud‘s founders knew that the fad could lose some of its luster as the is-she-or-Isn’t-she-real tension dissipates under the weight of continuously thwarted expectations — like a post-modern twist on the will-or-won’t-they dramatic tension defining most sitcoms since Cheers.

“People aren’t going to buy that she’s human so they make it seem as if she’s had an existential crisis and now she is the first in a breed of conscious AR characters that they will build a world around,” this investor wrote. “[Manufacturing] social influence.”

Blawko22 and Lil Miquela imposed over a gas station exterior simulating a pit stop on the road to Coachella

For his part, the 33-yar-old McFedries had been manufacturing social influence in Los Angeles through his talents as a dj, producer and director before entering the startup world.

First under the name of DJ Skeet Skeet and then as DJ Skeeter, and, finally, Yung Skeeter, McFedries has worked or performed with a number of the world’s best selling recording artists including Chris Brown, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry (and — interestingly — more obscure acts like Bonde do Role).  

Working as an an “artist advocate” for Spotify, a DJ for a radio show on iHeartRadio, and as a spokesman for VitaminWater sustained McFedries along with managing the career of BANKS and executive producing her first album and a single on Azealia Banks’ 2014 record “Broke with Expensive Taste” — at least according to a Wikipedia page on Yung Skeeter. 

Around this time McFedries also began investing in companies, according to AngelList.

Roughly two years after the Banks record release, Lil Miquela made her first appearance on Instagram. And the rest is history as written in Internet archives and memes. Ephemeral, but infinite.

The project that brud seems to be pursuing — turning celebrity into a virtual commodity; commenting on the unreality of the “real” entertainment industry by literally creating an unreal celebrity — is fascinating.

There’s certainly a valid criticism to be made about the ways in which celebrity operates, the ways in which our “social” media has corroded society, and the unbridled power of these platforms to transform messengers and their messages into movements.

Perhaps brud wants to make these critiques through its very existence — or at least use its low-brow as high-brow (or is it vice versa?) intellectual appeal as a veneer over the more crass (but potentially honest) mission of selling more shit more effectively through the use of spokespeople whose views only change when their creators want them to (it worked for Hollywood’s star system). That at least gets sponsors and advertisers out of the potentially messy situations that can come from working with spokespeople whose actions can’t be controlled by software — or an ingenious marketing team.

In the High Snobiety profile-as-honors-senior-English-thesis on Lil Miquela published yesterday, the avatar’s own spokesperson was quoted as saying:

“The internet is endlessly powerful, and that power has been wielded in many ways. It feels like we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle, so we’ve got to learn how to leverage these tools in positive ways. I’ve used my platform to raise real money for important organizations throughout LA and I’ve seen lives changed as a result. I think the only chance we’ve got is to collectively teach our loved ones how to think critically and how to spot misinformation. I know that we can manifest the change we want to see, and the internet can be a part of that.”

It’s a lofty goal backed by a number of inarguably good works. However, lying to reporters may not be the best way to continue trying to achieve it.

Omnidrive’s Online Storage Actually Works

I’ve been talking to Nik Cubrilovic, the founder of Sydney, Australia based Omnidrive, since I posted about the need for a good online storage service in November (see no. 1 in that post).

I’ve had the chance to test it over the last few days. It’s pre-beta but will be launching soon. They’ve solved a lot of the problems associated with storage away from the network, and has both an online and a desktop interface.

Omnidrive will have a free version with a gig or so of storage, and paid plans after that. The feature set is awesome – it has everything you could ask for, including dealing with massive file uploads in the background. Full review coming soon – sign up for the beta announcement on the site.

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

Orchid Labs is in the process of raising $125 million for its surveillance-free layer atop the internet

Orchid Labs, a San Francisco-based startup that’s developing a a surveillance-free layer on top of the internet, has raised a bunch of funding, according to a newly processed SEC filing that shows the year-old startup has closed on $36.1 million. The money comes just five months after Orchid closed on a separate, $4.5 million in funding from investors, including Yes VC, cofounded by serial entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Jyri Engeström.

Others of its earliest backers include Andreessen Horowitz, DFJ, MetaStable, Compound, Box Group, Blockchain Capital, and Sequoia Capital, according to its site.

The stated goal of the Orchid is to provide anonymized internet access to people across the globe, particularly individuals who live in countries with excessive government oversight of their browsing and shopping. Part of the point also seems to be to insulate users from the many companies that now harvest and sell their data, including walled gardens like Facebook and other giants like AT&T.

In a word where one assumes the Cambridge Analytica scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data abuse, it’s easy to see the project’s appeal. So far, says the filing, the company has raised that $36.1 million via a SAFT agreement, an investment contract offered by cryptocurrency developers to accredited investors (42 of them in this case).

But the filing shows a target of $125,595,882 million, and based how hot particular blockchain ideas are getting, and how aggressively they’re being funded (see the Basis deal earlier this week), you can imagine more money will flow to the company if it hasn’t already. That’s also an awfully specific target on its filing.

We’ve reached out to the company for more information. You can also check out its white paper if you’re curious.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that Orchid has five founders with varied and interesting backgrounds. They include Stephen Bell, who spent seven years as a managing director at Trilogy Ventures, shopping for opportunities in China, before returning to the states in 2015; Steve Waterhouse, long an investor with the digital currencies-focused firm Pantera Capital; former Ethereum Foundation developer Gustav Simonsson; software engineer Jay Freeman; and Brian Fox, who is credited with building the first interactive online banking software for Wells Fargo in 1995 and who was the first employee of the legendary programmer Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation, among other things.

Between the money involved, the mission, and the founders, this one looks like a Big Deal. Stay tuned.

Don’t just stir; Stircle

Although I do my best to minimize the trash produced by my lifestyle (blog posts notwithstanding), one I can’t really control, at least without carrying a spoon on my person at all times, is the necessity of using a disposable stick to stir my coffee. That could all change with the Stircle, a little platform that spins your drink around to mix it.

Now, of course this is ridiculous. And there are other things to worry about. But honestly, the scale of waste here is pretty amazing. Design house Amron Experimental says that 400 million stir sticks are used every day, and I have no reason to doubt that. My native Seattle probably accounts for a quarter of that.

So you need to get the sugar (or agave nectar) and cream (or almond milk) mixed in your iced americano. Instead of reaching for a stick and stirring vigorously for 10 or 15 seconds, you could instead place your cup in the Stircle (first noticed by New Atlas and a few other design blogs), which would presumably be built into the fixins table at your coffee shop.

Around and around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody… oh. There.

Once you put your cup on the Stircle, it starts spinning — first one way, then the other, and so on, agitating your drink and achieving the goal of an evenly mixed beverage without using a wood or plastic stirrer. It’s electric, but I can imagine one being powered by a lever or button that compresses a spring. That would make it even greener.

The video shows that it probably gets that sugar and other low-lying mixers up into the upper strata of the drink, so I think we’re set there. And it looks as though it will take a lot of different sizes, including reusable tumblers. It clearly needs a cup with a lid, since otherwise the circling liquid will fly out in every direction, which means you have to be taking your coffee to go. That leaves out pretty much every time I go out for coffee in my neighborhood, where it’s served (to stay) in a mug or tall glass.

But a solution doesn’t have to fix everything to be clever or useful. This would be great at an airport, for instance, where I imagine every order is to go. Maybe they’ll put it in a bar, too, for extra smooth stirring of martinis.

Actually, I know that people in labs use automatic magnetic stirrers to do their coffee. This would be a way to do that without appropriating lab property. Those things are pretty cool too, though.

You might remember Amron from one of their many previous clever designs; I happen to remember the Keybrid and Split Ring Key, both of which I used for a while. I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to see a Stircle in my neighborhood cafe any time soon, but I sure hope they show up in Starbucks stores around the world. We’re going to run out of those stirrer things sooner or later.

Facebook has a new job posting calling for chip designers

Facebook has posted a job opening looking for an expert in ASIC and FPGA, two custom silicon designs that companies can gear toward specific use cases — particularly in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

There’s been a lot of speculation in the valley as to what Facebook’s interpretation of custom silicon might be, especially as it looks to optimize its machine learning tools — something that CEO Mark Zuckerberg referred to as a potential solution for identifying misinformation on Facebook using AI. The whispers of Facebook’s customized hardware range depending on who you talk to, but generally center around operating on the massive graph Facebook possesses around personal data. Most in the industry speculate that it’s being optimized for Caffe2, an AI infrastructure deployed at Facebook, that would help it tackle those kinds of complex problems.

FPGA is designed to be a more flexible and modular design, which is being championed by Intel as a way to offer the ability to adapt to a changing machine learning-driven landscape. The downside that’s commonly cited when referring to FPGA is that it is a niche piece of hardware that is complex to calibrate and modify, as well as expensive, making it less of a cover-all solution for machine learning projects. ASIC is similarly a customized piece of silicon that a company can gear toward something specific, like mining cryptocurrency.

Facebook’s director of AI research tweeted about the job posting this morning, noting that he previously worked in chip design:

Interested in designing ASIC & FPGA for AI?
Design engineer positions are available at Facebook in Menlo Park.

I used to be a chip designer many moons ago: my engineering diploma was in Electrical… https://t.co/D4l9kLpIlV

Yann LeCun (@ylecun) April 18, 2018

While the whispers grow louder and louder about Facebook’s potential hardware efforts, this does seem to serve as at least another partial data point that the company is looking to dive deep into custom hardware to deal with its AI problems. That would mostly exist on the server side, though Facebook is looking into other devices like a smart speaker. Given the immense amount of data Facebook has, it would make sense that the company would look into customized hardware rather than use off-the-shelf components like those from Nvidia.

(The wildest rumor we’ve heard about Facebook’s approach is that it’s a diurnal system, flipping between machine training and inference depending on the time of day and whether people are, well, asleep in that region.)

Most of the other large players have found themselves looking into their own customized hardware. Google has its TPU for its own operations, while Amazon is also reportedly working on chips for both training and inference. Apple, too, is reportedly working on its own silicon, which could potentially rip Intel out of its line of computers. Microsoft is also diving into FPGA as a potential approach for machine learning problems.

Still, that it’s looking into ASIC and FPGA does seem to be just that — dipping toes into the water for FPGA and ASIC. Nvidia has a lot of control over the AI space with its GPU technology, which it can optimize for popular AI frameworks like TensorFlow. And there are also a large number of very well-funded startups exploring customized AI hardware, including Cerebras Systems, SambaNova Systems, Mythic, and Graphcore (and that isn’t even getting into the large amount of activity coming out of China). So there are, to be sure, a lot of different interpretations as to what this looks like.

One significant problem Facebook may face is that this job opening may just sit up in perpetuity. Another common criticism of FPGA as a solution is that it is hard to find developers that specialize in FPGA. While these kinds of problems are becoming much more interesting, it’s not clear if this is more of an experiment than Facebook’s full all-in on custom hardware for its operations.

But nonetheless, this seems like more confirmation of Facebook’s custom hardware ambitions, and another piece of validation that Facebook’s data set is becoming so increasingly large that if it hopes to tackle complex AI problems like misinformation, it’s going to have to figure out how to create some kind of specialized hardware to actually deal with it.

A representative from Facebook did not yet return a request for comment.

Russia’s Telegram ban that knocked out 15M Google, Amazon IP addresses had a precedent in Zello

Russia blocking access to Telegram after the messaging app refused to give it access to encrypted messages has picked up an unintended casualty: we’re now up to over 15 million IP addresses from Amazon and Google getting shut down by the regulators in the process, taking various other (non-Telegram) services down with it.

Telegram’s CEO Pavel Durov earlier today said that its reach in the country has yet to see an impact from the ban 24 hours on, with VPNs, proxies and third-party cloud services stepping in to pick up the slack for its roughly 14 million users in the country, and third parties refusing to buckle under requests from Roskomnadzor, the regulator, to remove the app from its stores and servers.

“Thank you for your support and loyalty, Russian users of Telegram. Thank you, Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft — for not taking part in political censorship,” Durov noted.

But Telegram’s Russia crisis is not the first time that an app banned by the Russian government has had to rely on third-party support to navigate its position with users. A recent precedent involving a much smaller communications app sheds some light on how all of this works. And ironically, its own run-in may have been the reason for why the government moved so quickly to block so many IP addresses around Telegram’s, affecting more than just the app itself.

A little over a year ago, the walkie-talkie app Zello received a notice from the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor. Zello was informed that it would be banned unless it started to host records of the conversations that were taking place on the app on Russian servers — in compliance with a hosting requirement that Russia put in place for ISPs back in 2014 as part of its efforts to tighten its control of digital information in the name of national security.

You might remember the name Zello from its bump of attention when a wave of people hit by Hurricane Harvey in Texas used it to communicate with each other when voice services went down or became too clumsy to use, but mobile internet connections stayed up. “Voice is how we most naturally communicate, and push-to-talk and radio-style communication is instant, no dialling or waiting,” said Zello CEO Bill Moore. “It can be with one person or large groups and build relationships and to solve problems.”

The startup itself is based out of Austin, Texas and has around 120 million registered users, with around four million monthly active users.

Moore — who had in the past also founded and run another Texas startup, TuneIn — said in an interview this week that Zello’s run-in with Russia started about a year ago, when the regulator started to block the application in Spring 2017, after Zello refused to cooperate with the hosting requirement, both on grounds of cost and principle.

(Cost: because it’s a small startup. And principle: because Zello is built in a way where messages are stored locally, both for direct messages and those sent in more widely-distributed channels, the feature that Moore believes might have been “why Zello annoyed Russia,” because protestors used these channels to coordinate activities.”)

Instead of buckling and leaving Russia, Zello decided to use to some software it had written years before, when the app had been issued with a block in Venezuela after it ran afoul of the government there — software “that let us change IP addresses for our service,” as Moore describes it. The change in IP addresses essentially meant that as Zello was shut down in one place, it was able to hop to another, using services from either AWS or Google Cloud.

Moore said that Zello — which originally hosted its service on IBM’s cloud before the ban — used its IP hopping tactic for nearly a year, moving first across IP addresses on Amazon and then hopping to Google Cloud when Amazon got too hot. By the time Zello started using Google Cloud, the government was well on to Zello’s ways, and it took only about 10 days before Google asked Zello to stop, Zello’s CTO and founder Alexey Gavrilov added.

“About a month ago, the press in Russia began to report that Roskomnadzor was threatening to block millions of addresses if that’s what it took to get Zello [to retreat]. That was when Amazon said, ‘you need to stop changing IP addresses,’” Gavrilov said. “We tried to get Amazon to reconsider, making the case that by asking us to stop, it is are really acting the same way that ISPs do that are controlled by Russia. Zello is not damaging, but Russia is by blocking. It’s not wise to go along with that threat.”

His argument echoes what Durov has been saying in defense of Telegram, although it didn’t appear to wash for the smaller app. “We lost that debate,” Gavrilov said.

Moore and Gavrilov say they believe Telegram may be using a similar kind of approach to move around Amazon- and Google-based IP addresses (I’ve tried to contact Durov to ask about this but have not had a reply; Google and Amazon also have not replied to my emails). However, now, with the Russian authorities well aware of the tactic, it simply decided to block large swathes of IPs to act more quickly, rather than negotiate with cloud companies to pick out which IP addresses were actually being used.

Partly because of the size of the service in question, and partly because of the blanket blocking, the difference between the IP addresses being blocked varied from just over 2,000 for Zello to more than 15 million by the time Telegram attempted its own IP hops.

Zello still believes that it was not in the wrong in its own encounters with the Russian government, although its appeals to Amazon and Google, and eventually Apple and others who host the app on their stores, ultimately didn’t wash.

“We believe that Zello doesn’t violate Russian law because originally the hosting requirement was written for ISPs, and Zello is not an ISP,” Moore said. “We cooperate with law enforcement on a consistent basis and do what we can under the law.” But like Telegram, Zello takes the view that the medium should not be attacked because of how it is used. “Terrorists drink water, but I don’t think we should outlaw water, either,” is how Moore describes his stance.

Since about two weeks ago, the only way that people in Russia can use Zello is by way of VPN proxies. Zello has a fairly even distribution of its several millon monthly active users across several countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and Hong Kong. Russia had been one of its top markets until this happened, but the cost to Zello has been about half of its active users in the country, which now stand at 200,000.

“We don’t like to think about how we’ve lost half our users there,” Gavrilov said. “We like to think about how many we’ve managed to keep.”

Zello has always been ad-free and free to use by regular consumers. Moore said that the company is profitable, making its revenues through a premium tier for businesses to have their own private channels. So far, Zello is completely bootstrapped, although Moore said that it is likely it will want to raise money eventually to grow its consumer business.

Neither CTO nor CEO think that Russian bans impact the company’s wider business.

“In my opinion, incidents like these only help companies like Telegram and Zello on the global market,” Gavrilov (a native of Russia) said. “Realistically, Russia is a small share of the Telegram user base, and standing up to the demands in Russia just communicates to everyone else that you can trust these people. That only makes it more valuable.”

Minds aims to decentralize the social network

Decentralization is the buzzword du jour. Everything – from our currencies to our databases – are supposed to exist, immutably, in this strange new world. And Bill Ottman wants to add our social media to the mix.

Ottman, an intense young man with a passion to fix the world, is the founder of Minds.com, a New York-based startup that has been receiving waves of new users as zealots and the the not-so-zealous have been leaving other networks. In fact, Zuckerberg’s bad news is music to Ottman’s ears.

Ottman started Minds in 2011 “with the goal of bringing a free, open source and sustainable social network to the world,” he said. He and his CTO, Mark Harding, have worked in various non-profits including Code To Inspire, a group that teaches Afghani women to code. He said his vision is to get us out from under social media’s thumb.

“We started Minds in my basement after being disillusioned by user abuse on Facebook and other big tech services. We saw spying, data mining, algorithm manipulation, and no revenue sharing,” he said. “To us, it’s inevitable that an open source social network becomes dominant, as was the case with Wikipedia and proprietary encyclopedias.”

His efforts have paid off. The team now has over 1 million registered users and over 105,000 monthly active users. They are working on a number of initiatives, including an ICO, and the site makes money through “boosting” – essentially the ability to pay to have a piece of content float higher in the feed.

The company raised $350K in 2013 and then a little over a million dollars in a Reg CF Equity Crowdfunding raise.

Unlike Facebook, Minds is built on almost radical transparency. The code is entirely open source and it includes encrypted messenger services and optional anonymity for users. The goal, ultimately, is to have the data be decentralized and any user should be able to remove his or her data. It’s also non-partisan, a fact that Ottman emphasized.

“We are not pushing a political agenda, but are more concerned with transparency, Internet freedom and giving control back to the user,” he said. “It’s a sad state of affairs when every network that cares about free speech gets lumped in with extremists.”

He was disappointed, for example, when people read that Reddit’s choice to shut down toxic sub-Reddits was a success. It wasn’t, he said. Instead, those users just flocked to other, more permissive sites. However, he doesn’t think those sites have be cesspools of hate.

“We are a community-owned social network dedicated to transparency, privacy and rewarding people for their contributions. We are called Minds because it’s meant to be a representation of the network itself,” he said. “Our mission is Internet freedom with privacy, transparency, free speech within the law and user control. Additionally, we want to provide our users with revenue opportunity and the ability to truly expand their reach and earn rewards for their contributions to the network.”

Ola will add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its India fleet over the next year

Ola announced today that it will add 10,000 electric auto-rickshaws to its fleet in India over the next 12 months. The program, called “Mission: Electric,” is part of its ambitious plan to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. The company launched a trial EV program last year in the city of Nagpur, but has reportedly run into some recent road bumps.

Three-wheel rickshaws are a popular way of making quick trips in many cities and can be hailed through Ola’s app; the company’s electric vehicle trial program in Nagpur, which started in May 2017, already includes rickshaws. As part of “Mission: Electric,” Ola said it will add 10,000 new electric rickshaws across three additional cities this year.

To enable drivers to switch to EVs, Ola’s program also includes infrastructure like rooftop solar panels and charging stations. Last month, however, Factor Daily reported that Ola is scaling back its electric vehicle plans after India’s government appeared to become less enthusiastic about creating an explicit EV policy, despite its previously stated goal of making all new vehicles electric by 2030.

Around the same time, Reuters reported that many Ola drivers participating in its Nagpur trial wanted to switch back to fuel-powered cars because of long waiting times at charging stations and higher operating costs.

An Ola representative told TechCrunch that the company has installed charging dockets at the homes of some drivers so they can save time by swapping out batteries, stating that “with new technologies like battery swapping, the charging experience has been significantly improved.” Ola is currently in discussions with several state and municipal governments about where to launch its electric rickshaw program and is “willing to work with any city committed to sustainable mobility solutions.”

“We have clocked more than four million [electric] kilometers and have learned the ins and outs of vehicles, capabilities and applications. We have learned real-world operating challenges and cost implications of chargers, batteries and solars,” she added. “Deployment of electric vehicles would require support of like-minded partners.”

Zillow surprises investors by buying up homes

Real estate platform Zillow changed up its business model this week, announcing that it plans to purchase and sell homes in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Zillow will be working with Berkshire Hathaway and Coldwell Banker to make offers on homes before it finds a buyer. Zillow will pay commissions and also “make necessary repairs and updates and list the home as quickly as possible.”

Calling it “Instant Offers,” Zillow says,

“the program gives real estate agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home. Across all testing, Zillow found the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their home with an agent, making Instant Offers an excellent source of seller leads for Premier Agents and brokerage partners.”

Shares fell 7% on Friday, following the revelation.

This is a marked business change for the website, which is mainly a hub of information about real estate properties. Buying up homes will provide added costs and risks, so some investors didn’t like it.

Yet Zillow says it has been testing out this program for about a year and that it is optimistic about its future success.

In an interview with CNBC, CEO Spencer Rascoff said, “we’re ready to be an investor in our own marketplace.” He believes Zillow has “huge advantages because we have access to this huge audience of sellers and huge audience of buyers.”

Rascoff acknowledged that Zillow will be taking on debt to execute on its new mission.

This will also put it in competition with Opendoor. CEO Eric Wu provided us the following statement.

“We are genuinely excited, having invented this new category in 2014, and it’s invigorating to see a host of others in the industry recognize the importance of removing hassle and time from the transaction.  We are proud to have served over 15,000 customers, to be expanding to dozens of markets, and to be reaching market share numbers that demonstrate the significant demand and love for our experience and product.  We continue to be focused on building technology to remove friction from the transaction through a world-class pricing model, a suite of vertically integrated applications, All-Day Open Houses, our Buyer Guarantee, and a few new products we will be launching shortly.  Most importantly, we are here to service our customers, buyers and sellers who crave and deserve a best-in-class experience as they transition from one home to their next.”

Game on.

Singapore orders Grab to delay closing Uber app for an additional 3 weeks

Grab’s plan to shutter Uber’s app quickly following its merger deal in Southeast Asia has hit another snag in Singapore where the ride-hailing firm has been forced to delay closing its rival’s service until May 7.

This is the second time that Grab has pushed back the removal of Uber’s app in Singapore, which was initially scheduled for closure on April 8 but was given an additional week as part of an investigation from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) which is assessing the merger deal. This new May 7 date is also down to the CCCS probe, with the commission issuing an ‘Interim Measures Directions’ (IMD) to Grab in order to “ensure that the market remains open and contestable.”

Those directives — which Grab said it has had a hand in formulating — include measures that prevent Grab from taking Uber’s operational data on customers and their trip history, prevent lock-in and exclusivity options for drivers that join Grab or move over from Uber’s Lion City Rental entity, and end any exclusive deals Grab has with Singapore taxi firms.

The CCCS has also ruled that Grab and the Uber service must maintain prices for passengers and drivers, and remind both that their migration to the Grab platform is optional.

The ruling impacts the Singapore market only, which is where Grab is registered. The Uber app has already been closed in six other markets where it operated in Southeast Asia, while the UberEats service will fold into GrabEats by the end of May. Elsewhere, Uber’s ride-hailing service is scheduled to be closed on April 16 in the Philippines where, like Singapore, the regulator had handed down a week-long extension while it looked into the merger deal.

In both extensions, Grab is the one footing the bill for the continued operation of Uber since the U.S. firm has already exited these markets, in terms of funding and staffing, Uber’s head of operations for Asia Pacific has said.

The CCCS previously said that it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Grab-Uber deal may fall foul of section 54 of Singapore’s Competition Act. The Philippine Competition Commission is still looking into the and there’s no word on whether it will follow the CCCS’ lead and force Grab to keep the Uber app open for a longer period.

The Singapore ruling is a blow for Grab which set out an aggressive two-week timeframe for closing Uber in Southeast Asia, despite not contacting regulators in advance of the deal which sees it pick up a dominant slice of app-based taxi books across eight countries in Southeast Asia. The key question for regulators, however, appears to be whether app-based hailing is a market unto itself, or whether it is part of the wider taxi market.

If regulators chose the former option, then Uber-Grab almost certainly creates a monopoly, but since consumers can also hail apps in more traditional ways — e.g. on the street — or via taxi companies’ dedicated apps — as is the case in Singapore — then the deal hasn’t created a dominant player. It’s certainly a tricky one to assess.

Meanwhile, here is Grab’s statement on the Uber app extension and the IMD:

We appreciate that CCCS accepted our alternative interim measures. On CCCS’ request, we have agreed to extend the Uber app to 7 May to allow for a smoother transition time for riders and drivers. We trust that the CCCS’ review takes into account a dynamic industry that is constantly evolving, highly competitive, and being disrupted by technology and new services. The interim measures should not have the unintended effect of hampering competition and restricting businesses that have already been investing in the country over the years.

Grab notes the CCCS’ objective of giving drivers choice, and is fully supportive of extending our platform to all taxi drivers, including ComfortDelGro drivers who are still constrained from picking up JustGrab jobs. Grab entered Singapore five years ago with minimal resources and the goal of enabling all taxi drivers to earn a better living using our platform. We recognise CCCS’ commitment to preserving competition; all companies – no matter big or small, digital or traditional – are capable of innovation in a free market.

We’re proud to headquarter in Singapore, where the country’s free market economy and policies enable businesses to compete and innovate vigorously to solve customer needs. We trust the government will continue to be pro-business in providing a path for startups to flourish and become sustainable businesses. We will work within the set constraints and continue to focus on building better products to compete, ensuring fairness for passengers and drivers, and cultivating the local tech talent pool through our regional R&D centre in Singapore.

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later.

Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.”

The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems likely there’s far more yet to come, including pleas for similar crimes in different jurisdictions.

The execution of this strike against Backpage, the culmination of an 18-month investigation (beginning around the arrest of Ferrer), is coincident but not directly related to the passage and signing of FOSTA. The bill, just this week signed into law, effectively removes the “safe harbor” enjoyed by internet companies protecting them from having liability for the actions of their users. Under FOSTA, a company like Craigslist would be responsible if, for example, a prostitute listed their services on the site.

Unsurprisingly Craigslist and other sites have removed listings or services that may put them at risk under FOSTA, prompting criticism from the more legitimate sides of the sex industry that relied on them.

WeWork confirms deal to buy Naked Hub, one of its main competitors in China

WeWork is buying up one of its largest competitors in China after it announced a deal to acquire Naked Hub.

The deal was widely reported by Chinese media yesterday, but WeWork has now confirmed it through a blog post from its CEO Adam Neumann. Terms of the transaction are not disclosed but Bloomberg reported that it is worth around $400 million.

Naked Hub is an offshoot of China-based luxury resort company Naked Group that was started in 2015 by Grant Horsfield and Delphine Yip-Horsfield. The company is primarily anchored in China, with most of its locations in Beijing and Shanghai, but it has expanded into Australia, Hong Kong and Vietnam. All told, it claims to have 10,000 members across its 24 office locations.

Even though a deal to merge with Singapore-based JustCo was called off, Naked Hub had emerged as one of WeWork’s fiercest competitors in China with the ambition to continue that battle in Southeast Asia and other markets, as I wrote last year.

WeWork isn’t commenting at this point about how it plans to integrate the two brands, but its CEO Neumann paid tribute to the Naked Hub business.

“We have found an equal who shares our thinking about the importance of space, community, design, culture, and technology. Together, I believe we will have a profound impact in helping businesses across China grow, scale, and succeed,” he wrote.

“China-born naked Hub and WeWork may come from vastly different backgrounds, but there is more that binds us than separates us. The values we share toward creating a vibrant community for our members by using design, technology, and hospitality are core to how both companies are successful,” said Horsfield, Naked Group’s founder and chairman.

Naked Hub may be a growing threat to WeWork China, but it is far from the only major competitor. Unicorn Ucommune — which changed its name from URwork following a lawsuit from WeWork — is perhaps the largest profile Chinese challenger.

WeWork launched in China in 2016 via Shanghai. Today it said it has 13 locations in Greater China with plans to increase that to more than 40 by the end of this year. That’s a move that it said will quadruple its membership numbers in China from 10,000 to 40,000.

The deal is WeWork’s second acquisition of a competitor in Asia, its first being a deal to buy SpaceMob, a then 1.5-year-old company in Singapore, last year.

The company has been lining its pockets to fuel a big push into Asia.

Last year, the firm span out a WeWork China entity backed by $500 million from investors, while capital also went to WeWork Japan — a unit that investor SoftBank owns half of — and WeWork Pacific, its business focused on Southeast Asia and other parts of the region which also got a $500 million to spend. All of that capital was part of a $4.4 billion investment round in WeWork from SoftBank.

Tribe combines arcade games with group video chat

Sick of chatting but want to stay connected? Tribe‘s app lets you play clones of Space Invaders, Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja, Name That Tune and more while video chatting with up to seven friends or strangers. Originally a video messaging app, Tribe failed to gain traction in the face of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. But thanks to a $3 million funding round led by Kleiner Perkins in June, Tribe had the runway to pivot into video chat gaming that could prove popular, even if not in its app.

“As we all know, Messaging is a super-crowded area,” says Tribe co-founder Cyril Paglino. “If you look closely, very few communication products have been blowing up in the past three years.” Now, he says “we’re building a ‘Social Game Boy.’”

A former breakdancer, Paglino formed his team in France before renting a “hacker house” and moving to San Francisco. They saw traction in late 2016, hitting 500,000 downloads. Tribe’s most innovative feature was speech recognition that could turn a mention of “coffee” into a pre-made calendar request, a celebrity’s name into a link to their social media accounts, locations into maps and even offer Spotify links to songs playing in the background.

The promise of being the next hit teen app secured Tribe a $500,000 pre-seed from Kima and Ludlow Ventures in 2015, a $2.5 million seed in 2016 led by prestigious fund Sequoia Capital and then the June 2017 $3 million bridge from KPCB and others. But that $6 million couldn’t change the fact that people didn’t want to sign up for a new chat app when their friends were already established on others.

Luckily, Tribe saw a new trend emerging. Between HQ Trivia’s rise, the Apple App Store adding a Gaming tab, celebrities like Drake streaming their gameplay and Snapchat acquiring 3D gaming engine PlayCanvas, the Tribe team believed there was demand for a new way to play.

Tribe’s rebuilt iOS and Android apps let you rally a crew of friends or join in with strangers to play one of its old-school games. You’ll hear their voices and see their faces in the corner of the screen as everyone in your squad vies for first place. It’s like Houseparty’s group video chat, but with something to do. Facebook Messenger has its own gaming platform, but the games are largely asynchronous. That means you play separately and merely compare scores. That’s a lot less fun than laughing it up together as one of your buddies runs their race car off the road or gets attacked by an alien.

The only problem is that since your friends probably aren’t on Tribe already, the app is vulnerable to cloning by its bigger competitors. Paglino cited technical challenges his team has overcome, its young demographic and lessons learned from 18 months of iterations as what could keep Tribe from being easily co-opted. But as even public companies like Snapchat have learned, it can be tough to stay ahead of tech giants like Facebook with huge development teams, plenty of cash and apps that are already popular.
Tribe’s games are legitimately fun, and the video chat makes them feel a lot more like hanging out with friends and less like a waste of time. Even if Tribe isn’t the one to make mobile group video chat gaming ubiquitous, it could see its idea entertain millions… just in someone else’s app.

China’s SenseTime, the world’s highest valued AI startup, raises $600M

The future of artificial intelligence (AI), the technology that is seen as potentially impacting almost every industry on the planet, is widely acknowledged to be a war between tech firms in America and China.

In a notable side-note to that battle, China now has the world’s highest-valued AI startup after SenseTime, a company founded in 2014, announced a $600 million Series C investment round. A source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch that the round values the company at over $4.5 billion, while it is also raising an extension to this round. That marks a hefty increase on the company’s most recent $1.5 billion valuation when it raised a $410 million Series B last year.

SenseTime CEO Li Xu said the company plans to use the capital to expand its presence overseas and “widen the scope for more industrial application of AI.”

Beyond the high figures involved — the round is a record fundraising for an AI company worldwide — SenseTime’s investment efforts are notable because of the names that have backed it.

Principally that’s Alibaba, the $429 billion e-commerce giant, which led this Series C round and is reportedly now SenseTime’s largest single investor, according to Bloomberg.

Beyond that, U.S. chipmaker giant Qualcomm signed up last year — seemingly as an early participant in this round — while Singapore’s sovereign fund Temasek and China’s largest electronics retailer Suning, which has taken investment from Alibaba, entered the round as new backers. Indeed, Suning’s push to for its store of the future, which was started by that Alibaba investment, uses SenseTime to power its facial recognition payment at staff-less checkouts and also for customer analysis using big data systems.

“SenseTime is doing pioneering work in artificial intelligence. We are especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing. Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI and we are committed to further investment,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman.

SenseTime said it has more than 400 customers across a range of verticals including fintech, automotive, fintech, smartphones, smart city development and more that include Honda, Nvidia, China’s UnionPay, Weibo, China Merchants Bank, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Perhaps its most visible partner is the Chinese government, which uses its systems for its national surveillance system. SenseTime process data captured by China’s 170 million CCTV cameras and newer systems which include smart glasses worn by police offers on the street.

China has placed vast emphasis on tech development, with AI one of its key flagposts.

A government program aims to make the country the world leader in AI technology by 2030, the New York Times reported, by which time it is estimated that the industry could be worth some $150 billion per year. SenseTime’s continued development fees directly into that ambition.

“AI is really changing every profession and every industry. There’s almost nothing that won’t be touched by AI,” investor Kai-Fu Lee, formerly the head of Google in China, said at a TechCrunch event back in 2016.

Even two years ago, the potential was evident, with Lee explaining that teaching, medicine and healthcare were obvious areas for disruption.

Perhaps the main difference between the state of AI development in the U.S. and China is that, in America, much of the technology is being developed in big tech firms like Amazon and Google. In China, however, companies like SenseTime and its rival Megvii (which develops the Face++ platform) are independent entities that operate with the financial backing of giants like Alibaba.

RSS is undead

RSS died. Whether you blame Feedburner, or Google Reader, or Digg Reader last month, or any number of other product failures over the years, the humble protocol has managed to keep on trudging along despite all evidence that it is dead, dead, dead.

Now, with Facebook’s scandal over Cambridge Analytica, there is a whole new wave of commentators calling for RSS to be resuscitated. Brian Barrett at Wired said a week ago that “… anyone weary of black-box algorithms controlling what you see online at least has a respite, one that’s been there all along but has often gone ignored. Tired of Twitter? Facebook fatigued? It’s time to head back to RSS.”

Let’s be clear: RSS isn’t coming back alive so much as it is officially entering its undead phase.

Don’t get me wrong, I love RSS. At its core, it is a beautiful manifestation of some of the most visionary principles of the internet, namely transparency and openness. The protocol really is simple and human-readable. It feels like how the internet was originally designed with static, full-text articles in HTML. Perhaps most importantly, it is decentralized, with no power structure trying to stuff other content in front of your face.

It’s wonderfully idealistic, but the reality of RSS is that it lacks the features required by nearly every actor in the modern content ecosystem, and I would strongly suspect that its return is not forthcoming.

Now, it is important before diving in here to separate out RSS the protocol from RSS readers, the software that interprets that protocol. While some of the challenges facing this technology are reader-centric and therefore fixable with better product design, many of these challenges are ultimately problems with the underlying protocol itself.

Let’s start with users. I, as a journalist, love having hundreds of RSS feeds organized in chronological order allowing me to see every single news story published in my areas of interest. This use case though is a minuscule fraction of all users, who aren’t paid to report on the news comprehensively. Instead, users want personalization and prioritization — they want a feed or stream that shows them the most important content first, since they are busy and lack the time to digest enormous sums of content.

To get a flavor of this, try subscribing to the published headlines RSS feed of a major newspaper like the Washington Post, which publishes roughly 1,200 stories a day. Seriously, try it. It’s an exhausting experience wading through articles from the style and food sections just to run into the latest update on troop movements in the Middle East.

Some sites try to get around this by offering an array of RSS feeds built around keywords. Yet, stories are almost always assigned more than one keyword, and keyword selection can vary tremendously in quality across sites. Now, I see duplicate stories and still manage to miss other stories I wanted to see.

Ultimately, all of media is prioritization — every site, every newspaper, every broadcast has editors involved in determining what is the hierarchy of information to be presented to users. Somehow, RSS (at least in its current incarnation) never understood that. This is both a failure of the readers themselves, but also of the protocol, which never forced publishers to provide signals on what was most and least important.

Another enormous challenge is discovery and curation. How exactly do you find good RSS feeds? Once you have found them, how do you group and prune them over time to maximize signal? Curation is one of the biggest on-boarding challenges of social networks like Twitter and Reddit, which has prevented both from reaching the stratospheric numbers of Facebook. The cold start problem with RSS is perhaps its greatest failing today, although could potentially be solved by better RSS reader software without protocol changes.

RSS’ true failings though are on the publisher side, with the most obvious issue being analytics. RSS doesn’t allow publishers to track user behavior. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how many RSS subscribers there are, due to the way that RSS readers cache feeds. No one knows how much time someone reads an article, or whether they opened an article at all. In this way, RSS shares a similar product design problem with podcasting, in that user behavior is essentially a black box.

For some users, that lack of analytics is a privacy boon. The reality though is that the modern internet content economy is built around advertising, and while I push for subscriptions all the time, such an economy still looks very distant. Analytics increases revenues from advertising, and that means it is critical for companies to have those trackers in place if they want a chance to make it in the competitive media environment.

RSS also offers very few opportunities for branding content effectively. Given that the brand equity for media today is so important, losing your logo, colors, and fonts on an article is an effective way to kill enterprise value. This issue isn’t unique to RSS — it has affected Google’s AMP project as well as Facebook Instant Articles. Brands want users to know that the brand wrote something, and they aren’t going to use technologies that strip out what they consider to be a business critical part of their user experience.

These are just some of the product issues with RSS, and together they ensure that the protocol will never reach the ubiquity required to supplant centralized tech corporations. So, what are we to do then if we want a path away from Facebook’s hegemony?

I think the solution is a set of improvements. RSS as a protocol needs to be expanded so that it can offer more data around prioritization as well as other signals critical to making the technology more effective at the reader layer. This isn’t just about updating the protocol, but also about updating all of the content management systems that publish an RSS feed to take advantage of those features.

That leads to the most significant challenge — solving RSS as business model. There needs to be some sort of a commerce layer around feeds, so that there is an incentive to improve and optimize the RSS experience. I would gladly pay money for an Amazon Prime-like subscription where I can get unlimited text-only feeds from a bunch of a major news sources at a reasonable price. It would also allow me to get my privacy back to boot.

Next, RSS readers need to get a lot smarter about marketing and on-boarding. They need to actively guide users to find where the best content is, and help them curate their feeds with algorithms (with some settings so that users like me can turn it off). These apps could be written in such a way that the feeds are built using local machine learning models, to maximize privacy.

Do I think such a solution will become ubiquitous? No, I don’t, and certainly not in the decentralized way that many would hope for. I don’t think users actually, truly care about privacy (Facebook has been stealing it for years — has that stopped its growth at all?) and they certainly aren’t news junkies either. But with the right business model in place, there could be enough users to make such a renewed approach to streams viable for companies, and that is ultimately the critical ingredient you need to have for a fresh news economy to surface and for RSS to come back to life.

Shine Together aims to shine a light on women, and the women behind them

Behind every great woman, there is often another great woman who has encouraged her and listened to her and advised her, rather than tried to compete with her. That’s the way that it should be, according to Shine Theory, a concept that was crystalized by journalist Ann Friedman in 2013 and embraced by women in the last presidential administration at the urging of Barack Obama himself.

As Obama’s former senior advisor Valerie Jarrett recalls its genesis in the White House, numerous women who’d been hired into the largely male administration began voicing their opinions less and less over time. “You had to really push your idea in, and [it was] totally exhausting,” Jarrett recalls in a new interview with the founder of TaskRabbit, Leah Busque .

Jarrett — who’d recruited many of the female senior officials and knew they were the “best and the brightest” — felt responsible for their happiness, so she voiced her concern. “I said to President Obama, ‘Watch and see. These women aren’t talking as much as they did at the beginning; they’re shying away.’”

In response, he proposed an idea. “He said, ‘I want them to come over and have dinner with me at my home and we’re going to talk about it,’” says Jarrett. They did, and it was a “frank and open dinner, and everyone explained to him their perspective, and he said, ‘I have your back. And when I’m not there, Valerie has your back.’”

Obama then asked the women to commit to having dinner regularly with Jarrett and to come back if they felt they needed to speak with him again. They didn’t, says Jarrett. Over the dinners, she tells Busque, “We’d built our own community.” Attendees aired grievances about the male colleagues. They discussed their children. They found “safety in numbers,” says Jarrett. Most importantly, she says, they found strength that they carried into their work.

Little wonder that Busque, whose company sold to Ikea last year and who today works as a venture capitalist, now wants to help women across a broad range of industries more easily come together to learn, to laugh, and to amplify each other’s power.

Toward that end, Busque has formed a new initiative called Shine Together with Task Rabbit’s former VP of marketing, Jamie Viggiano, that plans to organize dinners with women, feature content at its site like Busque’s sit-down with Jarrett, and to help up-and-coming businesswomen connect with needed mentors.

The organization, which quietly announced itself on Medium a few weeks ago, has already launched with a series of stories focused on notable women, including Jarrett; five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin; and Ann Miura-Ko, the cofounding partner of the venture firm Floodgate.

Shine Together doesn’t merely feature women discussing their own paths, notably. It asks them to “shine a light on women who are behind the scenes but doing incredible stuff,” says Busque. Liukin, for example, talks in her interview about her mother. Miura-Ko talks about a sales executive, Stephanie Schatz, and their relationship.

For now, such video interviews will be published weekly and featured at Shine Together’s dedicated site. Over time, Viggiano — who is running the organization’s day-to-day operations — intends to work with distribution partners that are interested in making the content a part of their platforms, too.

As for the dinners, the idea is for powerful women to come and to bring a plus one — “someone who wouldn’t have access to this type of group,” Busque says. “We want to cast a wider net and give more women who deserve it [entrée] into these networking groups.”

It’s still early days, but you can learn more about the initiative here. Meanwhile, to learn more about Jarrett’s path in particular, you might check out Busque’s recent interview with her, below.

Crypto exchange Coincheck, still recovering from $400M hack, sold to online brokerage

Japanese crypto exchange Coincheck, made famously after hackers made off with more than $400 million in digital token NEM, has been acquired.

The company announced today (in Japanese) that Tokyo-based online brokerage Monex Group will buy it in full. The transaction will see Coincheck become a wholly owned subsidiary of Monex.

The deal is a reaction of the NEM hack, with Coincheck recognizing that it needs to strengthen its management system and organization as a whole. That’s in direct response to Japan’s Financial Services Agency, which requested that the exchange make changes in the wake of the January hack — which saw Coincheck reimburse affected users.

Japan is the world’s first market to regulate cryptocurrencies, and the country has given its approval to over 26 exchanges that operate there, both locally and international. The Coincheck incident seems to serve as a wakeup call, however, and authorities clamped down on six others who were told to beef up their organizations to prevent more scandals or security issues. Added that, a number of regulated exchanges have announced plans to team up to create a self-regulatory body to add further scrutiny.

Editor’s note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Highlights and audio from Zuckerberg’s emotional Q&A on scandals

“This is going to be a never-ending battle” said Mark Zuckerberg . He just gave the most candid look yet into his thoughts about Cambridge Analytica, data privacy, and Facebook’s sweeping developer platform changes today during a conference call with reporters. Sounding alternately vulnerable about his past negligence and confident about Facebook’s strategy going forward, Zuckerberg took nearly an hour of tough questions.

You can read a transcript here and listen to a recording of the call below:



The CEO started the call by giving his condolences to those affected by the shooting at YouTube yesterday. He then delivered this mea culpa on privacy:

We’re an idealistic and optimistic company . . . but it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well . . . We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is and that was a huge mistake. That was my mistake.

It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive and that they’re bringing people together.  It’s not enough just to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to hurt people or spread misinformation. And it’s not enough to give people tools to sign into apps, we have to make sure that all those developers protect people’s information too.

It’s not enough to have rules requiring that they protect the information. It’s not enough to believe them when they’re telling us they’re protecting information. We actually have to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people’s information.”

This is Zuckerberg’s strongest statement yet about his and Facebook’s failure to anticipate worst-case scenarios, which has led to a string of scandals that are now decimating the company’s morale. Spelling out how policy means nothing without enforcement, and pairing that with a massive reduction in how much data app developers can request from users makes it seem like Facebook is ready to turn over a new leaf.

Here are the highlights from the rest of the call:

On Zuckerberg calling fake news’ influence “crazy”: “I clearly made a mistake by just dismissing fake news as crazy — as having an impact . . . it was too flippant. I never should have referred to it as crazy.

On deleting Russian trolls: Not only did Facebook delete 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Russian government-connected election interference troll farm the Internet Research Agency, as Facebook announced yesterday. Zuckerberg said Facebook removed “a Russian news organization that we determined was controlled and operated by the IRA”.

On the 87 million number: Regarding today’s disclosure that up to 87 million people had their data improperly access by Cambridge Analytica, “it very well could be less but we wanted to put out the maximum that we felt it could be as soon as we had that analysis.” Zuckerberg also referred to The New York Times’ report, noting that “We never put out the 50 million number, that was other parties.”

On users having their public info scraped: Facebook announced this morning that “we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped” via its search by phone number or email address feature and account recovery system. Scammers abused these to punch in one piece of info and then pair it to someone’s name and photo . Zuckerberg said search features are useful in languages where it’s hard to type or a lot of people have the same names. But “the methods of react limiting this weren’t able to prevent malicious actors who cycled through hundreds of thousands of IP addresses and did a relatively small number of queries for each one, so given that and what we know to day it just makes sense to shut that down.”

On when Facebook learned about the scraping and why it didn’t inform the public sooner: This was my question, and Zuckerberg dodged, merely saying “We looked into this and understood it more over the last few days as part of the audit of our overall system”, while declining to specify when Facebook first identified the issue.

On implementing GDPR worldwide: Zuckerberg refuted a Reuters story from yesterday saying that Facebook wouldn’t bring GDPR privacy protections to the U.S. and elsewhere. Instead he says, “we’re going to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe.”

On if board has discussed him stepping down as chairman: “Not that I’m aware of” Zuckerberg said happily.

On if he still thinks he’s the best person to run Facebook: “Yes. Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward . . . I think what people should evaluate us on is learning from our mistakes . . .and if we’re building things people like and that make their lives better . . . there are billions of people who love the products we’re building.”

On the Boz memo and prioritizing business over safety: “The things that makes our product challenging to manage and operate are not the tradeoffs between people and the business. I actually think those are quite easy because over the long-term, the business will be better if you serve people. I think it would be near-sighted to focus on short-term revenue over people, and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted. All the hard decisions we have to make are tradeoffs between people. Different people who use Facebook have different needs. Some people want to share political speech that they think is valid, and other people feel like it’s hate speech . . . we don’t always get them right.”

On whether Facebook can audit all app developers: “We’re not going to be able to go out and necessarily find every bad use of data” Zuckerberg said, but confidently said “I actually do think we’re going to be be able to cover a large amount of that activity.

On whether Facebook will sue Cambridge Analytica: “We have stood down temporarily to let the [UK government] do their investigation and their audit. Once that’s done we’ll resume ours … and ultimately to make sure none of the data persists or is being used improperly. And at that point if it makes sense we will take legal action if we need to do that to get people’s information.”

On how Facebook will measure its impact on fixing privacy: Zuckerberg wants to be able to measure “the prevalence of different categories of bad content like fake news, hate speech, bullying, terrorism. . . That’s going to end up being the way we should be held accountable and measured by the public . . .  My hope is that over time the playbook and scorecard we put out will also be followed by other internet platforms so that way there can be a standard measure across the industry.”

On whether Facebook should try to earn less money by using less data for targeting “People tell us if they’re going to see ads they want the ads to be good . . . that the ads are actually relevant to what they care about . . On the one hand people want relevant experiences, and on the other hand I do think there’s some discomfort with how data is used in systems like ads. But I think the feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience. Maybe it’s 95-5.”

On whether #DeleteFacebook has had an impact on usage or ad revenue: “I don’t think there’s been any meaningful impact that we’ve observed…but it’s not good.”

On the timeline for fixing data privacy: “This is going to be a never-ending battle. You never fully solve security. It’s an arms race” Zuckerberg said early in the call. Then to close Q&A, he said “I think this is a multi-year effort. My hope is that by the end of this year we’ll have turned the corner on a lot of these issues and that people will see that things are getting a lot better.”

Overall, this was the moment of humility, candor, and contrition Facebook desperately needed. Users, developers, regulators, and the company’s own employees have felt in the dark this last month, but Zuckerberg did his best to lay out a clear path forward for Facebook. His willingness to endure this question was admirable, even if he deserved the grilling.

The company’s problems won’t disappear, and its past transgressions can’t be apologized away. But Facebook and its leader have finally matured past the incredulous dismissals and paralysis that characterized its response to past scandals. It’s ready to get to work.

Chinese bike-sharing pioneer Mobike sold to ambitious Meituan Dianping for $2.7B

Meituan Dianping, the fast-growing Chinese firm valued at $30 billion, is buying Mobike, a Chinese startup that helped pioneer bike-sharing services worldwide, in a major piece of consolidation.

The deal was heavy rumored yesterday and TechCrunch has today confirmed with two sources that it has been concluded at a price of $2.7 billion.

TechCrunch understands that the deal will be officially announced today, but already key personnel have let the cat out of the bag on social media. Mobike President and co-founder Hu Weiwei posted a cryptic WeChat message about “a new beginning,” as our Chinese partner Technode noted, while SCMP reported that Meituan CEO Wang Xing said the company will “build a new future with Mobike.”

Representatives from Meituan Dianping and Mobike did not respond to requests for comment.

Meituan Dianping is best known for food deliveries via electric bike, but that is just one part of its platform which connects local retailers to consumers via a so-called offline to online, or O2O, platform. The company was formed through a multi-billion dollar merger between China’s largest group buying services in 2015 and it has since raised boat-loads of capital from investors, including $4 billion last October, to expand into new areas.

Transportation is a major focus for Meituan Dianping. The firm began offering ride-hailing services earlier this year and it has invested in Go-Jek in Southeast Asia, so adding Mobike to its stables makes perfect sense on that front, not to mention potential synergies with its core delivery business, too.

These new forays might lead to an IPO. A host of Chinese firms have jumped into the public markets lately, and Bloomberg recently reported that Meituan Dianping hopes to join them with a listing that could value it as high as $60 billion.

The deal will also be a major win for Tencent against its long-time foe Alibaba.

Tencent is an investor in Meituan Dianping and Mobike, and unifying the two could help Meituan Dianping battle Ele.me, the $9.6 billion delivery service that Alibaba just bought in full last week. Indeed, Caixin reports that Tencent CEO Pony Ma himself brokered the deal.

Mobike and Ofo pioneered bike-sharing in China and the rest of the world. Mobike raised nearly $1 billion from investors that, Tencent aside, include Temasek, Foxconn, Hillhouse Capital and Vertex Ventures.

Mobike has been an investment and acquisition target for many.

Last year, a deal to merge with close rival Ofo was widely speculated. Ultimately, reports suggest that it fell through out of fear that Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing giant that invested in Ofo, would become too powerful if the two bike-sharing firms tied up. That theory seemed to have its merits after Didi rolled out a hostile bike-sharing platform that sits inside its hugely popular ride-hailing app and is aimed at extinguishing the threat of Ofo, Mobike and others by simply turning them into features rather than fully-fledged rivals.

Insider raises $11M to help internet marketers do better internet marketing

Insider, a service that aims to help brands go about their internet marketing with greater efficiency and success, has landed an $11 million investment led by Sequoia India.

The startup is originally from Turkey where it began life in 2012 as a platform that helped optimize online marketing campaigns. Now at 240 staff across 16 markets, it recently moved HQ to Singapore and today it launches its new ‘Growth Management Platform.’

Those three words together don’t really tell much about Insider’s new product, the aim of which is to help brands, marketers and website owners generally serve dynamic content that is tailored to their visitors. The idea according to Insider CEO Hande Cilingir — who is one of six co-founders of the business — is to give a visitor the most optimized version of the site based on who they are. In many ways, it is similar to LiftIgniter, the U.S. startup that raised $6.4 million last year and was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016.

Insider goes about that task by collecting pieces of data about the visitor — the 90-odd parameters include obvious things include location, the website they are visiting from, the device they are on, etc — all of which is used to showcase the most relevant content or information to ensure that this visitor gets the best experience. Insider said it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to boost its model, too, helping match potential similarities between users to build a wider and more intelligent picture about the type of people visiting a website.

The goal is really quite simple: keep people more engaged on a website and help website owners with their call to action, whatever that may be. Insider believes it can help lower customer acquisition costs through increased efficiency, while also boost existing conversion rates through customization.

Insider’s six co-founders

In the case of internet marketing, it is most often to e-commerce or other types of purchases.

That’s strongly reflected in the customer base that Insider claims. The company has put a big focus on Asia’s growing internet market — hence the move to Singapore — and publicly-announced clients for the startup include Singapore Airlines, Indonesian e-commerce firm Tokopedia, UNIQLO, Samsung, McDonald’s, Nissan and CNN.

Sequoia could help open doors, too, since the firm has invested in major consumer names in Asia such as Go-Jek, Carousell and Zomato.

“We were impressed with Insider’s AI platform, and the profound impact on their customer’s key metrics: lower customer acquisition costs, higher retention, faster growth. These customers quickly started to use more and more products from the Insider platform. That has put Insider on a fast growth trajectory, especially in Asia,” said Pieter Kemps, principal at Sequoia India.

Cilingir said the new funds will go towards expanding Insider’s sales team and hiring data scientists and machine learning engineers to develop the platform. The headquarters may be in Singapore now, but Istanbul remains the base for product development while the company’s core tech team is located in Ukraine.

The team is firmly focused on developing its business in Southeast Asia, she added, but it is also eying potential expansions with China and the U.S. among the more audacious new markets that it is considering at this point.

Already, Cilingir said the startup is on track to hit $100 million in annual recurring revenue by the end of 2018 while it is bullish that there’s more to come. Marketing giant Group M predicts that this is the year that online advertising spend overtakes TV for the first time in 17 countries worldwide and she’s optimistic that there will be a greater need for Insider’s products among brands and major consumer names worldwide.

Alongside Sequoia, Insider said that its existing investors Wamda Capital and Dogan Group also took part in the newest round, which is its Series B. The company previously raised a $2.2 million Series A in September 2016 to fund its initial foray into emerging markets.

Alibaba to buy all remaining outstanding shares of local delivery service Ele.me

As expected since February, Alibaba will buy all outstanding shares of Ele.me that it doesn’t already own. Best-known for food deliveries, Ele.me claims to be China’s biggest online delivery and local services platform. In an announcement, Alibaba said the deal values Ele.me at $9.5 billion. Alibaba, which first invested in Ele.me two years ago, and its affiliate Ant Small and Micro Financial Services Group currently hold about 43% of the company’s outstanding voting shares.

This is the latest in a string of investments and acquisitions by Alibaba to expand its physical retail presence as part of its so-called “new retail” strategy to combine e-commerce and offline retail. The company’s goal is to make it easier for users to move (and spend money) between brick-and-mortar stores and Alibaba businesses like Tmall and Taobao. For example, they may view products at pop-up stores and then order them on their smartphones for almost-immediate home delivery.

Ele.me, which will continue to operate under its own brand, is at its heart a logistics technology company. Founded in 2008, it utilizes its logistics system to provide services like Fengniao, an express courier for local deliveries. After the deal is finalized, Alibaba said that founder and chief executive officer Zhang Zhuhao (also known as Mark Zhang) will become chairman of Ele.me and special advisor to Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang on its new retail strategy. Wang Lei, currently vice president of Alibaba Group, will take over as Ele.me’s CEO.

In a press release, Zhang said “Under the leadership of its founder and management team, Ele.me has achieved leading market share in China’s online food delivery and local services sector. Our shared belief that New Retail will create more value for customers and merchants has brought us together. Looking forward, Ele.me can leverage Alibaba’s infrastructure in commerce and
find new synergies with Alibaba’s diverse businesses to add further momentum to the New Retail initiative.”

Bloomberg reported at the end of February that Alibaba planned to buy the rest of Ele.me’s shares from its other investors, including Baidu.

The deal deepens Alibaba’s competition with Tencent, in particular its own local services and delivery platform, Meituan Dianping, which was formed by a merger in 2015. Alibaba previously owned shares in Meituan Dianping, thanks to its investment in Meituan, but began offloading them soon after the merger with Dianping.

In a statement, Alibaba said Ele.me complements its affiliate Koubei, a platform that gives restaurants and stores a way to go online and reach more local customers.

“By combining Ele.me’s online home delivery services with Koubei’s consumer acquisition and engagement capability for a range of restaurants and service establishments, Alibaba will be able to offer an integrated experiences to customers both online and offline,” said the company.

Tesla says fatal crash involved Autopilot

Tesla has provided another update to last week’s fatal crash. As it turns out, Tesla said the driver had Autopilot on with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. However, it seems the driver ignored the vehicle’s warnings to take back control.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla wrote in a blog post. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”

The promise of Tesla’s Autopilot system is to reduce car accidents. In the company’s blog post, Tesla notes Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, according to an independent review by the U.S. government. Of course, that does not mean the technology is perfect in preventing all accidents.

As Tesla previously noted, the crash was so severe because the middle divider on the highway had been damaged in an earlier accident. Tesla also cautioned that Autopilot does not prevent all accidents, but it does make them less likely to occur.

No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe. There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.

In the past, when we have brought up statistical safety points, we have been criticized for doing so, implying that we lack empathy for the tragedy that just occurred. Nothing could be further from the truth. We care deeply for and feel indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. However, we must also care about people now and in the future whose lives may be saved if they know that Autopilot improves safety. None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer’s family and friends. We are incredibly sorry for their loss.

This development, of course, comes in light of a fatal accident involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona.

Baidu’s streaming video service iQiyi falls 13.6% in Nasdaq debut

The streaming video service iQiyi, a business owned by China’s online search giant Baidu, dropped 13.6% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq — closing at $15.55, or down $2.45 from its opening price of $18.

The company still managed to pull off one of the largest public offerings by a Chinese tech company in the past two years raising $2.25 billion — the only Chinese technology company to make a larger splash in U.S. markets is Alibaba — the commercial technology juggernaut which raised $21.5 billion in its public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

“It’s a special day and an exciting day for iQiyi, and I will say it’s also an exciting day for the Chinese internet,” said Baidu chief executive Robin Li of the iQiyi public offering.”Eight years ago, when we got started, we were not the first one, we were not the largest one, but we gradually worked our way up, and caught up and surpassed everyone. It has been not an easy journey, but finally we are public. We surpassed everyone. That’s because we have a very strong team. I have a full confidence on Gong Yu and on the whole iQiyi Team.”

Over its eight year history there’s no doubt that iQiyi has gone from laggardly to lustrous in the Chinese streaming video market. Baidu’s offering and Tencent’s video service have both managed to overtake the previous market leader Youku Tudou, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2016.

Tencent leveraged its 980 million monthly active users on the WeChat mobile messaging app, the 653 million monthly active users on its older QQ messaging platform and the company’s attendant social network (think Facebook) to juice growth of its video streaming offering, according to analysis from The Motley Fool.

For Baidu, the company’s pole position for online search became critical to the growth of iQiyi — along with a partnership to China’s ubiquitous hardware manufacturer and technology developer Xiaomi . The company also locked in early content licensing deals with big Hollywood studios like Lions Gate and Paramount — and a deal with Netflix to juice its subscriber base in China. By the end of 2017, Baidu was claiming more than 487 million monthly active users for the service.

The former leader in China’s video streaming market, Youku Tudou, seems to have wilted under the weight of its acquirer’s platform. Alibaba’s ecommerce was never a natural fit with online video streaming.

For all of their massive user bases each of China’s leading video streaming services face a profitability problem. For its part, iQiyi went to market with substantial losses of $574.4 million for the last fiscal year.

 

 

SoftBank Group and Saudi Arabia plan to spend $200 billion building the world’s biggest solar power plant

SoftBank Group Corp., known for splashy deals involving billions of dollars (see: its Vision Fund and investments in Uber and Didi), has signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia to build a $200 billion solar power plant. Expected to reach its full capacity of 200 gigawatts by 2030, the development will be the largest of its kind in the world by far.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the Saudi Arabian project is about 100 times larger than the next biggest proposed development, the 2 gigawatt Solar Choice Bulli Creek PV in Australia, which is expected to be completed by 2023.

During an event with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in New York City on Tuesday (pictured above), Son said the project will create 100,000 jobs, triple Saudi Arabia’s electricity generation capacity and save $40 billion in power costs. Saudi Arabia is the largest crude exporter in the world, but the kingdom is currently trying to diversify its economy beyond oil. Last month, the government awarded ACWA Power a $302 million deal to build Saudi Arabia’s first utility-scale renewable energy plant.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, clean energy projects became one of Son’s passions, with SoftBank also investing in wind and solar energy projects in Mongolia and the Asia Super Grid, an extremely ambitious renewable transmission energy project spanning several Asian countries.

SoftBank’s other deals in Saudi Arabia include a $93 billion tech investment fund that was announced in May 2017, with backing by the Vision Fund and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

What Tesla knows about the fatal Model X crash

Tesla has shed some more light on the fatal crash and fire involving a Model X car last week. In a blog post tonight, Tesla said it’s not yet clear what happened in the time leading up to the accident. Tesla also said it does not yet know what caused it.

Tesla did note that, according to its data, Tesla owners have driven that same stretch of Highway 101 with Autopilot engaged about 85,000 times since Tesla first rolled out the automated control system in 2015. Since the beginning of this year, Tesla drivers have successfully handled that stretch of the highway 20,000 times, according to Tesla.

“The reason this crash was so severe is that the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced,” the company wrote.

Below, you can see what the barrier was supposed to look like versus what it looked like the day before the accident.

Tesla says it obtained the image of the more recent photo from the dash cam of a witness who regularly makes the commute. The company went on to say it has “never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.”

As previously reported, the accident also caused a fire. In the event there is a fire, Tesla says its battery packs are designed so that people have enough time to get out of the car.

“According to witnesses, that appears to be what happened here as we understand there were no occupants still in the Model X by the time the fire could have presented a risk,” Tesla wrote. “Serious crashes like this can result in fire regardless of the type of car, and Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle.”

The promise of Tesla’s Autopilot system is to reduce car accidents. In the company’s blog post, Tesla notes Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, according to an independent review by the U.S. government. Of course, that does not mean the technology is perfect in preventing all accidents.

Earlier today, the National Transportation Safety Board announced it is conducting an investigation into the accident, which killed the driver and resulted in a fire.

2 NTSB investigators conducting Field Investigation for fatal March 23, 2018, crash of a Tesla near Mountain View, CA. Unclear if automated control system was active at time of crash. Issues examined include: post-crash fire, steps to make vehicle safe for removal from scene.

— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) March 27, 2018

“Out of respect for the privacy of our customer and his family, we do not plan to share any additional details until we conclude the investigation,” Tesla’s blog post stated. “We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of our customer.”

Amazon partners with French retailer Monoprix to launch Prime Now grocery deliveries in Paris

Amazon’s business in France is taking a big step forward after announcing a new deal today with retail giant Monoprix to deliver groceries through Prime Now. The service will begin serving Prime Now members in Paris this year and include products carried by Monoprix, including its own branded items and fresh produce.

Monoprix’s website already offers services including home deliveries in some areas and “click and collect,” which lets shoppers pre-order items online before picking them up at a nearby store.

Frédéric Duval, Amazon France’s country manager, told Journal du Dimanche earlier this month that the company wanted to launch grocery delivery there, though at the time he didn’t specify who Amazon would partner with. Monoprix competitors Systeme U, Leclerc and Intermarche were reportedly also considered potential candidates, while struggling big box store operator Carrefour was speculated to be an acquisition target.

Monoprix is owned by Casino Group, a French retail conglomerate that operates stores, including supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants, in France, Latin America and Southeast Asia. It generated 38 billion Euros in consolidated net sales last year.

In press statement, Duval said “This commercial partnership, which further enlarges Prime Now service selection, will enable Amazon Prime customers to benefit from ultra-fast deliveries for their Monoprix orders.”

Monarch is a new platform from surgical robot pioneer Frederic Moll

Auris Health (née Auris Surgical Robots) has done a pretty good job flying under the radar, in spite of raising a massive amount of capital and listing one of the key people behind the da Vinci surgical robot among its founders. With FDA clearance finally out of the way, however, the Redwood City-based startup medical startup is ready to start talking.

This week, Auris revealed the Monarch Platform, which swaps the da Vinci’s surgical approach for something far less invasive. The system utilizes the common endoscopy procedure to a insert a flexible robot into hard to reach places inside the human body. A doctor trained on the system uses a video game-style controller to navigate inside, with help from 3D models.

Monarch’s first target is lung cancer, the which tops the list of deadliest cancers. More deaths could be stopped, if doctors were able to catch the disease in its early stages, but the lung’s complex structures, combined with current techniques, make the process difficult. According to the company,  “More than 90-percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer do not survive, in part because it is often found at an advanced stage.”

“A CT scan shows a mass or a lesion,” CEO Frederic Moll tells TechCrunch. “It doesn’t tell you what it is. Then you have to get a piece of lung, and if it’s a small lesion. It isn’t that easy — it can be quite a traumatic procedure. So you’d like to do it a very systematic and minimally invasive fashion. Currently it’s difficult with manual techniques and 40-percent of the time, there is no diagnosis. This is has been a problem for many years and [inhibits] the ability of a clinician to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.

Auris was founded half a dozen years ago, in which time the company has managed to raise a jaw-dropping $500 million, courtesy of Mithril Capital Management, Lux Capital, Coatue Management and Highland Capital. The company says the large VC raise and long runway were necessary factors in building its robust platform.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have an investor base that is supportive of our vision and committed to us for the long-term,” CSO Josh DeFonzo tells TechCrunch. “The investments that have been made in Auris are to support both the development of a very robust product pipeline, as well as successful clinical adoption of our technology to improve patient outcomes.”

With that funding and FDA approval for Monarch out of the way, the company has an aggressive timeline. Moll says Auris is hoping to bring the system to hospitals and outpatient centers by the end of the year. And once it’s out in the wild, Monarch’s disease detecting capabilities will eventually extend beyond lung cancer.

“We have developed what we call a platform technology,” says Moll. “Bronchoscopy is the first application, but this platform will do other robotic endoscopies.”

Snap reportedly bought its very own 3D game engine

Snapchat’s parent company bought a web-based 3D game engine startup out of the UK this past May, Business Insider (paywalled) reports.

PlayCanvas is a development tool focused on letting people easily design rich 3D environments. Unlike products from companies like Unity and Epic Games, PlayCanvas’s game engine was entirely browser-based and was optimized to run on low-power devices. The focus of the WebGL engine stretches from configuring 3D models to running entire games.

The small London-based company was founded in 2011 and raised just $590,000 in seed funding from investors including the Microsoft Accelerator and DC Thomson Ventures according to Crunchbase. We don’t know how much the deal went for.

While many of Snap’s recent acquisitions have focused on bolstering consumer-facing features, PlayCanvas seems to be focused squarely on developers. The most obvious use of a tool would have been to integrate the technology into Snap’s Lens Studio product where developers can build their own AR Lens effects. Snap has recently been drawing more attention to third-party AR creations, and it’s clear that if the company wants to reach any sort of scale in its augmented reality plans, it’s going to have to hand over the reigns to a developer network.

We have reached out to Snap for confirmation.

Southern California needs to find its hub for it to develop its own tech ecosystem

Recognizing the tens of billions of dollars that the Southern Californian region leaves on the table, because it hasn’t taken its rightful place in the American technology industry, a new group called  the Alliance for Southern California Innovation has just released a report to analyze how SoCal can work to assume its pole position.

Through interviews with 100 leaders of the technology ecosystem and an analysis of venture capital funding for the region, the organization has concluded (with the help of the Boston Consulting Group) that the promise of a regional rival to Northern California’s silicon valley won’t be fulfilled without the establishment of a geographic hub and a willingness to overcome regional differences.

Founded by Steve Poizner last year to accelerate the growth of a startup entrepreneurial ecosystem in Southern California, The Alliance is building a network of investors, entrepreneurs and universities to provide ballast in the south to the dominance of the Northern California tech industry.

The Alliance estimates that Southern California’s tech community could be one-third the size of Silicon Valley’s by supporting or further developing the six pillars it already has for innovation to occur.

The potential impact making these changes could have is an added 200,000 new jobs and growth of $100 billion for the whole economic region.

“Over the past several years we have observed a significant decrease in startups leaving SoCal,” said Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank . “We’ve also seen a substantial inflow of venture capital from all over the world.”

In fact, as is well-reported, the luster of Silicon Valley is fading. As BCG writes in its report:

The good news for SoCal and any region with tech ambitions is that the Bay Area has in some ways been too successful. Our research revealed a saturation level causing unprecedented challenges, starting with exorbitant housing prices and runaway operating costs that accelerate a startup’s “burn rate”—its monthly spending.

Los Angeles investor Mark Suster, a general partner with Upfront Ventures, has been beating the drum for Los Angeles as a new tech hub for a while — and billion dollar exits for Ring and Dollar Shave Club, in addition to the public offering for Snap, lend credence to his position.

Suster has also noted for years that the region produces more technology doctorates than any other geography in the United States. Caltech generates more patents than any other university while UCLA boasts more startups founded by its graduate than any other school in the nation. Meanwhile, UCSD in San Diego has a deep bench of biotechnology expertise stemming from its proximity to the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, the Salk Institute, and the Scripps Research Institute.

However, to thrive, BCG recommends taking six steps to bolster the the ecosystem and its chances to begin to catch up to Silicon Valley.

The consulting firm says that Southern California needs more local venture capital; the individual geographies need to work to promote their regional strengths; regions need to collaborate more closely with each other; founders need to start gunning for that IPO slot instead of taking acquisition offers; the region’s commitment to diversity needs to be emphasized; and finally the embarrassment of entrepreneurial riches needs to be promoted abroad.

“Southern California is a region of extreme innovation; however, it is so spread-out, making it hard to navigate,” said Steve Poizner founder and board chair of the Alliance, in a statement. “We believe by finding, filtering and aggregating exciting startups from top universities, research institutes, and incubators/accelerators, we can demonstrate the combined strength of SoCal in a compelling way to top investors and thought leaders.”

Kyklo is bringing the billion-dollar electromechanical industry into digital sales

The electromechanical industry may not be the kind of sexy tech that you’ll regularly read about in TechCrunch, but we like solutions to problems, and that is why I am about to write about a company in the aforementioned industry. Add in that the startup is based in Asia — Thailand, to be precise — and we have the recipe for a young company to keep an eye on.

Kyklo is the company and it is aimed at bringing the electromechanical space, which is worth over $1 trillion per year across 100,000s of distributors and retailers worldwide, into the digital era. The company operates a service that brings sales channels, inventory and networks online to replace the existing system, which is largely offline.

As of now, for example, if an OEM is selling air conditioning units for a new building development — the industry touches 5-20 percent of every new building via electrical equipment — the process will typically be handled by a reseller who presents a paper-based inventory to the buyer. Kyklo is proposing to take things online by allowing OEMs to lay out their inventory in a web-based shop — like Shopify — which can then be used by the reseller to solicit sales.

The idea may seem elementary, but the benefits go beyond ease of use — a website obviously has plenty of benefits over a physical sales catalog — including increased visibility to the OEM, who previously relied on the reseller for sales data. Resellers themselves also have a more dynamic catalog of products to share with prospective sales leads, which is also designed to feature highly in search engine rankings to help bring in inbound sales leads.

Kyklo began as a Shopify-like solution when it was founded in 2015 by two former employees of Schneider Electric, the $50-billion electric and energy company that is listed in Paris, France. Over the past year, however, the startup refocused into a sales lead and management tool for both OEMs and resellers.

CEO Remi Ducrocq — who started Kyklo with fellow co-founder and CTO Fabien Legouic — told TechCrunch that there was an expectation that simply by launching a store sales leads would land. While Kyklo does optimize search ranking, it works best as an aid for teams by helping coordinate sales leads, giving greater transparency on data — for future sales predictions — making it easy to add new products quickly, and automating much of the process for repeat customers.

Kyklo CEO Remi Ducrocq and CTO Fabien Legouic (left and right) both formerly worked for Schneider Electric

Rather than spending time requests from existing customers with phone calls and emails, resellers can simply provide a link to the catalog and enable customers to handle the re-purchasing process by themselves. That frees up resources to chase new sales and more.

“When we pitch distributors on why they should digitize their sales operations, it is first about how you get your existing customers online. So you shift your business from offline to online and by doing so you’ll get better satisfaction and you’ll be able to saturate your customer base,” Ducrocq said, pointing out that the service has helped some customers add 20 percent more sales from existing customers.

“Considering a distributor has 10 sales guys covering 1,000 customers, the truth is they only spend time with 50 guys who do 80 percent of the orders,” Ducrocq added. “On existing customers, a lot of the work is really admin [so] that’s something you can take off by making it digital.”

Kyklo’s customer base includes Schneider Electric and Thailand-based Interlink, the latter of which told TechCrunch in a statement that it grew revenue from its online business five-fold “in a matter of months” after coming on the Kyklo platform.

The benefit for OEMs is obvious, but initially some resellers were initially unsure of allowing a third-party into the relationship with their supplier (OEM). Kyklo CEO Ducrocq said his company has no interest in entering the reseller space. In fact, it has field agents who accompany resellers to meetings with their major buyers to help them come aboard while it jointly works on data and statistics to help reseller teams target new sales opportunities.

While it is sticking firmly to its position in the sales cycle, the startup does, however, have designs on international expansion. Right now, has customers in seven markets in Asia — Ducrocq is half-French, half-Thai hence the initial location in Bangkok — but already it is casting eyes on the European and North American markets.

U.S.-based Handshake, a B2B sales platform that has raised over $20 million from investors, is perhaps one of the most notable competitors it would come up against, but Kyklo believes its focus on the electromechanical space can help it conquer its niche. The startup is also looking to expand its relationship with existing global customers who it services in Asia to cover new markets that will give it a rolling start to its expansions.

“Right now we’re looking at which two countries we will do in Europe, and where we will go in the U.S.,” Ducrocq said.

In order to aid that expansion, Kyklo has raised funding from investors that include Singapore-based duo SeedPlus and Wavemaker Partners. Ducrocq declined to provide financial details of the round, while he also declined to give financial details on Kyklo’s business.

The company currently has 40 staff in its Bangkok HQ, with a number of remote business development and sales executives. While it plans to increase the number of staff it has outside of Thailand, there is no plan to relocate its main office from Bangkok.

The Kyklo office in Bangkok

IBM launches deep learning as a service inside its Watson Studio

IBM’s Watson Studio is the company’s service for building machine learning workflows and training models, is getting a new addition today with the launch of Deep Learning as a Service (DLaaS). The general idea here, which is similar to that of competing services, is to enabled a wider range of businesses to make user of recent advances in machine learning by lowering the barrier of entry.

With these new tools, developers can develop their models with the same open source frameworks they are likely already using (think TensorFlow, Caffe, PyTorch, Keras etc.). Indeed, IBM’s new service essentially offers these tools as cloud-native services and developers can use a standard Rest API to train their models with the resources they want — or within the budget they have. For this service, which offers both a command-line interface, Python library or interactive user interface, that means developers get the option to choose between different Nvidia GPUs, for example.

The idea of a managed environment for deep learning isn’t necessarily new, With the Azure ML Studio, Microsoft offers a highly graphical experience for building ML models, too, after all. IBM argues that its service offers a number of distinct advantages, though. Among other things, the service offers a drag-and-drop neural network builder that allows even non-programmers to configure and design their neural networks.

In addition, IBM’s tools will also automatically tune hyperparameters for its users. That’s traditionally a rather time-consuming processes when done by hand and something that sits somewhere between art and science.

Alibaba doubles down on Lazada with fresh $2B investment and new CEO

Alibaba is increasing its control of Lazada, its e-commerce marketplace in Southeast Asia it acquired control of in 2016, after it injected another $2 billion into the business and replaced its CEO with a long-standing Alibaba executive.

Alibaba’s first investment came in April 2016 when it bought 51 percent of Lazada for $1 billion, and it added another $1 billion last summer to increase its equity to around 83 percent. With today’s news, Alibaba has invested $4 billion to date which it said will “accelerate the growth plans” and help further tie the Lazada business into Alibaba’s core e-commerce service.

There’s already been plenty of evidence of increased ties between Alibaba and Lazada. The latter began offering products from Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace across Southeast Asia last year, and Alibaba has replaced Lazada’s tech team leadership with executives of its own. The latest shakeup is the appointment of Lucy Peng as Lazada’s new CEO to replace Max Bittner, who was installed by former owner Rocket Internet back in 2012.

Peng, who is one of Alibaba’s original 12 founders, has been Chairwoman of Lazada and is executive chairman of Ant Financial, Alibaba’s fintech affiliate company. Bittner will remain involved as “senior advisor to Alibaba Group” and apparently involved in future strategy, including further international expansion opportunities.

Lazada has progressed significantly since Alibaba’s first investment — which came at a time when the business had been close to running out of money — but the reality in Southeast Asia is that e-commerce in the region is a loss-making industry with plenty of competition.

Amazon entered the foray last year, but it remains only in Singapore, while Shopee is a two-year-old entrant bankrolled by Sea, formerly Garena, which raised over $1 billion in a U.S. IPO last year.

Alibaba hasn’t just limited its Southeast Asia approach to backing Lazada. The firm also invested $1.1 billion in Tokopedia which competes with Lazada in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country.

Facebook’s latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers

Facebook’s late Friday disclosure that a data analytics company with ties to the Trump campaign improperly obtained — and then failed to destroy — the private data of 50 million users is generating more unwanted attention from politicians, some of whom were already beating the drums of regulation in the company’s direction.

On Saturday morning, Facebook dove into the semantics of its disclosure, arguing against wording in the New York Times story the company was attempting to get out in front of that referred to the incident as a breach. Most of this happened on the Twitter account of Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos before Stamos took down his tweets and the gist of the conversation made its way into an update to Facebook’s official post.

“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” the added language argued.

I have deleted my Tweets on Cambridge Analytica, not because they were factually incorrect but because I should have done a better job weighing in.

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) March 17, 2018

While the language is up for debate, lawmakers don’t appear to be looking kindly on Facebook’s arguably legitimate effort to sidestep data breach notification laws that, were this a proper hack, could have required the company to disclose that it lost track of the data of 50 million users, only 270,000 of which consented to data sharing to the third party app involved. (In April of 2015, Facebook changed its policy, shutting down the API that shared friends data with third-party Facebook apps that they did not consent to sharing in the first place.)

While most lawmakers and politicians haven’t crafted formal statements yet (expect a landslide of those on Monday), a few are weighing in. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar calling for Facebook’s chief executive — and not just its counsel — to appear before the Senate Judiciary committee.

Facebook breach: This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I’ve called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say “trust us.” Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 17, 2018

Senator Mark Warner, a prominent figure in tech’s role in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, used the incident to call attention to a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Honest Ads Act, designed to “prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.”

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” Warner said in a statement. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

That call for transparency was echoed Saturday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who announced that her office would be launching an investigation into the situation. “Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Healey tweeted. TechCrunch has reached out to Healey’s office for additional information.

On Cambridge Analytica’s side, it looks possible that the company may have violated Federal Election Commission laws forbidding foreign participation in domestic U.S. elections. The FEC enforces a “broad prohibition on foreign national activity in connection with elections in the United States.”

“Now is a time of reckoning for all tech and internet companies to truly consider their impact on democracies worldwide,” said Nuala O’Connor, President of the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Internet users in the U.S. are left incredibly vulnerable to this sort of abuse because of the lack of comprehensive data protection and privacy laws, which leaves this data unprotected.”

Just what lawmakers intend to do about big tech’s latest privacy debacle will be more clear come Monday, but the chorus calling for regulation is likely to grow louder from here on out.

Tinder owner Match is suing Bumble over patents

Drama is heating up between the dating apps.

Tinder, which is owned by Match Group, is suing rival Bumble, alleging patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property.

The suit alleges that Bumble “copied Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise.” The lawsuit also accuses Tinder-turned-Bumble employees Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick of copying elements of the design. “Bumble has released at least two features that its co-founders learned of and developed confidentially while at Tinder in violation of confidentiality agreements.”

It’s complicated because Bumble was founded by CEO Whitney Wolfe, who was also a co-founder at Tinder. She wound up suing Tinder for sexual harassment. 

Yet Match hasn’t let the history stop it from trying to buy hotter-than-hot Bumble anyway. As Axios’s Dan Primack pointed out, this lawsuit may actually try to force the hand for a deal. Bumble is majority-owned by Badoo, a dating company based in London and Moscow.

(It wouldn’t be the first time a dating site sued another and then bought it. JDate did this with JSwipe.)

Match provided the following statement:

Match Group has invested significant resources and creative expertise in the development of our industry-leading suite of products. We are committed to protecting the intellectual property and proprietary data that defines our business. Accordingly, we are prepared when necessary to enforce our patents and other intellectual property rights against any operator in the dating space who infringes upon those rights.

I have, um, tested out both Tinder and Bumble and they are similar. Both let you swipe on nearby users with limited information like photos, age, school and employer. And users can only chat if both opt-in.

However, Tinder has developed more of the reputation as a “hookup” app and Bumble doesn’t seem to have quite the same image, largely because it requires women to initiate the conversation, thus setting the tone.

As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez pointed out recently, “according to App Annie, Tinder is more than 10x bigger in terms of monthly users and 7x bigger in terms of downloads in the last 12 months, versus Bumble.”

We’ve reached out to Bumble for comment.

nuqneH? yIjatlh! You can now learn Klingon with Duolingo

If you’re a real Star Wars Star Trek fan, chances are you’ve always dreamt of learning Klingon. It’s one of the most lovely and melodic tongues in the pantheon of fake languages, after all. Well, here is your chance: Duolingo today announced the launch of the official Klingon course on its service.

“Many Star Trek fans become curious about the Klingon language at some point, but learning a language takes time, energy and regular practice, especially when you’re just starting out,” lead course creator and Star Trek fan Felix Malmenbeck, who started working on this project back in 2015, told us. “Therefore, if the language isn’t one of your primary interests, chances are you’ll end up investing that energy elsewhere, whether it’s cosplay, fan fiction, reading novels or any of the multitude of forms that fandom can take.”

Like all Duolingo courses, the Klingon course, too, is available free of charge. Unlike regular languages courses, though, Duolingo probably had to get its legal department involved in launching this one, and the course is actually under licence by CBS Consumer Products.

Klingon joins the other 30 languages that are currently available on the Duolingo platform, which currently has about 200 million users.

Maki.vc is a new early-stage VC out of Helsinki co-founded by the Chair of Slush

A new early-stage VC fund targeting tech startups in the Nordics is getting its official launch today. Founded by serial entrepreneur and Slush Chairman Ilkka Kivimäki​, and former F-Secure and startup executive Pirkka Palomäki​, Helsinki-based Maki.vc will invest in nascent and burgeoning companies in the region, both at seed and Series A stage. The VC […]

India’s Ola takes its Uber rivalry to Australia with launch in Sydney

 Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, has taken its first step overseas after its service officially went live in Australia via a launch in Sydney. The company announced its plans to go Down Under at the end of January and in Sydney, which is its first full launch, Ola said it has signed up over 7,000 registered drivers. Initially, passengers will be able to enjoy free rides for a limited… Read More

Gillmor Gang: TV Dinner

Gillmor Gang Artcard The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Denis Pombriant, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Saturday, March 10, 2018. G3: Fear Factory — Mary Hodder, Elisa Camehort Page, Halley Suitt Tucker, Maria Ogneva, and Tina Chase Gillmor. Recorded live Thursday, March 8, 2018. @stevegillmor, @kevinmarks, @kteare, @DenisPombriant, @fradice Produced and directed by Tina… Read More

Trump’s take on gaming and violence was wrong in the ’90s and it’s twice as wrong now

 A cobbled-together meeting at the White House is the latest chapter in the long, misguided crusade against video games. It would be comical if the country were not in a bitter ongoing debate about gun control and the safety of children; but since we are, it’s frustrating that time is still being spent on this long-settled “debate” instead of on practical matters. Read More

Coinbase addresses Ripple rumors, says it has made no decision on adding new coins

 Coinbase just threw a bit of cold water on Ripple enthusiasts eager to see their coin hit the popular mainstream exchange.  Rumors that Ripple’s XRP would be next in line after Bitcoin Cash reached a fever pitch this week among coin hype types, with some reading between the lines of a Tuesday segment of CNBC’s Fast Money that’s set to feature Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse… Read More

Netflix’s ‘Icarus’ wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature

Icarus It was a quiet Oscar ceremony for the big streaming services, but Netflix’s doping film Icarus (directed by Bryan Fogel) did win the award for best documentary feature. The Big Sick, distributed by Amazon Studios, was nominated for best original screenplay, while Netflix’s Mudbound was nominated for best adapted screenplay, cinematography (amazingly, Rachel Morrison is the first… Read More

Tina Sharkey has something to sell you (300 things, actually)

 Brandless is an usual company. A direct-to-consumer purveyor of food, beauty, and personal care products, it says that every item it makes is non-genetically modified, kosher, fair-trade, gluten-free, often organic and, in the case of cleaning supplies, EPA “Safer Choice” certified. They are also priced at $3 across the board. The idea, says cofounder and CEO Tina Sharkey, is… Read More

Come to TechCrunch’s party and SXSW panels

 TechCrunch invites you to our annual Crunch By Crunch Fest party in Austin, Texas. RSVP to come meet our writers while enjoying free drinks and musical performances by live electronic pop wizards Autograf, digital RnB drummer Mobley, angelic songwriter MIEARS, and yacht dance DJs Glassio. It’s going down from noon to 4pm, Sunday March 11th. We’re teaming up with Splash to take over… Read More