Daily Crunch: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey steps down, board moves CTO Parag Agrawal to top spot

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for November 29, 2021! It’s Monday, we’re back, you are back and the news is back. If you had hoped that the post-Thanksgiving, pre-holiday break period was going to be relaxed, no dice. As you have already seen in the subject line, we have a lot to get into. —Alex

P.S. We’re having a little Cyber Monday sale for TechCrunch Sessions: Space tickets!

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Jack logs off: From Twitter’s CEO role, that is. This morning, double-CEO Jack Dorsey announced that he will bounce from his perch atop Twitter, handing off the chief executive reins to the company’s CTO. TechCrunch’s take is that the elevation of Parag Agrawal to the top role bodes well for the company’s larger crypto efforts.
  • Clearview AI irks U.K.: While we may disagree with the United Kingdom on what to call the trunk of a car or its hood, we can agree with the island nation that Clearview AI is not our favorite company. The facial recognition shop has been given a “provisional notice” that it is to “stop further processing of U.K. citizens’ data and to delete any data it already holds.” It’s also set to receive a fine.
  • Is e-commerce growth slowing? New data from the fake U.S. shopping holiday “Black Friday” showed lower digital spending than in 2020. TechCrunch added to that data point by trawling a series of recent disappointing earnings from e-commerce companies to wonder if the online market for selling stuff is seeing its growth slow.

Startups/VC

  • Positive social networking? What if your social network was a series of self-improvement challenges that you could undertake and then share results with your friends? That’s what startup Alms is cooking up. It’s something akin to the anti-Twitter, we reckon.
  • Yassir wants to build the North African super app: Flush with a $30 million Series A, Yassir’s service that provides things like ride-hailing and delivery is building a huge marketplace for its region. The “super app for geographic region X” is a fun model to take on, as it is good in that the TAM is huge, but tough in that point-solution competitors could prove tough to beat.
  • Today in great opening paragraphs: Our own Rebecca Bellan has a brilliant way of explaining what Foundry Lab, which just raised an $8 million round and came out of stealth earlier today, is building. So, instead of paraphrasing, here is the paragraph in its entirety:

Remember Easy Bake Ovens? You’d mix up some colored powder and water until a dough or batter formed, put it in a mold, pop it in the oven and before you knew it — ding! A disgusting treat. Foundry Lab, a New Zealand-based startup with backing from Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, has figured out how to do something similar, except instead of chemicals and an “oven,” it’s metals and a microwave.

  • YallaMarket hopes that quick commerce is a global wave: Sure, there are 2,349 companies competing for quick delivery of goods in the U.K., but YallaMarket is betting that the model will also scale across the Middle East. It has raised just a few million thus far but is a company to keep tabs on.
  • If cloud is good, are clouds better? One of our two enterprise gurus, Ron Miller, has a post up today about Upbound. The gist is that the company has built a tool that helps companies manage their multi-cloud setup. Why multi-cloud? Per Ron, because companies today don’t want to get locked into a single provider. Makes sense. Upbound just raised $60 million.
  • Thought Machine raises $200M: B2B cloud banking concern Thought Machine is now a unicorn. Uncork the sparkling apple juice. We might yammer on more regarding the valuation threshold that the startup has reached, but, it was not alone:
  • Today in Tiger: Two rounds today! First, Indian credit card startup Slice is now a unicorn. And, in evidence that no startup name can be too dumb to succeed — hello “Google” and “TechCrunch” — Mr Yum has raised $65 million for its mobile ordering service.
  • I have to stop, but there was even more announced today, including rounds from FJDynamics and Motorway.

Product-led growth and signal substitution syndrome: Bringing it all together

Red stitching on gray fabric

Image Credits: Halfdark (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Collecting data to optimize B2B marketing is notoriously difficult.

“Practitioners tend to see each new source of information about their potential buyers — each signal type — as a substitute for the last one that didn’t work,” according to Kerry Cunningham, senior principal at account engagement platform 6sense.

Embracing a product-led growth mindset allows organizations to look at users as signals, “just like form-fill leads, de-anonymized website traffic, visitors to your booth, and the rest,” says Cunningham.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Facebook whistleblower to chat about Section 230 with Congress: The leaker of a great number of internal Facebook documents will testify in front of Congress regarding U.S. laws relating to content moderation and the hosting of speech online. We are sure that Congress will ask substantive questions this time.
  • AWS wants to help robots: The major cloud computing platforms are a lot more than store-and-compute services. AWS has a new project called RoboRunner that wants to help fleets of robots work together more intelligently, for example. Also keep in mind that both AWS and Azure offer “ground station as a service” for satellite companies.
  • Today in big deals: One major bucket of hungry capital (Francisco Partners) is selling a morsel from its table (Quest Software) to another pile of cash (Clearlake Capital). The deal is worth $5.4 billion, far more than Francisco paid for the “legacy security vendor” back in 2012.

TechCrunch Experts

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Miami reinstates e-scooter pilot after brief ban

The Miami City Commission voted on Monday to reinstate its e-scooter pilot program, which it had briefly banned due to safety concerns. Shared e-scooters from companies like Lime, Bird, Helbiz and Spin will return to Miami’s streets on January 15 following strict new safety measures.

The new program will see rules for operators and riders, according to CBS Miami: Riders must wear a helmet and observe a maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour on sidewalks; side-by-side riding is prohibited; only two operators are to be permitted per block, down from four; and riders must be at least 18.

On November 18, Miami City commissioners had voted 4 to 5 to end the e-scooter pilot that had been in place since 2018, citing risks posed by scooters on sidewalks and untrained riders on busy streets. (In last weekend’s The Station newsletter, we noted the slight hypocrisy of removing the humble scooter from the streets when there are far more unsafe and environmentally unfriendly vehicles about.)

By midnight of November 19, micromobility operators had to disable their vehicles and collect them by 5 p.m. before the city impounded them.

Advocates for the e-scooter pilot have argued that not only has the program brought in $2.4 million in revenue that was used to create bike lanes, but also that their services help residents with first- and last-mile travel and generally reduce car usage and emissions.

The commission voted 3 to 1 on Monday to rescind the ban.

“Change is coming; it’s going to happen anyway. Regulate it,” Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla said, according to WPLG Local 10, adding police officers can enforce rules such as speed limits.

“This news comes as a relief to Miami residents who’ve long relied on e-scooters as a safe, affordable and sustainable way to get around,” Bruno Lopes, senior manager for government relations at Lime, said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the commissioners and Mayor [Francis] Suarez to develop a permanent program that prioritizes safety for riders and non-riders alike. We specifically hope the city will continue to invest the millions of dollars in e-scooter fees Lime and other operators pay into protected bike lanes, the most proven way to ensure the safety of all road users.”

AWS adds user monitoring and A/B testing to CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch was introduced way back in 2009 to help AWS customers view data about their cloud usage and spending. Today at the dawn of AWS re:Invent, the company’s cloud customer conference taking place in Las Vegas this week, the cloud division announced a couple of enhancements to the product.

Amazon has been building on the types of data provided by CloudWatch, and today it added user monitoring. With Real User Monitoring, AWS customers can understand when there is a problem with a deployment and take corrective action before customers really begin to feel it.

“Amazon CloudWatch RUM will help you to collect the metrics that give you the insights that will help you to identify, understand, and improve this experience. You simply register your application, add a snippet of JavaScript to the header of each page and deploy,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the feature.

This doesn’t exactly fall under the category of stunning innovation. It’s something companies like AppDynamics and New Relic have been doing for years, but as with most things Amazon they are providing a soup-to-nuts experience for customers inside AWS, and this type of monitoring lets you know when things could be going wrong with your AWS application.

The other new feature is a new experiments tool called CloudWatch Evidently, which helps developers set feature flags and run A/B tests inside an application they are building on top of AWS. Rather than just updating an app for every user, developers may want to test it on a limited subset of users and see if the new feature breaks anything, or if users prefer a particular approach or design more.

They can limit the people who see a new feature by setting a feature flag in the code and setting up the parameters for that feature. In addition, you can do A/B testing, another form of experimentation, that lets you test features with a certain subset of users to see which feature or design people prefer.

Neither of these is new either. Companies like Split.io have been doing more broad feature flag management for some time, and companies like Optimizely have been building companies around A/B testing.

CloudWatch Evidently is already available in 9 Amazon cloud regions with pay-as-you-go pricing, while CloudWatch RUM is also available now in 10 regions at a cost of $1 per 100,000 events collected.

Labor board authorizes new Amazon union vote

The director of the National Labor Relation Board’s 10th region has authorized a new union election for workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center. An NLRB representative has confirmed the decision with TechCrunch, which would see the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union getting a second chance to unionize workers at the site, following its defeat back in April.

The victory was a lopsided one for the mega-retailer, though the RWDSU immediately called shenanigans in what was expected to be a major test for unionizing efforts for blue collar tech workers. At the time, the union accused Amazon of “gaslighting” employees through “egregious and blatantly illegal action.”

Amazon naturally denied the accusations, stating, “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us.”

RWDSU head Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement today that the new ruling serves as vindication for those earlier claims, “Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along – that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace – and as the Regional Director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal. Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

A date for a new election has yet to be determined. It will, however, no doubt become another national flashpoint for unionization efforts that have only grown in momentum during the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdowns.

“The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a second secret ballot election among the unit employees,” the board noted in its ruling. “Employees will vote whether they wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The manner, date, time, and place of the election will be specified in a Notice of Second Election.”

Amazon expressed displeasure at today’s ruling. Spokesperson Kelly Nantel noted in a statement,

Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few. While we’ve made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that’s our focus—to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will talk Section 230 reform with Congress this week

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will go before Congress again this week, this time offering her unique perspective on the company’s moderation and policy failures as they relate to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability for the user-created content they host.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold the hearing, titled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity,” this Wednesday, December 1 at 10:30 AM ET. Color of Change President Rashad Robinson and Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer will also testify on Wednesday.

The hearing is the latest Section 230-focused discussion from the House committee. In March, the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter went before lawmakers to defend the measures they’ve taken to fight misinformation and disinformation — two major areas of concern that have inspired Democratic lawmakers to reexamine tech’s longstanding liability shield.

In an October Senate hearing, Haugen advocated for changes to Section 230 that would hold platforms accountable for the content that they promote algorithmically. While Haugen isn’t an expert on legislative solutions to some of social media’s current ills, given her time with Facebook’s since-dismantled civic integrity team, she’s uniquely positioned to give lawmakers insight into some of the most dangerous societal outcomes of algorithmically amplified content.

“User-generated content is something companies have less control over. But they have 100% control over their algorithms,” Haugen said. “Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth, virality and reactiveness over public safety.”

Facebook’s former News Feed lead and current Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri is also set to testify before the Senate for the first time next week, addressing revelations in leaked documents that the company knows its business takes a toll on the mental health of some of its youngest, most vulnerable users.

In its announcement, the House Energy and Commerce committee cited four tech reform bills that Congress is currently mulling: the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021, the SAFE TECH Act, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 and the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. The first bill, proposed by the committee holding Wednesday’s hearing, would lift Section 230’s liability protections in cases when a platform “knowingly or recklessly” recommends harmful content using algorithms.

Alms is a social app focused on real-world impact and positive change

A number of startups are experimenting with what a better social app could look like. For a startup called Alms, the answer is a social network that focuses on users’ well-being through participation in creator-led challenges in areas like personal growth, sustainability, and others with positive impacts. Instead of driving the collection “likes,” as on other social apps, Alms aims to encourage real-world engagement through its challenges and the specific steps and actions that must be taken.

The idea, explains Alms founder Alexander Nevedovsky, is to design an app that guides users to a happier and more meaningful life when they use it. That’s something modern social platforms can’t really promise to do.

Work on the project began during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Nevedovsky says.

“A lot of us were feeling depressed and sad, at home without much access to friends and family,” he explains. “I felt like the world really needed something that’s a bit more than just meditation, journaling, or mood tracking — all those apps and techniques are great, but they’re not designed to improve your life on a day-to-day basis, interacting in the real world.”

However, the original version of Alms released last year was lacking something that would make the app “sticky.” Users would sign up because they liked the concept, but at some point would drop out and stop participating in the activities. The startup knew it needed something more to tie users to their journeys, which is why it has now shifted to become more of a social community.

Image Credits: Alms

When you first launch the newly designed Alms app, you’re taken through a brief onboarding process where you select your interests from three main topical areas: personal growth, sustainability, and impact. For example, “personal growth” interests may include things like mental health, wellness, spirituality, or relationships. “Sustainability” focuses on interests related to the environment and nature. And “impact” would wrap in things like activism, volunteering, local community, and more.

After setup is complete, you can follow creators who post challenges or choose to join individual challenges, each with their own set of steps that have to be taken in order to fully complete them. For instance, in a challenge focused on improving your work-from-home lifestyle, the steps guide users to take steps to improve their workspace and their work-life balance (by scheduling breaks and hard stops to their day, e.g.), and asks them to add physical activity to their routines, among other concrete actions.

As you participate in a challenge by completing and checking off each step, you’re prompted to post a story about that step in that challenge’s feed to inspire others, who may add an encouraging comment. But gathering likes and comments is not Alms’ goal, says Nevedovsky.

“We see tremendous possibility in allowing more and more people with expertise in these topics — personal growth, sustainability, and impact of various sorts — to basically try to scale their impact with us,” he notes. “We allow them to put all their knowledge or their content in a scalable way so that people can actually — not like it, not comment under it — but actually try to repeat it.”

At launch, Alms has around 30 creators sharing their content in the form of challenges on its app, and 15 more are in the pipeline. It hopes to reach a couple of hundred over the next few months. So far, the new version of the app has attracted a couple of thousand users, as well.

Image Credits: Alms

Many of the challenges on the app have been joined by hundreds of users, so you do feel some sense of participating in a larger event when you click to join. However, I’d personally prefer that posting a story and sharing it to the feed was optional — not every step deserves its own post, I feel. (And sometimes, you may not have anything to say about the minor steps you completed and end up feeling like you’ve cluttered the feed with less-than-helpful posts.)

Alms was co-founded with startup studio Palta, a home to apps like Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, and Zing Fitness Coach. Palta owns a majority stake in Alms, and the company has no other outside investment. A remotely distributed team of fourteen works on the Alms app, which isn’t currently monetized.

Nevedovsky says the team is considering adding some sort of token-based economy or perhaps a DAO which would convey some sort of real-world rewards. This could include being able to participate in Alms’ governance or joining a creator fund, for example. The tokens, at least in the near term, would not be tradeable. The company may also consider simpler ideas, like in-app tipping. But nothing has yet been determined as Alms is still working on product-market fit at this time, and scaling its userbase.

Overall, Alms seems like it could appeal to those who want to be more mindful and impactful about how they’re spending their time on social apps, but who are in search of inspiration that comes with more specific direction.

“I think, a lot of the time, people place hopes on what will happen in the future without actually influencing it. So I think that having an app that helps you with ideas and inspiration from people who know what they share, what they recommend, is super helpful — especially when it’s all about support,” notes Nevedovsky. “People [on Alms] actually care.”

The app, we found, is well-built and attractively designed. But it could still face the original issue of having users drop off, despite its new social components, given the competition for screen time on today’s mobile devices.

Alms is a free download on iOS only for the time being.

Algeria’s Yassir picks up $30M to build a super app in North Africa

Yassir, an Algerian startup that provides on-demand services such as ride-hailing and last-mile delivery, has raised a $30 million Series A round.

The investment came from a long list of VCs and angel investors. VCs include WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, Quiet Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital and Moving Capital. The angel investors include Cleo Sham of Uber; Thomas Layton of Upwork, Opentable and Metaweb; Rohan Monga of Gojek; and Hannes Graah of Spotify and Revolut.

The company said in a statement that most of the investors from its $13.25 million seed round, which was previously undisclosed, participated as well.  

After earning a Ph.D. at Stanford and spending most of his professional life in Silicon Valley working at various companies, CEO Noureddine Tayebi returned to Algeria to get involved in the country’s nascent tech scene to start a company and build technical talent in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

Most people in French-speaking Africa are unbanked due to a lack of trust in incumbents and inefficient banking solutions. Tayebi felt that providing on-demand services — which solves essential needs and, more importantly, builds trust to then provide payment services — was the catalyst to enable financial inclusion in the region.

He founded Yassir with Mahdi Yettou in 2017. The company started with ride-hailing services because the cities it targeted had dense populations and inefficient transportation services. Yassir progressed to offer last-mile delivery services, creating a multi-sided marketplace that brings drivers, couriers, merchants, suppliers and wholesalers to individual users on one platform.

Yassir

Yassir CEO Noureddine Tayebi. Image Credits: Yassir

According to Tayebi, the plan is to use the marketplace model to offer payment services to all parties involved and create a super app in the process.

“Our approach of solving the unbanked population problem is unique in the region by offering more of a ‘banking as a platform’ solution where daily services are at the heart of it all via a super-app marketplace,” he told TechCrunch.

“Such services not only build trust for all the sides of the marketplace but also use them as channels to offer these payment services, which we think is the approach that is most suited to the region. Most of our competitors are either on-demand services — ride-hailing or last-mile delivery only — or pure payment solutions. This gives us an edge over them as we build the network, the channels and the trust that are all key ingredients for the adoption of payment services at large scale.”

Yassir has seen exponential growth since launching four years ago. Last year, it was part of Y Combinator’s winter batch as the first Algerian startup in the accelerator. In terms of traction, over 3 million people and 40,000 partners in all its markets now use the platform. Tayebi said that Yassir generates revenues by taking a commission on the services it offers.  

This round of funding makes Yassir the most funded startup in Algeria and one of the most funded in the Maghreb and MENA region. Tayebi isn’t coy about saying his company aims for regional dominance in its category. Yassir also plans to gain market share outside the region into other markets, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and other “strategic geographies.”

The company will use the investment to achieve that as well as consolidate growth in its existing markets by launching new products and improving existing ones.

Yassir also plans to triple the size of its engineering team, a department the company is also particular about building locally.

“We are [a] 100% local champion, including tech talent, as we want to empower the tech talent in the region and hire them in each country we operate in. We want a success model that is fully from the region,” Tayebi said.

“Yassir is a natural evolution of companies seen elsewhere in the world,” WndrCo partner Anthony Saleh said in a statement.The moment we met the team, we saw the opportunity of entering an enormous market with a service taking the best of models we have seen elsewhere. We’re thrilled to be part of this supercharged journey.”

How one founder is turning complex decision-making into a developer tool anyone can use

Carolyn Mooney wants you to make your decision-making process code. She is the co-founder and CEO of Nextmv which helps companies make efficient decisions on a mass scale—think Amazon delivering packages or Uber plotting a route for an uber pool. In this week’s episode, she talks with Darrell and Jordan about Nextmv’s software that doesn’t just optimize decision making and route planning but also enables engineers to work on many different types of teams. Plus she talks about how coaching high school volleyball has made her a better leader and forced her to prioritize a work-life balance.

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Jack is leaving Twitter and we have ~thoughts~

Well, so much for a relaxed post-holiday week on Monday.

News broke this morning that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down from the company entirely. The company’s CTO, Parag Agrawal, will be taking over at the helm. Saleforce exec Bret Taylor will take over as board chairman.

So, Amanda and Natasha and Alex jumped into onto the mics — and, ironically, a Twitter space — to riff on all things Jack and future of Twitter. From the show:

  • Crypto and the CTO, what can we read from the tea leaves?
  • Jack’s dual role, and its detractors.
  • The fact that Twitter’s product work has been great lately, which we don’t want to stop. When is a good time to leave a company, is it on the up and up or when things are quiet?
  • And, finally, Jack’s somewhat biting words regarding founder-led companies, which are, frankly, a bit at odds with his own behavior until now.

The show is back on Wednesday, unless some other major CEO resigns.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

AWS Braket gets improved support for hybrid quantum-classical workloads

In 2019, AWS launched Braket, its quantum computing service that makes hardware and software tools from its partners Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave available in its cloud. Given how quickly quantum computing is moving ahead, it’s maybe no surprise that a lot has changed since then. Among other things, hybrid algorithms that use classical computers to optimize quantum algorithms — a process similar to training machine learning models — have become a standard tool for developers. Today, AWS announced improved support for running these hybrid algorithms on Braket.

Previously, to run these algorithms, developers would have to set up and manage the infrastructure to run the optimization algorithms on classical machines and then manage the integration with the quantum computing hardware, in addition to the monitoring and visualization tools for analyzing the results.

Image Credits: AWS

But that’s not all. “Another big challenge is that [Quantum Processing Units] are shared, inelastic resources, and you compete with others for access,” AWS’s Danilo Poccia explains in today’s announcement. “This can slow down the execution of your algorithm. A single large workload from another customer can bring the algorithm to a halt, potentially extending your total runtime for hours. This is not only inconvenient but also impacts the quality of the results because today’s QPUs need periodic re-calibration, which can invalidate the progress of a hybrid algorithm. In the worst case, the algorithm fails, wasting budget and time.”

With the new Amazon Braket Hybrid Jobs feature, developers get a fully managed service that handles the hardware and software interactions between the classical and quantum machines — and developers will get priority access to quantum processing units to provide them with more predictability. Braket will automatically spin up the necessary resources (and shut them down once a job is completed). Developers can set custom metrics for their algorithms and, using Amazon CloudWatch, they can visualize the results in near real time.

“As application developers, Braket Hybrid Jobs gives us the opportunity to explore the potential of hybrid variational algorithms with our customers,” said Vic Putz, head of engineering at QCWare. “We are excited to extend our integration with Amazon Braket and the ability to run our own proprietary algorithms libraries in custom containers means we can innovate quickly in a secure environment. The operational maturity of Amazon Braket and the convenience of priority access to different types of quantum hardware means we can build this new capability into our stack with confidence.”