Exit

Zynga acquires Turkey’s Peak Games for $1.8B, after buying its card games studio for $100M in 2017

Posted by | Europe, Exit, Gaming, M&A, Startups, TC | No Comments

Today, some news of a huge acquisition out of Turkey that represents the first billion-dollar-plus exit for a startup out of the country. Social gaming company Zynga confirmed that it is buying Istanbul-based Peak Games, the company behind popular Candy-Crush-style mobile gaming apps Toon Blast and Toy Blast, for $1.8 billion — $900 million in cash, and $900 million in Zynga shares.

Interestingly, this is the second time that Zynga has made a Peak Games acquisition. In 2017, it purchased the company’s mobile card games business for $100 million (more on that below).

The news caps off a short period of speculation about an upcoming deal, with local tech publications like Webrazzi calling the sale (and correct price) last month.

Peak’s investors had included European VCs Earlybird and Hummingbird Ventures — both active backers of startups in emerging markets in the region — and Endeavor Global (the nonprofit that invests via its Endeavor Catalyst fund). Sidar Sahin, the founder and CEO, had been the company’s biggest shareholder.

As with all M&A in the world of gaming, Zynga is getting a couple of big gains out of this sale.

The first is picking up two very popular titles/franchises that it doesn’t have do develop from scratch (in hopes of investing R&D budget in what it hopes but can’t guarantee will be a hit). Toon Blast and Toy Blast together total more than 12 million DAUs. And on top of that, those two games are some of the highest-grossing among all in Apple’s App Store, ranking among the top-10 and top-20 games in the past two years, Zynga noted in its announcement.

It’s not just about adding popular games content, but expanding Zynga’s advertising business as well. Significantly, Peak Games’ primary users are outside of Zynga’s home market of the US, representing a real growth opportunity for the company to cross-sell other games. Zynga says that bolting on Peak’s games network to its own will boost its number of mobile daily active users by 60%, which mean a lot of scaling up for its ad network.

Of course, sustaining both of those titles and their respective franchises as hits for the long run is not a given — the world of gaming regularly sees blockbusters fizzle out when the next big thing comes along — although these “forever franchises” with their steady popularity have a strong play to be exactly that.

However, the long play is also where the third big asset comes in: talent. Peak has 100 employees working on its current franchises and other games. So while the back ends (and revenues) may be getting combined, Zynga says Peak’s people will stay put and continue to work under the Peak brand on the existing franchises as well as on new projects that are already in development.

Zynga says the deal will close in the third quarter of 2020, and it’s updated its guidance already on the news, sending its stock up more than 5% in pre-market trading. Specifically, Zynga today said it believes the deal will bump up revenues by $40 million for the year, to $1.840 billion.

A startup so nice, Zynga bought it twice

The deal is notable not just because of what it’s adding to Zynga today, but because it highlights some interesting history between the two companies.

Back in November 2017, Zynga acquired one division of Peak Games, its mobile card games studio, for $100 million in cash.

The deal included games like Spades Plus and Gin Rummy Plus, respectively the largest spade and rummy mobile games in the world at the time; and games that were popular in Peak’s home market, 101 Okey Plus and Okey Plus. And according to analysis from Apptopia, it looks like Zynga was set to recoup the money it paid out by 2019, meaning that business is now profitable.

The remainder of Peak Games is another story. If Zynga tried to buy the whole business two years ago, it might have been that Peak was reluctant to sell its remaining two titles — its own Candy Crush crushers — Toon Blast and Toy Blast for anything near $100 million. And with good reason, since (as Zynga itself pointed out) they went on to become some of the consistently highest-grossing games in all of the App Store.

In the intervening period, Zynga tried to create its own rivals, namely Wonka’s World of Candy, but it’s never been as big of a hit as the others. (Apptopia’s Adam Blacker today told me, after I published this piece, that in fact Wonka’s World has made but a tiny fraction of the revenue of Peak’s titles.)

Hence, two years on, Zynga possibly finally found the “right price” for the whole of Peak Games.

“We are honored to welcome Sidar and team to Zynga. Peak is one of the world’s best puzzle game makers and we could not be more excited to add such creative and passionate talent to our company,” said Frank Gibeau, Chief Executive Officer of Zynga, in a statement. “With the addition of Toon Blast and Toy Blast, we are expanding our live services portfolio to eight forever franchises, meaningfully increasing our global audience base and adding to our exciting new game pipeline. As a combined team, we are well positioned to grow faster together.”

“This is a monumental partnership not only for Zynga and Peak, but for the whole mobile gaming industry,” said Sidar Sahin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Peak, in a statement. “Both companies share a common vision — to bring people together through games. Peak’s culture is rooted in relentless learning and progress, so as we embark on this new chapter in our journey together with Zynga, we remain as committed as ever to our unique culture. We’re very excited for our combined future and what we will accomplish together.”

Zynga and games business strategies aside, this is also a huge deal for Turkey’s tech ecosystem.

Turkey has been a steady presence straddling both the European and MENA markets (much as Turkey’s wider economy and political presence does), but so far with little impact in terms of exits and activity that extend outside of the region.

This acquisition is a testament to the exciting companies and talent that are being developed in the market, and is of course yet another sign of how big tech companies based out of more established centres like the Bay Area will continue to take bigger leaps to tap talent ever further afield, in their ongoing consolidation push and search for both business and audience growth.

One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that many are starting to see a much faster decentralisation in the world of technology. People are working remotely, and some are even planning to move away from tech hubs; and deals are getting done not in person but over videoconferencing links. This acquisition also demonstrates how that is also playing out in the world of M&A, too.

Powered by WPeMatico

Decrypted: No warrants for web data, UK grid cyberattack, CyberArk buys Idaptive

Posted by | california, cryptography, cyberattacks, cybercrime, Decrypted, electricity, Exit, Extra Crunch, iPhone, Market Analysis, Mobile, north america, ransomware, Recent Funding, Security, senate, Startups, U.S. government | No Comments

One vote.

That’s all it needed for a bipartisan Senate amendment to pass that would have stopped federal authorities from further accessing millions of Americans’ browsing records. But it didn’t. One Republican was in quarantine, another was AWOL. Two Democratic senators — including former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — were nowhere to be seen and neither returned a request for comment.

It was one of several amendments offered up in the effort to reform and reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the basis of U.S. spying laws. The law, signed in 1978, put restrictions on who intelligence agencies could target with their vast listening and collection stations. But after the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, lawmakers champed at the bit to change the system to better protect Americans, who are largely protected from the spies within its borders.

One privacy-focused amendment, brought by Sens. Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy, passed — permits for more independent oversight to the secretive and typically one-sided Washington, D.C. court that authorizes government surveillance programs, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That amendment all but guarantees the bill will bounce back to the House for further scrutiny.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Three years after WannaCry, U.S. still on North Korea’s tail

A feature-length profile in Wired magazine looks at the life of Marcus Hutchins, one of the heroes who helped stop the world’s biggest cyberattack three years to the day.

The profile — a 14,000-word cover story — examines his part in halting the spread of the global WannaCry ransomware attack and how his early days led him into a criminal world that prompted him to plead guilty to felony hacking charges. Thanks in part to his efforts in saving the internet, he was sentenced to time served and walked free.

Powered by WPeMatico

Twitter acquires Stories template maker Chroma Labs

Posted by | Apps, Exit, Instagram Boomerang, M&A, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Is “Twitter Stories” on the way? Or will we just get tools to send prettier tweets? Well now Twitter has the talent for both as it’s just acquired Chroma Labs. Co-founded by Instagram Boomerang inventor John Barnett, Chroma Labs’ Chroma Stories app let you fill in stylish layout templates and frames for posting collages and more to Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and more.

Rather than keeping Chroma Stories around, Twitter will be splitting the Chroma Labs squad up to work on its product, design and engineering teams. The Chroma Stories iPhone app won’t be shut down, but it won’t get more updates and will only work until there’s some breaking change to iOS.

Thrilled to welcome the amazing @Chroma_Labs team including @picturejohn, @alexli, @joshuacharris to @Twitter.

They’ll join our product, design, and eng teams working to give people more creative ways to express themselves on Twitter 🎨💬

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) February 18, 2020

“When we founded Chroma Labs in 2018, we set out to build a company to inspire creativity and help people tell their visual stories. During the past year, we’ve enabled creators and businesses around the world to create millions of stories with the Chroma Stories app” the Chroma Labs team writes on its site. “We’re proud of this work, and look forward to continuing our mission at a larger scale – with one of the most important services in the world.”

We’ve reached out to Twitter for more details on the deal and any price paid. [Update: Twitter confirms this is an acquisition, not just and acquihire of the team as it first appeared, though Chroma Stories is shutting down. It refused to disclose the terms of the acquisition, but said all seven employees of Chroma Labs are coming aboard. The team will be working on the Conversations division at Twitter, and the deal is meant to boost its talent, leadership, and expertise for serving public discussions. A Twitter spokesperson also confirms that Chroma will shut down its .business and future versions of the app will not be available.]

Founded in late 2018, Chroma Labs had raised a seed round in early 2019 and counted Sweet Capital, Index Ventures, and Combine VC as investors. Barnett’s fellow co-founders include CTO Alex Li, who was an engineering manager on Facebook Photos and Instagram Stories; and Joshua Harris was a product design manager on the Oculus Rift and Facebook’s augmented reality filters.

With Chroma Stories, you could choose between retro filters, holiday themed frames, and snazzy collage templates to make your Storie look special amidst the millions posted each day. Sensor Tower estimates Chroma Stories had 37,000 downloads to date. That tepid reception despite the app’s quality might explain why the team is joining Twitter.

By snatching up some of the smartest talent in visual storytelling, Twitter could give its text-focused app some spice. It’s one of the few social apps without a Stories product already, and its creative tools are quite limited. Better ways to lay out photos in tweets could make Twitter more beautiful and less exhausting to sift through. That might make it more appealing to teens and help it boost its user count, which now lags behind Snapchat.

Twitter has become the world’s public record for words. The Chroma Labs talent might make it the real-time gallery for art and design as well.

[Update 3:05pm Pacific: Twitter confirms that this is a full acquisition of the Chroma Labs company, not just an acquisition as we originally printed.]

Powered by WPeMatico

The drunken HQ Trivia finale before it shut down was insane

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Exit, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Humor, Matt Richards, Mobile, shut down, Social, Startups, TC, WTF | No Comments

“Not gonna lie. This f*cking sucks. This is the last HQ ever!” yelled host Matt Richards . And it just got crazier from there.The farewell game of HQ Trivia before it shut down last night was a beautiful disaster. The hosts cursed, sprayed champagne, threatened to defecate on the homes of trolls in the chat window, and begged for new jobs. Imagine Jeopardy but Trebek is hyped-up and blacked-out.

Yesterday HQ Trivia ran out of money, laid off its 25 employees, and shut down. It was in talks to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out last minute and investors weren’t willing to pour any money into the sagging game show. It had paid out $6 million in prizes from its $15 million-plus in venture capital since launching in late 2017.

But HQ was in steady decline since February 2018 when it peaked at over 2.3 million concurrent players to just tens of thousands recently. The games grew repetitive, prize money was split between too many winners, co-founder Colin Kroll passed away, original host and quiz daddy Scott Rogowsky was let go, the startup’s staff failed in an attempt to mutiny and oust the CEO, and layoffs ensued. You can read how it all went down here.

But rather than wither away, the momentary cultural phenemenon went out with a bang. “Should HQ trivia shut down? No? Yes? Or f*ck no!” Richards cackled.

You can watch the final show here, and we’ve laid out some of Richards’ and co-host Anna Roisman’s choicest quotes from HQ’s last game:

  • “If you just got here, this is HQ Trivia. It’s a live mobile gameshow. We’re gonna read about 34 questions and then you’re gonna win about 2 cents and you’re gonna fucking loooooove it” -Roisman
  • “This $5 prize is coming out of my own pocket. We ran out of money. We just kept giving it away. We gave it all to the players, to you, you loyal HQties” -Richards
  • “Take this time now to buy some extra lives. You never know when you’re going to need them. I wish we had an extra life for the company. I’m sorry. I f*cking can’t. I’m gonna cry. My dogs eat $200 worth of food a day. My dogs are gonna starve” -Richards
  • “Why are we shutting down? I don’t know. Ask our investors. What am I going to do with my fish tank? I think our investors ran out of money” -Richards
  • “Who likes healthy snacks! That’s why the investors stopped giving us money, because there wasn’t any f*cking snacks in this b*tch. We were snackless. Who the fuck can work in a place without snacks!” -Richards
  • “I met a couple who told me HQ is part of their foreplay” -Richards
  • “Who’s going to miss the HQ chat? I’m going to miss all those people telling me I don’t have eyebrows or to do the Carlton” -Richards
  • “Maybe we should close every night. These are the nicest f*cking comments I’ve ever seen. Wow, you’re finally telling me I look hot. I tried for a year and a half -Roisman
  • [Reading comments] “‘Won’t miss you at all, good riddance’” -Roisman. “Who said that? Let’s find that mothef*cker and sh*t on his porch” -Richards
  • “Hire everyone! All the people who don’t have jobs they f*cking rock!” -Richards
  • [While doing a headstand] “Someone hire me! I’m f*cking talented” -Roisman
  • “We should have unionized a long time ago” -Richards
  • [To his girlfriend] “Hello baby! I don’t got a job, you still love me?” -Richards
  • “We bought this giant bottle of champagne for when we hit 3 million players” -Richards (HQ never got there)
  • [Shakening up the champagne and opening it to a disappointing trickle] “It wasn’t as big as I thought it was gonna be” -Richards.That’s what she said. It was anti-climactic” -Roisman. “Much like this episode” -Richards. “Much like this app” -Roisman
  • “They gave me like two double shots of tequila” -Richards, on why he was drunk

Then things really went off the rails at 41 minutes in, cued up here:

  • [Upon a bunch of people getting a question wrong] “Y’all fucking fucked up!  You are dumb! I’m kidding, you’re not dumb. You fucked up. It happens” -Richards
  • [Reading the final question together] “What does Subway call it’s employees? Ham hands, sandwich artists, or beef sculptors?”
  • “520 people are splitting $5. Send me your Venmo requests and I’ll send you your fraction of a penny” -Richards

Farewell, HQ Trivia, you glorious beast.

 

Powered by WPeMatico

HQ Trivia shuts down after acquisition falls through

Posted by | Apps, DEADPOOL, Entertainment, Exit, founder fund, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, TC, trivia | No Comments

HQ Trivia is dead. Today the company laid off its full staff of 25 and will cease operation of its trivia, sports and word guessing games, a source close to the company confirmed.

HQ Trivia had a deal in the works to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out yesterday and investors aren’t willing to fund it any longer, CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov said in a statement attained by CNN Business’ Kerry Flynn:

“We received an offer from an established business to acquire HQ and continue building our vision, had definitive agreements and legal docs, and a projected closing date of tomorrow, and for reasons we are still investigating, they suddenly changed their position and despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement,” Yusupov writes. “Unfortunately, our lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution. All employees and contractors will be terminated as of today.”

With HQ we showed the world the future of TV. We didn’t get to where we hoped but we did stretch the world’s imagination for what’s possible on our smartphones. Thanks to everyone who helped build this and thanks for playing.

— Rus (@rus) February 14, 2020

Launched in October 2017, TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of the 12-question live video trivia game started by two of the former Vine founders. Users could win real money by answering all the questions and not being eliminated in multiple daily games. HQ Trivia had raised more than $15 million, including a Series A led by Founders Fund. At one point it had more than 2.3 million concurrent players.

hq trivia app 1

But eventually the novelty began to wear off. Cheaters came in, splitting the prize money down to just a few dollars or cents per winner. Copycats emerged internationally. Engineering issues led users to get kicked out of the game.

Then tragedy struck. Co-founder Colin Kroll passed away. That exacerbated internal problems at HQ Trivia. Product development was slow, leading users to grow tired of the game. New game types and viral features materialized too late.

A failed internal mutiny saw staffers prepare to petition the board to remove Yusupov from the CEO position. When he caught wind of the plot, organizers of the revolt were fired. Morale sunk. By July 2019, downloads were just 8% of their previous year’s, and 20% of the staff was laid off. HQ managed about 15 million all-time installs, peaking at 2 million in February 2018, while last month it had just 67,000, according to Sensor Tower.

The demise of HQ Trivia demonstrates the fickle nature of the gaming industry, and the startup scene as a whole. Momentary traction is no guarantee of future success. Products must continually evolve and adapt to their audience to stay relevant. And executives must forge ahead while communicating clearly with their teams, even amongst uncertainty, or find their companies withered by the rapid passing of time.

Powered by WPeMatico

Apple buys edge-based AI startup Xnor.ai for a reported $200M

Posted by | acquisition, AI2, allen institute for artificial intelligence, Apple, artificial intelligence, Exit, Gadgets, M&A, Mobile, Startups, TC, XNOR, xnor.ai | No Comments

Xnor.ai, spun off in 2017 from the nonprofit Allen Institute for AI (AI2), has been acquired by Apple for about $200 million. A source close to the company corroborated a report this morning from GeekWire to that effect.

Apple confirmed the reports with its standard statement for this sort of quiet acquisition: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” (I’ve asked for clarification just in case.)

Xnor.ai began as a process for making machine learning algorithms highly efficient — so efficient that they could run on even the lowest tier of hardware out there, things like embedded electronics in security cameras that use only a modicum of power. Yet using Xnor’s algorithms they could accomplish tasks like object recognition, which in other circumstances might require a powerful processor or connection to the cloud.

CEO Ali Farhadi and his founding team put the company together at AI2 and spun it out just before the organization formally launched its incubator program. It raised $2.7M in early 2017 and $12M in 2018, both rounds led by Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, and has steadily grown its local operations and areas of business.

The $200M acquisition price is only approximate, the source indicated, but even if the final number were less by half that would be a big return for Madrona and other investors.

The company will likely move to Apple’s Seattle offices; GeekWire, visiting the Xnor.ai offices (in inclement weather, no less), reported that a move was clearly underway. AI2 confirmed that Farhadi is no longer working there, but he will retain his faculty position at the University of Washington.

An acquisition by Apple makes perfect sense when one thinks of how that company has been directing its efforts towards edge computing. With a chip dedicated to executing machine learning workflows in a variety of situations, Apple clearly intends for its devices to operate independent of the cloud for such tasks as facial recognition, natural language processing, and augmented reality. It’s as much for performance as privacy purposes.

Its camera software especially makes extensive use of machine learning algorithms for both capturing and processing images, a compute-heavy task that could potentially be made much lighter with the inclusion of Xnor’s economizing techniques. The future of photography is code, after all — so the more of it you can execute, and the less time and power it takes to do so, the better.

 

It could also indicate new forays in the smart home, toward which with HomePod Apple has made some tentative steps. But Xnor’s technology is highly adaptable and as such rather difficult to predict as far as what it enables for such a vast company as Apple.

Powered by WPeMatico

Omni storage & rentals fails, shutters, sells engineers to Coinbase

Posted by | Apps, clutter, coinbase, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, Exit, Flybridge Capital Partners, founders fund, Fundings & Exits, Highland Capital Partners, Logistics, Mobile, Omni, payments, rentals, Startups, TC, Transportation | No Comments

$35 million-funded Omni is packing up and shutting down after struggling to make the economics of equipment rentals and physical on-demand storage work out. It’s another victim of a venture capital-subsidized business offering a convenient service at an unsustainable price.

The startup fought for a second wind after selling off its physical storage operations to competitor Clutter in May. Then sources tell me it tried to build a whitelabel software platform for letting brick-and-mortar merchants rent stuff like drills or tents as well as sell them so Omni could get out of hands-on logistics. But now the whole company is folding, with Coinbase hiring roughly 10 of Omni’s engineers.

“They realized that the core business was just challenging as architected” a source close to Omni tells TechCrunch. “The service was really great for the consumer but when they looked at what it would take to scale, that would be difficult and expensive.” Another source says Omni’s peak headcount was around 70.

The news follows TechCrunch’s report in October that Omni had laid off operations teams members and was in talks to sell its engineering team to Coinbase. Omni had internally discussed informing its retail rental partners ahead of time that it would be shutting down. Meanwhile, it frantically worked to stop team members from contacting the press about the startup’s internal troubles.

We’ll be winding down operations at Omni and closing the platform by the end of this year. We are proud of what we built and incredibl y thankful for everyone who supported our vision over the past five and a half years” an Omni spokesperson says. Omni CEO Tom McLeod did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Oddly, Omni was still allowing renters to pay for items as of this morning, though it’s already shut down its blog and hasn’t made a public announcement about its shut down.

Coinbase has reached an agreement with Omni to hire members of its engineering team. We’re always looking for top-tier engineering talent and look forward to welcoming these new team members to Coinbase” a Coinbase spokesperson tells us. The team was looking for more highly skilled engineers they could efficiently hire as a group, though it’s too early to say what they’ll be working on.

Omni originaly launched in 2015, offering to send a van to your house to pick up and index any of your possession, drive them to a nearby warehouse, store them, and bring them back to you whenever you needed for just a few dollars per month. It seemed too good to be true and ended up being just that.

Eventually Omni pivoted towards letting you rent out what you were storing so you and it could earn some extra cash in 2017. Sensing a better business model there, it sold its storage business to Softbank-funded Clutter and moved to helping retail stores run rental programs. But that simply required too big of a shift in behavior for merchants and users, while also relying on slim margins.

Omni Rentals

One major question is whether investors will get any cash back. Omni raised $25 million from cryptocurrency company Ripple in early 2018. Major investors include Flybridge, Highland, Allen & Company, and Founders Fund, plus a slew of angels.

The implosion of Omni comes as investors are re-examining business fundamentals of startups in the wake of Uber’s valuation getting cut in half in the public markets and the chaos at WeWork ahead of its planned IPO. VCs and their LPs want growth, but not at the cost of burning endless sums of money to subsidize prices just to lure customers to a platform.

It’s one thing if the value of the service is so high that people will stick with a startup as prices rise to sustainable levels, as many have with ride hailing. But for Omni, ballooning storage prices pissed off users as on-demand became less afforable than a traditional storage unit. Rentals were a hassle, especially considering users had to pick-up and return items themselves when they could just buy the items and get instant delivery from Amazon.

Startups that need a ton of cash for operations and marketing but don’t have a clear path to ultra-high lifetime value they can earn from customers may find their streams of capital running dry.

Powered by WPeMatico

Camp Grounded Digital Detox returns after founder’s death

Posted by | Camp Grounded, Digital Detox, digital well-being, Education, events, Exit, Forest Bronzan, Fundings & Exits, GreenTech, Health, Levi Felix, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Startups, summer camp, TC, Time Well Spent | No Comments

Summer camp for adults and beloved tech-free weekend getaway Camp Grounded ground to a halt in 2017. Its big-hearted founder, Levi Felix, who’d espoused the joys of trading screens for nature walks, was tragically killed by brain cancer at just age 32. Left in his wake was a mourning community that had lost their digital detox rally just as everyone was realizing the importance of looking up from their phones.

As an attendee, I’d been impressed by how the founder (known as Professor Fidget Wigglesworth at camp) used playfulness and presence to transport us back to childhood, before we got hooked on the internet. But he also broke people’s addiction to shame, mandating that anyone who screwed up in a sports game or talent show announce “I’m awesome,” and be met with a cheer from the crowd, “you’re awesome!”

Attendees compete in camp-wide games

Luckily, one of Felix’s elementary school friends, Forest Bronzan, wants to write a happier ending to this story. Almost three years after it went into hibernation following its creator’s death, Bronzan has acquired Camp Grounded and its parent company Digital Detox .

Camp Grounded will relaunch in May 2020 as two back-to-back weekend retreats at Northern California’s gorgeous Camp Mendocino. Attendees will again leave their devices in Tech Check lockers run by hazmat-suit wearing staffers, assume nicknames and stop the work talk. They’ll get to play in the woods like technology never existed, indulging in Camp Grounded favorites, from archery to arts & crafts to bonfire singalongs about enthusiastic consent. However, to simplify logistics, Camp Grounded will no longer hold sessions in New York, North Carolina or Texas.

The company will also organize more four-hour Unplugged Nights in cities around the country where partiers can switch off their phones and make new friends. The idea is to give a broader range of people a taste of the Grounded lifestyle in smaller doses. Those interested in early access to tickets for all of Digital Detox’s events can sign up here.

Camp Grounded’s Tech Check staffers confiscate attendees’ devices upon their arrival (Image Credit: Daniel N. Johnson)

Meanwhile, Digital Detox will start a new business of education and certifications for K-12 schools, coaching teachers and parents on how to gently reduce students’ screentime. Schools will pay per student like a Software-as-a-Service model. Through research by a few PhDs, the company will recommend proper rules for using tech in and out of the classroom to minimize distraction, and empathetic penalties for violations.

The obvious question to ask, though, is if Bronzan is just some business guy coming to coin off the anti-tech trend and Felix’s legacy. “I’m not Apple coming in and buying the company. This isn’t a tech acquisition,” Bronzan insists at a coffee shop in San Francisco. “I knew Levi before anyone else knew Levi. We went trick-or-treating and played in school band together. I went to the first Digital Detox summit, and brought my company year after year. I’ve been involved from the beginning, seeing Levi’s passion and inspiration.”

Levi Felix and Forest Bronzan (from left) in 1996

Fidget had an innately soothing camp counselor vibe to him that Bronzan doesn’t quite capture. He’d previously built and sold Email Aptitude, a CRM and email agency, not an event or education business. But he truly seems to mean well, and he’s earned the support of Digital Detox’s team.

“My mission was to find someone that was as excited and ferocious as Levi and I were when we started Digital Detox to further it as a movement,” says Brooke Dean, Felix’s wife and co-founder. “It was imperative that the person running DD and CG had actually experienced the magic. This person had to be more than a lover of camp and nature, they also needed the hard skills and successful track record of running a company. Forest is stable, business-minded and also finds value in that very unique magic.”

Brooke Dean and Levi Felix (foreground, from left) at Camp Grounded

Bronzan tells me the acquisition includes a cash component (“We’re not talking eight figures”) and a capital investment in the business, both funded by his email company’s exit. Two other individuals and one company had also expressed interest. Dean and Felix’s brother Zev will retain equity in the company, and she’ll stay on the board of directors. The trio are launching the Levi Felix Foundation that will donate money to brain cancer research.

While moving into education might seem like a left turn for Digital Detox after throwing events since 2012, Dean says, “Levi was planning on going back to school and was deeply interested in being an academic in this field. We always believed that there needed to be evidence in order to convince the masses that being outside and connecting with other human beings ‘IRL’ is critical to our health and longevity.”

Some alarming stats the organization has already uncovered include:

  • 77% of people check or pretend to check their phone to avoid talking to others
  • 38% feel less connected to their partner or close friend due to cell phone use
  • Nearly 20% check their phone while having sex

“We want to eventually be the central source of tools on how tech is affecting lives and relationships at all age levels,” Bronzan tells me. It’s zeroing in on how compulsive behaviors like endless scrolling increase anxiety and depression, and how parents glued to their devices train children to not be present. The father of two kids under age five, Bronzan knows a weekend at camp in your 20s or 30s is too little too late to seriously address the crisis of fractured attention.

Digital Detox’s new CEO says he’s heartened by the progression of some of Felix’s ideals, as with the Time Well Spent movement. The screentime dashboards launched by tech companies don’t do enough to actually change people’s actions, he says, though, “They’re at least making some effort.” Digital Detox plans to launch a comprehensive quiz to determine how addicted you are to your phone, and Bronzan says he’d happily work with tech giants to integrate his company’s research.

On the camp for adults front, we’ve seen Burning Man go mainstream but lose some of what made it special, including a lack of cell phone reception. It’s now common to see people on the playa staring at their phones, talking about work, and stressed about the clock — all of which are prohibited at Camp Grounded. Festivals like Coachella seem to get more corporate and less mindful each year. That leaves plenty of open space for Digital Detox to fill with purposeful breaks from the default world.

Bronzan also wants to introduce more surprise and serendipity to the event calendar. Camp Grounded will experiment with a “Mystery Trip” where eight to 10 people sign up to be whisked away, only receiving a confidential briefing package the day before they show up. The point is to extract people from their routines where unhealthy habits manifest. Without connectivity, Camp Grounded hopes people will forge new connections in their minds, and with each other.

Powered by WPeMatico

SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Enterprise, Exit, funding, Fundings & Exits, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.

Powered by WPeMatico

Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion lists in Chinese IPO

Posted by | africa, Beijing, China, Egypt, ethiopia, Exit, huawei, india, initial public offering, IPO, kenya, Mobile, mobile phone, Nigeria, Opera, Samsung, shanghai, Shanghai Stock Exchange, shenzhen, smartphone, smartphones, South Africa, Startups, Tanzania, TC, technology, Tecno, telecommunications, Transsion, Wapi Capital | No Comments

Chinese mobile phone and device maker Transsion has listed in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand. The company has also started to support venture funding of African startups.

Transsion issued 80 million A shares at an opening price of 35.15 yuan (≈ $5.00) to raise 2.8 billion yuan (or ≈ $394 million).

A shares are the common shares issued by mainland Chinese companies and are normally available for purchases only by mainland citizens. 

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application is available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Transsion plans to spend 1.6 billion yuan (or $227 million) of its STAR Market raise on building more phone assembly hubs, and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

To support its African sales network, Transsion maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company recently announced plans to build an industrial park and R&D facility in India for manufacture of phones to Africa.

The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April.

Listing on STAR Market puts Transsion on China’s new exchange — seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements for the STAR Market, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

China Star Market Opening July 2019 1

Transsion’s IPO comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market — through its brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel — and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.

Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.

On a 2019 research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3,600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.

In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.

Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.

Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34%, but expected to grow to 67% by 2025, according to GSMA.

This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination — such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa — thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.

If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent, that could enable more startups and startup opportunities — from fintech to VOD apps.

Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular as the Shenzhen company moves more definitely toward venture investing.

In August, Transsion-funded Future Hub teamed up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups.

China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities — further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.

Transsion’s IPO is the second event this year — after Chinese owned Opera’s venture spending in Nigeria — to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.

So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads and bridges in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.

Powered by WPeMatico