Fundings & Exits

Twitter acqui-hires highlight-sharing app Highly

Posted by | acquihire, Apps, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Screenshots, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Quotes from articles are much more eye-catching than links on Twitter, so the social giant is scooping up the team behind highlight-sharing app Highly. This talent could help Twitter build its own version of Highly or develop other ways to excerpt the best content from websites and get it into the timeline.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that the deal was an acqui-hire, and a spokesperson provided this statement: “We are excited to welcome the Highly team to Twitter. Their expertise will accelerate our product and design thinking around making Twitter more conversational.” We’ve asked about what data portability options Highly will offer.

Highly will shut down its iOS and Slack app on April 26th, though it promises that “No highlights will be harmed.” It’s also making its paid “Crowd Control” for private highlight sharing plus Highly For Teams free in the meantime.

“Social highlights can make sharing stories online feel personal, efficient and alive — like retelling a story to a friend, over coffee. They give people shared context and spark meaningful conversations,” the Highly team writes.

Quotes can make the difference between someone breezing past a link they don’t want to leave Twitter to explore, and getting a peek at what’s smart about an article so they know if it’s worth diving deeper. Many people use OneShot to generate Twitter-formatted screenshots of posts. But Highly lets you just rub your finger over text to turn it into an image with a link back to the article for easy tweeting. You could also search an archive of your past highlights, and follow curators who spot the best quotes. Its browser extensions and native app let you highlight from wherever you read.

Get Highly before Twitter shuts down its appshttps://t.co/3yLbfWW25l pic.twitter.com/xAEMG7oJai

— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) April 17, 2019

“Sharing highlights, not headlines — sharing thinking instead of lazily linking — helps spark the kind of conversation that leaves participants and observers alike a bit better off than they started. We’d like to see more of this,” the Highly teams writes. That’s why it’s joining Twitter to work on improving conversation health. Founded in 2014, Highly had raised a seed round in 2017.

Twitter’s shift to algorithmic ranking of the timeline means every tweet has to compete to be seen. Blasting out links that are a chore to open and read can lead to low engagement, causing Twitter to show it to fewer people. Tools like Highly can give tweeters a leg up. And if Twitter can build these tools right into its service, it could allow more people to create appealing tweets so they actually feel heard.

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How-to video maker Jumprope launches to leapfrog YouTube

Posted by | Apps, DIY, eCommerce, Education, food, funding, Fundings & Exits, How To, instagram, Instructables, Mobile, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Thumbtack, Video, YouTube | No Comments

Sick of pausing and rewinding YouTube tutorials to replay that tricky part? Jumprope is a new instructional social network offering a powerful how-to video slideshow creation tool. Jumprope helps people make step-by-step guides to cooking, beauty, crafts, parenting and more using voice-overed looping GIFs for each phase. And creators can export their whole lesson for sharing on Instagram, YouTube or wherever.

Jumprope officially launches its iOS app today with plenty of how-tos for making chocolate chip bars, Easter eggs, flower boxes or fierce eyebrows. “By switching from free-form linear video to something much more structured, we can make it much easier for people to share their knowledge and hacks,” says Jumprope co-founder and CEO Jake Poses.

The rise of Snapchat Stories and Pinterest have made people comfortable jumping on camera and showing off their niche interests. By building a new medium, Jumprope could become the home for rapid-fire learning. And because viewers will have tons of purchase intent for the makeup, art supplies or equipment they’ll need to follow along, Jumprope could make serious cash off ads or affiliate commerce.

The opportunity to bring instruction manuals into the mobile video era has attracted a $4.5 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and joined by strategic angels like Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky and Thumbtack co-founders Marco Zappacosta and Jonathan Swanson. People are already devouring casual education content on HGTV and the Food Network, but Jumprope democratizes its creation.

Jumprope co-founders (from left): CTO Travis Johnson and CEO Jake Poses

The idea came from a deeply personal place for Poses. “My brother has pretty severe learning differences, and so growing up with him gave me this appreciation for figuring out how to break things down and explain them to people,” Poses reveals. “I think that attached me to this problem of ‘how do you organize information so it’s simple and easy to understand?’ Lots and lots of people have this information trapped in their heads because there isn’t a way to easily share that.”

Poses was formerly the VP of Product at Thumbtack where he helped grow the company from 8 to 500 people and a $1.25 billion valuation. He teamed up with AppNexus’ VP of engineering Travis Johnson, who’d been leading a 50-person team of coders. “The product takes people who have knowledge and passion but not the skill to make video [and gives them] guard rails that make it easy to communicate,” Poses explains.

Disrupting incumbents like YouTube’s grip on viewers might take years, but Jumprope sees its guide creation and export tool as a way to infiltrate and steal their users. That strategy mirrors how TikTok’s watermarked exports colonized the web.

How to make a Jumprope

Jumprope lays out everything you’ll need to upload, including a cover image, introduction video, supplies list and all your steps. For each, you’ll record a video that you can then enhance with voice-over, increased speed, music and filters.

Creators are free to suggest their own products or enter affiliate links to monetize their videos. Once it has enough viewers, Jumprope plans to introduce advertising, but it could also add tipping, subscriptions, paid how-tos or brand sponsorship options down the line. Creators can export their lessons with five different border themes and seven different aspect ratios for posting to Instagram’s feed, IGTV, Snapchat Stories, YouTube or embedding on their blog.

“Like with Stories, you basically tap through at your own pace,” Poses says of the viewing experience. Jumprope offers some rudimentary discovery through categories, themed collections or what’s new and popular. The startup has done extensive legwork to sign up featured creators in all its top categories. That means Jumprope’s catalog is already extensive, with food guides ranging from cinnabuns to pot roasts to how to perfectly chop an onion. 

“You’re not constantly dealing with the frustration of cooking something and trying to start and stop the video with greasy hands. And if you don’t want all the details, you can tap through it much faster” than trying to skim a YouTube video or blog post, Poses tells me. Next the company wants to build a commenting feature where you can leave notes, substitution suggestions and more on each step of a guide.

Poses claims there’s no one building a direct competitor to its mobile video how-to editor. But he admits it will be an uphill climb to displace viewership on Instagram and YouTube. One challenge facing Jumprope is that most people aren’t hunting down how-to videos every day. The app will have to work to remind users it exists and that they shouldn’t just go with the lazy default of letting Google recommend the videos it hosts.

The internet has gathered communities around every conceivable interest. But greater access to creation and consumption necessitates better tools for production and curation. As we move from a material to an experiential culture, people crave skills that will help them forge memories and contribute to the world around them. Jumprope makes it a lot less work to leap into the life of a guru.

You can watch my first Jumprope here or below to learn how to tie up headphones without knots:

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Meet the first judges for The Europas Awards (27 June) and enter your startup now!

Posted by | Apps, Enterprise, Europas, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, the europas | No Comments

I’m excited to announce that The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new “tech, culture & society” event creator The Pathfounder.

Here’s how to enter and be considered for the awards.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.

*** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019 ***

For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories, including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The Europas “Diversity Pass”

We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women founder or person of colour founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London.

The Europas Awards

The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself.

But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

The complete list of categories is here:

  1. AgTech / FoodTech
  2. CleanTech
  3. Cyber
  4. EdTech
  5. FashTech
  6. FinTech
  7. Public, Civic and GovTech
  8. HealthTech
  9. MadTech (AdTech / MarTech)
  10. Mobility Tech
  11. PropTech
  12. RetailTech
  13. Saas/Enterprise or B2B
  14. SpaceTech
  15. Tech for Good
  16. Hottest Blockchain Project
  17. Hottest Blockchain Investor
  18. Hottest VC Fund
  19. Hottest Seed Fund
  20. Grand Prix

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:
* 6 March 2019 – Submissions open
* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close
* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins
* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends
* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact dianne@thepathfounder.com

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

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

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

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

Meet the first set of our 20 judges:


Brent Hoberman
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder
Founders Factory


Videesha Böckle
Founding Partner
signals Venture Capital


Bindi Karia
Innovation Expert + Advisor, Investor
Bindi Ventures


Christian Hernandez Gallardo
Co-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital

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CleverTap lands $26M for its mobile-focused customer marketing service

Posted by | Accel, Asia, clevertap, Facebook, Fandango, funding, Fundings & Exits, go-jek, india, Media, Mobile, rakuten, Sequoia, Sequoia India, Singapore, Southeast Asia, tiger global, United States, Viber, WhatsApp | No Comments

CleverTap, an India-based startup that lets companies track and improve engagement with users across the web, has pulled in $26 million in new funding thanks to a round led by Sequoia India.

Existing investor Accel and new backer Tiger Global also took part in the deal, which values CleverTap at $150-$160 million, the startup disclosed. The deal takes CleverTap to around $40 million from investors to date.

Founded in 2015 and based in Mumbai, CleverTap competes with a range of customer experience services, including Oracle Cloud. Its service covers a range of touchpoints with consumers, including email, in-app activity, push notifications, Facebook, WhatsApp (for business) and Viber. Its service helps companies map out how their users are engaging across those vectors, and develop “re-engagement” programs to help reactive dormant users or increase engagement among others.

The company says its SDK is installed in more than 8,000 apps and its customers include Southeast Asia-based startups Go-Jek and Zilingo, Hotstar in India and U.S.-based Fandango . With a considerable customer base in Asia, CleverTap puts a particular focus on mobile because many of these markets are all about personal devices.

“Asia is mobile-first and massively growing,” CleverTap CEO and co-founder Sunil Thomas told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of engagement in this [part of the] world is timely… we were sort of born physically on the east side of the world, so we got to scale with all these diverse set of devices.”

That stands to benefit CleverTap as it seeks to grow market share outside of Asia, and in markets like the U.S. and Europe where mobile is — right now — just one part of the marketing and customer engagement process. The company believes that engagement by mobile has a long way to develop there.

“Engagement [in the West] is still email-heavy and not really timely,” Thomas said. “Whereas the East thinks of it as ‘Hey, let’s be proactive… instead of a user coming in to hunt for information, can I provide it when I think he or she will need it?’ ”

Of course, mobile push and in-app notifications can be easily abused.

Most people will know of an app on their phone that falls into that category. So, how does a company know what is too much or what isn’t enough?

“As long as you use push or in-app as an extension of your brand, then I think it’s extremely useful,” explained Thomas. “After all, this is a really competitive world; it isn’t just your app out there — if you can make your brand count when this person isn’t in your app, that’ll help you.”

More broadly, Thomas argued that CleverTap brings data to the table which, ultimately, “changes the whole context in real time.” So a customer can really look holistically at their online presence and figure out what is working, and with which users. In real terms, when used to acquire new users online, he said he believes that CleverTap typically doubles registration conversions and triples the buying rate.

“The cost of acquisition to first purchase is what we really effect,” said Thomas. “It’s that moment you get a new person into your house.”

CleverTap has an office in Sunnyvale and it has just landed in Singapore. Now it plans to add a location in Indonesia before the end of the year. Those expansions are centered around business development, with some customer support, since tech and other teams are in India. Already, according to Thomas, the company is looking to grow in Europe while it is weighing the potential to enter Latin America in a move that could include a local partnership.

The CleverTap CEO is also considering raising more money toward the end of the year, when he believes that the company can push its valuation as high as $400 million.

“That’s very doable based on revenue growth,” he said. “We think that the revenue will demand that valuation.”

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Movo grabs $22.5M to get more cities in LatAm scooting

Posted by | Argentina, brazil, Cabify, Chile, Colombia, e-mopeds, e-scooters, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, latin america, madrid, Mexico, micromobility, Mobile, Movo, Recent Funding, seaya ventures, spain, Startups, Transportation, uruguay | No Comments

Madrid-based micromobility startup Movo has closed a €20 million (~$22.5M) Series A funding round to accelerate international expansion.

The 2017-founded Spanish startup targets cities in its home market and in markets across LatAm, offering last-mile mobility via rentable electric scooters (e-mopeds and e-scooters) plotted on an app map. It’s a subsidiary of local ride-hailing firm Cabify, which provided the seed funding for the startup.

Movo’s Series A round is led by two new investors: Insurance firm Mutua Madrileña, doubtless spying strategic investment potential in helping diversify its business by growing the market for humans to scoot around cities on two wheels — and VC fund Seaya Ventures, an early investor in Cabify.

Both Mutua Madrileña and Seaya Ventures are now taking a seat on Movo’s board.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Javier Mira, general director of Mutua Madrileña, said: “The equity investment in Movo reflects Mutua Madrileña’s aspiration to respond to the new mobility needs that are emerging, and to the economic and social changes that are occurring and that are transforming our life habits.”

Movo currently operates in six cities across five countries — Spain, México, Colombia, Perú and Chile.

It first launched an e-moped service in Madrid a year ago, according to a spokeswoman, and has since expanded domestic operations to the southern Spanish coastal city of Malaga, as well as riding into Latin America.

The new funding is mostly pegged for further international expansion, with a plan to expand into new markets in LatAm, including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Movo is targeting operating in a total of 10 countries by the end of 2019.

The Series A will also be used to grow its vehicle fleet in existing markets, it said.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a solution to the problems of mobility in cities, particularly for short distances in areas with high population density,” said CEO Pedro Rivas in a statement. “We are committed to working together with governments to complement mass public transport with these new micromobility alternatives, so that people can get around in a more sustainable and efficient way.”

Commenting on its investment in the Cabify subsidiary, Seaya Ventures’ Beatriz Gonzalez, founder and managing partner, said the fund is “committed to the evolution of mobility towards sustainable alternatives in the world’s major cities.”

“We want to be part of the transport revolution by promoting projects like Cabify and, of course, Movo,” she said in a statement, which seeks to paint micromobility as a solution for urban congestion and poor air quality. “We are motivated to continue to promote companies with which we share this sense of responsibility towards the development and improvement of people’s quality of life.”

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New privacy assistant Jumbo fixes your Facebook & Twitter settings

Posted by | amazon alexa, Apps, Facebook, facebook privacy, funding, Fundings & Exits, google search, Mobile, Policy, privacy, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC, Twitter, Twitter Privacy | No Comments

Jumbo could be a nightmare for the tech giants, but a savior for the victims of their shady privacy practices.

Jumbo saves you hours as well as embarrassment by automatically adjusting 30 Facebook privacy settings to give you more protection, and by deleting your old tweets after saving them to your phone. It can even erase your Google Search and Amazon Alexa history, with clean-up features for Instagram and Tinder in the works.

The startup emerges from stealth today to launch its Jumbo privacy assistant app on iPhone (Android coming soon). What could take a ton of time and research to do manually can be properly handled by Jumbo with a few taps.

The question is whether tech’s biggest companies will allow Jumbo to operate, or squash its access. Facebook, Twitter and the rest really should have built features like Jumbo’s themselves or made them easier to use, since they could boost people’s confidence and perception that might increase usage of their apps. But since their business models often rely on gathering and exploiting as much of your data as possible, and squeezing engagement from more widely visible content, the giants are incentivized to find excuses to block Jumbo.

“Privacy is something that people want, but at the same time it just takes too much time for you and me to act on it,” explains Jumbo founder Pierre Valade, who formerly built beloved high-design calendar app Sunrise that he sold to Microsoft in 2015. “So you’re left with two options: you can leave Facebook, or do nothing.”

Jumbo makes it easy enough for even the lazy to protect themselves. “I’ve used Jumbo to clean my full Twitter, and my personal feeling is: I feel lighter. On Facebook, Jumbo changed my privacy settings, and I feel safer.” Inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he believes the platforms have lost the right to steward so much of our data.

Valade’s Sunrise pedigree and plan to follow Dropbox’s bottom-up freemium strategy by launching premium subscription and enterprise features has already attracted investors to Jumbo. It’s raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller and Nextview Ventures’ Rob Go, who “both believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Valade notes. Miller sold his link-sharing app Branch to Facebook in 2014, so his investment shows those with inside knowledge see a need for Jumbo. Valade’s six-person team in New York will use the money to develop new features and try to start a privacy moment.

How Jumbo works

First let’s look at Jumbo’s Facebook settings fixes. The app asks that you punch in your username and password through a mini-browser open to Facebook instead of using the traditional Facebook Connect feature. That immediately might get Jumbo blocked, and we’ve asked Facebook if it will be allowed. Then Jumbo can adjust your privacy settings to Weak, Medium, or Strong controls, though it never makes any privacy settings looser if you’ve already tightened them.

Valade details that since there are no APIs for changing Facebook settings, Jumbo will “act as ‘you’ on Facebook’s website and tap on the buttons, as a script, to make the changes you asked Jumbo to do for you.” He says he hopes Facebook makes an API for this, though it’s more likely to see his script as against policies.

.

For example, Jumbo can change who can look you up using your phone number to Strong – Friends only, Medium – Friends of friends, or Weak – Jumbo doesn’t change the setting. Sometimes it takes a stronger stance. For the ability to show you ads based on contact info that advertisers have uploaded, both the Strong and Medium settings hide all ads of this type, while Weak keeps the setting as is.

The full list of what Jumbo can adjust includes Who can see your future posts?, Who can see the people?, Pages and lists you follow, Who can see your friends list?, Who can see your sexual preference?, Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?, Who can post on your timeline?, and Review tags people add to your posts the tags appear on Facebook? The full list can be found here.

For Twitter, you can choose if you want to remove all tweets ever, or that are older than a day, week, month (recommended), or three months. Jumbo never sees the data, as everything is processed locally on your phone. Before deleting the tweets, it archives them to a Memories tab of its app. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to export the tweets from there, but Jumbo is building Dropbox and iCloud connectivity soon, which will work retroactively to download your tweets. Twitter’s API limits mean it can only erase 3,200 tweets of yours every few days, so prolific tweeters may require several rounds.

Its other integrations are more straightforward. On Google, it deletes your search history. For Alexa, it deletes the voice recordings stored by Amazon. Next it wants to build a way to clean out your old Instagram photos and videos, and your old Tinder matches and chat threads.

Across the board, Jumbo is designed to never see any of your data. “There isn’t a server-side component that we own that processes your data in the cloud,” Valade says. Instead, everything is processed locally on your phone. That means, in theory, you don’t have to trust Jumbo with your data, just to properly alter what’s out there. The startup plans to open source some of its stack to prove it isn’t spying on you.

While there are other apps that can clean your tweets, nothing else is designed to be a full-fledged privacy assistant. Perhaps it’s a bit of idealism to think these tech giants will permit Jumbo to run as intended. Valade says he hopes if there’s enough user support, the privacy backlash would be too big if the tech giants blocked Jumbo. “If the social network blocks us, we will disable the integration in Jumbo until we can find a solution to make them work again.”

But even if it does get nixed by the platforms, Jumbo will have started a crucial conversation about how privacy should be handled offline. We’ve left control over privacy defaults to companies that earn money when we’re less protected. Now it’s time for that control to shift to the hands of the user.

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Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

Posted by | augmented reality, blockchain, content, Distributed Ledger, Entertainment, events, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, live tv, live tv streaming, Media, music streaming, Northzone, Personnel, PJ Parson, slush, Startups, streaming, Talent, TC, television, tv, tv streaming, Venture Capital, Video, video streaming, Virtual reality | No Comments

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

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Torch takes $10M to teach empathy to executives

Posted by | Apps, Enterprise, funding, Fundings & Exits, Health, mental health, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups, Talent, TC, therapy | No Comments

When everyone always tells you “yes,” you can become a monster. Leaders especially need honest feedback to grow. “If you look at rich people like Donald Trump and you neglect them, you get more Donald Trumps,” says Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough about our gruff president. His app wants to make executive coaching (a polite word for therapy) part of even the busiest executive’s schedule. Torch conducts a 360-degree interview with a client and their employees to assess weaknesses, lays out improvement goals and provides one-on-one video chat sessions with trained counselors.

“Essentially we’re trying to help that person develop the capacity to be a more loving human being in the workplace,” Yarbrough explains. That’s crucial in the age of “hustle porn,” where everyone tries to pretend they’re working all the time and constantly “crushing it.” That can leave leaders facing challenges feeling alone and unworthy. Torch wants to provide a private place to reach out for a helping hand or shoulder to cry on.

Now Torch is ready to lead the way to better management for more companies, as it’s just raised a  $10 million Series A round led by Norwest Venture Partners, along with Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and West Ventures. It already has 100 clients, including Reddit and Atrium, but the new cash will fuel its go-to market strategy. Rather than trying to democratize access to coaching, Torch is doubling-down on teaching founders, C-suites and other senior executives how to care… or not care too much.

“I came out of a tough family myself and I had to do a ton of therapy and a ton of meditation to emerge and be an effective leader myself,” Yarbrough recalls. “Philosophically, I care about personal growth. It’s just true all the way down to birth for me. What I’m selling is authentic to who I am.”

Torch’s co-founders met when they were in grad school for counseling psychology degrees, practicing group therapy sessions together. Yarbrough went on to practice clinically and start Well Clinic in the Bay Area, while Keegan Walden got his PhD. Yarbrough worked with married couples to resolve troubles, and “the next thing I know I was working with high-profile startup founders, who like anybody have their fair share of conflicts.”

Torch co-founders (from left): Cameron Yarbrough and Keegan Walden

Coaching romantic partners to be upfront about expectations and kind during arguments translated seamlessly to keep co-founders from buckling under stress. As Yarbrough explains, “I was noticing that they were consistently having problems with five different things:

1. Communication – Surfacing problems early with kindness

2. Healthy workplace boundaries – Making sure people don’t step on each others’ toes

3. How to manage conflict in a healthy way – Staying calm and avoiding finger-pointing

4. How to be positively influential – Being motivational without being annoying or pushy

5. How to manage one’s ego, whether that’s insecurity or narcissism – Seeing the team’s win as the first priority

To address those, companies hire Torch to coach one or more of their executives. Torch conducts extensive 360-degree interviews with the exec, as well as their reports, employees and peers. It seeks to score them on empathy, visionary thinking, communication, conflict, management and collaboration, Torch then structures goals and improvement timelines that it tracks with follow-up interviews with the team and quantifiable metrics that can all be tracked by HR through a software dashboard.

To make progress on these fronts, execs do video chat sessions through Torch’s app with coaches trained in these skills. “These are all working people with by nature very tight schedules. They don’t have time to come in for a live session so we come to them in the form of video,” Yarbrough tells me. Rates vary from $500 per month to $1,500 per month for a senior coach in the U.S., Europe, APAC or EMEA, with Torch scoring a significant margin. “We’re B2B only. We’re not focused on being the most affordable solution. We’re focused on being the most effective. And we find that there’s less price sensitivity for senior leaders where the cost of their underperformance is incredibly high to the organization.” Torch’s top source of churn is clients’ going out of business, not ceasing to want its services.

Here are two examples of how big-wigs get better with Torch. “Let’s say we have a client who really just wants to be liked all the time, so much so that they have a hard time getting things done. The feedback from the 360 would come back like ‘I find that Cameron is continually telling me what I want to hear but I don’t know what the expectations are of me and I need him to be more direct,’ ” Yarbrough explains. “The problem is those leaders will eventually fire those people who are failing, but they’ll say they had no idea they weren’t performing because he never told them.” Torch’s coaches can teach them to practice tough-love when necessary and to be more transparent. Meanwhile, a boss who storms around the office and “is super-direct and unkind” could be instructed on how to “develop more empathic attunement.”

Yarbrough specifically designed Torch’s software to not be too prescriptive and leave room for the relationship between the coach and client to unfold. And for privacy, coaches don’t record notes and HR only sees the performance goals and progress, not the content of the video chats. It wants execs to feel comfortable getting real without the worry their personal or trade secrets could leak. “And if someone is bringing in something about trauma or that’s super-sensitive about their personal life, their coach will refer them out to psychotherapists,” Yarbrough assures me.

Torch’s direct competition comes from boutique executive coaching firms around the world, while on the tech side, BetterUp is trying to make coaching scale to every type of employee. But its biggest foe is the stubborn status quo of stiff-upper-lipping it.

The startup world has been plagued by too many tragic suicides, deep depression and paralyzing burnout. It’s easy for founders to judge their own worth not by self-confidence or even the absolute value of their accomplishments, but by their status relative to yesterday. That means one blown deal, employee quitting or product delay can make an executive feel awful. But if they turn to their peers or investors, it could hurt their partnership and fundraising prospects. To keep putting in the work, they need an emotional outlet.

“We ultimately have to create this great software that super-powers human beings. People are not robots yet. They will be someday, but not yet,” Yarbrough concludes with a laugh. IQ alone doesn’t make people succeed. Torch can help them develop the EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, they need to become a boss that’s looked up to.

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India’s Mswipe raises $30M to grow its smart point-of-sale terminal business

Posted by | Android, Asia, b capital, ceo, Co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, Facebook, Finance, financial services, funding, Fundings & Exits, india, inventory management, manish patel, money, online payments, Turkey | No Comments

Mswipe, an Indian fintech company that develops point-of-sale terminals for merchants, has pulled $30 million in new funding as it bids to triple its reach to 1.5 million merchants over the next year.

The company’s previous funding as a Series D in 2017 that ended up at just over $40 million, thanks to a $10 million extension from B Capitalthe investment firm set up by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin that’s backed by BCG. This time around, B Capital has provided the funding alongside other returning investors that include Falcon Edge, Epiq Capital and DSG Growth Partners. The deal takes the startup to $95 million raised to date.

We wrote extensively about the company’s strategy back at the time of that 2017 round, and essentially the thesis is that POS devices remain essential despite the proliferation of new fintech like mobile wallets. With that in mind, Mswipe makes its terminals cheaper than the competition while it can also work on more limited internet connections, even 2G, to help merchants and retailers in more remote areas or those on a modest budget.

More critically, Mswipe CEO and founder Manish Patel believes the country is “ripe for disruption” because it has so few terminals. With less than three million terminals in operation across the whole of India, even Turkey, with a significantly smaller population of 80 million, has more.

Right now, Mswipe claims to have reached over 400,000 merchants — up from 290,000 at the end of 2017 — and Patel said today that the aim is to grow that figure to 1.5 million over the next year.

To reach that ambitious target, Mswipe is once again trying to put more than just a terminal inside a terminal.

Beyond offering hardware that simply works and ties into newer types of payment, Mswipe has a vision of additional services for merchants. It is developing a new ‘smart’ POS — Wise POS Plus — that is developed on Android which allows applications like billing, inventory management and logistics to be pulled in, too. Indeed, the second piece to that is its own dedicated app store — MoneyStore — which is in development now and is aimed at housing a suite of productivity apps and related services for smaller retailers.

Mswipe is betting on a new Android-based smart terminal that will give its merchants access to productivity and management apps, too

“WisePOS Plus… powered by a suite of productivity apps, can enable a merchant to save thousands of rupees and hundreds of hours that go into running computer-based billing and inventory solutions with integrated payments. At the same time, we are also creating a huge opportunity for app developers with MoneyStore,” Patel said in a prepated statement.

The second major prong that he believes can bring this growth is the adoption of UPI, the government-backed real-time payments system in India. Mswipe said it is “all set to enable” the system which will allow QR payments at terminals. Mswipe is also working with lending startup Cashe on a co-branded card for consumers following a deal announced in December.

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Snap CEO’s sister Caroline Spiegel starts a no-visuals porn site

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, erotica, Evan Spiegel, funding, Fundings & Exits, Media, Mobile, pornhub, pornography, Recent Funding, Social, stanford, Startups, TC | No Comments

If you took the photos and videos out of pornography, could it appeal to a new audience? Caroline Spiegel’s first startup Quinn aims to bring some imagination to adult entertainment. Her older brother, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, spent years trying to convince people his app wasn’t just for sexy texting. Now Caroline is building a website dedicated to sexy text and audio. The 22-year-old college senior tells TechCrunch that on April 13th she’ll launch Quinn, which she describes as “a much less gross, more fun Pornhub for women.”

TechCrunch checked out Quinn’s private beta site, which is pretty bare bones right now. Caroline tells us she’s already raised less than a million dollars for the project. But given her brother’s success spotting the next generation’s behavior patterns and turning them into beloved products, Caroline might find investors are eager to throw cash at Quinn. That’s especially true given she’s taking a contrarian approach. There will be no imagery on Quinn.

Caroline explains that “There’s no visual content on the site — just audio and written stories. And the whole thing is open source, so people can submit content and fantasies, etc. Everything is vetted by us before it goes on the site.” The computer science major is building Quinn with a three-woman team of her best friends she met while at Stanford, including Greta Meyer, though they plan to relocate to LA after graduation.

“His dream girl was named ‘Quinn’ “

The idea for Quinn sprung from a deeply personal need. “I came up with it because I had to leave Stanford my junior year because I was struggling with anorexia and sexual dysfunction that came along with that,” Caroline tells me. “I started to do a lot of research into sexual dysfunction cures. There are about 30 FDA-approved drugs for sexual dysfunction for men but zero for women, and that’s a big bummer.”

She believes there’s still a stigma around women pleasuring themselves, leading to a lack of products offering assistance. Sure, there are plenty of porn sites, but few are explicitly designed for women, and fewer stray outside of visual content. Caroline says photos and videos can create body image pressure, but with text and audio, anyone can imagine themselves in a scene. “Most visual media perpetuates the male gaze … all mainstream porn tells one story … You don’t have to fit one idea of what a woman should look like.”

That concept fits with the startup’s name “Quinn,” which Caroline says one of her best guy friends thought up. “He said this girl he met — his dream girl — was named ‘Quinn.’ ”

Caroline took to Reddit and Tumblr to find Quinn’s first creators. Reddit stuck to text and links for much of its history, fostering the kinky literature and audio communities. And when Tumblr banned porn in December, it left a legion of adult content makers looking for a new home. “Our audio ranges from guided masturbation to overheard sex, and there’s also narrated stories. It’s literally everything. Different strokes for different for folks, know what I mean?” Caroline says with a cheeky laugh.

To establish its brand, Quinn is running social media influencer campaigns where “The basic idea is to make people feel like it’s okay to experience pleasure. It’s hard to make something like masturbation cool, so that’s a little bit of a lofty goal. We’re just trying to make it feel okay, and even more okay than it is for men.”

As for the business model, Caroline’s research found younger women were embarrassed to pay for porn. Instead, Quinn plans to run ads, though there could be commerce opportunities too. And because the site doesn’t bombard users with nude photos or hardcore videos, it might be able to attract sponsors that most porn sites can’t.

Evan is “very supportive”

Until monetization spins up, Quinn has the sub-$1 million in funding that Caroline won’t reveal the source of, though she confirms it’s not from her brother. “I wouldn’t say that he’s particularly involved other than he’s one of the most important people in my life and I talk to him all the time. He gives me the best advice I can imagine,” the younger sibling says. “He doesn’t have any qualms, he’s very supportive.”

Quinn will need all the morale it can get, as Caroline bluntly admits, “We have a lot of competitors.” There’s the traditional stuff like Pornhub, user-generated content sites like Make Love Not Porn and spontaneous communities like on Reddit. She calls $5 million-funded audio porn startup Dipsea “an exciting competitor,” though she notes that “we sway a little more erotic than they do, but we’re so supportive of their mission.” How friendly.

Quinn’s biggest rival will likely be outdated but institutionalized site Literotica, which SimilarWeb ranks as the 60th most popular adult website, 631st most visited site overall, showing it gets 53 million hits per month. But the fact that Literotica looks like a web 1.0 forum yet has so much traffic signals a massive opportunity for Quinn. With rules prohibiting Quinn from launching native mobile apps, it will have to put all its effort into making its website stand out if it’s going to survive.

But more than competition, Caroline fears that Quinn will have to convince women to give its style of porn a try. “Basically, there’s this idea that for men, masturbation is an innate drive and for women it’s a ‘could do without it, could do with it.’ Quinn is going to have to make a market alongside a product and that terrifies me,” Caroline says, her voice building with enthusiasm. “But that’s what excites me the most about it, because what I’m banking on is if you’ve never had chocolate before, you don’t know. But once you have it, you start craving it. A lot of women haven’t experienced raw, visceral pleasure before, [but once we help them find it] we’ll have momentum.”

Most importantly, Quinn wants all women to feel they have rightful access to whatever they fancy. “It’s not about deserving to feel great. You don’t have to do Pilates to use this. You don’t have to always eat right. There’s no deserving with our product. Our mission is for women to be more in touch with themselves and feel fucking great. It’s all about pleasure and good vibes.”

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