Apps

Gravy’s new mobile game show is ‘Price is Right’ mixed with QVC

Posted by | Ads, advertising, Apps, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, iOS apps, Mobile, shopping, Startups | No Comments

Following the success of the live mobile game show HQ Trivia, a team of serial entrepreneurs have begun testing the market to see if another game show concept can work, too. Their new game show-inspired app, Gravy, is meant to be a riff on the “Price is Right” combined with a QVC-style shopping experience. That is, the “contestants” compete for discounts of 30 to 70 percent off the products advertised, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. In addition, through a side game, users can guess when the product – whose quantities are unknown – will sell out and at what price. Those who guess closest win a cash prize.

The startup was created by Mark McGuire, Brian Wiegand, and Craig Andler – the founding team behind Jellyfish.com, an older social shopping network that was acquired by Microsoft back in 2007, to help create Bing Shopping. They’ve also paired up on other projects, including NameProtect (before Jellyfish), printable coupons resource Hopster, social network Nextt, and e-commerce subscription retail site, Alice.com. These have either exited or shut down or both.

The team’s efforts imply a clear passion for working with brands, but getting consumers to connect with brands in new ways is far more difficult, as their track record shows.

That’s why they’re now trying Gravy.

The hope is that the excitement around seeing the product unveiled nightly – and knowing you’ll get a big discount if you buy – will become an entirely new ad unit of sorts, while keeping players engaged in a game-show like experience.

“One of the challenges with millennials is their short attention spans, and they don’t respond well to interruptive advertising,” explains Wiegand, of why the team wanted to build this startup. “I don’t think anyone’s really mastered how to monetize live video. So we came up with this opportunity to create this new ad unit where brands could tell their story, and – for seven or eight or nine minutes – create a live shopping event where millennials can tune in and hear that story but in a fun, gamified kind of manner,” he says.

Here’s how Gravy works. Every night, at 8:30 PM ET in the Gravy iOS app, a live host will unveil the product users can buy. Currently, there’s a rotating selection of hosts who work on a per-show contract basis, usually local comedians – not brand reps.

Players are not told how many items are available, but it’s typically anywhere from two to twenty.

Then the price starts to drop. If you buy early, you’ll have a chance to snag it at a slight discount. But the longer you wait, the higher the percentage off will become. However, you don’t know who else could snatch it up first and when. If you wait too long, the product will sell out.

Meanwhile, if you’re not interested in the product itself, you can guess when you expect it to sell out (meaning, at which price.) Those ten or so closest will receive a small cash prize – a split of maybe $200 or $300, with first place receiving the largest chunk.

At least 20 percent of sales are given away to charity – a nod, I suppose, to millennials’ interest in do-gooder style companies. But ultimately, that decision that has more to do with the fact that Gravy doesn’t aim to be a retailer – it’s not another deal-of-the-day destination like Woot!, despite the similarities around generating product excitement.

Instead, it expects brands to donate products and pay a fee for the “advertising opportunity” Gravy offers.

Brands will like Gravy because they get millennials’ attention for seven minutes or more, Wiegand says. “They love the engagement. It’s a highly engaged audience…I have a chance to buy the products, so I’m heavily engaged in thinking about that product. The recall, memorability, and all of the subsequent buzz – tweeting and all the social media that gets created because of that – is great,” he adds.

However, none of this is proven out yet – Gravy is just a couple of weeks old.

So far, around 50 percent of the products it has featured have actually been donated by brands, including 23andMe, 3D Doodler, Tapplock, and others. The rest have been subsidized by Gravy, including the bigger draws – like a DJI drone, for example.

It’s not yet charging for the ad opportunity, either, as it’s hoping to grow the audience first.

The company says that’s already underway. After alerting friends and family to the app’s launch, the games are seeing 600+ players nightly, Wiegand claims, and is growing its audience 15 percent week-over-week. Around half of those who signed up to play are returning to watch around three shows per week, he says.

While the early numbers are promising if true, and it’s clear the team likes to work in the general space of connecting brands with consumers, Gravy still feels – like much of what the founders have created before – designed primarily with the needs of brands in mind, before that of consumers.

A “Price is Right”-style app would be a lot of fun, but this isn’t it – it’s, at the end of the day, an invitation to watch an ad and shop at a discount. That’s not something consumers may want to do every day, long-term – even if you try to woo them with a small cash prize won through a guessing game.

And like Trivia HQ , which has dropped from a top 20 app to the 140’s (by App Store overall rank, the shine may eventually wear off for Gravy, too. Especially because it’s not primarily a game – and millennials, as fickle and short attention-spanned as they may be (really? the generation that binges entire TV seasons in a few days?), will know it.

Wiegand isn’t concerned, though.

He says he gets bored with trivia apps in a few weeks, but Gravy is different.

“I always shop and I always like a deal. The deal industry and the shopping industry are so much larger than the trivia space,” Wiegand insists. “And the thrill of seeing a product that you like going down into the sixties and seventies percent off is unbelievably thrilling,” he enthuses. “We are able to feature things that have the best price on the planet of first-run products…it creates this heart-pounding, exhilarating and experience like, ‘Should I buy? Oh my God, look at this price. I can’t turn it down,’” he says.

The company raised $2.1 million in seed funding from a range of investors, including the founders at the turn of the year. Around eighty percent was outside capital, led by New Capital. The under-20 person team is based in both Madison and Minneapolis.

Gravy is on the App Store here.

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Google’s Duo and Cisco’s Webex Teams among the VoIP apps pulled from the China App Store

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apps, China, Government, Mobile, voip | No Comments

Earlier this week, it came to light that Apple had removed a number of VoIP-based calling apps from the App Store, at the request of the Chinese government. The apps had been using CallKit, Apple’s new developer toolset that provides the calling interface for VoIP apps, freeing up developers to handle the backend communications. China’s government asked developers, by way of Apple, to remove CallKit from their apps sold on the China App Store, or they can remove their apps entirely.

Notices Apple sent out to the developers were first spotted by 9to5Mac, who shared a snippet from of one of the emails.

The email states that the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) “requested that CallKit be deactivated in app apps available on the China App Store,” and informed the developer they would need to comply with this regulation in order to have their app approved.

The regulation only impacts apps distributed in the China App Store.

We understand that the apps can still use CallKit and be sold in other markets outside the region.

Apple is not publicly commenting on the matter.

The pushback against CallKit is another means of discouraging people from developing or using VoIP services in China, without having to go so far as to ban the apps directly. It wouldn’t be the first time China has cracked down in this area. In November, Microsoft’s Skype was also pulled from the Apple and Android app stores.

The government also last year ordered VPN apps, which help users route around the Great Firewall, to be pulled from app stores – another order with which Apple complied.

Other social media apps, like WhatsApp and Facebook, are also disrupted at times, and newspapers’ apps like those from The NYT and WSJ are blocked, too.

According to data pulled by app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, two dozen apps with CallKit had been removed during the week prior to the news reports.

That list, along with the date removed and publisher name, is below:

Sensor Tower notes it’s possible that there are other apps removed from additional stores, but doesn’t have that data.

In addition, this list only includes those apps that have been downloaded enough times to rank in the top 1,500 of an app category at some point – beyond that Sensor Tower wouldn’t pick it up. But an app that wasn’t ranked would have had so few downloads that the impact of its removal would be minimal.

Nevertheless, you can see list includes a few well-known names, including Cisco’s Webex Teams and Google’s Duo video calling app, among those from other operators and VoIP calling providers.

The full text of Apple’s email is below:

From Apple
5. Legal: Preamble
Guideline 5.0 – Legal

Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) requested that CallKit functionality be deactivated in all apps available on the China App Store. During our review, we found that your app currently includes CallKit functionality and has China listed as an available territory in iTunes Connect.

Next Steps

This app cannot be approved with CallKit functionality active in China. Please make the appropriate changes and resubmit this app for review. If you have already ensured that CallKit functionality is not active in China, you may reply to this message in Resolution Center to confirm. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call functionality continues to be allowed but can no longer take advantage of CallKit’s intuitive look and feel. CallKit can continue to be used in apps outside of China.

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Snapchat launches less creepy Send and Request Location features

Posted by | Apps, location sharing, Mobile, snap inc, Snap Map, Snapchat, Social, TC | No Comments

Snapchat is taking another shot at location after its always-on coordinate-broadcasting Snap Map proved a bit invasive for some users. Snapchat now lets you send your ongoing real-time location to a friend, or request theirs, which show up on the Snap Map and within your message thread.

Essentially, this is location sharing built for the intimacy people love about Snapchat, rather than the foreign and a little freaky idea of giving a wide swath of your contacts access to your whereabouts through Snap Map. As Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp ruthlessly exploit their clones of Stories, it’s the more private, close friends features like this and ephemeral messaging that are Snapchat’s best shot at staying relevant.

TechCrunch was tipped off to the location feature by our reader Chand Sethi (thanks!) and now Snapchat confirms it’s been slowly rolling out to iOS and Android users over the past few weeks. Snap Map, which launched last June, has always offered the option to only share with specific friends instead of all of them. Still, the whole idea of location broadcasting might have scared some users into staying in only-me Ghost Mode. This new feature is Snap’s chance to get them on board, one friend at a time.

Now when you long-press on a friend’s name or hit the three-line hamburger button on a chat thread, you’ll get the option to Send Location or Request Location. It only works with bi-directional friends, so you can’t ask for the spot of your favorite Snap star if they don’t follow you back, and you can turn off getting requests in your settings if people are spamming you.

Location shared through this feature will only update live for eight hours after you last open the app. You can cancel someone’s access at any time through the Snap Map. And if you’ve never enabled it, you’ll go through the location consent flow first.

By letting users dip their toes in, Snapchat could get more users active on Snap Map. After its June 2017 launch, it hit 35 million daily viewers, but that number was at 19 million and sinking by November, according to leaked data. In February, when it launched on web, Snapchat said it had 100 million monthly users — but as Snap never shares monthly user numbers and instead relies on daily counts, the fact that it had to go with a monthly stat here showed some insecurity about its popularity.

Along with Discover, Snap Map represent one of the app’s best differentiators. Investing in improvements here is wise. After all, it might only be a matter of time before we see an Insta Map.

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Some low-cost Android phones shipped with malware built in

Posted by | Android, Apps, Archos, computing, Google, http, malware, Mobile, operating system, Software, supply chain, TC, xml | No Comments

Avast has found that many low-cost, non-Google-certifed Android phones shipped with a strain of malware built in that could send users to download apps they didn’t intend to access. The malware, called called Cosiloon, overlays advertisements over the operating system in order to promote apps or even trick users into downloading apps. Devices effected shipped from ZTE, Archos and myPhone.

The app consists of a dropper and a payload. “The dropper is a small application with no obfuscation, located on the /system partition of affected devices. The app is completely passive, only visible to the user in the list of system applications under ‘settings.’ We have seen the dropper with two different names, ‘CrashService’ and ‘ImeMess,’” wrote Avast. The dropper then connects with a website to grab the payloads that the hackers wish to install on the phone. “The XML manifest contains information about what to download, which services to start and contains a whitelist programmed to potentially exclude specific countries and devices from infection. However, we’ve never seen the country whitelist used, and just a few devices were whitelisted in early versions. Currently, no countries or devices are whitelisted. The entire Cosiloon URL is hardcoded in the APK.”

The dropper is part of the system’s firmware and is not easily removed.

To summarize:

The dropper can install application packages defined by the manifest downloaded via an unencrypted HTTP connection without the user’s consent or knowledge.
The dropper is preinstalled somewhere in the supply chain, by the manufacturer, OEM or carrier.
The user cannot remove the dropper, because it is a system application, part of the device’s firmware.

Avast can detect and remove the payloads and they recommend following these instructions to disable the dropper. If the dropper spots antivirus software on your phone it will actually stop notifications but it will still recommend downloads as you browse in your default browser, a gateway to grabbing more (and worse) malware. Engadget notes that this vector is similar to the Lenovo “Superfish” exploit that shipped thousands of computers with malware built in.

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Dog-sitting startup Rover just raised $155M

Posted by | Apps, dogvacay, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, rover, Startups, wag | No Comments

Rover, a dog-walking and dog-boarding service that merged with DogVacay around this time last year, is now the second of such startups this year to raise a massive new round of funding with its announcement of a $155 million financing round.

While competitor Wag has become a juggernaut, there seems to be room for both a second player and the potential to outmaneuver Wag even with its massive influx of capital. Both DogVacay and Rover had a very similar model and eventually merged in an all-stock deal, creating a more substantial competitor for Wag. The round consisted of $125 million in equity financing led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, with a $30 million credit facility with Silicon Valley Bank. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the round values Rover at $970 million.

Wag earlier this year picked up $300 million in a massive funding round led by SoftBank. That was, of course, SoftBank — which is investing massive piles of capital into startups and pretty much altering the calculus of venture capital in the process. But it also signaled a huge interest in various dog-care services, including apparently Rover, as a potential business opportunity for the millions of dog owners in the world. If you’ll walk anywhere in San Francisco, you’re destined to run into a very large number of very good dogs, and it makes enough sense that there should be an opportunity to capitalize on dog ownership as a whole.

Rover connects dog owners with various users that will walk, board, or generally take care of dogs — a critical service for anyone who might be traveling, or just work in a non-dog-friendly office. Users just book a dog walker or sitter through the app, which connects them with area sitters. It’s an area where Wag has faced a lot of criticism following a major Bloomberg report regarding poor service (and losing dogs). There are, of course, many challenges for any service that offloads some kind of daily need to a third party starting in a similar fashion to Uber.

Rover, interestingly, notes on its website that it “accepts less than 20% of potential sitters,” perhaps a dig at the criticism for Wag or the space in general and as an attempt to soothe concerns from potential users. Rover says it has more than 200,000 sitters throughout North America. The company previously raised $156 million, and previous investors include A-Grade Investments, Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group, Menlo Ventures, OMERS Ventures, Petco, and StepStone Group.

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Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Posted by | accelerator, Advertising Tech, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, augmented reality, automotive, Banking, biotech, blockchain, Book Review, brazil, Built In, cannabis, Cloud, Collaborative Consumption, Community, Crowdfunding, cryptocurrency, Developer, Distributed Ledger, Diversity, Earnings, eCommerce, Education, Enterprise, Entertainment, Europe, events, Finance, food, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Gaming, Government, GreenTech, Hack, hardware, Health, Hiring, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!

The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:


Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


George McDonaugh, KR1


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker

How To Get Your Ticket For FREE

We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.

Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.

That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.

So you can grab tickets here.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

What is The Europas?

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

europas8

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

europas13

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
Petra@theeuropas.com
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

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Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises $5M as it plans blockchain initiative

Posted by | Apps, cryptocurrency, funding, Hooch, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

Right on the heels of launching its concierge service Hooch Black, Hooch announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding.

The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.

Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”

After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.

The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.

At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).

Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”

Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.

“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”

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Slack introduces Actions to make it easier to create and finish tasks without leaving

Posted by | actions, Apps, Asana, Enterprise, Mobile, slack, Startups, Zendesk | No Comments

As Slack tries to graduate beyond a Silicon Valley darling to the go-to communications platform within a company, it’s had to find ways to increasingly pitch itself as an intelligent Swiss Army knife for companies — and not just a simple chat app — and it is trying to continue that today once again with a new feature called Actions.

Companies can now bake in a user experience of their own directly into the Slack application that isn’t yet another chatbot that’s tied into their services. Developers can essentially create a customized prompt for any kind of action, like submitting a support ticket, within the Slack core chat experience through a drop-down window called an Action. While Slackbots may have been an early incarnation of this, Slack’s platform has grown to include more than 200,000 developers, and there’s still constant need for robust tools internally. This offers partners and developers a little more flexibility when it comes to figuring out what experience makes the most sense for people that sit in Slack all day, but have to keep porting information to and from their own tools.

“There’s such a demand for specialized software, and for great tools that are easy to use and interoperable with all applications you use,” Slack chief product officer April Underwood said. “We think this is good, and we think more tools means customers have more choice. Ultimately there’s more competition in the marketplace, that means the best tools, the ones that truly help companies do their best work, rise to the top. But your work experience becomes increasingly siloed. Slack needs to be highly configurable, but in doing so we believe Slack is the collaboration hub that brings all this together.”

Each company that wants to build in an integration — like Asana for task management or Zendesk for ticket management — works to create a new flow within the core Slack experience, which includes a new dropdown inside a message and a prompt to bake something into the chat flow. Once that happens, all that information is then ported over to the integration and created in the same way an employee would create it within that environment. If someone creates a Zendesk ticket through an action in Slack, Zendesk automatically generates the ticket on their side.

Slack has sprawled out over time, and especially as companies using it get larger and larger, the company has to figure out a way to show that it can remain a dead-simple app without turning into a bloated window filled with thousands of instant messages. Actions is one potential approach to that, where users can know from the get-go where to coordinate certain activities like equipment procurement or managing some customer information — and not have to go anywhere else.

The other advantage here is that it makes the destination for completing a task not necessarily a “what,” but also a “who.” Slack is leaning on its machine learning tool to make it easier and easier to find the right people with the right answers, whether those questions are already answered somewhere or they know who can get you the information right away. Actions is another extension here, as well, as users can get accustomed to going to certain coworkers with the intent of completing tasks — such as their IT head in their office that they walk by every morning on the way to grabbing coffee.

The company says it’s also working on what it’s calling the Block Kit, which integrates those tasks and other elements directly into the Slack chat flow in a way that looks a little more user friendly from a kind of visual sense. The idea here is, again, to create an intuitive flow for people that goes beyond just a simple chat app, but also offers some additional way of interactivity that turns Slack into a more sensible feed rather than just a window with people talking to each other. Actions are available from Jira, Bitbucket, Asana, Zendesk, HubSpot, and several others.

Actions is a tool that Slack is unveiling at its own developer conference, Spec, this morning. That in of itself is yet another example of Slack looking to graduate beyond just a simpler information feed that works well with smaller companies. Developers are often the ones that figure out the best niche use cases for any platform, as it means Slack can focus on trying to figure out how all these integrations fit into its design ethos. The company has to figure out how to convince larger companies that they need a tool like this and it won’t get out of hand, and also ensure that smaller companies don’t graduate into something a little more flexible that can serve those niche cases as they get larger.

To be sure, Slack is growing. The company said it hit 8 million daily active users with 3 million paid users earlier this month. That’s helped it quickly jump to a $5.1 billion valuation (as of its most recent funding round), and the company has been carefully rolling out tools that might make communication within larger companies a little easier — including the long-awaited launch of threads a little more than a year ago.

But Slack also faces increasing competition as time goes on, not only from the traditional companies looking to build more robust but simpler tools, but also from companies that have spent a lot of time working on collaboration tools and are now exploring communication. Atlassian’s opened up its communications platform Stride to developers in February this year. Microsoft, too continues to update its Teams product. Slack was able to expose pent-up demand for this kind of an approach, but it also has to defend that approach — and making it a little more flexible without feature-creeping is going to be its biggest challenge going forward.

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Circle Invest lets you buy the cryptocurrency market

Posted by | Apps, Circle, cryptocurrency, Mobile | No Comments

Circle Invest is one of the easiest products when you want to get started with cryptocurrencies. When Circle first launched the app, I compared it to Coinbase. And Circle is making it even easier to get started as you can just “buy the market” now.

Circle Invest started with just a handful of cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic and Litecoin. But now, the company has added Monero and Zcash. If you don’t know anything about cryptocurrencies, it’s hard to know where you should put your money.

That’s why Circle has created a button that lets you buy all coins available on Circle Invest, weighted depending on their respective market capitalization. The total market cap of Bitcoin is much higher than the total market cap of Zcash, so you’ll end up with more Bitcoin than Zcash.

Circle Invest is available on the App Store and Play Store in the U.S. except in except in MN, HI and WY. The company plans to launch in Europe at some point.

The app only supports market orders. ACH transfers are free and you can buy instantly for transfers below $10,000 before the money arrives on Circle’s bank account.

Circle says you can expect a bit of spread between the buy and sell price, just like on other exchanges. But the company doesn’t add any fee on top of that.

Correction: Circle Invest is now available to users who live in NY.

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

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Tencent leads $50M investment in NewsDog, an app vying to be India’s Toutiao

Posted by | alibaba, alibaba group, Android, App Annie, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, Baidu, Fundings & Exits, Goldman Sachs, india, legend capital, Media, Paytm, practo, Princeton University, TC, Tencent, Times Internet, Toutiao, Tsinghua University | No Comments

The growth of China’s Bytedance, an ambitious $30 billion tech firm, and its highly addictive Toutiao news aggregator app has set off a search for services with similar growth potential across the world.

India, second in population only to China with rapidly growing internet access, is an obvious place to look, and would-be pretender to the Toutiao crown has been found in the shape of NewsDog, a Chinese company that stumbled on success in India. Today, NewsDog announced a $50 million Series C round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Toutiao is a phenomenon in China. The app has around 200 million daily users, and it is one of the few new tech products to emerge in a China where Tencent and Alibaba dominate the consumer app landscape. Point in case, it is so mainstream now that it has even run into issues with China’s internet censors. Toutiao is essentially a news aggregation service that lets consumers catch their daily reads and discover stories with an experience tailored to their habits and likes.

That’s very much the style of NewsDog, which claims over 50 million users. The service has branched out to cover 10 of Indians many languages, while it recently established a platform — ‘WeMedia’ — that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, too.

This round is a major milestone for the company. In a competitive environment, it is the largest fundraising round from a news app company in India while it more obviously brings Tencent, the $500 billion tech giant, on board with its experience and support. Other investors include Chinese VCs Danhua Capital (DHVC) and Legend Capital as well as Chinese mobile app firm DotC United.

NewsDog’s competition includes Dailyhunt — which is backed by Toutiao-owner Bytedance — Inshorts, which counts Tiger Global among its investors, and NewsPoint, which is owned by media firm Times Internet.

One other competition is UC News, a service from Alibaba-owned UC Web, which, like NewsDog, is Chinese.

NewsDog was launched in 2016 by CEO Forrest Chen Yukun, a computer science graduate from Tsinghua University graduate, and Yi Ma, who holds a PhD from Princeton University and previously worked at Baidu and Goldman Sachs .

Data from App Annie shows that NewsDog is the top news app in the Google Play Store in India — Android is the country’s dominant operating system — ahead of Dailyhunt and NewsPoint in second and third, respectively. According to Sensor Tower, another app download analytics service, the app has 43 million installs and its downloads grew 76 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of the year.

NewsDog plans to use this new funding to pull further ahead of the competition by focusing on adding more languages and deepening its content library.

The company said it is already using machine learning to help produce an experience that is customized to users — the experience that Toutiao pioneered in China — and it plans to double down on that.

“Poly culture and multiple languages make content matching an incredibly hard problem,” Chen said in a statement. “So far, we have made good initial progress but content business is like an endless journey. There is no finish line, you have to just keep running.”

NewsDog is aiming to reach 100 million users as its next milestone as India’s internet population surges. The country is tipped to reach 500 million internet users by June 2018, according to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Kantar IMRB. That’s up from 481 million six months prior, but internet penetration in rural areas is at just 20 percent compared with 65 percent in urban India which indicates even more growth potential.

For Tencent, meanwhile, this investment is another upping of its pace in India.

Initially, the company was slow to put money to work in India, where Alibaba entered early to buy stakes in the likes of Paytm, but gradually Tencent has got its checkbook out. Its most notable India-based deals include WhatsApp challenger Hike, healthcare platform Practo, and music service Gaana. This year, it is reportedly focusing on finding promising early-stage startups where it can invest $5-15 million.

In NewsDog, Tencent will hope to jump on the news aggregator train that it missed in China, giving Bytedance an opportunity to become a major Chinese consumer brand.

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