Following its acquisition by BuzzFeed, HuffPost shuts down its Brazil and India editions

HuffPost is becoming part of BuzzFeed, but HuffPost India and HuffPost Brasil will not be making the transition — both sites are shutting down today.

“Today is @huffpostIndia’s last day,” tweeted the team’s editor in chief Aman Sethi. “Pound for pound, story for story, reporter for reporter, this is the greatest newsroom I have worked for; (and I still can’t quite believe I had the privilege to lead)[.] Thank you everyone for reading our stories and supporting our journalism.”

Last week, BuzzFeed announced that it was acquiring HuffPost as part of a broader deal with Verizon Media (which also owns TechCrunch). As part of the deal, the companies will be collaborating on content syndication and advertising.

“We confirm that HuffPost has closed its editions in India and Brazil with immediate effect,” Verizon Media said in a statement. “We would like to thank the HuffPost India and HuffPost Brazil teams for their hard work and contribution to the organization.”

The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani tweeted what appeared to be an internal comment from BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, who said that the company wasn’t “legally allowed to take on the Brazil and India editions” — he claimed that “foreign companies aren’t allowed to own news organizations” in India, while BuzzFeed cannot operate in Brazil as one of the conditions of selling BuzzFeed Brasil.

Fortnite adds a $12 monthly subscription bundle

Fortnite’s free to play model has no doubt been a big driver in the battle royale title’s stratospheric success. Epic clearly hasn’t had much issue monetizing the game. While revenue slipped last year, it still managed to pull in a massive windfall of $1.8 billion (down from an even more staggering $2.4 billion).

The company has had no shortage of investments, though it could always use some extra cash for…reasons.

Today, the publisher announced a new model designed to deliver reoccurring payments, in addition to its standard micro transactions — offering up a discount on some of its virtual wares in the process.

The $11.99 monthly Fortnite Crew fee entitles players to a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. The monthly fee adds up — as monthly fees do. It’s certainly significantly pricier than just going in for the standard battle pass, which runs a couple of bucks less and generally lasts a few months or so. Ditto for a 1,000 V-Bucks, which run around $8.

The plan will launch December 2, along Chapter 2, Season 5 of the game. The first pack includes a Galaxia outfit. It’s a space-themed suit that also includes a unicorn-head pickaxe. Content from popular properties like the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” may also be on the horizon, as well. Certainly exclusive access to well-known IP would go a ways toward sweetening the appeal of yet another monthly subscription.

Tesla is now worth half a trillion dollars

Surging Tesla shares have pushed the company’s market capitalization to more than $515 billion, a fivefold increase since the start of the year.

The traditionally volatile stock has continued to experience price swings. But since reaching a low for the year in March, Tesla’s share price has been on an upwards trajectory that accelerated in August. Tesla’s share price, which rose 4.6% in morning trading to $545.62, has helped blast its CEO Elon Musk into the upper stratosphere of Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. As of Tuesday, Musk’s net worth had risen $7.24 billion to more than $128 billion. Only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos stands in his way to becoming the world’s wealthiest person.

Tesla shares have been fueled over the past week by news that it will be added to the S&P 500 index in December. Since Friday, the company has added more than $52 billion to its market cap — the equivalent of adding nearly one and a half Ford Motor Co., to its valuation.

The S&P Dow Jones Indices announced November 16 that Tesla will officially join the benchmark index prior to trading December 21, putting the electric automaker in the same company as heavyweights like Apple, Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft.

When Tesla joins the S&P 500, it will be among the most valuable companies on the benchmark. Its weighting will be so influential that the S&P DJI is mulling whether to add the stock at the full float-adjusted market capitalization weight all at once or in two tranches.

Tesla’s addition to the S&P 500 isn’t just a symbolic nod. Joining the S&P 500 has real financial benefits, as investors that have index-tracked funds will be forced to buy shares. With share prices already popping, that will mean investors will have to sell other stocks to make room for Tesla.

HMBradley raises $18.25 million planting a flag as LA’s entrant into the challenger bank business

With $90 million in deposits and $18.25 million in new financing, HMBradley is making moves as the Los Angeles-based entrant into the challenger bank competition.

LA is home to a growing community of financial services startups and HMBradley is quickly taking its place among the leaders with a novel twist on the banking business.

Unlike most banking startups that woo customers with easy credit and savvy online user interfaces, HMBradley is pitching a better savings account.

The company offers up to 3% interest on its savings accounts, much higher than most banks these days, and it’s that pitch that has won over consumers and investors alike, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Zach Bruhnke.

With climbing numbers on the back of limited marketing, Bruhnke said raising the company’s latest round of financing was a breeze. 

“They knew after the first call that they wanted to do it,” Brunke said of the negotiations with the venture capital firm Acrew, a venture firm whose previous exposure to fintech companies included backing the challenger bank phenomenon which is Chime . “It was a very different kind of fundraise for us. Our seed round was a terrible, treacherous 16-month fundraise,” Brunke said.

For Acrew’s part, the company actually had to call Chime’s founder to ensure that the company was okay with the venture firm backing another entrant into the banking business. Once the approval was granted, Brunke said the deal was smooth sailing.

Acrew, Chime, and HMBradley’s founders see enough daylight between the two business models that investing in one wouldn’t be a conflict of interest with the other. And there’s plenty of space for new entrants in the banking business, Bruhnke said. “It’s a very, very large industry as a whole,” he said.

As the company grows its deposits, Bruhnke said there will be several ways it can leverage its capital. That includes commercial lending on the back end of HMBradley’s deposits and other financial services offerings to grow its base.

For now, it’s been wooing consumers with one click credit applications and the high interest rates it offers to its various tiers of savers.

“When customers hit that 3% tier they get really excited,” Bruhnke said. “If you’re saving money and you’re not saving to HMBradley then you’re losing money.”

The money that HMBradley raised will be used to continue rolling out its new credit product and hiring staff. It already poached the former director of engineering at Capital One, Ben Coffman, and fintech thought leader Saira Rahman, the company said. 

In October, the company said, deposits doubled month-over-month and transaction volume has grown to over $110 million since it launched in April. 

Since launching the company’s cash back credit card in July, HMBradley has been able to pitch customers on 3% cash back for its highest tier of savers — giving them the option to earn 3.5% on their deposits.

The deposit and lending capabilities the company offers are possible because of its partnership with the California-based Hatch Bank, the company said.

Australia’s spy agencies caught collecting COVID-19 app data

Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found.

The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.”

But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.”

Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.”

The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date.

For some, fears that a government spy agency could access COVID-19 contact tracing data was the worst possible outcome.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries — and states in places like the U.S. — have rushed to build contact tracing apps to help prevent the spread of the virus. But these apps vary wildly in terms of functionality and privacy.

Most have adopted the more privacy-friendly approach of using Bluetooth to trace people with the virus that you may have come into contact with. Many have chosen to implement the Apple-Google system, which hundreds of academics have backed. But others, like Israel and Pakistan, are using more privacy invasive techniques, like tracking location data, which governments can also use to monitor a person’s whereabouts. In Israel’s case, the tracking was so controversial that the courts shut it down.

Australia’s intelligence watchdog did not say specifically what data was collected by the spy agencies. The app uses Bluetooth and not location data, but the app requires the user to upload some personal information — like their name, age, postal code, and phone number — to allow the government’s health department to contact those who may have come into contact with an infected person.

Australia has seen more than 27,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Proxyclick visitor management system adapts to COVID as employee check-in platform

Proxyclick began life by providing an easy way to manage visitors in your building with an iPad-based check-in system. As the pandemic has taken hold, however, customer requirements have changed, and Proxyclick is changing with them. Today the company announced Proxyclick Flow, a new system designed to check in employees during the time of COVID.

“Basically when COVID hit our customers told us that actually our employees are the new visitors. So what you used to ask your visitors, you are now asking your employees — the usual probing question, but also when are you coming and so forth. So we evolved the offering into a wider platform,” Proxyclick co-founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau explained.

That means instead of managing a steady flow of visitors — although it can still do that — the company is focusing on the needs of customers who want to open their offices on a limited basis during the pandemic, based on local regulations. To help adapt the platform for this purpose, the company developed the Proovr smartphone app, which employees can use to check in prior to going to the office, complete a health checklist, see who else will be in the office and make sure the building isn’t over capacity.

When the employee arrives at the office, they get a temperature check, and then can use the QR code issued by the Proovr app to enter the building via Proxyclick’s check-in system or whatever system they have in place. Beyond the mobile app, the company has designed the system to work with a number of adjacent building management and security systems so that customers can use it in conjunction with existing tooling.

They also beefed up the workflow engine that companies can adapt based on their own unique entrance and exit requirements. The COVID workflow is simply one of those workflows, but Blondeau recognizes not everyone will want to use the exact one they have provided out of the box, so they designed a flexible system.

“So the challenge was technical on one side to integrate all the systems, and afterwards to group workflows on the employee’s smartphone, so that each organization can define its own workflow and present it on the smartphone,” Blondeau said.

Once in the building, the systems registers your presence and the information remains on the system for two weeks for contact tracing purposes should there be an exposure to COVID. You check out when you leave the building, but if you forget, it automatically checks you out at midnight.

The company was founded in 2010 and has raised $19.6 million. The most recent raise was a $18.5 million Series B in January.

Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, tops 2 million members

U.S. challenger bank Current, which has doubled its member base in less than six months, announced this morning it raised $131 million in Series C funding, led by Tiger Global Management. The additional financing brings Current to over $180 million in total funding to date, and gives the company a valuation of $750 million.

The round also brought in new investors, Sapphire Ventures and Avenir. Existing investors returned for the Series C, as well, including Foundation Capital, Wellington Management Company and QED.

Current had originally began as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but expanded to offer personal checking accounts last year, using the same underlying banking technology. The service today competes with a range of mobile banking apps, offering features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, check deposits using your phone’s camera, and other now-standard baseline features for challenger banks.

In August 2020, Current debuted a points rewards program in an effort to better differentiate its service from the competition, which as of this month now includes Google Pay.

When Current raised its Series B last fall, it had over 500,000 accounts on its service. Today, it touts over 2 million members. Revenue has also grown, increasing by 500% year-over-year, the company noted today.

“We have seen a demonstrated need for access to affordable banking with a best-in-class mobile solution that Current is uniquely suited to provide,” said Current founder and CEO Stuart Sopp, in a statement about the fundraise. “We are committed to building products specifically to improve the financial outcomes of the millions of hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and whose needs are not being properly served by traditional banks. With this new round of funding we will continue to expand on our mission, growth and innovation to find more ways to get members their money faster, help them spend it smarter and help close the financial inequality gap,” he added.

The additional funds will be used to further develop and expand Current’s mobile banking offerings, the company says.

Building Successful Product Development Teams, by Simon Colmer

Simon Colmer (at the time of this talk, the Head of Development at Access NFP Websites) spoke to ProductTank London about a developer’s perspective on what it takes to build a successful product development team. As product people, team alignment is table-stakes, and it’s crucial that we factor in multiple perspectives to create diverse, empowered teams, so [...]

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The post Building Successful Product Development Teams, by Simon Colmer appeared first on Mind the Product.

3 new $100M ARR club members and a call for the next generation of growth-stage startups

Time flies.

It was nearly a year ago that The Exchange started keeping tabs on startups that managed to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue, or ARR. Our goal was to determine which unicorns were more than paper horses so we could keep tabs on upcoming IPO targets.

We found that Bill.com, Asana, WalkMe and Druva were impressively large and growing nicely. Since then two of the four companies from that post have gone public.

GitLab, Egnyte, Braze and O’Reilly Media joined the club before 2019 was even closed, with two of those companies taking part in the recent Disrupt conference, talking about how they managed their historical growth.

In early 2020 we added Sisense, Siteminder, Monday.com and Lemonade to the club, wrote about ExtraHop’s path to $100 million ARR, Cloudinary’s epic growth sans external capital, Siteminder’s own records and BounceX reaching $100 million ARR while it rebranded to Wunderkind.

As the year rolled along, MetroMile, Tricentis, Kaltura and Diligent joined the club. As did Recorded Future, ON24 and ActiveCampaign. There were even more names: Movable Ink, Noom, Riskified, Seismic, ThoughtSpot, along with Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade.

Today we have three more names to add to the group: UserTesting, Udemy’s business arm, and Expensify. But, more than merely adding those companies to the mix — more after the jump — I wanted to shake up our radar a bit as we head into 2021.

Yes, The Exchange will keep tabs on startups and other private companies that reach $100 million in ARR, or annual run rate, as the case may be. But next year we also want to find the startups around $50 million ARR that are growing like hell. We want to go a year or two earlier in growth histories to better watch how startups scale into nine-figure revenues, instead of hearing about it after the fact.

So, if you are a startup that is expanding aggressively and will reach the $50 million revenue mark inside the next quarter or two, please say hello. I suspect a good cut of the global unicorn market could fit this bill, and therefore might provide a window into which highly-valued startups are growing into their valuations.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


It’s going to be fun. Now, let’s quickly chat about the latest members of the $100 million ARR club.

UserTesting, Expensify and Udemy’s business arm

You’ve heard of each of our $100 million ARR companies this morning, so there’s less need for prelude and introduction. Here’s the group:

Expensify

Expensify is an expense-tracking company well-known around the technology world, so it’s no real surprise that it has reached the $100 million ARR threshold, a feat it announced yesterday.

But the company did us one better than merely dropping a single data point and racing back into the shadows. Instead, Expensify also disclosed that it has “maintained profitability for years [and] recorded its highest monthly revenue ever in October.”

F3, a Stories-style Q&A app for Gen Z teens, raises $3.9M

F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.

The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.

Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.

Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.

F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.

The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)

On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).

“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.

“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.

However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.

Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.

“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.

F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)

Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).

These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).

Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.

“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.

In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.

“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”

Again, though, user reviews tell more of a raw (and real?) story — with plenty of complaints that there’s little value in the free version of the app (while F3 Plus costs $3.99 for 7 days; $8.99 for 1 month or $19.99 for 3 months), and questions over the authenticity of some anonymous questions, as well as complaints that other users they’re able to meet aren’t nearby and/or don’t speak the same language. Other reviews aren’t wowed by more of the  same Q&A format. Others complain the app just feels like a data grab. (And the F3 ‘privacy policy‘ definitely has a detailed story to unfold vis-a-vis the tracking users are agreeing to, for anyone who bothers to dig in and read it.)

“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”