Dispute resolution platform Immediation raises $3.6M AUD to expand in the U.S.

The pandemic forced the legal profession to cobble together remote work strategies, often through a combination of video conferencing and emails. Founded in Melbourne, Immediation provides a tailor-made solution with digital courtrooms and mediation tools. It has been adopted by Australian federal courts and New Zealand government agencies, and is now expanding in the United States and European markets after raising $3.6 million AUD (about $2.7 million USD). Investors include Thorney Investment Group and its founder and chair, Alex Waislitz.

Founded in 2017 and launched in 2019, Immediation’s users include the Federal Court of Australia, the Victorial Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), and New Zealand agencies like the Ministry of Justice, Sport New Zealand and Domain Name Commission NZ. The startup says over the past 12 months, its revenue has increased 6x year-over-year and its user growth has jumped 2,000%. Immediation currently has about 40 employees in five countries, and a panel of more than 100 mediators and arbitrators. Its new funding brings Immediation’s total raised to $10 million AUD.

In addition to Australia and New Zealand, Immediation also has users in Southeast Asian markets, and will spend the next 12 months focused on growing in the U.S. and European markets.

Before starting Immediation as a mediation platform (it also now supports law firms, tribunals and resolution bodies), founder and managing director Laura Keily worked for two decades as a corporate lawyer and barrister. She told TechCrunch in an email that she wanted to create an online mediation platform because “I saw firsthand that people were locked out of being able to access justice effectively. The legal system is complex, lengthy and expensive. It’s an old system regimented by ancient rules and processes, which are not scalable and are inefficient.”

Before using Immediation, many of its clients only had the option of face-to-face meetings in a mediation center or courtroom. Immediation launched its platform publicly in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic hit.

“The onset of COVID-19 was a turning point,” Keily said. “As industries were forced to move online overnight, our team pivoted quickly to address the immediate concerns of the legal industry and provide a blueprint for a seamless transition online.”

In 2020, Immediation saw a 2,200% increase in users across more than 2020, including a 500-person hearing over five days for the first ever Willem C. Vis International Arbitration Moot, a moot competition attended by hundreds of law schools.

A photo of Immediation founder and managing director Laura Keily

Immediation founder and managing director Laura Keily

Keily said Immediation was created by lawyers to replicate physical courtrooms, mediation suites, legal client floors and dispute resolution environments. Its tools include the ability to record hearings, share and manage documents, co-draft and execute contracts, enable confidential communication between lawyers and clients during proceedings and set up secure, private rooms for different parties. Judicial officers and mediators retain control participants in a private room, so they can move or remove them as necessary.

Maintaining lawyer-client confidentiality is essential. Immediation built secure chat and party rooms so “client-lawyer teams can communicate in complete confidence with their own team, even when proceedings are in full flight, knowing that no one else, by design, can see those messages or enter the party room,” said Keily.

Immediation also announced today that it has appointed Christine Christian, the chair of Auctus Investment Group and Tamara Credit Partners, as its new chair, and Rachael Neumann and Greg Wildisen to its board. It added Afterpay chair Elena Rubin and Rampersand VC founding partner Jim Cassidy to its advisory board.

 

Enpal closes out Series C with $174M from SoftBank for tech to make it easier for homeowners to make the switch to solar energy

One of the gating factors for getting more homeowners to make the switch to solar energy has been that solar, as a business, is hard one to get right, with many a company failing when they’ve been unable to strike the right balance between the technology working as it should, provisioning services in a cost-effective way, providing good customer service, and handling their own overhead. Today, a startup that believes it has squared some of these problems away is announcing a big funding round as it gears up for growth.

Enpal — a solar startup out of Berlin, Germany, that uses AI for provisioning and installing services, and then a subscription-style model for homeowners to pay for it (you might even call it a SaaS model: solar-as-a-service) — has raised €150 million ($174 million) from SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

The funding closes out its Series C at €250 million ($290 million), including €100 million that Enpal raised earlier this year from investors that included HV Capital and SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive. The investment values Enpal at €950 million ($1.1 billion) post-money, the company has confirmed.

To date, Enpal has raised around $360 million in equity, with another $406 million in debt.

The company has some 10,000 customers in Germany, and the plan will be to continue growing in its home market, as well as make its first efforts to expand to new ones. Ultimately Enpal’s goal, CEO Mario Kohle said, is to make using renewable energy a realistic option for everyone and everything.

“Our plan is to go beyond Germany because the climate crisis goes beyond our boarders,” Kohle said in an interview. “We also think that this small thing that we invented could also expand into e-mobility and community-based energy distribution.”

Founded in 2017 with Viktor Wingert and Jochen Ziervogel, Kohle said the original idea was to build a new startup that could be more proactive about the climate crisis. His previous company, a sales lead-generation startup that he sold to PE firm General Atlantic, happened to have a number of customers that came from the solar market. Kohle liked what they were trying to do, but he saw them fail time and time again. He started to do some research into why, and found that it wasn’t the solar technology per se, but all of the hurdles in selling and provisioning it efficiently. The business model just didn’t add up for most of them.

So this is where Enpal — which is a portmanteau of “energy” and “pal”, Kohle said — put all of its focus.

It first built an AI-based algorithm that lets users take pictures of their roofs, and then uses computer vision and other techniques to determine the size and positioning of the installation required. The whole provisioning part of the installation is done remotely, with technicians only visiting the house at the point of installation, meaning a faster service at a lower cost.

From there, customers use an IoT app to measure their energy gathering, storage (on lithium iron phosphate cells also supplied by Enpal) and consumption, and to pay for services. They pay only for energy that’s used with the system — not the panels themselves. Users that sign on for 20-year contracts are able to purchase their panels for 1 euro at the end of that period.

While a number of energy-focused greentech companies in the market today are focused on innovations in how to generate energy or consume less of it, or with a smaller impact on our environment, Enpal is part of an emerging group that are leaning on those innovations, but are themselves more focused on how to make scaling those solutions more practical and profitable.

Another startup called Aurora Solar is tackling this as a B2B2C problem: in May, it raised a $250 million Series C of its own earlier this year for technology that also uses computer vision (along with satellite mapping and other data), which it sells to solar companies to help them automate home installation designs and cost estimates, thereby also reducing the huge costs associated with that.

Moonshots, of course, come with risks. Aurora’s focus on selling software to the solar industry means that it doesn’t control the full business model and its success is predicated on its customers continuing to grow (and not failing because of the many other challenges in running a solar business).

Enpal has a different kind of challenge, which is that it needs to make sure it doesn’t find itself over-leveraged with the number of solar installations it has out in the market subsidized by Enpal itself, with perhaps those customers not buying as much solar energy as they’d been projected to buy. And while you might argue that there are hundreds of tech companies that essentially follow similar principles — any company that supplies a device to a customer so that the customer pays for a service on that device — at an estimated cost of between $15,000 and $40,000 for a solar power system for a 2,000 square-foot house, this hardware is typically two orders of magnitude more expensive than, say, a set-top box. That basic model subsidizing panels is one reason the company has taken on so much debt.

Kohle believes the chances of that playing out in a tough way for the company are low simply because the model so compelling. The company is not yet profitable, but “We have a positive contribution margin from the beginning” because of the SaaS model, he said. “That’s something the customers are paying, and it means we are cash flow positive from the beginning. And what customers like is that they are paying less and getting a solar system for free.”

Investors also seem to agree.

“Rising electricity prices and increasing demand mean renewable energy adoption is rapidly becoming mainstream,” said Yanni Pipilis, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We believe Enpal offers customers an all-in-one solar solution, lowering the barriers to entry for consumers. It’s great to be working with Mario and the Enpal team to make more households energy independent.”

How AI is helping to make breast cancer history

Every October for the last four decades, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has helped to raise visibility of the most prevalent cancer on Earth — one that takes almost three-quarters of a million lives every year.

Despite recorded cases stretching back to ancient Egypt, breast cancer was considered an “unspeakable” condition for millennia. Women were expected to suffer in silence and “dignity.”

This stigma fueled academic ignorance, with breast cancer languishing as a relatively unstudied disease until just a few decades ago. For most of the last century, a woman suffering from breast cancer would be offered radiation therapy and/or surgery — often radical surgery, leaving them disfigured for little benefit — while the treatment of other cancers progressed.

Breast cancer mortality barely changed from the 1930s to the 1970s, until a concerted effort by feminist and women’s liberation groups elevated the study and treatment of breast cancer to its rightful position in heavily male-dominated hospitals and research institutions. Treatment transformed in a generation.

In the 1970s, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer had roughly a 40% chance of surviving the next 10 years. Today, that probability has almost doubled, thanks to new drugs, cutting-edge screening methods, and more subtle and effective surgery.

Crucial to this transformation has been an emphasis on early diagnosis. The earlier breast cancer is spotted, the easier it is to treat. Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly critical role in identifying breast cancer. This year, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) announced a study of how AI could screen for breast cancer. While intended to augment, not replace, human doctors, this would help to mitigate a shortage of radiographers — 2,000 more are needed to clear the NHS’ backlog in scans caused by the pandemic.

Startups are also using AI to tackle this shortage. Britain’s Kheiron Medical Technologies plans to use AI to screen half a million women for breast cancer. Spain’s the Blue Box is developing a device that can detect breast cancer from urine samples. India’s Niramai is working on a low-cost tool that could help screen large numbers of women in rural and semi-urban areas.

But equally crucial to improving outcomes is identifying patients at high risk of relapsing. Around one in 10 breast cancer patients will relapse after their initial treatment, decreasing their chance of survival.

Identifying them early has historically been difficult, but my team, working with Gustave Roussy, a French cancer hospital, has developed an AI tool that can spot 8 in 10 patients at high risk of relapsing. AI helps to get patients the treatment they need earlier on while also sparing lower-risk patients from frequent, unsettling checkups. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies accelerate breast cancer drug trials by recruiting high-risk patients faster.

Patient data privacy can be an understandable roadblock to rapid research. Hospitals are cautious about sending data off-site, and no pharmaceutical company wants to share valuable data with competitors. But AI is helping to solve these issues, allowing for the quicker, safer and cheaper development of new treatments.

Federated learning, a novel form of AI that trains on data from multiple institutions without the data leaving the hospitals, is being used across Europe to give researchers access to essential, yet previously inaccessible, data.

We will also use AI to deepen our understanding of why the most aggressive forms of breast cancer are resistant to certain drugs, helping us to develop new, tailored drugs that discriminate between healthy and tumor cells better than chemotherapy.

While AI’s influence is increasing, equally important to improving outcomes is a recognition that healthcare is a fundamentally human endeavor. No algorithm could ever comfort a patient in their darkest moments, and no machine could ever instill and inspire the resilience that every patient needs in order to beat their disease.

I and every other doctor know that treating disease is as much about understanding the patient as it is about understanding their affliction. Clinician empathy is related to higher patient satisfaction and lower distress, motivating a patient to continue a difficult course of treatment. Thankfully, the AI technology that is increasingly helping breast cancer treatment is designed to augment and empower doctors.

Breast cancer is no longer “unspeakable” for the millions who are diagnosed with it every year. The sea of pink ribbons that herald the start of October signal how far we have come in our battle against one of our oldest foes — one that we are now defeating. We may never fully eradicate breast cancer. But with AI helping to diagnose patients earlier and enabling the rapid development of treatments, it is possible that in a few decades, we may no longer have the need for a Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Does the NFT craze actually matter?

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, we talked about Apple’s subscription addiction. This week, I’m diving deep into whether there’s actually any meaning to pull out of the NFT mania of 2021.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


Image via OpenSea

the big thing

The NFT market is still defying reason, but then again that’s kind of its thing. But one thing I’m especially unsure about lately as I see JPGs continue to sell for millions of dollars is… does any of this actually matter?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year grappling with the NFT market, at times I’ve lost sleep over it. As a reporter frequently covering this market, I don’t own or trade the little images myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from obsessing over the fluctuations in their prices and scouring Discords trying to follow the trends. I’ve tuned into countless Twitter Spaces and lurked subreddits trying to understand it all. I’ve also done my best to keep most of that out of this newsletter — it’s a weird niche interest that’s especially niche at the moment — but as Bitcoin flirts with a new all-time-high and the NFT mania persists, just consider this a timely update.

So, in the past month, investors have continued dropping billions upon billions of dollars on NFTs. OpenSea has seen more than $3 billion in transaction volume in the past 30 days, and that number is actually way down quite a bit from August, showcasing just how much off-peak money continues to flow into NFTs.

All of that money has gone to some colorful places. One of the bigger success stories of the past month has been the platform CrypToadz which investors dumped $100 million into. They look like this. In the past couple weeks, a brand new project called MekaVerse saw $130 million in transaction volume. They’re a bit prettier, but would you spend more than $8,000 on one? The platform Cryptoslam (where I pulled most of the data I reference here) is tracking 163 platforms which did more than $1 million in volume in the past 30 days, a number which doesn’t even account for individual artists selling their work on platforms like OpenSea.

Now, there are two incredibly different segments of NFT communities out there, larger-scale NFT projects like Axie Infinity and NBA Top Shot with tens and hundreds of thousands of users and smaller-scale NFT projects like CryptoPunks and Art Blocks with just a few hundred or thousand owners. Larger-scale projects can represent more traditional gaming titles with more complex in-game economies while smaller-scale projects simply look more like fine art markets teamed with exclusive social clubs. Some smaller-scale projects have the ambition to eventually become larger-scale ones, but many have capped the number of NFTs in their projects and are designed to be exclusive.

In the past 30 days, Axie Infinity did more than $500 million in sales spread across nearly 2 million transactions and over 350,000 buyers. On the flip side, CryptoPunks did $200 million in sales during that same time frame across 484 transactions and 309 buyers.

Generally, when I’m talking about some of these big sales from smaller-scale projects with friends of mine, the first thing they mention is how this is probably all just money laundering. While I’d certainly imagine some of that is happening, that’s ultimately a much more boring explanation than my best guess of what’s really going on, which is that a group of several thousand investors have separately rationalized irrational investing. They just happen to have chosen to do so through buying pixel art and drawings of animals.

While some investors might suggest that a handful of the earliest NFTs hold intrinsic value as historic objects, there are plenty of brand new NFT projects earning ten-million dollar valuations on day one with low amounts of effort and imagination.

It’s seemingly the result of momentum from awe-struck retail investors entering a market filled with massive amounts of wealth being generated and re-invested by Ethereum millionaires who can massively overpay for deals while pushing the implied value of the objects, the projects, the entire NFT market and the price of Ethereum up concurrently. Most of these investors are also people who have held onto Ethereum through its waves and have grown fundamentally averse to cashing out, meaning they’re less likely to sell the NFTs they buy unless they’re just trying to buy another more expensive NFT or have been made an offer too good to refuse. As a result, many high-value smaller-scale projects stay liquid on the low-end while fewer sales of the rarer items underpin the massive valuations of the projects and those occasional big buys keep pushing prices higher.

All of this babbling of mine is to say, what’s happening here is strange. It’s also an incredibly large amount of noise mostly coming from a few thousand buyers.

But when most investors talk about mainstream adoption and future use cases, they’re looking at the creation of more larger-scale projects like Axie and Top Shot which embody many of the technical bells and whistles of crypto economics in more user-friendly packages that can reach the mainstream. NFTs as a concept for driving more complex virtual economies is, indeed, really fascinating, but I don’t think there are as many takeaways to draw from billions of dollars flowing into digital art and these smaller-scale projects like CrypToadz as many crypto investors and venture capitalists are trying to convince themselves.

Only three NFT platforms out there had more than 10,000 active unique buyers in their community in the past 30 days, and while the successes of platforms like Axie Infinity are definitely worth dissecting, it also seems clear we’re in the midst of a speculative frenzy and it’s not a very easy time to draw sober conclusions about what all this madness means for the future of the web.


Ali Balikci / Anadolu Agency

other things

Here are a few stories this week that I think you should take a closer look at:

Apple probably won’t be supporting alternate App Store payments anytime soon
Apple did their best to convince the press and public that the court’s decision in its legal fight with Epic Games was an outright win for Apple, but over the weekend they quietly announced that weeks later they’re appealing the decision and asking the courts to put the ordered changes to allow alternative payments inside iOS apps on hold.

Apple put on a cool demeanor after this ruling, but it’s apparent that there are billions on the line for Apple if this order stands. Therefore delaying its rollout means billions of dollars that aren’t going to other payment providers or staying in developer coffers. Epic had already appealed the decision as well, hoping to try for a more favorable ruling, but it’s clear that anyone hoping for a speedy resolution will be disappointed — as is often the case in corporate law.

Nintendo reshapes its SaaS ambitions
Nintendo has been and probably always will be a bit of an odd big company. They’ve been resistant to new trends in gaming and when they embrace them, they don’t necessarily do a great job capitalizing on them, and yet their mountain of beloved IP allows them chance after chance to get things right. This week, they announced more details on their new annual membership called Nintendo Switch Online+ which, for $50 per year will give gamers a deeper array of content. That’s a good deal more than the standard $20 per year for the regular Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but beyond expanded virtual console support for an unannounced array of N64 games, it’s not clear what exactly the sell is for consumers.

Interestingly, they’re launching the service with free access to a major update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a play that only works when you’re Nintendo and the penetration of your first-party titles is so incredibly high among device-owners (and especially likely subscribers). Nintendo has sold more than 3.4 million copies of the new Animal Crossing title globally.

Microsoft pulls LinkedIn from China
It’s been a particularly turbulent time for tech companies across China as government regulators crack down and the outlook clouds for big platforms there. This week, Microsoft announced that it’s pulling LinkedIn out of China, detailing that LinkedIn was now “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China.” LinkedIn didn’t have a huge presence in China so this won’t make major waves, but as other American tech giants are forced to make major adjustments to their China strategy, this marks yet another datapoint in the cooling of relations between China and the West.

The LinkedIn’s of the world don’t hold much sway in China, the most curious bit of this is how this regulatory upswing eventually affects Apple which does hold plenty of influence. While officials probably aren’t keen to jam them up, the past year has shown that China’s regulators have plenty of surprises up their sleeves.


Stack of woolen checked blankets

Image Credits: Manuta / Getty Images

added things

Some of my favorite reads from our newly-renamed TechCrunch+ subscription service this week:

Inside Plaid
“…Visa and Plaid might have chosen to go their own ways in the end, but the year wasn’t a total loss for the data connectivity startup: Plaid claims its customer count grew 60% in 2020, and company execs say it has had similar growth so far this year….”

Founders should use predictive modeling to fundraise smarter
“More capital is flooding into growth equity at earlier stages, and it’s happening faster than ever before. But even with the rampant enthusiasm for pouring bigger equity checks into startups, founders are now in a unique place in time where they can think differently about how to capitalize their companies….

How one startup boosted productivity with ‘get s*** done’ day
“…To improve our productivity, we introduced a Getting Shit Done Day (GSDD): Our employees define clear-cut goals and receive specific, usually non-trivial, tasks with little to no communication involved (we encourage our employees to avoid social media on this day, but we are not looking over their shoulder). The goal of GSDD is to increase the amount of time we spend in deep work by minimizing distractions for one day every other week…”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

Coinbase, Clubhouse and the inevitable conflict of competition

Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

This week, cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase announced that it is launching its own NFT platform to take on OpenSea, an existing NFT platform. Some techies aptly pointed out that both Coinbase and OpenSea are backed by Andreessen Horowitz, leading to questions around competitive conflicts that could arise from having a shared investor (it’s unclear if a16z ever sold its shares in Coinbase after it went public).

As we discussed on Equity this week, the idea of having competitive companies within the same portfolio feels uncomfortable. It could impact how open each company is with its investors, and, as we saw with Hinge Health, can cause tension if there’s an overlap in advisers. It’s a fair argument.

But, is it just me, or does competitive conflict sound somewhat inevitable? As venture firms grow, especially an institution like a16z, the idea that no portfolio companies in booming sectors like fintech or crypto overlap in vision feels unrealistic. Clubhouse, another a16z-backed company, was met with an entire wave of competitors after its debut — and I joked then that it’s only a matter of time until one of the firm’s portfolio companies pivots to social audio, too.

In a world of rapid deal-making and booming subsectors, competitive conflict will continue to grow. Imitation holds startups to a higher standard. If a startup can copy your idea, and entirely win based off of that, a shared investor is likely not your problem. Sure, there should be some processes in place to make sure that your board member isn’t sitting in meetings with your closest competitor, but, beyond extreme cases, the line is blurring on what should constitute conflicts.

I’m being harsh, but that’s my first reaction. Your competitor can always eat your lunch, but in the great OpenSea, maybe that just means it’s time to swim a little deeper.

As always, you can find me on Twitter @nmasc_ or listen to me on Equity. This week, I also made a guest appearance on Here & Now to talk about edtech’s evolution!

A fund for, and by, South Asian female entrepreneurs

tech diversity

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

As a South Asian female, I was amped to see the emerging fund manager world get a new influx of my people this week. Neythri Futures Fund announced that it has closed a $10 million fund with investments from leading South Asian men and women.

Here’s what you need to know: The fund, per founding managing partner Mythili Sankaran, brought together 200 investors, with 90% South Asian women and, here’s the kicker, 70% first-time investors. It was built on AngelList, which has been working on a suite of SaaS tools for venture capitalists.

More money, less problems: 

ClassPass has stepped off the treadmill and onto a new track

Image Credits: Dan Bruins

ClassPass was acquired by Mindbody in an all-stock deal that actually got half of TC staff really excited. ClassPass, for those who don’t know, helps fill workout classes with consumers, while Mindbody provides the software that helps fitness centers and boutique shops better run their business.

Here’s what to know: It felt sensical and smart, two words that should be associated with acquisitions.

By combining forces, the Mindbody/ClassPass entity has the opportunity for huge growth. ClassPass studios that are not using a booking software — Lanman says it’s about one-third of the studios on ClassPass — will now have the chance to sign up with Mindbody.

Mindbody’s consumer-facing business will have the chance to double down on their experience by signing up for a ClassPass subscription and get access to those studios. And, of course, gyms and studios that use Mindbody for à la carte bookings could be upsold to ClassPass, as well. — Jordan Crook

When M&A goes away:

A tale of two travel stories

Image Credits: Hey Darlin / Getty Images

This week on Equity, the TechCrunch team looked at how two travel-focused startups have pivoted and rebounded their way through the pandemic. While one startup chose to focus on flexible living, another decided to go the fintech route.

Here’s what to know: TripActions went from $0 in revenue to $7.25 billion in valuation. How? Well, as Mary Ann reports, TripActions leaned into the very nascent fintech product that it launched a month before the pandemic hit, giving it growth and a way to support customers through expense management. The news reminds us all that every startup, eventually, is a fintech company.

Fintech & friends:

Around TC

This week, I’m going to convince you that one of the best, free ways to build a better venture-backed business is … TechCrunch Live. The weekly event, put together by some of the best internal folks at the publication, connects founders and the investors who finance them in a chill chat.

TC interviews investors on their thought process when writing checks, pushing for specifics and reverse engineering their biggest deals to date. Then, in the latter half of each episode, founders in the audience are encouraged to jump on our virtual stage and pitch their products, receiving live feedback from our esteemed duos.

This past week, we had Chime founder and CEO Chris Britt with Menlo Ventures partner Shawn Carolan. In the past, we’ve had Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra, Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha, Planet FWD’s Julia Collins and Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst.

TechCrunch Live is free for anyone who would like to attend live, so come hang every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT/noon PDT.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

How Los Angeles is preparing for the air taxi takeoff

SoWork just convinced investors (and Tinder) that virtual co-working is here to stay

Reddit hires former Google Cloud exec as its first chief product officer

How to sell clothes online and actually make money

Coinbase is launching its own NFT platform to take on OpenSea

Seen on TechCrunch+

Inside Plaid’s plans to build a new, global finance network

Selling into the enterprise: How Slack and other startups get it wrong

NerdWallet’s IPO filing reveals high-margin content business, accelerating marketing spend

Founders should use predictive modeling to fundraise smarter

How my company is winning the war for engineering talent

Talk soon,

N

This Week in Apps: Apple appeals Epic Games suit, Google files a counterclaim and Twitter adds more ads

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Google responds to the Epic Games antitrust suit, Apple appeals

Image Credits: Epic Games

As the Apple v. Epic Games lawsuit goes under appeal, Google this week filed an answer and counterclaim in the Epic Games’ antitrust litigation against the company. The tech giant and Android maker denies Epic’s allegations of antitrust behavior and instead says that it’s owed relief, as Epic Games breached the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement (DDA) by allowing Fortnite players who download the app through Google Play to use Epic’s own payment processing technology.

This situation is similar to what took place on the App Store, where Epic Games updated its app to workaround App Store policies, and then facilitated payments through its own payments system, in violation of its legal contract with Apple. The court’s decision in Apple’s case was that Epic owed financial relief to Apple, to the tune of $6 million.

Epic Games did much of the same thing on Google Play, the counterclaim alleges. Last year, Epic submitted a build of Fortnite to Google Play which used Epic’s own direct payments system and not Google Play Billing. This submission was immediately rejected for failing to comply with Google’s policies. Epic then submitted a compliant version in April 2020, which Google now describes as “an act of deception designed to provoke litigation.” The new version had concealed Epic’s payment system in an update that was sent to both Apple and Google’s app stores. This would allow Epic to switch over to its own payment system by applying a server-side configuration change, or “hotfix,” without Google’s knowledge.

That switch was flipped on August 13, 2020. It allowed Fortnite users to choose between Google Play Billing and Epic’s own direct payments system. Now Google wants to recoup the money lost to this version, as those who downloaded the app from the Play Store could continue to use Epic’s billing, even after the app was pulled down.

Epic’s position has been that Apple and Google’s requirement to use their own in-app payment systems exclusively is a monopolistic practice that disadvantages developers. In Apple’s case, the court agreed that Apple should not block developers from sharing a link to other payment methods inside their own app or communicating to customers. It did not declare Apple a monopoly. Despite the largely favorable ruling, Apple decided to appeal its case this week, after Epic filed its own appeal.

The key factor to Apple’s appeal is that it’s also asking the court to put a hold on it having to implement changes to the App Store’s anti-steering guidelines. That means, instead of permitting developers to add links to their website and other methods of payments, things would continue as is until the appeals case was decided. That could be months or even years from now.

In terms of the antitrust complaint, Google’s situation is a bit different from Apple’s, however. Android already allows for sideloading apps — that means there’s another method of reaching Android users outside Google Play, making an antitrust claim more difficult.

Twitter adds more ads

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Twitter says it’s going to test a new ad format and placement on its platform. On Wednesday, Twitter Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck said Twitter would begin showing ads on mobile devices inside conversation threads after the first, third and eighth replies. While the company stopped short of confirming the change would be permanent, it did say it would experiment with the formula to best determine the insertion points and layouts that made the most sense. Twitter also said it would consider making the display of the ads something creators would opt into, rather than forcing them to accept ads in their threads. In that case, creators would also see a share of ad revenue, Twitter said.

The company historically has struggled to grow its user base by significant numbers, meaning it’s had to get more creative with maximizing the revenue it’s able to extract from its existing users. Despite a flurry of new product development — which has included creator tools, subscriptions, audio chat rooms, tipping and more — Twitter has not yet had a runaway hit. For example, third-party data indicated recently Twitter’s new creator platform called Super Follow had only generated around $6,000 in its first two weeks live in the U.S. and Canada, or perhaps a bit more ($12,400 during 17 days in September, according to a second firm’s analysis).

Meanwhile, Twitter made a promise to investors that it will be able to double its revenue from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more in 2023. If the new products don’t turn a sizable profit, increasing Twitter’s ad load could help. Unfortunately, monetizing conversations like this could encourage users to post more content they hope to make viral. That could impact Twitter’s content and culture. Twitter is already a place that tends to reward a sort of performative type of user — like those posting snark, jokes, angry tweets and other emotive content; tying tweets’ “virality” to creator revenue could push Twitter even further away from the genuine, thoughtful conversations the company claims it wants to host.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple announced it’s hosting yet another fall event, taking place on Monday, October 18 at 10 AM PT. It’s expected this event will focus on new Macs and MacBook Pros, but there could be news for cross-platform app developers that will make it worth tuning in.
  • Apple released the fourth developer betas for iOS 15.1, iPadOS 15.1, tvOS 15.1 and watchOS 8.1 and the betas for public testers. iOS 15.1 lets you turn off Apple TV and Apple Watch keyboard notifications on iPhone.
  • Compose for Wear OS enters Developer Preview after several alpha releases. Compose for Wear OS aims to simplify and accelerate UI development, with built-in support for Material You to help developers create apps with less code.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: Google

  • Google announced the final unit in its self-paced programming course, Android Basics in Kotlin, has been released, and the full course is now available. The course is organized into units, where each unit is made up of a series of pathways. At the end of each pathway, there is a quiz to assess what developers learned so far. If you complete the quiz, you earn a badge that can be saved to your Google Developer Profile.
  • Google’s iOS design chief, Jeff Verkoeyen, announced on Twitter that his team would begin to phase out the open source Material components libraries for iOS in favor of Apple’s own UIKit. “It’s now been almost ten years now since we set out on this journey, and many of the gaps MDC had filled have since been filled by UIKit — often in ways that result in much tighter integrations with the OS than what we can reasonably achieve via custom solutions,” he said.
  • An app teardown revealed Google may add a Digital Car Key feature in an upcoming Play Service update. At Google I/O, Google had announced it would add Digital Car Key support in Android 12.
  • Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer, in a tweet, asked Apple, err “folks,” to support RCS (an upgrade to SMS) on the iPhone.

E-commerce/Food delivery

  • DoorDash introduced a self-serve ad platform that allows marketers to reach customers on the app and grow their business. The company already allowed ads that offered things like free delivery or discounts, plus banner ads. But is the first time it’s offered ads above the search results.

Augmented Reality/VR

  • HTC released its new Vive Flow VR headset, designed to simplify the VR experience for older adults or anyone else who wants an easier experience. The headset connects wirelessly to an Android smartphone and uses the phone as a combination remote and touchpad.

Social

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook launched an “Audio” hub in the U.S. for podcasts, live audio and short-form clips, called “Soundbites.” The company is also making its Clubhouse rival, Live Audio Rooms, more broadly available to global users, and is now rolling out the new product Soundbites, a sort of TikTok for audio offering short audio clips.
  • Twitter launched support for Ticketed Spaces on Android users in the U.S. The feature allows creators to charge entry fees for their voice chat rooms — a rival to Clubhouse and others. The initial Ticketed Spaces rollout for iOS users was in late August. To use the feature, users must be over 18, have hosted three Spaces in the last 30 days and have at least 1,000 followers.
  • After Facebook saw one of its longest outages in recent years, the company announced it would test a new Instagram feature that will notify users when an outage or other technical issue is taking place. The company said it wouldn’t send a notification every time, but if it sees users are confused and looking for answers, it may. 
  • Reddit launched a new posting format called “Predictions” which allow users to guess the answers to timely questions like “who will win the game tomorrow?” or “how much will the price of Bitcoin move by Monday?,” among others. Participants get 1,000 tokens to get started, but can’t earn any more during the tournament — only by having their predictions prove correct in the end.
  • TikTok, in a transparency report, says it removed 81,518,334 videos for violating its community guidelines or terms of service from April 1-June 30, 2020, which represents less than 1% of the total videos posted. This also means that during that quarter, 8.1 billion+ videos were posted on TikTok, averaging out to about 90 million videos posted each day.
  • TikTok also added new mute options for livestream comments, which enable them to mute comments from individual viewers within streams for various time periods.
  • Instagram added new scheduling and “practice mode” features to allow people to promote their Instagram Live in advance and be able to connect with guests to test equipment and prep before the Live begins.
  • Snapchat’s app experienced an outage that prevented users from posting messages for hours on Wednesday. The source of the outage wasn’t detailed, but followed a significant Facebook outage which took down Facebook’s suite of apps for a good part of a day.

Messaging

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp now allows users to encrypt their chat backups in the cloud, plugging a major hole that had allowed governments to snoop on private conversations between users. The system supports both Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive for Android users. Mark Zuckerberg noted that WhatsApp is the first global messaging service at this scale to offer end-to-end encrypted messaging and backups.

Gaming

Image Credits: Roblox

  • Roblox co-founder and CEO David Baszucki, at the company’s annual developer conference, outlined plans to modernize player avatars, introduce new in-game monetization streams and streamline the experience for developers. Instead of Roblox’s classic, block-like avatars, the new avatars will look more life-like (and more like metaverse rival Fortnite). Also new is support for layered clothing, “dynamic heads” (facial animations for avatars rolling out for developer access), expanded access to voice chat, limited edition items, and a new development system called Open Cloud. The latter supports creating content in third-party tools, then exporting it to Roblox.
  • Google’s Stadia game streaming service brings its “direct touch” controls to iOS. The feature, which launched on Android devices earlier this year, allows for mobile-like touchscreen presses that control the games, instead of hardware controllers.

Dating

Image Credits: Tinder

  • Tinder released a new “Plus One” feature that helps users find a wedding date. The feature is accessible within Tinder’s Explore section, which launched last month and offers ways to discover matches by interests and more. The dating app is also partnering with WeddingWire, a wedding planning resource company, to help single guests cover the costs of wedding season through a new Wedding Grant giveaway.

Utilities/Other

  • Disney’s newest digital service, Disney Genie, is launching on October 19 at Walt Disney World Resort. The service, first unveiled in August, is an update to the company’s earlier line-reservation tools for Disney’s parks, allowing guests to plan and update their itineraries, book time slots for the most popular attractions and optionally purchase paid access to the fast lanes’ “Lightning Lane” entrances, either à la carte on top attractions or through the “Genie+” add-on. At the core of the Disney Genie experience is a smart trip-planning capability that maps out a personalized itinerary based on which rides, attractions or food and entertainment experiences guests want to make sure to do while at the parks. This is rolling out to the My Disney Experience app, and will accommodate real-time scheduling changes — like if you decide to take a detour on your route or head back to the hotel for a break, for instance. The feature could potentially put some third-party itinerary apps out of business, given Disney will have the advantage of leveraging its own park data and real-time updates, like ride closures and the like.

Image Credits: Disney

  • Google said it’s changing the way search works on mobile devices in the U.S. across both the mobile web and its Google app for iOS and Android. Now, when you reach the bottom of a set of search results on your phone, you won’t have to tap to go to the next page. Instead, the next set of results will automatically load so you can continuously scroll down to see more information. The rollout started on Thursday on English-language search results.
  • Apple updated its Apple Support app, adding support for in-app access to the AppleCare+ Express Replacement service along with other improvements. The service allows users to request a replacement iPhone without first needing to ship in their damaged device.
  • Alongside Tile’s new product lineup of lost-item trackers, the company also introduced an updated Tile app that will include a new “Lost and Found” feature that allows anyone who finds a lost Tile to scan a QR code to get access to the owner’s contact information to coordinate a return. A coming update will also allow non-Tile device owners to use the app to scan for nearby Tiles, if they fear being stalked.

Government & Policy

  • Apple removed from the Chinese App Store a popular ad-blocker app called 1Blocker, claiming the app is a VPN and the developer doesn’t have the proper license. The developer, on Twitter, replied that the app does not have VPN servers and plans to appeal the decision.
  • Microsoft is pulling LinkedIn from the Chinese market later this year, following an increase in the regulatory changes in the country and tension between Microsoft and China, specifically. Two weeks ago, Microsoft decided to block the profiles of certain U.S. journalists in China, for example.

Security & Privacy

  • Apple’s iOS 15.0.2 update addressed a memory corruption vulnerability that was actively exploited in at least one case. The update also addresses a number of other glitches in iOS 15 (and iPadOS 15), including one problem that caused the iPhone Leather Wallet and with MagSafe not to connect to Find My, a bug that could cause AirTags not to appear in the ‌Find My‌ Items tab, and another that caused CarPlay to fail to open audio apps or to disconnect during playback.
  • Google pulled ads for “stalkerware” apps that would encourage prospective users to spy on their spouses’ phones. The apps were designed to be installed surreptitiously and without the device owner’s consent and have been used by abusers to spy on the phones of their spouses.

Funding and M&A

💰 Nigerian neobank Sparkle closed on $3.1 million in seed funding to continue to scale the company, which now includes support for SMBs, in addition to consumers.

💰 Berlin-based health tech app Mayd raised €13 million ($15 million) in seed funding from 468 Capital, Earlybird and Target Global for its app that delivers medications to Europeans’ doors in as fast as 30 minutes.

💰 Digital lending startup Tala raised $145 million for its Android app used by more than 6 million customers across Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico and India. Upstart, a company founded by ex-Googlers Dave Girouard, Anna Counselman and Paul Gu, led the round.

💰 Intro, an app that connects experts with those in need of advice through personalized video calls, raised a $10 million seed round, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Other investors include Seven Seven Six, CAA founder Michael Ovitz, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, 23 & Me CEO Anne Wojcicki, Kevin Durant and Tiffany Haddish.

🤝  Mobile app monetization provider InMobi acquired London-based performance insights platform Appsumer. According to InMobi, Appsumer’s self-serve tech platform, intellectual property and team will support InMobi’s end-to-end content, monetization and marketing stack following the deal’s closure. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

💰 Mental healthcare app ThoughtFull raised $1.1 million in seed funding in one of the largest seed rounds raised for a digital mental health startup in Southeast Asia. Investors include The Hive SEA, Boston-based Flybridge and Vulpes Investment Management, as well as family offices and angels in the Asia Pacific region.

💰 French startup Swile raised $200 million in Series D funding, led by SoftBank Group International. The round values the business at $1 billion or more. Swile allows users to add the meal vouchers provided by their company to its app alongside their personal bank card. This has allowed it to capture a 13% market share on meal vouchers in the country.

💰 Indian fintech app CRED is in talks to raise additional funds at a $5.5 billion valuation, just weeks after it was finalizing a round of over $200 million at a pre-money valuation of ~$3.75 billion from Tiger Global, Falcon Edge Capital and others.

🤝  Corporate travel booking and expenses app Lola was acquired by Capital One, in a deal that included both the team and tech. All of Lola’s contracts were terminated, refunds issued and the app shut down.

💰 Mental health app MentalHappy launched its app for low-cost peer support groups, backed by $1.1 million in seed funding from Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures and YC.

💰 Mobile gaming startup Homa Games raised $50 million in Series A funding led by Northzone. The company specializes in hypercasual, casual, and board games, and has developed an all-in-one SDK that helps developers optimize their mobile games through analytics and A/B testing.

Downloads

Clash

Image Credits: Clash

When Trump’s ban on TikTok failed, the short-form video app Byte exited to rival Clash — an admission of sorts that TikTok’s momentum couldn’t be beaten if it was allowed to remain in the U.S. This week, Byte’s new owner Clash relaunched its app with the “best of Byte” under the hood alongside a suite of creator tools for monetizing a fan base. And this time, the focus isn’t on beating TikTok, but working in parallel alongside it. The newly rebuilt Clash app introduces a set of tools for creators and their fans, including a virtual tipping mechanism called Drops (not to be confused with product drops, popular in e-commerce) and a paid messaging system called Fanmail. The idea is that Clash would be used with a creator’s most loyal fans who would like to have more exclusive access, a closer connection or behind-the-scenes content, among other things. Creators can cash out when they’ve earned at least $25 in Drops. The app relaunched in Byte’s place on the App Store and is arriving on Android soon. (Read the full review here.)

Monument Valley 2 (update)

Image Credits: ustwo games

The popular, but now older, puzzle game Monument Valley 2 from ustwo games just added a new chapter four years after its launch. The special chapter is called “The Lost Forest,” and is an eco-friendly update designed to promote forest conservation. Players will be encouraged to sign the Play4Forests petition for forest conservation. Said the company, the new addition is its “contribution to the Playing For The Planet Green Game Jam.”

Wisdom

Image Credits: Wisdom

U.K.-based social audio startup Wisdom launched its new app that’s a cross between Clubhouse and MasterClass. The app offers a way for users to join audio conversations, where they can either listen or ask questions, both live and on-demand. The advice could be focused on any broad range of topics, including parenting, dating, career, finance, mental health, well-being, fitness, etc. A recommendation algorithm intends to match users to interests. At launch, 10,000 experts are signed up to offer their advice. 

 

What to expect from Apple, Google and Samsung’s big events

Hardware season is heading for a dramatic finale next week, with three events from three major companies, three days in a row. Apple, Google and Samsung (in that order) are all hosting big events next week, getting their last big announcements (hopefully) out of the way ahead of the upcoming holiday season.

That means your friendly neighborhood hardware editor — and much of the TechCrunch staff — is set to be busy for the next few weeks, writing about and reviewing all manner of gadgets. Meantime, we’ve got some information to go off, in terms of what we can expect next week, through a combination of rumors, leaks and process of elimination.

That last bit holds especially true in the case of Apple and Samsung. Both companies are following recent big product unveils, and barring brand new product lines, we can triangulate what’s likely next on the docket for each. Google, meanwhile, has essentially announced what it’s got brewing for Tuesday.

Let’s work chronologically here.

Apple MacBook Pro silver keyboard. close up Mac on the blue background

Apple MacBook Pro silver keyboard. close up Mac on the blue background

Apple’s kicking things off Monday at 10AM PT/1PM ET. It’s been just over a month since the company’s latest event, which brought new iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads. One big missing product line was absent, however. We didn’t see any new Macs. With macOS Monterey dropping any day now, and the company’s already announced plans to upgrade its entire line to first-party silicon, the absence was felt at the event.

It seemed reasonable to expect the company might go the press release route, but instead, it looks like Apple’s opted to give Mac its moment in the spotlight. As I’ve noted before, companies are generally less obligated to cram everything into a single event now that they’re not asking attendees to fly from around the world to be there. Some have taken liberties with this notion — though I don’t anticipate that to be the case here. At the very least, we expect some big Mac news, including:

  • A new MacBook Pro in 13 and 16-inch versions
  • A new Mac Mini
  • A 27-inch iMac

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The first two essentially replace last year’s M1 models, which effectively had the same guts. A new, even faster M1X chip is said to be arriving, along with potential hardware redesigns. The 27-inch iMac, meanwhile, would augment the 24-inch model, serving as a more pro-focused system.

An overdue update to the entry-level AirPods are said to be in the works, as well, featuring improved sound quality and design more inline with the Pros — but without active noise canceling.

Image Credits: Google

Speaking of new chips, Google already announced its plan to unveil its in-house Tensor chip, becoming the latest company to buck Qualcomm for first-party silicon. That will be used to power the new Pixel 6 and a Pro model. The handsets feature a radical redesign for a line that’s been stumbling to stay afloat in the smartphone wars.

Google has gone as far as putting up a product page for the pair ahead of the event. Cribbing from Greg’s writeup of the initial announcement here:

  • The base 6 will have a matte aluminum finish with a 6.4″ display, while the Pro has a shinier polished aluminum finish with a 6.7″ display.
  • Pixel 6 has two cameras (wide and ultrawide), while the 6 Pro adds a telephoto zoom lens.
  • If you were hoping the increasingly common “camera bump” trend was on the way out… not quite. The bump has now evolved into the “camera bar,” with Google’s Rick Osterloh noting that better sensors and lenses just won’t fit in a smaller package.

A recent leak has offered up a bit more info on their camera system — two rear-facing on the 6 and three on the Pro. They’ll both feature a 50-megapixel wide-angle and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, while the Pro adds a 48-megapixel telephoto. That event is going down Tuesday at 10AM PT/1PM ET.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Samsung’s Wednesday event is the biggest question mark of the three — which, given how Samsung products tend to leak, is not something we get to say much. The new foldables were recently announced and we don’t expect another Galaxy S device until around MWC in February/March of next year. A PC or tablet seems to be a reasonable guess. Though the bright colors in the invite could offer another clue. That event kicks off at 7AM PT/10AM ET on Wednesday.

Apple October Event 2021

GitLab’s mega IPO

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here

Hello friends! Happy weekend. Up top, there’s an extra Equity episode dropping today digging into the larger China-Microsoft dustup over LinkedIn. So if you need more on that, it’s coming. Let’s go!

The key money story in Startup Land this week was the simply massive GitLab IPO.

In case you are behind, GitLab filed to go public, and we noted that at current market prices, the DevOps giant could be worth some $10 billion. That wound up being conservative. GitLab wound up raising its IPO price range far above its initial estimate and then pricing at $77. Late Friday afternoon, as I write to you, it’s worth more than $108 per share.

I got on the horn with GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij to chat about the deal. I’ve nattered with Sijbrandij here and there for some time, starting back with this particular story. So it was good fun to talk to him on IPO day, constrained as he was by normal SEC rules. Here’s what I learned:

  • Why did GitLab go public now? It hit all the marks, Sijbrandij said, including revenue scale, revenue predictability and compliance. And the IPO date wound up being 10 years to the month from when co-founder Dmitriy Zaporozhets wrote his first code for the company. So that’s a nice circle of timing. Humans do so love round numbers.
  • Did GitLab’s strong net retention metrics help with revenue predictability? Yes, but Sijbrandij didn’t want to say that explicitly.
  • Open-source is now an advantage, not a hindrance: This point is an echo of something we noted concerning startups the other month, but it’s worth flagging all the same. Having open-source code is now a boon to companies hoping to build long-term relationships with developers, something that is often key when it comes to product-led growth, I’d hazard. This is the polar opposite of the world that existed a decade ago, and is perhaps why Microsoft changed its tune some time back on the concept of open code.
  • And will we see GitLab get into MLOps as well as DevOps? Maybe? Sijbrandij wasn’t black-and-white on the matter, but with the MLOps world accelerating, I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw GitLab wander into what could be called startup territory in time. It certainly now has the cash to do whatever it wants.

Cloudflare versus the world

Let’s dive back to the news from late September that Cloudflare was moving into the “storage as a service” market. The news was that Cloudflare intends to offer cloud storage through its collection of global data centers. The product news was far afield from what Cloudflare is best known for, namely making websites appear more quickly and more securely.

Why was the now-public company getting into something as commodified as storage? At the time, Ron Miller wrote that Cloudflare was turning something it built for itself and offering it to others. And that by eliminating some fees, Cloudflare’s storage service – R2 – would be cheaper than what Amazon offers, for example, via its AWS collection of infra services.

I have had a thought. Namely, I will not be utterly gobsmacked if we see large, but not titanic, tech companies with a global footprint that offer a particular flavor of digital service also get into providing what appear to be initially niche infra tooling that competes modestly – at first – with what Amazon and Microsoft currently offer via AWS and Azure.

This may be Big Dumb, but we can explain ourselves a bit by analogy. My argument is akin to how Intel ran the world with its particular CPU methodology for a long time, only to lose the future to not only GPUs forced into the cryptocurrency salt mines, but also a grip of startups building, say, AI-tuned silicon. In our analogy, AWS is Intel and AI chips are things like R2 from Cloudflare.

The days when AWS and Azure were trading price cuts back and forth is behind us. What’s next?

Odds, ends

  • A mix of Midwest VCs put $3.5 million into Presidio, a digital vault startup aimed at consumers. It’s a Florida-based company, and is looking toward a 2022 launch. I have myriad questions about this. But that someone is building a storage-centric startup in this time and era caught my eye.
  • Cap table software company Carta put out a data product that I have enjoyed tinkering with. If you want to mess about with a host of funding data sortable by era and company type, it’s good fun.
  • I was going to write up notes on this essay from a U.K. startup about how it is redomiciling to the EU after its home country started to change privacy rules, but our own Natasha Lomas beat me to it. So read her post, which is better than what I could have come up with.
  • And, speaking of the U.K., Freetrade in the country has now signed up 1 million users. This stat matters as it indicates that the Robinhood boom is truly an international consumer movement that will lift many startups’ boats.

Alex

Analogue aspires to build the definitive OS for retro gaming

Analogue’s much-anticipated Pocket retro gaming machine will come with more than just sleek design and the ability to play tons of classic games. The device will be the first with AnalogueOS on it, an effort to make what founder Chris Taber calls the “Library of Alexandria of video games.”

Actually, he called it the “great fucking Library of Alexandria,” which gives you an idea of how excited he is about it. See, retro gaming is a strange place — there’s tons of information out there, but few sources are exhaustive and many are decidedly retro themselves.

Depending on the information you want, you may find it in a wiki dedicated to a game or system, a message board frequented by old 8-bit gaming devs, a hex file used in modding a ROM, even an out-of-print book. The history and versions of a game, as well as ephemera like manuals, reviews, and technical documentation might be scattered in a dozen places.

It’s the goal of AnalogueOS to curate and present as much as this information as possible, as close to the games themselves as possible.

“At its heart, AnalogueOS is purpose built for exploring and celebrating all of video game history. Designed to be the definitive, scholarly operating system for playing and experiencing the entire medium. Our vision is total, absolute,” said Taber. “And yes, AnalogueOS will be on every future Analogue system.”

To start with the OS will be a flexible and extensible way to play and track your games. If you’ve got dozens of games for the GameBoy, Game Gear, Lynx, and so on, you certainly could just pop one in and play. But the Pocket is meant to be a showcase, not simply the nicest way to play those games (though it almost certainly will be that).

Images of different handheld games being played on an Analogue Pocket.

Image Credits: Analogue

Therefore each game will be embellished with box art, screenshots, publisher and other metadata, all in an organized fashion so you can say one day, “What Sunsoft games do I have?” and just browse those. Or if you’re curious about one in particular, say Blaster Master: Enemy Below, you can browse through data pertaining to that title, its revisions and changes, sequels and prequels, guides and screenshots.

Not all the data will be available right off the bat, as the database is still under construction, but Taber confirmed that the intent — and Analogue is the type of obsessive company to follow through — is to integrate as much of this as users choose. As most of this data is text, it can easily be integrated directly into the OS with minimal storage cost. “You stick a game cartridge in and it will be able to read exactly what game it is,” he said.

For collectors looking for a specific region or revision of a game — rare cartridges used in competitions, illegal distributions, promotions and so on — that information can be confirmed in seconds now. Find something interesting at an estate sale? Pop it in the Pocket and find out exactly what version of the game it is — garden variety or once-in-a-lifetime find?

Box art, being more bulky, can be downloaded by users from sets devs are already working on. Folks who move in retro gaming circles will already be familiar with the type of light work involved in scanning your library and bringing over only the required images. (There are copyright considerations here, so the company must be careful what it provides.)

Screenshots of the AnalogueOS interface showing the ability to save states and track gameplay.

Image Credits: Analogue

The Pocket will enable save states to be used on cartridge-based games, a huge boon for gamers who prefer to get as close to the original hardware and software as possible. Analogue is outspoken in its preference for FPGA-based cores that imitate the original chips rather than software-based emulation, and being able to load a game and hardware state in that architecture is surely a tricky process.

The OS will track your play by hour and day, and you can even make your own “playlists” to share with others (assuming they have the games to go with them). And there are quality of life changes like remapping controls, Bluetooth controller support and so on.

Ultimately, as you can see, Analogue wants to make its hardware not just the best way to play retro games on modern hardware (like high-definition TVs, which old consoles weren’t designed for), but also a complete resource for history and collector data on the games themselves. It’s ambitious, and though some may point out that there are such resources already available, they’re scattered and fragmented. If Analogue can successfully unify all this information into a single place, and make it available where the players are — in front of the game — it could help the company graduate from luxury option to must-have in the retro gaming world.

LinkedOut

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Or, as in today’s episode, talk our way through some big breaking news from the technology world so that we can better understand just what is going on.

Danny and Alex got together late Friday on a Twitter Space to discuss Microsoft’s decision to pull LinkedIn from the Chinese market, a move that lit up headlines around the world. That LinkedIn was still in China in 2021 may feel more surprising than the news that it will exit that particular market, but the moment matters all the same as it marks the end of an experiment — could a mega-tech company have a US HQ and a first-party service live in China?

Er, no, it turns out. Not really.

Microsoft found itself jammed between its own ethics, and governmental censure. It was a lose-lose for the company, so pulling the plug was the smart move. The company isn’t going to miss the revenue.

For startups, the Microsoft decision is a good reminder that doing business in China is at a minimum very hard for non-Chinese companies, and perhaps impossible. Recall that Microsoft had to work with a Chinese company (21Vianet) to get Azure into the country at all, and that the Chinese government is using a few companies to build a new OS for the country so that it can replace Windows.

Precisely how good that OS will prove is not yet clear, at least from a consumer perspective.

And then we riffed on GitLab’s IPO. My favorite topic of the week. You’ll see why it came up when you hit play. Chat Monday!

Equity drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.