Salty, subterranean water could relieve world’s lithium shortage

The next bottleneck in lithium-ion battery supplies isn’t cobalt, even though China has a stranglehold on the market, and it’s not nickel, either, despite nickel prices nearly doubling in the past five months. Cobalt can be partially replaced with nickel, nickel can be partially replaced with manganese, and both can be completely replaced with iron phosphate, which is cheap and plentiful. 

But there’s no substitute for one crucial component of these batteries: Lithium.

Today’s lithium mines can’t hope to meet the skyrocketing demand for the next decade and beyond. Spotting an opportunity, startups like Lilac Solutions and Vulcan Energy Resources have leaped into action with new lithium extraction processes that are more efficient and potentially better for the planet.

The crunch

As automakers have fleshed out their electrification plans, they’ve caused an unprecedented rush for lithium. Over the last six months, lithium prices have gone on an epic bull run.

It started in January, when prices jumped to $37,000 per metric ton from $10,000 a month earlier, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Then it got worse in February, with spot prices rising to $52,000 per metric ton before rising again to $62,000 in March. Things have stabilized since then, but prices are still five times above the average price from 2016 to 2020.

Large companies of all stripes have been racing to secure supplies. Automakers like Ford and Tesla have signed huge contracts, and battery manufacturers and miners are rushing to secure supplies. Last year, for example, a three-way bidding war broke out for Canadian miner Millennial Lithium, which has large reserves in Argentina, and the winning bid ended up more than 40% higher than the initial offer.

Yet, those deals probably won’t be enough to fulfill the predicted demand for lithium, based on automakers’ current plans. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is expecting demand to grow to 2.4 million metric tons in 2030 from less than 700,000 metric tons today.

Supply won’t be able to keep up given the current pace of new lithium projects.

“By the end of the decade, where we’re at now with the pipeline, we’re going to see significant deficits starting to grow,” said Daisy Jennings-Gray, a senior price analyst at Benchmark.

Last year, lithium supply fell short of demand by more than 60,000 metric tons. Jennings-Gray’s firm predicts that the deficit will be over 150,000 metric tons by 2030. To meet demand, Benchmark says that $42 billion will need to be invested in the space by the end of this decade.

Without new lithium projects coming online, it’ll likely get worse throughout the 2030s. By 2040, the International Energy Agency expects lithium demand to be 42 times higher than it is today.

“It’s an insane number,” said Jordy M. Lee, a program manager at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines. What’s more, it might even be too low.

“We’ve consistently underestimated how much demand for lithium-ion batteries we’re going to have in the coming years,” he said.

As the rise in demand shows no signs of abating, startups have surged into the space, pitching novel techniques to coax the volatile metal out of the earth.

COVID was the best thing for Kitty, as insurance apps for pets boom

Technology turned out to be a boon for pets during the pandemic. Without ready access to vets, pet owners turned to mobile apps to keep track on their pet’s health, often via educational content, and in some cases that was linked to insurance providers. The behavior has lit up the VC world as startups roll out these relatively simple ups which turn out to be big money-spinners when this insurance angle is attached.

This is why pet app and insurance provider Lassie has today closed an €11m Series A round led by Felix Capital. Also participating were existing investors Inventure and Passion Capital, as well as prominent angels such as Josefin Landgård (co-founder KRY & Mantle), Fredrik & Caroline Hjelm (VOI siblings) and Karl-Johan Persson (Chair H&M). The proceeds will be used to scale the business beyond its home base of Sweden.

Some seven in 10 pet parents take their pet’s physical and mental health more seriously than their own, so Lassie’s pitch is that it reduces not just vet costs but also prevents injuries from happening in the first place. 
Pet owners are then rewarded with lower insurance prices if they complete educational courses on good pet care. 

Lassie co-founder and CEO Hedda Båverud Olsson said in a statement: “We see a big shift as now people start to view their insurance as something that can help prevent illnesses. We are now looking to bring more products to market and take our preventive pet insurance beyond Sweden.”

Susan Lin, Partner at Felix Capital added: “Over the past decade, we’ve seen a continued shift in modern family structures and attitudes towards pets as an increasingly critical member of the family. Along with tremendous interest and engagement in preventive health and wellness, these trends have only been further accelerated through COVID-19.”

Lassie’s biggest current competitors are Bought by Many (ManyPets) and Dalma.

Olsson told me: “We’re all transforming Pet Insurance to become more digital, empathy-driven, and seamless. What makes Lassie very unique (and our blue ocean strategy) is our preventative business model…. We’re on a mission to become a central pet-care platform and we’ve already established a large database on pet health, enabling us to make market-leading discoveries about preventive health.”

Leanplum acquired by Clevertap as retention marketing platforms consolidate

CleverTap, a retention marketing platform which has raised $76.6M to date, is to fully acquire Bulgarian-originated but San Francisco-based Leanplum, a customer engagement platform which has raised $131.2M, for an undisclosed amount. The news was broken by South Eastern European startup news site The Recursive.

Sunil Thomas, CleverTap Cofounder and Executive Chairman said: “Like many private company transactions we are not disclosing the price and terms of the acquisition. This is a cash and stock transaction that is being funded by internal accrual and CleverTap stock.” The deal is expected to close in Q2 of 2022.

The most recent Series D investors in Leanplum included LAUNCHub Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Canaan Partners, and Kleiner Perkins.

This acquisition will give more global reach to CleverTap, with development centers and customer-facing teams across North America, Europe, Latin America, India, South East Asia and the Middle East. The company says it now has a total customer base of 1200 customers.

Thomas added: “Users today demand to be treated as individuals, and this has forced brands to change how they engage with them. CleverTap and Leanplum have both purposely built for a mobile-centric omnichannel world.”

“When we started Leanplum, our vision was to meet customers’ real-time needs at the cutting edge of technology,” said Momchil Kyurkchiev, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Leanplum in a statement. “We have succeeded in that, but as the market has matured, to fully meet the increasing demands put on brands today, we needed to bring in the best analytics, segmentation, and engagement tools, to help our customers build valuable, long-term relationships with their customers. This is why joining forces with CleverTap makes the most sense.”

CleverTap and Leanplum are well known in the retention marketing space but also compete with marketing automation software and that is a crowded category.

The acquisition is a possible sign that this market is consolidating.

How Untapped Global plans to bring the revenue financing model to African startups

In the developed world, almost anyone can get financing for, say, a car lease. But in an emerging economy like South Africa, the only people who own cars or can even get a car lease are the people who already have something to collateralize, or a payslip to work off. As a result, small businesses, especially in Africa, have a $5.2 trillion financing gap, according to the World Bank.

Untapped Global wanted to re-think this situation by allowing small businesses to use their ongoing revenues as collateral and enable that by being able to track their assets. So, for example, if an African entrepreneur wanted to buy a water treatment system for a new business, they wouldn’t normally be able to afford it. Instead, they could use the Untapped platform as collateral to get a machine, and Untapped would take a share of the revenue of the water they sell. So now they can start a business and start earning revenues without going through the process of doing a traditional lease of a machine.

Untapped has now launched the public beta of its platform, which uses real-time data to track the assets and revenue of the entrepreneurs who use its platform. The idea is to provide transparency for international investors looking to tap into Africa and other emerging markets. Funded by a $10.3 million USD debt and equity pre-seed round that closed in March, this platform uses a model called ‘Smart Asset Financing’. This enables it to finance revenue-generating assets for entrepreneurs and SMEs in emerging markets. It does this by using IoT from assets such as the network of motorcycles in a fleet or, say, a Wifi-connected ‘smart’ irrigation system.

The model thus assesses the risk of an investment to secure the returns for investors.

It’s now financed assets for over 5,000 entrepreneurs who work across sectors such as clean water, solar, e-mobility, and inclusive fintech. The company claims to have an annual revenue run rate of $2.5M.

Jim Chu, CEO and founder of Untapped Global, says Untapped is taking advantage of the wave of digitization that’s happening across Africa and other emerging markets, which now makes this model possible.

Jim Chu, Untapped Global

Jim Chu. Image Credits: Untapped Global

“We created Untapped to get capital to entrepreneurs in markets who are often excluded from funding opportunities, while simultaneously ensuring transparency for investors… Our data has shown that for every $1 invested, more than $3 of value is created in local economies,” he said in a statement.

Excitingly (for the planet), most of Untapped global’s portfolio companies are building climate action solutions, including solar irrigation farms, electric mobility companies, and clean water systems.

Chu says it only takes $300 to start investing in these entrepreneurs and there are no monthly fees, because the platform shows real-time data on the impact and activity of the investments.

Chu says he started investing in emerging markets about 12 years ago, investing in over 80 companies across Africa, mostly as an equity investor: “But I kept coming across deals that were like ‘Wow, this is a great company, great cash flows, but I would never invest in this company as there were no exits’, and other reasons. Equity investing would also impose a burden on the entrepreneurs.”

So he started doing revenue-based financing, taking a percentage of the revenue going forward. But he then started coming across companies that were essentially tech-enabled companies that had figured out that their customers needed some kind of embedded financing in their product. Most of these companies were hardware companies, using motorcycles, cars, or similar. But these were rapidly also becoming smart cars, smart motorcycles, smart Wi-Fi systems, smart irrigation systems, you name it, and using IoT.

As a result, Chu hit upon revenue-based financing: “We’ll take all the data from your assets and use that as a way to manage how your business is doing. In fact, forget the whole usual way of doing due diligence and risk management underwriting that bank usually want, like balance sheets etc. Instead we would look at, well, how much is a motorcycle going to earn over the course of its lifetime? And how much will it earn over the course of the year? Can we pay off that motorcycle in a year? And so we created this model.”

The platform is now accessible to accredited investors, and will be available for retail investors at the end of 2022.

Here’s a video explainer:

Germany’s Zolar grabs $105M on soaring demand for solar energy

Berlin-based Zolar has bagged €100 million (~$105M) in Series C funding to expand its supplier network for small solar systems to meet rising demand for clean energy.

Germany is particularly exposed to the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine as it remains heavily dependent on Russian gas imports — meaning consumers there face soaring gas bills.

And while the country’s political leaders remain under huge pressure to find ways to quickly migrate to alternative energy sources to stop sending money to Putin’s regime, German householders don’t appear to be hanging around: Zolar says enquiries about installing solar systems have more than quadrupled this year — following rising energy prices.

Its Series C round is led by US investor Energy Impact Partners (EIP); and GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. Existing investors, including Inven Capital, Heartcore Capital, Statkraft Ventures and Pirate Impact Capital, also participated.

The startup’s pitch is it’s democratizing access to solar energy and reducing complexity for consumers — by offering an online configurator it says is unique in the industry which provides homeowners with an easier way to buy customized solar installations online, or lease them for a small monthly fee.

The 2016-founded business had raised €59M prior to this raise, per Crunchbase. Its network of small solar installers also recently benefitted from $23M in support from eco-focused search engine, Ecosia, which announced in March that it would be funnelling a portion of the profits it generates from search ads into clean energy locally, in addition to planting trees, to help accelerate Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels.

Add €100M now — and Zolar looks well positioned to help many more consumers make the switch to clean energy.

To meet what it describes as “unprecedented” demand for solar from German households, Zolar says it will be substantially expand its Craftship Partner Network of currently 500 local craft businesses — to 3,000 by 2025 to increase installation capacity for solar energy.

It also plans to use the Series C funds to open a training centre this year to tackle the renewable sector’s skills gap and train workers in a qualified fast-track process to meed demand for the energy turnaround.

The investment will also fund the roll out of new digital energy products — with Zolar giving the example of a smart control feature which will enable its app to recognize the best time to charge an electric car and start doing so automatically.

“Among others the company’s app will be expanded to include an energy management system and a dynamic electricity tariff,” it writes in a press release. “The app will intelligently control the solar power supply of homeowners while maximising their energy independence and cost savings.”

Commenting in a statement, Alex Melzer, CEO and founder, added: “Our goal is to supply 10M households in Europe with either a solar system or renewable energy by 2030. The climate crisis, energy security issues and the rising cost of fossil fuels mean we must move very quickly. By offering a fully digital experience and making it as easy as possible to get started and use solar energy, we help people go green, become energy independent and save costs.”

“There are 16 million roofs on single and two-family homes in Germany. More than 14 million of them are still without solar systems. Putting solar panels on these houses will drive Germany’s independence from coal, gas and oil,” he also noted.

In further supporting statements, Zolar’s investors underscored the role that rising demand for solar energy can play in helping humanity tackle the climate crisis and have a chance of a sustainable future.

Matthias Dill, managing partner Europe at EIP, said: “The demand for green energy will steeply accelerate in the world’s efforts to a net-zero future. Climate tech will drive the modern economy accelerating the transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Our investment in zolar is part of our mission to support startups worldwide that are resolutely driving the path to a sustainable future.”

“Our investment into Zolar is a testament of GIC’s support of green innovation and the clean energy transition. During the coming decades, climate change will define investments speeding up the carbon transition. Zolar helps homeowners to significantly reduce their carbon emissions, which is vital to the global decarbonisation efforts,” added Choo Yong Cheen, chief investment officer of Private Equity at GIC.

Voicy wants to pwn gamers with audio memes

If meme stocks can be a thing, what’s to stop audio meme sharing from going viral!? Hoping to storm the ear-bending arena of social audio and win friends amid the gamer/creator crowd is Voicy — a Netherlands-based startup that’s building a platform for user-generated audio snippets (typically a few seconds long), offering tools to create emotive samples for reaction sharing to spice up your messaging/streams.

It’s not hard to predict where this idea goes: Straight to gross out fart sfx and pwning troll clips — which are indeed plentiful on this fledgling platform for user-generated (or, well, sampled) audio. Dank audio memes anyone?

Other viral noises are available. Borat clips, for example, or Squid Game sounds. Plus a cacophony of over-enthusiastic Internet memes in audio form. John Oliver screaming “GOOGLE IT!” repeatedly, or Epic Sax Guy’s epic saxing, and so on.

The typical Voicy user is, unsurprisingly, young and trigger happy, per the startup — which envisages gamer voice chat as a key target for a pipelines of social integrations it hopes to build out. So far it has one integration inked with messaging app, Viber — but it’s offering a “simple universal API” to encourage other platforms to sign up.

Zooming out, Voicy’s stated mission is to do for sound clips what Giphy has done for GIFs.

“We want to create a new way for people to express themselves creatively in how they communicate. In areas such as gaming, where communicating with images or text doesn’t work as well — there’s a huge gap for audio to really enhance the experience,” suggest co-founders Xander Kanon, Joey de Kruis and Milan Kokir via email.

“As we’ve seen with memes and GIFs, people love to create their own very creative content. Audio has the capacity to have the same, if not bigger impact on modern communications. We’ve seen from instant chat, to emoticons to GIFs that people all over the world want to experiment with and simply have fun with how they communicate — it’s one of the things we all have in common. In addition to this, the competition among apps and platforms is immense and all of them are working hard to make their offering more sticky, fun and engaging. This is where Voicy comes into play.”

“From the ground up, we have developed our platform to give users the express ability to create,” they add. “Our technology directly serves that purpose through an open-source approach to content, with safeguards layered in to moderate. With integrations, our approach has been to connect our platform with other platforms and give users wider accessibility to sharing content. With the addition of public API, further integrations and a strong foundation within the platform, we believe our impact can be exponential.”

The platform fully launched in October 2020, per the founders, and they’ve grown usage to 1.1 million monthly active users at this stage (although that’s including usage via Viber, not just ears they’re pulling into their own platform).

Other usage metrics they share include that users have created some 145,000 sound clips so far, with an average of 10k more being added per month. They also say a Voicy user plays, on average, 20 sound clips and shares one per visit.

While, following their recent partnership with Viber, users there have sent over 20 million audio messages — which have been played 100M times in just three months.

The startup is planning to build out a pipeline of third party integrations to drive for further growth, with the help of a €1.2 million pre-seed raise being announced today — eyeing potential love-ins across social messaging, streaming and gaming platforms. Or basically anywhere where noisy memes might find an appreciative audience.

“There are a lot of potential integrations within social messaging, for example WhatsApp, FB Messenger; social video — Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube; gaming — Roblox, Ubisoft, Xbox, Discord; and streaming — Twitch, Streamlabs and Corsair,” they suggest, reeling off the tier one consumer platform list.

Voicy’s pre-seed raise is led by Oliver Samwer’s Global Founders Capital, with a number of tech senior execs also participating from companies including Twitch, Spotify, Deezer, Snapchat, Booking, Uber, Reddit, Acast and Tesla.

Commenting in a statement, Global Founders Capital’s Soheil Mirpour said: “Voicy is a very exciting new startup. In short order, their strong team has grown a huge community of very active users who are creating hundreds of pieces of new audio content every day. There’s a massive amount of potential for short audio in social communication. A Discord user spends on average 285 minutes a day in a Discord voice chat, people share 7 billion voice messages per day on WhatsApp alone and billions of people use short audio in their TikTok or Instagram videos. Voicy brings a new concept to the table, which is ready to disrupt an enormous market — we knew we had to invest.”

But why do web users need audio memes when there are already, er, audio GIFs? Isn’t this a rather niche proposition — given existing overlap, plus the general (broad) competition from other reaction ‘shareables’ consumers can easily use to express themselves, from ye olde emoji, to customizable stickers to viral GIFs?

Soundless reaction formats (like GIFs) are also essentially an advantage to the sizeable ‘never turn up the volume’ mobile crew — whose silence-loving (voice-message hating) existence explains why even short video clips which are made to be shared on social typically come with captions to provide an baked in alternative to engaging any ear. (And, well, an audio meme with the sound off is just some sad-looking pixels, right? … Quite possibly, though, this is an older vs younger Internet user generation thang 😬)

Surprising no one, Voicy users so far are Gen Z or Gen Alpha, with a strong following amid the TikTok/Roblox generation, per the founders. (“Our users use us for gaming, creation, and messaging. Across our user base, most users are located in the USA (60%). The majority of users are aged below 35 years old (75%+),” they also confirm.)

“The advantage of a sound clip over a GIF/sound GIF is the wider applicability of it,” argue Voicy’s founders. “Practically, you can use a sound clip in your stream, during gaming, or to edit your video or your TikTok video/Youtube Short as well as use it in messaging. You simply cannot do this with an audio GIF due to user experience and practical constraints.”

“Audio memes are funny, iconic and unique shareable audio bites that can be used in any form of online communication to express thoughts or feelings in a specific context,” add the trio — who are self professed avid gamers themselves.

What about risks around copyright? How are they managing that issue? Voicy is not licensing any audio content currently but the founders suggest they may do in future. For now they’re relying on fair use to recirculate samples (plus their platform supports a DCMA reporting and takedowns procedure). They say they’re also using a third party service to stop protected samples from being piped onto any third party platforms they integrate with.

While it’s early for such a consumer-focused product to be focused on monetization, the team says they’re building Voicy as a marketplace — and ultimately intend to focus on the needs of the creator community.

“We believe that our long term opportunity lies at enabling creators to monetise their content,” they tell TechCrunch. “With the creator’s economy continuing to grow at a rapid speed, we provide them a platform to create, clipify, distribute, earn, and build a community around their sonic identity. With a large integration network and a platform as an end-destination for consuming and engaging with sounds and sound-creators, Voicy can monetise its library and integrations. Voicy can provide a ton of value both for the supply side and the demand side.”

“More specifically, our business model will be focused around the sub-licensing of clips, and by providing additional premium features for creators to do what they do best: creating content. Content will have the possibility to be sub-licensed to integration partners, fans, other creators, and premium consumers,” they add.

Spain slaps Google for frustrating the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’

Here’s a rare sight: Google has been hit with a €10 million fine by Spain for serious breaches of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which found it had passed information that could be used to identify citizens requesting deletion of their personal data under EU law, including their email address; the reasons given; and the URL claimed, to a US-based third party without a valid legal basis for this further processing.

As well as being fined, Google has been ordered to amend its procedures to bring them into compliance with the GDPR — and to delete any personal data it still holds related to this enforcement.

The fine is not Google’s first GDPR penalty — France gets the accolade for most swiftly enforcing the bloc’s flagship data protection framework against it, some years ago — but, as far as we’re aware, it’s only the second time the adtech giant been sanctioned under the GDPR since the regulation came into application, four years ago this month. (Although use of certain Google tools has, more recently, been found to breach GDPR data export rules. Google has also been hit with far meatier fines under the EU’s ePrivacy rules.)

Spain’s data protection authority, the AEPD, announced the penalty today, saying it was sanctioning Google for what it described as “two very serious infringements” — related to transferring EU citizens’ data to a third party without a legal basis; and, in doing so, hampering people’s right of erasure of their personal data under the GDPR.

The third party Google was deemed to be illegally transferring data to is the Lumen Project, a US-based academic project out of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University which aims to collect and study legal requests for the removal of online information by amassing a database of content takedown requests.

The AEPD found that by passing the personal data of European citizens who were requesting erasure of their data to the Lumen Project, Google was essentially frustrating their legal right to erasion of their information (under GDPR Article 17) — aka the ‘right to be forgotten’; rtbf. (And Google has, to put it mildly, a long history with railing against the EU’s rtbf — which, in search de-indexing form, predates the GDPR, via a 2014 CJEU ruling. So the ability of EU individuals to make certain legal requests attached to their personal data is not at all new.)

In its decision, the AEPD says Google did not provide users who were requesting erasure of their data with a choice over their information being passed to the Lumen Project — meaning it lacked a valid legal basis for sharing the data.

The regulator also criticized the form-based system Google devised for individuals to request erasure of their data — for being confusing and requiring they select an option for their request which it said could lead to it being treated under a different regulatory regime than data protection.

“The Agency’s decision states that this system is equivalent to ‘leaving Google LLC’s decision as to when and when not GDPR applies, and this would mean accepting that this entity can circumvent the application of personal data protection rules and, more specifically, accept that the right to erase personal data is conditioned by the content removal system designed by the responsible entity’,” the AEPD notes in a press release.

A Google spokesperson told us it’s assessing the regulator’s decision.

The company claimed it’s already taken steps to amend its processes, such as by reducing the amount of information it shares with Lumen for removal requests which come from EU countries. Google also suggested its general policy is not to share any right to erasure/right to be forgotten search delisting requests or any other removal requests in which data protection or privacy rights are invoked — but if that’s the case it’s not clear why the AEPD found otherwise.

In a statement Google’s spokesperson added:

“We have a long commitment to transparency in our management of content removal requests. Like many other Internet companies, we have worked with Lumen, an academic project of the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, to help researchers and the public better understand content removal requests online.

“We are reviewing the decision and continually engage with privacy regulators, including the AEPD, to reassess our practices. We’re always trying to strike a balance between privacy rights and our need to be transparent and accountable about our role in moderating content online. We have already started reevaluating and redesigning our data sharing practices with Lumen in light of these proceedings.”

We’ve reached out to the Lumen Project with questions.

The AEPD has also ordered Google to “urge” the Lumen Project to cease use of and erase any EU people’s data it communicated to it without a valid legal basis — although, ultimately, Spain’s regulator has limited means to force a non-EU based entity to comply with EU law.

The case is interesting because of a separate GDPR jurisdiction question.

The regulation’s one-stop-shop (OSS) mechanism funnels cross border complaints through a ‘lead’ supervisor, typically in the EU market where the company has its main establishment — which in Google’s case (and for many other tech giants) is Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), which continues to face strong criticizism over the painstaking pace of its GDPR enforcement, especially in cross-border cases which apply to tech giants. Indeed, the DPC is currently being sued over inaction on an Google adtech complaint.

That complaint dates back almost four years at this point. The DPC also has a number of other long-running Google enquiries — including one looking into its location tracking practices. But the Irish regulator still hasn’t issued any decisions on any Google cases. Hence GDPR enforcement of Google being a rare sight.

If Spain’s far less well resourced data protection agency can get a decision and enforcement out the door (it’s actually one of the most active EU DPAs), critics will surely ask, why can’t Ireland?

France’s earlier GDPR spank of Google, meanwhile, was only possible because the adtech giant had not yet reconfigured its business to shrink its ‘regulatory risk’ in the region, via OSS ‘forum shopping’, by moving citizens’ accounts to its Irish-based entity — thereby putting EU users under the jurisdiction of the (painstaking) Irish DPC.

So how, then, has Spain sidestepped the DPC GDPR enforcement bottleneck in this Google-Lumen case?

Basically the agency has competency because Google’s US-based business was carrying out the processing in question, as well as the Lumen Project itself being US-based. The regulator was also, presumably, able to show that Spanish citizens’ data was being processed — meaning it could step in on their behalf.

The AEPD confirmed it relied upon a mechanism in the GDPR to liaise with the Irish DPC on the question of competency, tell us: “Once this procedure was completed, and after jurisdiction had been determined, the AEPD agreed to open this sanctioning procedure.”

Shadow announces premium plan for its cloud gaming service

It’s been a year since Octave Klaba, the founder of OVHcloud, acquired Shadow following a commercial court order. After a stabilizing period, the company is now ready to launch a new plan, a new service and a new B2B offering.

Shadow is a cloud computing service for gamers. People can pay a monthly subscription fee to access a full-fledged computer in a data center near them. It is a Windows instance, which means that you can install whatever you want — games, photo editing software, Microsoft Office, you name it.

But the service works particularly well for gamers as everything has been optimized for video games, from latency, 4:4:4 color support, gamepad compatibility to specifications. Currently, subscribers get the equivalent of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $29.99 per month, or €29.99 in Europe.

This is fine if you want to play Fortnite or Minecraft, but there are more recent GPUs that can improve your gaming experience. That’s why the company is announcing an upgrade for people who want better specifications.

Instead of a separate plan, the Shadow Power Upgrade is an add-on on top of your base subscription. For another $14.99 per month (or €14.99), you can access a server with an AMD EPYC 7543P CPU with 4 cores and 8 threads, 16GB of RAM and a recent GPU.

Depending on the data center, users will get an Nvidia Geforce RTX 3070 or the equivalent GPU in Nvidia’s professional GPU lineup. Users could also get a professional AMD Radeon GPU based on the RDNA 2 architecture (AMD Radeon Pro V620).

As you can see, Shadow is partnering extensively with AMD instead of relying exclusively on Intel for CPU models and Nvidia for GPU models. This could help when it comes to sourcing negotiations and supply chain constraints.

When it comes to availability, users will be able to pre-order the Power Upgrade this summer and it will be available this fall.

As for storage, if you think 256GB is not enough, you can purchase additional storage blocks in 256GB increments for $2.99 (or €2.99) per block per month. The maximum is 2TB.

The company is also launching new markets as people living in Canada and Austria will be able to subscribe this fall. As a reminder, Shadow is currently available in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

International expansions for a cloud computing service can be a bit difficult as you want your users to live as closely as possible from a data center where you operate due to latency concerns. There are currently eight data centers with Shadow servers — three in France, one in Germany and four in North America.

From hubiC to Shadow Drive

OVHcloud founder Octave Klaba also owns a cloud storage service called hubiC. For the past few years, that service has been on hold as it stopped accepting new customers and is going to shut down soon. hubiC never really managed to compete with Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive when it comes to features and reliability.

But it doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea. There’s still some room for competition in the online storage space. That’s why Shadow is going to launch a new service called Shadow Drive this fall.

Based on Nextcloud, a popular open-source online storage application, Shadow Drive will store and sync your files so that they can be accessible through a web browser, a desktop app or a mobile app. There will be a free plan with 20GB of storage and a premium plan with 2TB of storage for $8.99 per month (€8.99).

Expanding to business use cases

From the very beginning, Shadow has always been thinking about B2B use cases for its cloud computing service. Essentially, if the company can make the service work for gamers, it will be perfectly capable of running productivity apps and other professional software.

The company is now accepting customers for its new division called Shadow Business Solutions. Clients will be able to create, manage and share access to several virtual machines running on Shadow servers.

For instance, Bandai Namco worked with Shadow for the Elden Ring press campaign. The company shared a login and password with video game journalists so that they could play and review the game on a powerful computer and in a secure environment.

In many ways, Shadow hit the reset button last year with Octave Klaba’s acquisition of the company. While the company might not attract millions of users with such a premium positioning for its cloud computer, it sounds like Shadow now has a strong foundation for future iterations.

Image Credits: Shadow

Gopuff, the instant delivery upstart, taps ex-Disney head Bob Iger as its newest investor and advisor

Gopuff, the instant delivery giant that is valued at $15 billion (but was filing financing papers in December 2021 at a value of up to $40 billion), made a name for itself courting consumers wanting groceries and other essentials with an app that lets them order and get those goods delivered in around 30 minutes. Now, as the category matures and faces a period of consolidation, Gopuff is announcing a new big-name advisor and investor — Bob Iger, the former CEO and chairman of The Walt Disney Company — as it looks to take its consumer profile to new levels.

Gopuff would not disclose the size of Iger’s stake in the company, nor whether the investment is coming as a separate investment, or as part of that December 2021 $1.5 billion financing (which was in the form of a convertible note, to convert to equity at an IPO price to a maximum of $40 billion).

Gopuff is no stranger to celebrity endorsements and connections — a spokesperson said Iger was introduced to the co-founder CEOs Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev via none other than Chris Paul, the NBA all-star who has been working with Gopuff on healthy food, diversity engagement and other initiatives for a while now — but all the same this potentially puts an interesting spin on what Gopuff is aiming for in its next stage of growth, given Iger’s experience at a mega-brand where holdings span not just hospitality services (an obviously synergy) but extensive media and entertainment properties (…).

“Bob Iger is one of the most important and visionary business leaders of this generation. He defined consumer engagement, product innovation, and organizational excellence,” said Gola in a statement. “I am so proud and excited that Bob is joining team blue. Gopuff is building a platform designed for the future of the consumer industry and nobody understands consumers better than Bob Iger.”

“It’s been exciting to spend time with Gopuff leadership learning about the company, the founders, and their aspirations,” Iger said in his own statement. “I am excited to advise, mentor, and support the executive team as they continue building a company uniquely designed for how consumers are changing and growing. I believe consumer commerce will be very different in the near future and Gopuff is building the platform to power it.”

I don’t typically make references to press release wording, but to me it’s notable that Gopuff points out in its official announcement of the appointment that “Mr. Iger led The Walt Disney Company during the most difficult time in the company’s storied history,” going on to say that “practical concepts such as optimism, courage, decisiveness and fairness, and an ability to foster innovation while powering growth” marked his time there.

To be sure, the addition of Iger to “team blue,” as Gopuff describes it, is coming at a pretty critical time for the company and the wider category of commerce.

We have seen waves of huge funding rounds and precipitous valuations to grow what seemed like an endless pool of instant grocery startups that were capitalizing on the heady days of Covid-19 — when people socially distanced, sheltered in place, and swarmed on services like rapid delivery to get their hourly and daily fixes of consumer goods. Those many delivery companies followed suit with massive investments into growing their customer bases, subsidizing orders and splashing out on big promotional campaigns and ramping up their delivery operations and other teams.

But now, a lot of consumers returning to their “old normal”, and so those instant enterprises, and their shareholders, are sobering up.

Gopuff confirmed to us that it laid off three percent of its staff — 450 people — in late March as part of a restructuring. That came on the heels of strikes among its drivers demanding better compensation, as well as some shifts in its executive ranks. (The layoffs were reported to be in the works at the time but not confirmed by the company.)

Gopuff had originally been talking about a mid-2022 public listing but with the IPO market currently stalled out, we understand those plans are currently on hold.

That state of the public markets is more generally also causing a trickle-down effect, putting pressure on companies like Gopuff that have raised a lot of funding.

The New York Post reported in March that it and others in the space are all seeing their valuations getting slashed on the secondary market. Gopuff investors, the NYP reported, were struggling to sell at $15 billion in March (recall $40 billion was the price floated just in December).

But that was before public markets started to get really dicey in recent weeks, so it’s not clear what that valuation might look like on secondary sales today. (Its investors include a number of those seeing the impacts of those devaluations, including SoftBank, D1, Guggenheim, Accel, and a number of others.)

That pressure is also leading to some major consolidation of the overcrowded instant delivery market at lower levels, too.

Just earlier this week, one of the big instant grocery companies out of Europe, Berlin’s Flink, acquired a would-be rival, Cajoo, becoming the biggest instant delivery player in France. (Flink also picked up some more funding and a higher valuation, $5 billion, in the process, so it seems receding tides are not capsizing all boats.) Gopuff itself has also snapped up some smaller players, including Dija and Fancy in the UK, to expand in Europe.

All of this frames a pretty challenging picture for Iger and his management skills, not least because Gopuff has also been enhancing that picture, so to speak, with a lot of new colors.

In the last 12 months, it has launched Gopuff Kitchens, a dark kitchen enterprise for ready-made meals; an advertising business; and Basically, its own private-label brand.

(And it’s worth pointing out that beyond instant commerce, there are equally challenging conditions for those looking to disrupt older models. Much-ballyhooed retail startup Enjoy just this week said it was on course to run out of money by June at the current rate of business.)

But despite all that, there remain some big opportunities to continue building and meeting consumer tastes, a fact not lost on an opportunity capitalizer like Iger. And Gopuff — which currently lays claim to being the biggest player of its kind in the U.S., with a 70% share of the market and operations in 600 locations (covering 1,200 cities) — may well be positioned to deliver on that.