Snack, a ‘Tinder meets TikTok’ dating app, opens to Gen Z investors

Snack, a video-first mobile dating app designed with a younger generation in mind, is opening itself up to Gen Z investors. The startup today announced the launch of its own Gen Z Syndicate on AngelList, which will allow Gen Z community members, influencers, creators and others to participate in the company’s upcoming $2 million SAFE, alongside other funds and angel investors.

The company in February announced $3.5 million in seed funding for its modern, TikTok-style dating app where users post videos to a feed which others then like in order to be matched. Snack believes videos allow users to better showcase their interests and lifestyle, as well as show off their personalities in ways static photos cannot. When two people like each other’s videos, they’re invited to direct message one another.

The experience is very much like engaging with a TikTok that’s built for dating. In fact, Snack is one of the first apps that will be adopting TikTok’s new Login SDK for third-party apps, which gives Snack’s users the ability to reshare their TikTok videos to their dating profiles.

Image Credits: Snack

Snack’s founder, Kim Kaplan, has a history in the dating app market. She previously led product, marketing and revenue at Plenty of Fish, which later sold to Match Group for $575 million in 2015.

“If you think about Plenty of Fish, we really launched off of Google SEO,” Kaplan explains. “Then you had Zoosk and Badoo, which launched off of Facebook — when it was a really early platform and it was easy to get traffic from it. Then you had Tinder and Bumble, which launched off of mobile-first. They were the first apps to come out and design and build with mobile in mind versus the rest of us which were desktop, trying to cram everything into a mobile phone,” she says.

“And I fundamentally believe now that the right opportunity is the distribution on TikTok, as well as influencers. I think that combination of TikTok being the new distribution channel is going to be a massive opportunity — and that’s what we’re trying to leverage,” Kaplan says.

Longer-term, Snack is likely to grow beyond the young, Gen Z demographic. Already, the app is attracting users in their 20’s and early 30’s, thanks to its TikTok ties. But as TikTok naturally ages up, so will Snack.

Snack began fundraising in September of last year, then hired the team, built the app and launched in late February.

Image Credits: Snack

“We’re only about eight weeks into this right now, but we’re seeing a lot of excitement, a lot of user growth,” Kaplan says. “Because of that excitement that’s kind of building, people — a lot of really interesting people — came to the table and said they wanted to invest. But I didn’t have any room left in the previous rounds, so I decided to open up a SAFE.”

As part of that SAFE, Snack is carving out a certain amount to create its own syndicate. That way, Kaplan notes, “we don’t have any carry fees with another person, and [we’re] opening it up to Gen Z investors that want to participate in the round.”

Originally, the carve-out began at $100,000 but there is already enough interest that Kaplan says she expects it to go higher — perhaps a couple hundred thousand or larger, based on demand.

Among the Gen Z investors are VCs who have heard about Snack, but whose fund primarily invests at a later stage. Others are just people the company has been working with and getting advice from while building out the the app.

For example, Kaplan had reach out to the Gen Z Mafia, a group of technologists working to make venture capital and startups more inclusive, to help consult on Snack. The group’s leaders, Emma Salinas and Nicholas Huebecker, are credited with helping Kaplan come up with Snack’s pretzel logo and its brand name.

“Video first dating allows a unique sense of expression that you can’t portray with a few well-crafted words and filtered pictures,” said Huebekcer, of his interest in Snack. “For a mobile-first generation, this new form of authenticity will grow to be necessary. Snack allows users to express their real selves just like they do on TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms we love,” he added.

Technology investor and Founder at The Innovation Armory, Samuel Natbony, is also joining the SAFE, alongside Monique Woodard (Cake Ventures), Backbone Angels, Shakti Ventures, Christian Winklund (previously CEO of dating app Skout which sold to Meet Group), Andrew Wilkinson and others.

“I want Gen Z to have a seat at the table and help shape what Snack becomes,” says Kaplan. “I want them to have that voice and participate, and be a champion for Snack,” she adds.

This founder raised millions to build Fair, a neobank for immigrants

Fair, a multilingual digital bank and financial services platform, is launching to the public after raising $20 million in 40 days earlier this year.

Founder Khalid Parekh raised the capital primarily from the very demographic that Houston-based Fair aims to serve: from a group consisting of a number of immigrants, many of whom were first-time investors.

“There was not a single check from a VC or bank or from a family office,” Parekh told TechCrunch. “Ninety percent of our investors are minorities or are immigrants like myself that believed in the concept of Fair.”

One could say that it’s also fitting that Fair’s headquarters are in Houston, which at the time of the last census was the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.

Parekh is not your traditional fintech founder. He doesn’t have banking or financial services experience, although he does have experience founding and running a successful company: AMSYS Group, which is valued at nearly $350 million. His mission with Fair is largely personal. Upon arriving in the U.S. from India with just $100 in his pocket 22 years ago, he struggled to not only get a loan but also to open a bank account. 

Image Credits: Founder and CEO Khalid Parekh / Fair

“I was an engineer by background, but was very confused with the American banking system. There is not a lot of help for immigrants who don’t understand it well,” Parekh recalls. “My biggest challenge was sending money back home. There was just a lack of welcome.”

In 2020, he used his own cash to build out the technology behind Fair, which is designed to be an option to those who are new to the country, have no credit or need access to interest-free loans. Fair operates with Coastal Community Bank as its sponsor bank. Parekh’s goal with Fair is to provide “ethical, transparent banking” – to anyone – via a membership model that eliminates all banking fees. Members can pay a one-time membership fee of $99 (paid in full or in installments) to have access to all of Fair’s online banking and financial services.

“Another challenge that I saw is that there were hardly any options for insurance and retirement services for immigrants and low-income people,” Parekh said. “All big institutions catered to people with a lot of money. But we want to create an institution where we are fair to everybody, regardless of religion, race, color, net worth or how much is in their bank account. We want everyone to be treated the same.”

Over the past year, the nation has seen a surge of neobanks emerge aimed at specific demographics, including Greenwood, First Boulevard and Cheese. Welcome Technologies is also aimed at serving the immigrant population. 

Fair aims to differentiate itself, according to Parekh, by offering interest-free lending, as well as the ability to invest, get insurance and plan for retirement in one platform that is available in English, Arabic and Spanish (with more languages to come). Ultimately, his goal in Fair is to help address the “longstanding racial income inequalities and widening wealth disparities in the U.S.” He won’t get a salary for his role as CEO.

Among Fair’s features are free international transfer, early access to paycheck funds, “instant, interest-free” microloans — essentially buy now, pay later at the register — an annual dividend account, debit card accounts for kids and interest-free loans for home, auto and business that are equity-based. Those equity-based loans are Sharia compliant, meaning that it’s not kosher to take interest. They also comply with Jewish law.

Instead, if a member wants to buy a home, they can put 20% down, and Fair will provide 80% via an LLC, of which the member and bank will be co-owners.

“The members will have the option of buying out our shares on whatever schedule they wish,” Parekh said.

In partnership with Avibra, Fair is offering free supplemental life, accident medical and AD&D insurance to all members as part of its banking services.

Fair aims to practice socially responsible investing (SRI), an approach to investing that reduces exposure to companies that are deemed to have a negative social impact. The fintech also practices ESG investing, which measures the sustainability of an investment and its overall impact in three specific categories: environmental, social and corporate governance. And, it’s also working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Relief, and will donate 2.5% of profits to refugee missions globally, as well as racial economic empowerment initiatives.

Among Fair’s advisors are Manolo Sánchez, a director at Fannie Mae and Stewart Information Systems and former chair & CEO of BBVA Compass, and Samuel Golden, managing director at management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal and founder of A&M’s Financial Industry practice.

Google begins surfacing vaccine centers, hospital beds, oxygen info in India

Google, which reaches more than half a billion people in India, is turning its services into tools to help the world’s second largest internet market fight the pandemic.

Google said on Monday it has rolled out a range of updates to its Search, Maps, YouTube, and Google Pay services in India to display and boost authoritative and credible information about the coronavirus to help people in the South Asian nation find vaccination centers and other resources to navigate the crisis.

Google Search, which has been offering updates on the virus for more than a year, now also displays information panels with vaccine registration details in India and highlights the official Indian government website for the vaccine at the top.

Search and Maps that have been showing 2,500 testing centers in India now similarly also show locations of over 23,000 vaccination centers across the country in English and eight Indian languages. The company said it is working with India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to source this information.

Google, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, said it is also testing a Q&A function in Google Maps in India to enable people to ask about and share local information on the availability of beds and medical oxygen in select locations in the country.

The new features rollout comes as India reports over 350,000 infections and over 3,500 fatalities everyday. The nation’s healthcare infrastructure is struggling to serve patients, having largely run out of beds and medical supplies.

In recent weeks, scores of firms, startups, entrepreneurs and investors have stepped up to fill this gap. And Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp have become the real-time helpline as people exchange leads with one another.

Google said it is also using its various channels to help extend the reach of health information campaigns in India. This “includes the ‘Get the Facts’ around vaccines campaign, to encourage people to focus on authoritative information and content for vaccines. We’re also surfacing important safety messages through promotions on the Google homepage, Doodles and reminders within our apps and services,” it wrote in a blog post.

On YouTube, Google has curated a set of playlists with videos that offer authoritative information about the vaccine, the spread of the virus, and facts from experts. The company said it has also rolled out a COVID Aid campaign on Google Pay to enable users to donate to non-profit organizations such as GiveIndia, Charities Aid Foundation, Goonj, Save the Children, Seeds, UNICEF India (National NGOs) and United Way.

The company said a similar campaign to support several other foundations has raised over $4.6 million.

“As India battles this devastating wave, we’ll keep doing all we can to support the selfless individuals and committed organizations on the front lines of the response. There’s a long way to go—but standing together in solidarity, working together with determination, we can and will turn the tide,” read a blog post signed by Covid Response team at Google India.

Clubhouse finally launches its Android app

Clubhouse finally has an Android app that you can download from the Play Store — provided you live in the U.S.

The voice-based social network launched its beta Android app on Play Store for users in the U.S. on Sunday, and said it will gradually make the new app available in other English-speaking countries and then the rest of the world.

The social network, valued at about $4 billion in its most recent fundraise, launched as an iPhone-only app last year. The app quickly gained popularity last year, attracting several high-profile celebrities, politicians, investors, and entrepreneurs.

Clubhouse began developing the Android app early this year and started to test the beta version externally this month. In a town hall earlier Sunday, the startup said availability on Android has been the most requested product feature.

“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the team wrote.

Clubhouse download figures across some of its popular markets, according to estimates by mobile insight firm AppMagic. (Though Clubhouse’s precise download figures from other mobile insight firms vary, they all agree that Clubhouse app’s popularity has dropped in recent months.)

As Clubhouse struggles to maintain its growth — data from mobile insight firms including AppMagic suggests that Clubhouse installs have drastically dropped in recent months — the Android app could prove pivotal in boosting the startup’s reach across the globe.

Clubhouse could potentially — on paper — also supercharge its growth by allowing any user to join the service without an invitation. But the startup said retaining the waitlist and invite system is part of its effort to “keep the growth measured.” (Clubhouse has faced several moderation challenges in recent months.)

Clubhouse’s launch on Android comes at a time when scores of technology giants including Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Spotify, Reddit, and Microsoft’s LinkedIn, have either launched their similar offerings — or announced plans to do so.

Twitter’s clone of Clubhouse, called Spaces, has emerged as one of the biggest competitors to the A16z and Tiger Global-backed-startup. An unplanned Twitter Spaces, available on Android as well, hosted by a high-profile Indian startup founder on earlier Sunday attracted hundreds of listeners within a few minutes, for instance.

“As we head into the summer and continue to scale out the backend, we plan to begin opening up even further, welcoming millions more people in from the iOS waitlist, expanding language support, and adding more accessibility features, so that people worldwide can experience Clubhouse in a way that feels native to them,” Clubhouse team wrote.

Clubhouse’s beta Android app currently lacks a number of features such as the ability to follow a topic, in-app translations, localization, ability to create or manage a club, link Twitter and Instagram profiles, payments, as well as the ability to change the profile name or user name.

“With Android, we believe that Clubhouse will feel more complete,” read the blog post.

This Week in Apps: App Store advertising expands, Google Play plans for safety, Epic v. Apple trial begins

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, we’re looking at the Apple-Epic trial, Apple’s App Store advertising expansion, App Tracking Transparency opt-in rates, TikTok’s new SDKs for third-party apps, Google’s plans for its own take on privacy labels, and more.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple-Epic Trial kicks off

This was the first week of the Epic Games antitrust lawsuit against Apple over App Store fees, and already it’s yielding some interesting content — mainly thanks to the internal Apple emails that have become part of the trial’s exhibits. So far, we’ve learned how Apple thought about App Store fees in the past, have gotten a peek inside internal conversations, learned of special deals it cut for Hulu and how it thought about punishing Netflix for ditching IAP, among other things.

Here are some of the highlights you may have missed.

Fees

  • Apple’s App Store head Phil Schiller, previously Apple’s marketing chief, a decade ago questioned if the 70/30 split would last. In an email to Eddy Cue, he suggested that once the App Store reached $1 billion in profitability, Apple should cut its fees to 20-25%.
  • Despite having said he’s fighting for all developers, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney in court admitted he would have accepted a special deal for a lower commission if Apple had offered one.
  • Apple is disputing testimony from financial researcher Ned Barnes, which said the App Store had operating margins of almost 78% in 2019. Barnes said he had access to P&L estimates for fiscal year 2020, and statements from 2013-15, which aided in his calculations. Apple rebutted that it doesn’t allocate costs for the App Store so any documents discussing it wouldn’t have included expenses.

Competition

  • Apple’s App Store VP Matt Fischer was questioned over a 2016 email where an employee said Fischer felt strongly about not featuring competitor apps on the App Store. Fischer said the employee who wrote the email was “very misinformed” and Apple has promoted competitors long before he joined the team in 2010.

App Store rejections

  • Apple said it rejected 33-36% of apps submitted to the App Store from 2017-2019. Despite the number of rejections, less than 1% of developers appeal Apple’s decision. Most of the decisions about rejections are still upheld.
  • 2017: 5.177 million submissions, 1.69 million rejections (33%)
  • 2018: 4.79 million submissions, 1.7 million rejections (35%)
  • 2019: 4.8 million submissions, 1.74 million rejections (36%)

Juicy emails

  • Apple offered Hulu and others special deals that gave them App Store API access. In a 2018 email, an Apple exec confirmed Hulu was one of the whitelisted developers that had been given access to the subscription cancel/refund API which they had been using since 2015 to support instant upgrades using a two-family setup before subscription upgrade/downgrade capabilities were built.
  • Emails revealed Apple tried to convince Netflix not to drop support for IAPs and questioned whether it should take punitive measures when Netflix’s tests were underway.
  • Apple emails revealed internal conflict over the launch of App Store ads before launch, saying that ads would be at odds with Apple’s statements that it makes products without monetizing users.

Other tidbits

  • Fischer said he was “blindsided” by the payment update that kicked off Epic’s battle with the App Store, noting the developer and Apple had a good relationship previously. He recalled dropping everything to promote Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert on the App Store, which he described as a “really cool concept.”
  • Fortnite made more than $9 billion in 2018 and 2019. It made $5.1 billion in 2020.
  • Fortnite may be returning to iOS through Nvidia’s cloud streaming service GeForce NOW.
  • It was revealed that Epic paid Sony additional royalties beyond the 70/30 split to compensate for cross-play. Apple’s argument is that it’s being singled out over the 30% cut, when Epic was actually paying more to Sony but didn’t go after the console maker with the same complaint.
  • Apple and Epic had once planned a subscription bundle that would have offered Fortnite Crew, Apple Music and Apple TV+ in a $20/mo package. The cut of subscription revenue each would take would have been based on whether the user signed up through Apple or through Fortnite.

Google to add a “Safety” section on Google Play in 2022

Months after Apple’s App Store introduced privacy labels for apps, Google says its own mobile app marketplace, Google Play, will follow suit…sorta. The company this week pre-announced its plans to introduce a new “safety” section in Google Play, rolling out in Q2 2022, which will require app developers to share what sort of data their apps collect, how it’s stored and how it’s used.

This includes what sort of personal information their apps collect, like users’ names or emails, and whether it collects information from the phone, like the user’s precise location, their media files or contacts. Apps will also need to explain how the app uses that information — for example, for enhancing the app’s functionality or for personalization purposes — and include their privacy policy, otherwise face “policy enforcement.”

But where Apple’s labels focus on what data is being collected for tracking purposes and what’s linked to the end user, Google’s additions seem to be more about whether or not you can trust the data being collected is being handled responsibly, by allowing the developer to showcase if they follow best practices around data security. It also gives the developer a way to make a case for why it’s collecting data right on the listing page itself. And Google says developers can showcase if their labels have been independently verified.

 

TikTok Login and more integrations are coming to third-party apps

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok is expanding its integrations with third-party apps. The company announced the launch of two new SDKs, the TikTok Login Kit and Sound Kit, that will allow apps on mobile, web and consoles to authenticate users via their TikTok credentials, build experiences that leverage users’ TikTok videos and share music and sounds back to TikTok from their own apps. The Login Kit allows an app’s users to sign in quickly using their TikTok log-in credentials, similar to other social log-ins offered by Facebook or Snap. Once signed in, users can then access their TikTok videos in the third-party app, potentially fueling entire new app ecosystems with TikTok content. Meanwhile, the Sounds Kit will let app users share their sounds or music back to TikTok as sounds.

Early adopters of Login Kit include gaming clips apps Allstar and Medal; anti-anxiety app Breathwrk; social app IRL; food reviews app Burpple; dating and friend-making apps Snack, Lolly, MeetMe, Monet, Swipehouse and EME Hive; creator tool provider Streamlabs; video game PUBG; and forthcoming NFT platform Neon. Sound Kits adopters include mobile multi-track recording studio Audiobridge; music creation and collaboration suite LANDR; hip hop music creation app Rapchat; and upcoming audio recording and remix app Yourdio.

Apple expands App Store advertising

Image Credits: Apple

As Apple cracks down on the ad tech industry’s ability to personalize ads using user data, it is expanding its own advertising business with a new App Store ad slot. The new and more prominent ad placement is found on the App Store’s Search tab, which sees millions of visits from Apple device owners every month. The ad will appear in the Suggested section at the top of the list of apps.

Like Apple’s existing Search results campaigns, there’s no minimum spend required for a Search tab campaign, as these ads are called. Developers can spend as little or as much as they want, then start, stop or adjust the campaign at any time, says Apple. Ad pricing is based on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) model. The actual cost is the result of a second price auction, which calculates what the developer will pay based on what the next closest bidder is willing to pay. Impressions are counted when at least 50% of the ad is visible for one second.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

✨ Although a poll indicated iOS 14.5 users may be more willing to allow apps to track them than previously thought, Flurry’s app data shows that few are opting in. After upgrading to the new version of iOS, only 4% of U.S. iPhone users have enabled app tracking. Worldwide, the number jumps to 12%.

Image Credits: Flurry

Apple apologizes and refunds a woman $1,116.32, after her 9-year-old son (who has autism spectrum disorder) racked up charges on mobile games like Roblox and Coin Master. The son said he didn’t understand the games cost money. The son had memorized the mom’s Apple ID password, which he entered when asked to authorize the purchase. Apple had initially refused to refund the money, prompting Global News‘ Consumer Matters to step in and help.

Apple snags a former Google AI research scientist, Samy Bengio, to work on Siri. He will lead a new AI research unit alongside another ex-Googler, John Giannandrea, focused on making Siri more of a Google Assistant competitor.

Apple released iOS 14.5.1, which included a bug fix for App Tracking Transparency, which prevented some users from seeing the ATT prompts.

Platforms: Google

The Google Play Store in India paused auto-renewals and free trials, amid new rules on recurring transactions in the country from India’s central bank and financial regulator, the Reserve Bank of India. Google in an email to developers said the features would be paused while “ecosystem challenges are addressed.”

Some users aren’t happy with the recent Play Store redesign, which now makes it harder to see a list of your recently updated apps or those you’re beta testing.

Google releases Android Studio 4.2 in the stable release channel. The focus areas for this release is an upgraded IntelliJ platform and a handful of new features centered around improving developers’ productivity.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Snapchat

Snap will launch a new Creator Marketplace later this month, which will initially focus on connecting AR Lens Creators with businesses and brands who want to run AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022. It also announced a new lineup of Originals, including those with TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, Megan Thee Stallion, and others.

Fintech

Top neobanking app Chime was asked by a California regulator to stop calling itself a “bank” in its website URLs and advertising. The app is not actually a bank — it offers front-end banking services to customers, but the accounts themselves are held with Chime’s banking partners, The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank, both FDIC members. Chime updated its website to make it clear it’s not a bank. Expect other neobanks to follow suit, soon.

WhatsApp Pay is rolling out to users in Brazil on iOS and Android. The P2P payments feature requires the user has a Mastercard or Visa debit card in one of the following banks: Banco do Brazil, Banco Inter, Bradesco, Itaú, Mercado Pago, Next, Nubank, Sicredi or Woop Sicredi. The feature is also live in India.

Social

Twitter expanded its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, to all users with 600 followers or more. The company says this number will allow users to have a good experience, but it still plans to expand to all users in the future.

Twitter launched a Tip Jar feature on mobile that lets users tip people directly on their user profile. The feature supports payment platforms PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App and Bandcamp.

Twitter also rolled out an improved version of its “reply prompts” feature, aimed at cutting down on harmful tweets. The feature, which is now globally available in English on mobile, shows a prompt that asks a user to reconsider their language when they were about to tweet something mean.

And Twitter rolled out the new feature that lets you post bigger images on iOS and Android, without having the images cropped. (Busy week!)

Instagram is rolling out a captions sticker for Stories, and soon Reels. The sticker, which only works in English-language for now, can be customized with your preferred style, color and text.

The majority of WhatsApp users have accepted the controversial privacy update and the company continues to grow its user base, Facebook said this week. Combined, Facebook’s family of apps had 3.45 billion MAUs as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31 and 3.21 billion on September 30. The company says it now won’t deactivate accounts for not accepting the new policy, but will keep reminding them.

Facebook opens registration for F8 Refresh, which is free to all developers worldwide. Sessions will include Facebook Business Messaging, Research, Open Source, Login, Business Tools, AR, Stories, Gaming, Startups and more.

Facebook is launching its Nextdoor clone, Neighborhoods, across Canada, and soon, the U.S. Unlike with Facebook Groups, Facebook users on Neighborhoods can create a separate subprofile that includes a custom bio and list of interests, which is included in a Neighborhoods Directory. Neighborhoods will also have moderators who review posts and comments and can hide posts that violate guidelines.

Image Credits: Facebook

A court ruled Snap could be sued for its role in a fatal car crash that killed three young adults. The boys were using Snap’s controversial “speed filter” that shows your real-life speed, when the 17-year old driver accelerated the car to 123 MPH and then crashed into a tree. The parents sued Snap saying it knowingly created a dangerous game in the app, and bore some responsibility.

Facebook notes its Workplace business networking service now has 7 million paid subscribers, up 40% YoY. Customers now include Virgin Atlantic, Walmart, Telefónica, BT, Booking.com, Deliveroo, AstraZeneca, Starbucks and Save the Children.

Facebook and Instagram’s prompt that asks its users to opt into tracking on iOS 14.x uses scare tactics that suggests that Facebook could have to start charging for its app, if users didn’t agree to tracking. The pop-up says tracking enables personalized ads, supports businesses and “helps keep Facebook free of charge.”

Messaging

Signal claimed Facebook rejected its ads and disabled its ad account for trying to run an ad campaign that showed the amount of data Instagram and Facebook collected on users. Facebook responded that this campaign was a marketing “stunt” and Signal never actually tried to run the ads. It also claimed Signal was showing off screenshots from a time its account was disabled briefly in March for an unrelated issue. If Signal’s being dishonest here, that’s not a good look for an app asking consumers to trust them.

Instagram adds new chat themes featuring Star Wars characters and Netflix’s “Selena: The Series,” as well as stickers celebrating Asian and Pacific Islanders for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and a read receipts feature for DMs. Another new feature available first on iOS allows Instagram users to reply with a photo or video in DMs.

On Messenger, the tap-to-record feature no longer requires users to hold down the button to record the message. It also introduced swipe to archive in Messenger and new a Archived Chats folder on mobile.

Streaming & Entertainment

Google rolls out a new feature to Android tablets called “Entertainment Space, which offers a personalized home page featuring the user’s favorite movies, shows, videos, games and books. This saves the user time hopping in between different apps to find something to do, whether that’s play, watch or read. Each user on the tablet can have their own personalized profile, as well, Google notes.

Is Clubhouse’s hype wearing off? App downloads were 900,000 in April, down from February’s 9.6 million. To combat the decline, Clubhouse this week released its Android app to public testing, and announced its “pilot season” of new shows it’s considering funding through its accelerator.

YouTube’s TikTok rival “Shorts” is now rolling out to all creators in the U.S., and will replace the “Explore” tab on the app’s home screen.

Soundcloud partners with Triller on an integration that will add a Soundcloud-curated playlist feature into the short-form video app. Soundcloud has offered curated programs to other platforms, including SiriusXM, Dash Radio and Australia’s Southern Cross Austereo.

Amazon says its free, ad-supported streaming service IMDb TV will have its own standalone mobile app sometime later this summer.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Twitch’s mobile app hits 22 million global installs in the first quarter of 2021, up 62% YoY, reports Sensor Tower. The app ended 2020 with 80.6 million installs, up 134% from 34.5 million for the year in 2019.

PUBG Mobile will relaunch in India as Battleground Mobile. The mobile game had originally been banned in the country alongside 200 others apps with links to China. Its South Korean developer Krafton didn’t say if it had talked to India’s government or if it had received permission, but will launch with new restrictions to protect minors and their privacy.

Health & Fitness

The Facebook app added a vaccine finder in India and announced a $10 million grant to support emergency response efforts in the country.

Dating

Tinder says it’s rolling out a new 48-hour, in-app event called “Vibes,” that combine the real-time push notifications from Swipe Surge with the on-profile icebreakers from Swipe Night. Vibes will present users with a series of questions ranging from personality traits to pop culture. People’s answers will be displayed on their profile for 72 hours.

Image Credits: Tinder

Tinder parent Match Group also posted better-than-expected earnings for its first quarter and an upbeat revenue outlook, saying it’s seeing stronger recovery in areas with higher vaccination rates.

Government & Policy

China said 33 apps, including a map navigation software from Baidu and Tencent, violated regulations around collecting user data. The app developers were given 10 working days to fix issues or be subject to penalties.

Funding and M&A

💰 Music-making app Rapchat raised $2.3 million in funding co-led by Sony Music Entertainment and NYC VC firm Adjacent. The company has around 7 million registered users, some 250,000 songs have been created from a catalog of about 100,000 beats by 500,000 MAUs.

🤝 Twitter acquired distraction-free reading service Scroll to beef up its subscription product. In the future, Premium subscribers will be able to pay to read news without ads or website clutter, via Scroll. Unfortunately, Scroll’s news aggregator Nuzzel, has already shut down.

💰 Brazil fintech alt.bank, which offers a mobile banking app and debit card, raised $5.5 million in Series A funding led by Union Square Ventures. The app has been downloaded nearly 1 million times but doesn’t disclose how many active users it has.

💰 Finnish mobile games company Supercell extends a $180 million credit line to fellow Finnish games company Metacore, the maker of the popular title Merge Mansion, which has 800,000 daily players.

🤝 Cosmetic treatment review website and app RealSelf acquired YNS Group, a portfolio of websites that will give RealSelf a more international footprint.

🤝 Fortnite maker Epic Games acquires artist community ArtStation, where many artists upload work made with Epic’s Unreal Engine. The company immediately dropped commissions on sales from 30% to 12% — clearly aiming to make a point about a fair commission structure amid its trial with Apple over App Store fees.

💰 Sony announced an investment and partnership with Discord to bring the chat app to PlayStation. The investment amount was not disclosed, but gives Sony a minority stake. The news follows reports that Discord walked away from a $10 billion acquisition offer from Microsoft.

🤝 Zynga is acquiring mobile ad and monetization firm Chartboost for $250 million. The deal brings mobile game marketing, advertising and monetization in-house at a time when Apple’s privacy push is making targeting mobile ads more difficult.

🤝 Performance marketplace Perform, which offers technology to online and mobile marketers to help scale customer acquisitions, has been acquired by U.S. equity firm Beringer Capital.

💰 Virtual chronic condition care app Vida Health raised $110 million in Series D funding from General Atlantic, Centene and AXA Venture Partners. The company connects users with a personal health coach who guides them through programs for a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes management, weight loss and mental health support.

💰 Connectcam raises $37 million from Insight Partners, O.G. Tech and others, for its smartphone app that helps employers manage remote, deskless workers.

🤝 Edtech website and app maker Kahoot acquires Clever, a startup that built a single sign-on portal for digital learning classrooms, used by 65% of U.S. K-12 schools. The deal values Clever between $435 million and $500 million.

💰 Avatar app Genies raised $65 million in Series B funding led by Mary Meeker’s firm Bond. The app, which lets users build their own digital personas, is now expanding into NFTs.

💰 Canadian fintech Wealthsimple raised $750 million CAD (~$610 million) at a post-money valuation of $5 billion CAD (~$4 billion). The round was led by Meritech and Greylock.

Downloads

News in Bullets

Image Credits: News in Bullets

This mobile news application lets you set your language and locale, then read through news summaries customized to you. But we wish they’d double down on a news reels feature — which is basically just a TikTok for news videos. Right now it presents a robotic narration of headlines overtop video news footage, that you then swipe through or double tap to like, as you would on TikTok. This could be even more useful, though, if the app would partner with news publishers already producing quality video content and make those the central focus of the video feed.

The Oregon Trail

Image Credits: Gameloft

This new Apple Arcade title refreshes the original 1970s text-based strategy game with 12 playable journeys where your every decision can impact your party and outcome. Players pick their traveling party and stock their wagon with supplies, then try to make it to Oregon by surviving a series of random events, like broken limbs, snowstorms, snakebites and more.

Update:

Brave’s mobile browser added a playlist feature that offers quick access to your favorite audio and video content.

Extra Crunch roundup: How Duolingo became an edtech leader

The pandemic has just pushed edtech mainstream, but language-learning startup Duolingo had already spent the past decade figuring out how to build a successful edtech app.

In our latest installment of the EC-1 series, Natasha Mascarenhas goes deep with the company to understand how it found product-market fit, then figured out how to grow like a consumer tech startup and monetize like a SaaS startup. After a record 2020, the Pittsburgh-based company also opened up about its plans for the future, including a focus on speaking a new language (in addition to listening, reading and writing).

Here’s more from Natasha about what’s inside:

Want this kind of coverage on a different company or sector. Check out our ever-growing list of EC-1s, which include recent profiles of Klaviyo, StockX, Tonal and more.

Thanks for reading!

Eric Eldon
Managing Editor, Extra Crunch (subbing in for Walter again)

Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups

Fairy dust flying in gold light rays. Computer generated abstract raster illustration

Image Credits: gonin / Wikimedia Commons

If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now.

As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).

Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. Furthermore, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, while others are recurring or have hybrid business models.

And fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.

How to attract large investors to your direct investing platform

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

Many fintech startups have tried to become a market-maker between investors and investment opportunities.

However, the challenge with this two-sided market is: How do you get the investors to show up?

It’s hard enough to get retail investors, but family offices and other large check writers are even more challenging to lure.

Analytics as a service: Why more enterprises should consider outsourcing

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

With an increasing number of enterprise systems, growing teams, a rising proliferation of the web and multiple digital initiatives, companies of all sizes are creating loads of data every day.

This data contains excellent business insights and immense opportunities, but it has become impossible for companies to derive actionable insights from this data consistently due to its sheer volume.

The analytics-as-a-service (AaaS) market is expected to grow to $101.29 billion by 2026. Organizations that have not started on their analytics journey or are spending scarce data engineer resources to resolve issues with analytics implementations are not identifying actionable data insights.

Through AaaS, managed services providers (MSPs) can help organizations get started on their analytics journey immediately without extravagant capital investment.

MSPs can take ownership of the company’s immediate data analytics needs, resolve ongoing challenges, and integrate new data sources to manage dashboard visualizations, reporting and predictive modeling — enabling companies to make data-driven decisions every day.

Will fintech unicorn Flywire’s proposed IPO reach escape velocity?

Flywire, a Boston-based magnet for venture capital, filed to go public Monday.

Flywire is a global payments company that attracted more than $300 million as a startup, according to Crunchbase, most recently raising a $60 million Series F last month. We don’t have its most recent valuation, but PitchBook data indicates that the company’s February 2020, $120 million round valued Flywire at $1 billion on a post-money basis.

So what we’re looking at here is a fintech unicorn IPO. A great way to kick off the week, to be honest, though we thought that Robinhood would be the next such debut.

Fintech venture capital activity has been hot lately, which makes the Flywire IPO interesting. Its success or failure could dictate the pace of fintech exits and fintech startup valuations in general, so we have to care about it.

First, what does Flywire do and with whom does it compete? Then, a closer look at its financial results as we hope to get our hands around its revenue quality, aggregate economics and growth prospects.

After that, we’ll discuss valuations and which venture capital groups are set to do well in its flotation.

As Q2’s lull fades, unicorn IPOs are revving up

If it feels like IPO news slowed for a few weeks at the start of the second quarter, your gut is correct. Investors previously told The Exchange that the first, third and fourth quarters of 2021 would be hot periods for public debuts, but that Q2 would be slower. Their argument revolved around reporting cadences and how long it takes for certain periods of accounting work to be completed.

So we weren’t surprised when the second quarter’s IPO cycle began to feel a bit soft compared to the rapid-fire first quarter. And, as we’ve all heard in recent days, the great SPAC rush is slowing.

But that hasn’t stopped a number of firms from defying expectations and going public all the same.

SAP CEO Christian Klein looks back on his first year

SAP CEO Christian Klein

Image Credits: SAP

SAP CEO Christian Klein was appointed co-CEO with Jennifer Morgan in October 2019. He became sole CEO just as the pandemic was hitting full force across the world last April.

He was put in charge of a storied company at 39 years old. By October, its stock price was down and revenue projections for the coming years were flat.

That is definitely not the way any CEO wants to start their tenure, but the pandemic forced Klein to make some decisions to move his customers to the cloud faster. That, in turn, had an impact on revenue until the transition was completed. While it makes sense to make this move now, investors weren’t happy with the news.

There was also the decision to spin out Qualtrics, the company his predecessor acquired for $8 billion in 2018. As he looked back on the one-year mark, Klein sat down with TechCrunch to discuss all that has happened and the unique set of challenges he faced.

Forerunner’s Eurie Kim and Oura’s Harpreet Rai discuss betting on consumer hardware

Image Credits: Forerunner Ventures / Oura

Forerunner General Partner Eurie Kim and Oura CEO Harpreet Rai joined us on Extra Crunch Live to discuss the process of taking Oura to the next level — and beyond — as the product found a second (or third) life during the pandemic through partnerships with sports leagues like the NBA.

And as we’re wont to do, we asked the pair to take a look at a handful of user-submitted pitch decks.

How to break into Silicon Valley as an outsider

Full length of young courageous man climbing on green circles against white background

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

Domm Holland, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce startup Fast, appears to be living a founder’s dream.

His big idea came from a small moment in his real life. Holland watched as his wife’s grandmother tried to order groceries, but she had forgotten her password and wasn’t able to complete the transaction.

He built a prototype of a passwordless authentication system where users would fill out their information once and would never need to do so again. Within 24 hours, tens of thousands of people had used it.

Shoppers weren’t the only ones on board with this idea. In less than two years, Holland has raised $124 million in three rounds of fundraising, bringing on partners like Index Ventures and Stripe.

Although the success of Fast’s one-click checkout product has been speedy, it hasn’t been effortless.

For one thing, Holland is Australian, which means he started out as a Silicon Valley outsider.

Holland talks about how he built his network, why it’s important — not just for fundraising but for building the entire business — and how to avoid the mistakes he sees new founders make.

Revel’s Frank Reig shares how he built his business and what he’s planning

founders series-Frank-reig-revel

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

It’s only been three years since they hit the streets, but Revel’s blue electric mopeds have already become a common sight in New York, San Francisco and a growing number of U.S. cities.

However, Revel founder and CEO Frank Reig set his sights far beyond building a shared moped service.

In fact, since the beginning of 2021, Revel has launched an e-bike subscription service, an EV charging station venture and an all-electric rideshare service driven by a fleet of 50 Teslas.

We caught up with Reig to talk about what he learned from building the company, how Revel’s business strategy has evolved and what lies ahead.

Brex, Ramp tout their view of the future as Divvy is said to consider a sale to Bill.com

Credit cards, computer illustration.

Image Credits: KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Divvy, a Utah-based corporate spend unicorn, is considering selling itself to Bill.com for a price that could top $2 billion. For the fintech sector, it’s big news.

Corporate spend startups including Ramp and Brex are raising rapid-fire rounds at ever-higher valuations and growing at venture-ready cadences. Their growth and the resulting private investment were earned by a popular approach to offering corporate cards, and, increasingly, the group’s ability to build software around those cards that took into account a greater portion of the functionality that companies needed to track expenses, manage spend access and, perhaps, save money.

It makes sense to see Bill.com decide to take on the yet-private corporate spend startups that are playing the field; why not absorb a growing customer base and fend off competition in a single move?

To get a better handle on how the startups that compete with Divvy feel about the deal, TechCrunch reached out to both Ramp CEO Eric Glyman, and Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras.

4 strategies for building a digital health unicorn

Image of a stuffed unicorn sitting in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV

Image Credits: Huber & Starke (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

It’s an entrepreneur’s market in digital health today, with startups raising record-breaking funding at soaring valuations and debuting on public markets to eager investors.

The massive influx of capital to healthcare should not be surprising; the pandemic has made it starkly clear that digital health is the future of healthcare.

To that end, we should anticipate additional healthcare exits worth more than $1 billion in the near term. Which again, is great for entrepreneurs — as long as they understand how hard it is to build a unicorn in healthcare. Today, becoming a unicorn requires founders who are long on vision and operational experience.

During the pandemic, lots of investors jumped in to invest in digital health for the first time. But we’ve been investing for more than a decade.

Here are four instrumental strategies to building a unicorn in digital health that we know work.

One CMO’s honest take on the modern chief marketing role

A CMO's role

Image Credits: Matthias Kulka / Getty Images

There’s no shortage of commentary around the chief marketing officer title these days, and certainly no lack of opinions about the role’s responsibilities and meaning within a company.

There’s a reason for that. CMO is the shortest tenured C-suite role — the average tenure of a CMO is the lowest of all C-suite titles at 3.5 years.

That’s because the chief marketing officer’s role is increasingly complex. Qualifications require broad, strategic thinking while also maintaining tactical acumen across several functions. There’s a big disparity in what companies expect from CMOs. Some want a strategist with an eye for go-to-market planning, while others want a focus on close alignment with sales in addition to brand awareness, content strategy and lead generation.

Other companies want their CMO to emphasize product marketing and management. Ask 10 CMOs how they define their role and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Here, a tenured CMO shares his honest take on what the role actually means, plus the key attributes of today’s modern CMO.

Despite gains, gender diversity in VC funding struggled in 2020

People have been discussing the importance of expanding opportunities for women in venture capital and startup entrepreneurship for decades. And for some time it appeared that progress was being made in building a more diverse and equitable environment.

The prospect of more women writing checks was viewed as a positive for female founders, a cohort that has struggled to attract more than a fraction of the funds that their male peers manage. All-female teams have an especially tough time raising capital compared to all-male teams, underscoring the disparity.

Then COVID-19 arrived and scrambled the venture and startup scene, creating a risk-off environment during the end of Q1 and the start of Q2 2020. Following that, the venture world went into overdrive as software sales became a safe harbor in the business world during uncertain economic times. And when it became clear that the vaunted digital transformation of businesses large and small was accelerating, more capital appeared.

But data indicate that the torrent of new capital has not been distributed equally — indeed, some of the progress that female founders made in recent years may have eroded.

How to make sure your legal team is M&A ready

Image of chess pawns forming a king crown cast shadow to represent a merger.

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

When it comes to acquiring or merging a business with another, it’s imperative that decision-makers know why they’re pursuing a deal and its potential impact on the company, good and bad.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) may indeed be the best route to success, but there’s a lot of room for problems, and many leaders underestimate the role in-house legal teams can play in mitigating these problems and facilitating progress until they’re locked into a deal.

And that’s when issues become much more difficult to resolve and plans unravel.

While a CEO and board might fully appreciate in-house counsel, it’s equally important the team is supported across a company — from marketing to product development — in order to ensure an efficient closing and successful integration. The best way to do that is by bringing in-house counsel into the process early and often.

Beyond the fanfare and SEC warnings, SPACs are here to stay

The rise of SPACs

Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images

The number of SPACs in the deep tech sector was skyrocketing, but a combination of increased SEC scrutiny and market forces over the past few weeks has slowed the pace of new SPAC transactions.

The correction is an inevitable step on the path to mainstreaming SPACs as an alternative to IPOs, but it won’t cause them to go away.

Instead, blank-check vehicles will evolve and will occupy a small and specialized — but important — part of the startup financing landscape.

Uber’s mixed Q1 earnings portray an evolving business

Uber Drivers Win Supreme Court Appeal To Be Considered Workers

Image Credits: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images / Getty Images

Uber followed Lyft in reporting its Q1 2021 earnings this week. And like its rival, its results take a little bit of work to understand.

We parsed them as a pair so that we understand what’s going on at the ride-hailing and food-delivery giant.

Let’s start with the big numbers: Uber’s revenue missed sharply, while its profitability beat expectations.

How did investors vet Uber’s performance? The company’s stock is off around 4% in after-hours trading.

Surprised by the revenue miss? Shocked by the profit beat? Startled by the sharp drop in the value of Uber’s stock? Let’s unpack the numbers.

How much product room will fintech giants leave for startups?

Let’s examine the buy now, pay later (BNPL) market, mostly through the lens of PayPal’s first-quarter results.

PayPal’s BNPL results are impressive — and not just to your humble servant, but to other fintech watchers as well — which begs the question: Can the platform effect that the PayPals of the world bring to bear suffocate a growing slice of the startup market?

Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

Image of a pair of scissors cutting a string affixed to a metal weight.

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

As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

AI is ready to take on a massive healthcare challenge

AI in genome sequencing

Image Credits: GIPhotoStock / Getty Images

Shortening the diagnostic odyssey of rare diseases and reducing the associated costs was, until recently, a moonshot challenge, but is now within reach.

About 80% of rare diseases are genetic, and technology and AI advances are combining to make genetic testing widely accessible.

Whole-genome sequencing, an advanced genetic test that allows us to examine the entire human DNA, now costs under $1,000, and market leader Illumina is targeting a $100 genome in the near future.

Why did Bill.com pay $2.5B for Divvy?

illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

As expected, Bill.com is buying Divvy, the Utah-based corporate spend management startup that competes with Brex, Ramp and Airbase. The total purchase price of around $2.5 billion is substantially above the company’s roughly $1.6 billion post-money valuation that Divvy set during its $165 million, January 2021 funding round.

Per Bill.com, the transaction includes $625 million in cash, with the rest of the consideration coming in the form of stock in Divvy’s new parent company.

Bill.com also reported its quarterly results: Its Q1 included revenues of $59.7 million, above expectations of $54.63 million. The company’s adjusted loss per share of $0.02 also exceeded expectations, with the street expecting a sharper $0.07 per share deficit.

The better-than-anticipated results and the acquisition news combined to boost the value of Bill.com by more than 13% in after-hours trading.

Luckily for us, Bill.com released a deck that provides a number of financial metrics relating to its purchase of Divvy. This will not only allow us to better understand the value of the unicorn at exit, but also its competitors, against which we now have a set of metrics to bring to bear.

Let’s unpack the deal to gain a better understanding of the huge exit and the value of Divvy’s richly funded competitors.

 

5 investors discuss the future of RPA after UiPath’s IPO

Business process management with flowchart to improve efficiency and productivity. Manager analysing workflow on computer screen to implement robotic automation (RPA)

Image Credits: NicoElNino / Getty Images

Robotic process automation (RPA) has certainly been getting a lot of attention in the last year, with startups, acquisitions and IPOs all coming together in a flurry of market activity. It all seemed to culminate with UiPath’s IPO last month. The company that appeared to come out of nowhere in 2017 eventually had a final private valuation of $35 billion. It then had the audacity to match that at its IPO. A few weeks later, it still has a market cap of over $38 billion in spite of the stock price fluctuating at points.

Was this some kind of peak for the technology or a flash in the pan? Probably not. While it all seemed to come together in the last year with a big increase in attention to automation in general during the pandemic, it’s a market category that has been around for some time.

RPA allows companies to automate a group of highly mundane tasks and have a machine do the work instead of a human. Think of finding an invoice amount in an email, placing the figure in a spreadsheet and sending a Slack message to Accounts Payable. You could have humans do that, or you could do it more quickly and efficiently with a machine. We’re talking mind-numbing work that is well suited to automation.

 

Twitch UX teardown: The Anchor Effect and de-risking decisions

Image of a smartphone displaying the Apple Inc. App Store page for the Twitch streaming app.

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

Built for Mars CEO Peter Ramsey tears down Twitch’s UX, asking how Twitch rakes in cash and the psychology used within its app to encourage users to keep spending.

Ramsey describes Twitch’s protocol of asking users if they want to subscribe to a streamer before seeing their stream “unnecessarily boolean,” which would be a great band name.

But that’s neither here nor there. Ramsey notes: “Often it’s at the point of clicking, not the final stage of a process, meaning the user decides to buy the item when they click ‘check out now,’ not when they’ve entered their card details and click ‘complete purchase.’
Ramsey argues Twitch shouldn’t make users choose between doing nothing and subscribing: “Instead, if they changed the text to, say, “learn more,” the user could click it without having to internalize the decision.”

To buy time for a failing startup, recreate the engineering process

Image of a paper plane in freefall against a black backdrop.

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

In non-aerobatic fixed-wing aviation, spins are an emergency. If you don’t have spin recovery training, you can easily make things worse, dramatically increasing your chances of crashing. Despite the life-and-death consequences, licensed amateur pilots in the United States are not required to train for this. Uncontrolled spins don’t happen often enough to warrant the training.

Startups can enter the equivalent of a spin as well. My startup, Kolide, entered a dangerous spin in early 2018, only a year after our Series A fundraise. We had little traction and we were quickly burning through our sizable cash reserves. We were spinning out of control, certain to hit the ground in no time.

All spins start with a stall — a reduction in lift when either the aircraft is flying too slowly or the nose is pointed too high. In Kolide’s case, we were doing both.

Kolide had a lot going for it that enabled me to recover the company, but by far the most important was that we recognized we were in a spin very early, and we had enough cash remaining (and therefore sufficient time) to execute a recovery plan.

What Square’s smashing earnings tell us about consumer bitcoin demand

Shares of Square are up more than 6% after the American fintech company reported a staggering $5.06 billion in revenue in its Q1 2021 earnings report, far ahead of an expected tally of $3.36 billion.

By posting the huge revenue beat, Square grew 266% compared to its year-ago Q1. Because that’s the sort of growth that we generally expect to see from early-stage startups instead of maturing public companies, some exploration is in order. In short, bitcoin revenues from Square, and how they fit into its accounting, are responsible for much of its outsized growth.

And that’s something we need to talk about.

 

Longevity startup Gero AI has a mobile API for quantifying health changes

Sensor data from smartphones and wearables can meaningfully predict an individual’s ‘biological age’ and resilience to stress, according to Gero AI.

The ‘longevity’ startup — which condenses its mission to the pithy goal of “hacking complex diseases and aging with Gero AI” — has developed an AI model to predict morbidity risk using ‘digital biomarkers’ that are based on identifying patterns in step-counter sensor data which tracks mobile users’ physical activity.

A simple measure of ‘steps’ isn’t nuanced enough on its own to predict individual health, is the contention. Gero’s AI has been trained on large amounts of biological data to spots patterns that can be linked to morbidity risk. It also measures how quickly a personal recovers from a biological stress — another biomarker that’s been linked to lifespan; i.e. the faster the body recovers from stress, the better the individual’s overall health prognosis.

A research paper Gero has had published in the peer-reviewed biomedical journal Aging explains how it trained deep neural networks to predict morbidity risk from mobile device sensor data — and was able to demonstrate that its biological age acceleration model was comparable to models based on blood test results.

Another paper, due to be published in the journal Nature Communications later this month, will go into detail on its device-derived measurement of biological resilience.

The Singapore-based startup, which has research roots in Russia — founded back in 2015 by a Russian scientist with a background in theoretical physics — has raised a total of $5 million in seed funding to date (in two tranches).

Backers come from both the biotech and the AI fields, per co-founder Peter Fedichev. Its investors include Belarus-based AI-focused early stage fund, Bulba Ventures (Yury Melnichek). On the pharma side, it has backing from some (unnamed) private individuals with links to Russian drug development firm, Valenta. (The pharma company itself is not an investor).

Fedichev is a theoretical physicist by training who, after his PhD and some ten years in academia, moved into biotech to work on molecular modelling and machine learning for drug discovery — where he got interested in the problem of ageing and decided to start the company.

As well as conducting its own biological research into longevity (studying mice and nematodes), it’s focused on developing an AI model for predicting the biological age and resilience to stress of humans — via sensor data captured by mobile devices.

“Health of course is much more than one number,” emphasizes Fedichev. “We should not have illusions about that. But if you are going to condense human health to one number then, for a lot of people, the biological age is the best number. It tells you — essentially — how toxic is your lifestyle… The more biological age you have relative to your chronological age years — that’s called biological acceleration — the more are your chances to get chronic disease, to get seasonal infectious diseases or also develop complications from those seasonal diseases.”

Gero has recently launched a (paid, for now) API, called GeroSense, that’s aimed at health and fitness apps so they can tap up its AI modelling to offer their users an individual assessment of biological age and resilience (aka recovery rate from stress back to that individual’s baseline).

Early partners are other longevity-focused companies, AgelessRx and Humanity Inc. But the idea is to get the model widely embedded into fitness apps where it will be able to send a steady stream of longitudinal activity data back to Gero, to further feed its AI’s predictive capabilities and support the wider research mission — where it hopes to progress anti-ageing drug discovery, working in partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

The carrot for the fitness providers to embed the API is to offer their users a fun and potentially valuable feature: A personalized health measurement so they can track positive (or negative) biological changes — helping them quantify the value of whatever fitness service they’re using.

“Every health and wellness provider — maybe even a gym — can put into their app for example… and this thing can rank all their classes in the gym, all their systems in the gym, for their value for different kinds of users,” explains Fedichev.

“We developed these capabilities because we need to understand how ageing works in humans, not in mice. Once we developed it we’re using it in our sophisticated genetic research in order to find genes — we are testing them in the laboratory — but, this technology, the measurement of ageing from continuous signals like wearable devices, is a good trick on its own. So that’s why we announced this GeroSense project,” he goes on.

“Ageing is this gradual decline of your functional abilities which is bad but you can go to the gym and potentially improve them. But the problem is you’re losing this resilience. Which means that when you’re [biologically] stressed you cannot get back to the norm as quickly as possible. So we report this resilience. So when people start losing this resilience it means that they’re not robust anymore and the same level of stress as in their 20s would get them [knocked off] the rails.

“We believe this loss of resilience is one of the key ageing phenotypes because it tells you that you’re vulnerable for future diseases even before those diseases set in.”

“In-house everything is ageing. We are totally committed to ageing: Measurement and intervention,” adds Fedichev. “We want to building something like an operating system for longevity and wellness.”

Gero is also generating some revenue from two pilots with “top range” insurance companies — which Fedichev says it’s essentially running as a proof of business model at this stage. He also mentions an early pilot with Pepsi Co.

He sketches a link between how it hopes to work with insurance companies in the area of health outcomes with how Elon Musk is offering insurance products to owners of its sensor-laden Teslas, based on what it knows about how they drive — because both are putting sensor data in the driving seat, if you’ll pardon the pun. (“Essentially we are trying to do to humans what Elon Musk is trying to do to cars,” is how he puts it.)

But the nearer term plan is to raise more funding — and potentially switch to offering the API for free to really scale up the data capture potential.

Zooming out for a little context, it’s been almost a decade since Google-backed Calico launched with the moonshot mission of ‘fixing death’. Since then a small but growing field of ‘longevity’ startups has sprung up, conducting research into extending (in the first instance) human lifespan. (Ending death is, clearly, the moonshot atop the moonshot.) 

Death is still with us, of course, but the business of identifying possible drugs and therapeutics to stave off the grim reaper’s knock continues picking up pace — attracting a growing volume of investor dollars.

The trend is being fuelled by health and biological data becoming ever more plentiful and accessible, thanks to open research data initiatives and the proliferation of digital devices and services for tracking health, set alongside promising developments in the fast-evolving field of machine learning in areas like predictive healthcare and drug discovery.

Longevity has also seen a bit of an upsurge in interest in recent times as the coronavirus pandemic has concentrated minds on health and wellness, generally — and, well, mortality specifically.

Nonetheless, it remains a complex, multi-disciplinary business. Some of these biotech moonshots are focused on bioengineering and gene-editing — pushing for disease diagnosis and/or drug discovery.

Plenty are also — like Gero —  trying to use AI and big data analysis to better understand and counteract biological ageing, bringing together experts in physics, maths and biological science to hunt for biomarkers to further research aimed at combating age-related disease and deterioration.

Another recent example is AI startup Deep Longevity, which came out of stealth last summer — as a spinout from AI drug discovery startup Insilico Medicine — touting an AI ‘longevity as a service’ system which it claims can predict an individual’s biological age “significantly more accurately than conventional methods” (and which it also hopes will help scientists to unpick which “biological culprits drive aging-related diseases”, as it put it).

Gero AI is taking a different tack toward the same overarching goal — by honing in on data generated by activity sensors embedded into the everyday mobile devices people carry with them (or wear) as a proxy signal for studying their biology.

The advantage being that it doesn’t require a person to undergo regular (invasive) blood tests to get an ongoing measure of their own health. Instead our personal device can generate proxy signals for biological study passively — at vast scale and low cost. So the promise of Gero’s ‘digital biomarkers’ is they could democratize access to individual health prediction.

And while billionaires like Peter Thiel can afford to shell out for bespoke medical monitoring and interventions to try to stay one step ahead of death, such high end services simply won’t scale to the rest of us.

If its digital biomarkers live up to Gero’s claims, its approach could, at the least, help steer millions towards healthier lifestyles, while also generating rich data for longevity R&D — and to support the development of drugs that could extend human lifespan (albeit what such life-extending pills might cost is a whole other matter).

The insurance industry is naturally interested — with the potential for such tools to be used to nudge individuals towards healthier lifestyles and thereby reduce payout costs.

For individuals who are motivated to improve their health themselves, Fedichev says the issue now is it’s extremely hard for people to know exactly which lifestyle changes or interventions are best suited to their particular biology.

For example fasting has been shown in some studies to help combat biological ageing. But he notes that the approach may not be effective for everyone. The same may be true of other activities that are accepted to be generally beneficial for health (like exercise or eating or avoiding certain foods).

Again those rules of thumb may have a lot of nuance, depending on an individual’s particular biology. And scientific research is, inevitably, limited by access to funding. (Research can thus tend to focus on certain groups to the exclusion of others — e.g. men rather than women; or the young rather than middle aged.)

This is why Fedichev believes there’s a lot of value in creating a measure than can address health-related knowledge gaps at essentially no individual cost.

Gero has used longitudinal data from the UK’s biobank, one of its research partners, to verify its model’s measurements of biological age and resilience. But of course it hopes to go further — as it ingests more data. 

“Technically it’s not properly different what we are doing — it just happens that we can do it now because there are such efforts like UK biobank. Government money and also some industry sponsors money, maybe for the first time in the history of humanity, we have this situation where we have electronic medical records, genetics, wearable devices from hundreds of thousands of people, so it just became possible. It’s the convergence of several developments — technological but also what I would call ‘social technologies’ [like the UK biobank],” he tells TechCrunch.

“Imagine that for every diet, for every training routine, meditation… in order to make sure that we can actually optimize lifestyles — understand which things work, which do not [for each person] or maybe some experimental drugs which are already proved [to] extend lifespan in animals are working, maybe we can do something different.”

“When we will have 1M tracks [half a year’s worth of data on 1M individuals] we will combine that with genetics and solve ageing,” he adds, with entrepreneurial flourish. “The ambitious version of this plan is we’ll get this million tracks by the end of the year.”

Fitness and health apps are an obvious target partner for data-loving longevity researchers — but you can imagine it’ll be a mutual attraction. One side can bring the users, the other a halo of credibility comprised of deep tech and hard science.

“We expect that these [apps] will get lots of people and we will be able to analyze those people for them as a fun feature first, for their users. But in the background we will build the best model of human ageing,” Fedichev continues, predicting that scoring the effect of different fitness and wellness treatments will be “the next frontier” for wellness and health (Or, more pithily: “Wellness and health has to become digital and quantitive.”)

“What we are doing is we are bringing physicists into the analysis of human data. Since recently we have lots of biobanks, we have lots of signals — including from available devices which produce something like a few years’ long windows on the human ageing process. So it’s a dynamical system — like weather prediction or financial market predictions,” he also tells us.

“We cannot own the treatments because we cannot patent them but maybe we can own the personalization — the AI that personalized those treatments for you.”

From a startup perspective, one thing looks crystal clear: Personalization is here for the long haul.

 

WhatsApp is doing fine despite months-long backlash over policy update

It’s safe to say WhatsApp didn’t have the ideal start to 2021. Less than a week into the new year, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app had already annoyed hundreds of thousands of users with its scary-worded notification about a planned policy update. The backlash grew fast and millions of people, including several high-profile figures, started to explore rival apps Signal and Telegram.

Even governments, including India’s — WhatsApp’s biggest market by users — expressed concerns. (In case of India, also an antitrust probe.) The backlash prompted WhatsApp to offer a series of clarifications and assurances to users, and it also postponed the deadline for enforcing the planned update by three months. Now with the May 15 deadline just a week away, we are able to quantify the real-world impact the aforementioned backlash had on WhatsApp’s user base: Nada.

The vast majority of users that WhatsApp has notified about the planned update in recent months have accepted the update, a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch. And the app continues to grow, added the spokesperson without sharing the exact figures. The company also didn’t share how many users it has notified about the planned update.

Facebook’s recent earnings call gives us some idea: The company’s family of apps had 3.45 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2021, up from 3.3 billion on December 31, and 3.21 billion on September 30.

Users who don’t agree to the new terms, as TechCrunch has previously reported, won’t lose access to their accounts or any feature on May 15, WhatsApp said. But after an unspecified number of weeks, such users will lose several core functionalities — though not at the same time.

“We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come,” the spokesperson added.

Since 2016, WhatsApp’s privacy policies have granted the service permission to share with Facebook certain metadata such as user phone numbers and device information.

The new terms allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payment and transaction data in order to help them better target ads as the social juggernaut broadens its e-commerce offerings and looks to merge its messaging platforms.

Twitter Tip Jar lets you pay people for good tweetin’

Twitter today confirmed earlier reports that it’s testing a new Tip Jar feature. The new addition utilizes a number of different payment platforms, including PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App and Bandcamp (all region-dependent).

“Tip Jar is an easy way to support the incredible voices that make up the conversation on Twitter,” the company wrote in a blog post confirming the news. “This is a first step in our work to create new ways for people to receive and show support on Twitter — with money.”

Currently available on both iOS and Android, the feature is designed to give users a way to quickly tip creators with a few taps. Tip Jar is beginning to roll out to select groups of users, including nonprofits, journalists, experts and creators. The company has further plans to roll it out to additional groups and languages.

For now, those using Twitter in English will be able to send a tip. Those profiles that have enabled it will show the Tip Jar icon on their profile page to the left of the Follow button. Hitting that will show a list of the aforementioned third-party money transfer apps. The opt-in feature will pop up in the mobile app, letting qualified users choose which payment platforms they’ll accept.

In addition to the above, Android users will be able to send money via Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor, Spaces. The company says it won’t be taking a percentage of those transactions.

The feature comes as the service looks to become a more well-rounded content-creation platform. In addition to the audio feature, Spaces (which recently saw a much wider roll out), Twitter has also been looking to take on the likes of Substack with its own newsletter-style offering.