M&A

America Movil acquires Nextel in Brazil for $905M

Posted by | America Móvil, brazil, latin america, M&A, Mobile, nextel brazil, nii | No Comments

Latin America continues to remain a focus for investors that are eyeing up its large population and growth potential. In the latest development, America Movil, the Latin American carrier that is part of the Carlos Slim empire, today announced that it would acquire Nextel in Brazil, owned by NII (formerly Nextel International), for $905 million. NII in turn said that once the deal is closed, it has received approval “to dissolve and wind up NII.”

This is a move to scale up an existing carrier in competition with existing large players like Telefonica (which co-owns Vivo with Portugal Telecom), Telecom Italia and Oi (owned by Telemar). America Movil already has an operation in the country, Claro, which it plans to merge with Nextel to “consolidate its position as one of the leading telecommunication service providers in Brazil, strengthening its mobile network capacity, spectrum portfolio, subscriber base, coverage and quality, particularly in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the main markets in Brazil.”

America Movil — based out of Mexico — has been on a consolidation spree, swallowing up other smaller holdings in a variety of markets in the region. In January, it acquired Telefonica’s assets in Guatemala and El Salvador respectively for $333 million and $315 million.

The Nextel Brazil deal will include buying a 70 percent stake in the carrier from NII, as well as a remaining 30 percent stake from AI Brazil Holdings BV, NII said today. AI Brazil Holdings is controlled by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, the company that owns Warner Music, Deezer and a number of other assets and investments. It had reportedly also been interested in increasing its share in the carrier, before agreeing to sell its stake altogether.

The acquisition is the final chapter for the struggling business, which had originally been the international division of Nextel but had spun out as a separate company before Sprint acquired Nextel in the US in 2005. NII’s focus had been mobile carrier operations across a range of developing markets but it struggled and had been through multiple bankruptcy processes.

“The announcement of this transaction marks the culmination of an extensive multi-year process to pursue a strategic path for Nextel Brazil and provides our best opportunity to monetize our remaining operating assets in light of the competitive landscape in Brazil and long-term need to raise significant capital to fund business operations, debt service and capital expenditures necessary to remain competitive in the future,” stated Dan Freiman, NII’s Chief Financial Officer, in a statement. “Management and our Board of Directors believe the transaction is in the best interest of NII’s stockholders.”

The deal represents a final chapter of sorts for the Nextel brand, which had been a trailblazer in the mobile market through its push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-style mobile service. This was was an early mover in the bigger wave of messaging services that competed with basic carrier SMS, and some came to think of it as the first mobile social network. Over time, though, the iDEN digital network that carried the service became outmoded and most carriers that offered iDEN-based services (including Nextel) discontinued them to focus on 3G and subsequent mobile technologies.

More generally, the acquisition underscores how a number of investors, willing to ride the waves of economic and political ups and downs in Latin America, continue to view the growth opportunities in the region.

NII — which is based out of Reston, VA — was traded on Nasdaq and had a market cap as of last market close, of just $322 million. The company currently has 3.3 million subscribers. But while it was reportedly looking for a buyer of the business in Brazil, its last remaining asset, for some time, this final price — at nearly three times its market cap — is a sign of how some might see locked up value in Nextel Brazil that exceeded all that.

Last week, Paypal and Dragoneer collectively committed $850 million towards MercadoLibre, a marketplace in Argentina. The week before that, SoftBank announced that it would set up a new $2 billion fund to invest in tech companies out of the region, and to help existing portfolio companies to expand there. (By coincidence, the SoftBank venture will be led by Marcelo Claure, who is also executive chairman of Sprint, which swallowed up the US part of Nextel years ago and eventually got acquired by SoftBank.)

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Turtle Beach is buying fellow gaming accessory maker Roccat

Posted by | Gaming, hardware, M&A, roccat, Turtle Beach | No Comments

There was a nice surprise morsel for those following Turtle Beach’s financials this week. In addition to a “record fourth quarter,” the headset maker announced that it has agreed to purchase fellow gaming peripheral company Roccat for $14.8 million in cash.

Turtle Beach is best known for creating gaming headsets for a wide range of different consoles, PCs and mobile devices. Picking up Germany-based Roccat will help the San Diego company further expand into additional peripherals like mice and keyboards. Turtle Beach is also hoping it will help expand its primarily U.S. and Europe-based sales into Asia, where Roccat has already made a dent.

In a press release tied to the news, Turtle Beach CEO Juergen Stark calls the deal “a key step in achieving our goal of building a $100 million PC gaming accessories business in the coming years.”

The complementary nature of the two companies’ product portfolios should certainly go a ways toward helping expand Turtle Beach’s brand. No word, however, on whether the company will continue to maintain the Roccat line in those markets where it’s already found some traction. Certainly that would make a lot of sense in the short term.

Turtle Beach expects the deal to close in Q2.

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Instagram founders say losing autonomy at Facebook meant “winning”

Posted by | anti-trust, Apps, elizabeth warren, Facebook, instagram, Kevin Systrom, M&A, mike krieger, Mobile, Policy, regulation, Social, SXSW, TC | No Comments

Rather than be sore about losing independence within Facebook, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom told me it was an inevitable sign of his app’s triumph. Today at South By South West, Systrom and fellow co-founder Mike Krieger sat down for their first on-stage talk together since leaving Facebook in September. They discussed their super hero origin stories, authenticity on social media, looming regulation for big tech, and how they’re exploring what they’ll do next.

Krieger grew up hitting “view source” on websites while Systrom hacked on AOL booter programs that would kick people off instant messenger, teaching both how code could impact real people. As Instagram grew popular, Krieger described the “incredi-bad” feeling of fighting server fires and trying to keep the widely loved app online even if that meant programming in the middle of a sushi restaurant or camping retreat. He once even revived Instagram while drunk in the middle of the night, and woke up with no memory of the feat, confused about who’d fixed the problem. The former Instagram CTO implored founders not to fall into the “recruiting death spiral” where you’re too busy to recruit which makes you busier which makes you too busy to recruit…

But thankfully, the founders were also willing to dig into some tougher topics than their scrappy startup days.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger (from left) drive to Palo Alto to raise their Series A, circa January 2011

Independence vs Importance.

“In some ways, there being less autonomy is a function of Instagram winning. If Instagram had just been this niche photo app for photographers, we probably would be working on that app for 20 year. Instead what happened was it got better and better and better, and it improved, and it got to a size where it was meaningfully important to this company” Systrom explained. “If this thing gets to that scale that we want it to get to which is why we’re doing this deal, the autonomy will eventually not be there as much because it’s so important. So in some ways it’s just an unavoidable thing if you’re successful. So you can choose, do you want to be unsuccessful and small and have all the autonomy in the world, or no?”

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 11: Mike Krieger speaks onstage at Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW)

Krieger followed up that “I think if you study . . . all the current companies, the ones that succeed internally eventually have become so important to the acquiring company that it’s almost irresponsible to not be thinking about what are the right models for integration. The advice I generally give is, ‘are you okay with that if you succeed?’ And if you’re not then you shouldn’t do the deal.” If the loss of autonomy can’t be avoided, they suggest selling to a rocket ship that will invest in and care for your baby rather than shift priorities.

Asked if seeing his net worth ever feels surreal, Systrom said  money doesn’t make you happy and “I don’t really wake up in the morning and look at my bank account.” I noted that’s the convenient privilege of having a big one.

The pair threw cold water on the idea that being forced to earn more money drove them out of the company. “I remember having this series of conversations with Mark and other folks at Facebook and they’re like ‘You guys just joined, do not worry about monetization, we’ll figure this out down the road.’ And it actually came a lot more from us saying “1. It’s important for us to be contributing to the overall Fb Inc . . . and 2. Each person who joins before you have ads is a person you’re going to have to introduce ads to.” Systrom added that “to be clear, we were the ones pushing monetization, not the other way around, because we believed Instagram has to make money somehow. It costs a lot to run . . . We pushed hard on it so that we would be a successful unit within Facebook and I think we got to that point, which is really good.”

But from 2015 to 2016, Instagram’s remaining independence fueled a reinvention of its app with non-square photos, the shift to the algorithm, and the launch of Stories. On having to challenge the fundamental assumptions of a business, “You’ve got maybe a couple years of relevance when you build a product. If you don’t reinvent it every quarter or every year, then you fall out of relevance and you go away.”

That last launch was inspired by wanting to offer prismatic identity where people could share non-highlights that wouldn’t haunt them. But also, Systrom admits that “Honestly a big reason why was that for a long time, people’s profiles were filled with Snapchat links and it was clear that people were trying to bridge the two products. So by bringing the two products [Feed and Stories] into one place, we gave consumers what they wanted.” Though when I asked anyone in the crowd who was still mad about the algorithm to hiss, SXSW turned into a snake pit.

Regulating Big Tech

With Systrom and Krieger gone, Facebook is moving forward with plans to more tightly integrate Instagram with Facebook and WhatsApp. That includes unifying their messaging system, which some say is designed to make Facebook’s apps harder to break up with anti-trust regulation. What does Systrom think of the integration? “The more people that are available to talk with, the more useful the platform becomes. And I buy that thesis . . . Whether or not they will in fact want to talk to people on different platforms, I can’t tell the future, so I don’t know” Systrom said.

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 11: Josh Constine, Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom speak onstage at Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW)

Krieger recommended Facebook try to prove users want that cross-app messaging before embarking on a giant engineering challenge of merging their backends. When I asked if Systrom ever had a burning desire to Instagram Direct message a WhatsApp user, he admitted “Personally, no.” But in a show of respect and solid media training, he told his former employer “Bravo for making a big bet and going for it.”

Then it was time for the hardest hitting question: their thoughts on Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to regulate big tech and roll back Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “Do we get our job back?” Systrom joked, trying to diffuse the tension. Krieger urged more consideration of downstream externalities, and specificity on what problem a break up fixes. He wants differentiation between regulating Facebook’s acquisitions, Amazon white-labeling and selling products, and Apple’s right to run the only iOS App Store.

Acquisition vs Competition

“We live in a time where I think the anger against big tech has increased ten-fold — whether that’s because the property prices in your neighborhood have gone up, whether it’s because you don’t like Russian meddling in elections — there are a long list of reasons people are angry at tech right now and some of them I think are well-founded” Systrom confirmed. “That doesn’t mean that the answer is to break all the companies up. Breaking companies up is a very specific prescription for a very specific problem. If you want to fix economic issues there are ways of doing that. If you want to fix Russian meddling there are ways of doing that. Breaking up a company doesn’t fix those problems. That doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t be broken up if they get too big and they’re monopolies and they cause problems, but being big in and of itself is not a crime.”

attends Interactive Keynote: Instagram Founders Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger with Josh Constine during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas

Systrom then took a jab at Warren’s tech literacy, saying “part of what’s surprised me is that generally the policy is all tech should be broken up, and that feels to me again not nuanced enough and it shows me that the understanding of the problem isn’t there. I think it’s going to take a more nuanced proposal, but my fear is that something like a proposal to break up all tech is playing on everyone’s current feeling of anti-tech rather than doing what I think politicians should do which is address real problems and give real solutions.”

The two founders then gave some pretty spurious logic for why Instagram’s acquisition helped consumers. “As someone who ran the company for how many years inside of Facebook? Six? There was a lot of competition internally even and I think better ideas came out because of it. We grew both companies not just one company. It’s really hard question. What consumer was damaged because it grew to the size that it did? I think that’s a strong argument that in fact the acquisition worked out for consumers.” That ignores the fact that if Instagram and Facebook were rivals, they’d have to compete on privacy and treating their users well. Even if they inspired each other to build more engaging products, that doesn’t address where harm to consumers has been done.

Krieger suggested that the acquisition actually spurred competition by making Instagram a role modeI. “There was a gold rush of companies being like ‘I’m going to be the Instagram of X . . . the Instagram of Audio, the Instagram of video, the Instagram of dog photos.’ You saw people start new companies and try to build them out in order to try to achieve what we’ve gotten to.” Yet no startup besides Snapchat, which had already launched, has actually grown to rival Instagram. And seeing Instagram hold its own against the Facebook empire would have likely inspired many more startups — some of which can’t find funding since investors doubt their odds against a combined Facebook and Instagram

As for what’s next for the college buddies, “we’re giving ourselves the time to get curious about things again” Krieger says. They’re still exploring so there was no big reveal about their follow-up venture. But Systrom says they built Instagram by finding the mega-trend of cameras on phones and asking what they’d want to use, “and the question is, what’s the next wave?”

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Gaming clips service Medal has bought Donate Bot for direct donations and payments

Posted by | api, bot, computing, discord, e-commerce, freeware, Gaming, M&A, operating systems, Patreon, PayPal, Shopify, social media platforms, Software, Steam, subscription services, TC, Twitter | No Comments

The Los Angeles-based video gaming clipping service Medal has made its first acquisition as it rolls out new features to its user base.

The company has acquired the Discord -based donations and payments service Donate Bot to enable direct payments and other types of transactions directly on its site.

Now, the company is rolling out a service to any Medal user with more than 100 followers, allowing them to accept donations, subscriptions and payments directly from their clips on mobile, web, desktop and through embedded clips, according to a blog post from company founder Pim De Witte.

For now, and for at least the next year, the service will be free to Medal users — meaning the company won’t take a dime of any users’ revenue made through payments on the platform.

For users who already have a storefront up with Patreon, Shopify, Paypal.me, Streamlabs or ko-fi, Medal won’t wreck the channel — integrating with those and other payment processing systems.

Through the Donate Bot service any user with a discord server can generate a donation link, which can be customized to become more of a customer acquisition funnel for teams or gamers that sell their own merchandise.

Webhooks API gives users a way to add donors to various list or subscription services or stream overlays, and the Donate Bot is directly linked with Discord Bot List and Discord Server List as well, so you can accept donations without having to set up a website.

In addition, the company updated its social features, so clips made on Medal can ultimately be shared on social media platforms like Twitter and Discord — and the company is also integrated with Discord, Twitter and Steam in a way to encourage easier signups.

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Loop acquires ScreenPlay to build its streaming library

Posted by | Apps, Loop, M&A, Media, Mobile, ScreenPlay, Startups, streaming service | No Comments

A new streaming startup called Loop Media is announcing its first acquisition — a 30-year-old company called ScreenPlay.

While you may not have heard of ScreenPlay, the company has licensed a library of 200,000 music videos and movie/game/TV trailers, which it broadcasts in thousands of venues for partners like Hard Rock Cafe, Norwegian Cruise Line, Yard House, Buffalo Wild Wings and Caesars Entertainment.

This announcement comes just a week after Loop officially came out of stealth — and in fact, co-founder and CEO Jon Niermann (previously an executive at EA and Disney) said he’s always seen ScreenPlay’s content library as the foundation for Loop’s business.

It also sounds like this deepens an existing relationship, with Loop previously making a minority investment in ScreenPlay. The idea is to preserve and even grow ScreenPlay’s existing business — bringing video to out-of-home locations — while also introducing new technology into the mix, including a mobile app for short-form video.

“[ScreenPlay] is a company that generates millions in top-line revenue, it’s profitable,” Niermann said. “As technology has evolved and been updated, we want to come in with our team and really help them grow that.”

There are plenty of other mobile apps featuring short videos, but Niermann said Loop can now take advantage of ScreenPlay’s content library, and also connect the venue experience with the app. In addition, he said Loop is building “a very streamlined, slick app” that offers better curation than most video services, as well as “a strong social component.”

The acquisition was for an undisclosed price, combining both cash and stock. Niermann noted that “the ScreenPlay team remains intact,” with founder and chairman Mark Vrieling joining Loop as its chief content officer.

He added that existing ScreenPlay customers will not experience any interruption in their service. The plan is to launch the Loop app and an improved ScreenPlay screencast system in the next six months.

“[The business] is going to be a hybrid,” he said. “We wanted to continue to have the business roots, so to speak, but everybody’s mobile, everybody’s viewing everywhere. The question for us is, how do you create something that’s unique, that truly is a seamless experience?”

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Apple acquires talking Barbie voicetech startup PullString

Posted by | Apple, Apps, artificial intelligence, Developer, Entertainment, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, M&A, pullstring, Startups, TC, toytalk, voice apps, voice assistant | No Comments

Apple has just bought up the talent it needs to make talking toys a part of Siri, HomePod, and its voice strategy. Apple has acquired PullString, also known as ToyTalk, according to Axios’ Dan Primack and Ina Fried. TechCrunch has received confirmation of the acquistion from sources with knowledge of the deal. The startup makes voice experience design tools, artificial intelligence to power those experiences, and toys like talking Barbie and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString went on to raise $44 million.

Apple’s Siri is seen as lagging far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, not only in voice recognition and utility, but also in terms of developer ecosystem. Google and Amazon has built platforms to distribute Skills from tons of voice app makers, including storytelling, quizzes, and other games for kids. If Apple wants to take a real shot at becoming the center of your connected living room with Siri and HomePod, it will need to play nice with the children who spend their time there. Buying PullString could jumpstart Apple’s in-house catalog of speech-activated toys for kids as well as beef up its tools for voice developers.

PullString did catch some flack for being a “child surveillance device” back in 2015, but countered by detailing the security built intoHello Barbie product and saying it’d never been hacked to steal childrens’ voice recordings or other sensitive info. Privacy norms have changed since with so many people readily buying always-listening Echos and Google Homes.

In 2016 it rebranded as PullString with a focus on developers tools that allow for visually mapping out conversations and publishing finished products to the Google and Amazon platforms. Given SiriKit’s complexity and lack of features, PullString’s Converse platform could pave the way for a lot more developers to jump into building voice products for Apple’s devices.

We’ve reached out to Apple and PullString for more details about whether PullString and ToyTalk’s products will remain available.

The startup raised its cash from investors including Khosla Ventures, CRV, Greylock, First Round, and True Ventures, with a Series D in 2016 as its last raise that PitchBook says valued the startup at $160 million. While the voicetech space has since exploded, it can still be difficult for voice experience developers to earn money without accompanying physical products, and many enterprises still aren’t sure what to build with tools like those offered by PullString. That might have led the startup to see a brighter future with Apple, strengthening one of the most ubiquitous though also most detested voice assistants.

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Another fine mesh

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon buys Eero, Eero, Gadgets, hardware, M&A, Opinion, Routers | No Comments

Amazon’s acquisition of mesh router company Eero is a smart play that adds a number of cards to its hand in the rapidly evolving smart home market. Why shouldn’t every router be an Echo, and every Echo be a router? Consolidating the two makes for powerful synergies and significant leverage against stubborn competition.

It’s no secret that Amazon wants to be in every room of the house — and on the front door to boot. It bought connected camera and doorbell companies Blink and Ring, and of course at its events it has introduced countless new devices from connected plugs to microwaves.

All these devices connect to each other, and the internet, wirelessly. Using what? Some router behind the couch, probably from Netgear or Linksys, with a 7-character model number and utilitarian look. This adjacent territory is the clear next target for expansion.

But Amazon could easily have moved into this with a Basics gadget years ago. Why didn’t it? Because it knew that it would have to surpass what’s on the market, not just in signal strength or build, but by changing the product into a whole new category.

The router is one of a dwindling number of devices left in the home that is still just a piece of “equipment.” Few people use their routers for anything but a basic wireless connection. Bits come and go through the cable and are relayed to the appropriate devices, mechanically and invisibly. It’s a device few think to customize or improve, if they think of it at all.

Apple made some early inroads with its overpriced and ultimately doomed Airport products, which served some additional purposes, like simple backups, and were also designed well enough to live on a table instead of under it. But it’s only recently that the humble wireless router has advanced beyond the state of equipment. It’s companies like Eero that did it, but it’s Amazon that’s made it realistic.

Build the demand, then sell the supply

It’s become clear that in many homes a single Wi-Fi router isn’t sufficient. Two or even three might be necessary to get the proper signal to the bedrooms upstairs and the workshop in the garage.

A few years ago this wasn’t even necessary, because there were far fewer devices that needed a wireless connection to work. But now if your signal doesn’t reach the front door, the lock won’t send a video of the mail carrier; if it doesn’t reach the garage, you can’t activate the opener for the neighbor; if it doesn’t reach upstairs, the kids come downstairs to watch TV — and we can’t have that.

A mesh system of multiple devices relaying signals is a natural solution, and one that’s been used for many years in other contexts. Eero was among the first not to create a system but to make a consumer play, albeit at the luxury level, rather like Sonos.

Google got in on the game relatively soon after that with the OnHub and its satellites, but neither company really seemed to crack the code. How many people do you know who have a mesh router system? Very few, I’d wager, likely vanishingly few when compared with ordinary router sales.

It seems clear now that the market wasn’t quite ready for the kind of investment and complexity that mesh networking necessitated. Amazon, however, solves that, because its mesh router will be an Echo, or an Echo Dot, or an Echo Show — all devices that are already found in multiple rooms of the house, and seem very likely to include some kind of mesh protocol in their next update.

It’s hard to say exactly how it will work, since a high-quality router necessarily has features and hardware that let it do its job. Adding these to an Echo product would be non-trivial. But it seems extremely likely that we can expect an Echo Hub or the like, which connects directly to your cable modem (it’s unlikely to perform that duty as well) and performs the usual router duties, while also functioning as an attractive multipurpose Alexa gadget.

That’s already a big step up from the ordinary spiky router. But the fun’s just getting started for Amazon.

Platform play

Apple has powerful synergies in its ecosystems, among which iMessage has to be the strongest. It’s the only reason I use an iPhone now; if Android got access to iMessage, I’d switch tomorrow. But I doubt it ever will, so here I am. Google has that kind of hold on search and advertising — just try to get away. And so on.

Amazon has a death grip on online retail, of course, but its naked thirst for an Amazon-populated smart home has been obvious since it took the smart step to open its Alexa platform up for practically anyone to ship with. The following Alexavalanche brought garbage from all corners of the world, and some good stuff too. But it shipped devices.

Now, any device will work with the forthcoming Echo-Eero hybrids. After all it will function as a perfectly ordinary router in some ways. But Amazon will be putting another layer on that interface specifically with Alexa and other Amazon devices. Imagine how simple the interface will be, how easily you’ll be able to connect and configure new smart home devices — that you bought on Amazon, naturally.

Sure, that non-Alexa baby cam will work, but like Apple’s genius blue and green bubbles, some indicator will make it clear that this device, while perfectly functional, is, well, lacking. A gray, generic device image instead of a bright custom icon or live view from your Amazon camera, perhaps. It’s little things like that that change minds, especially when Amazon is undercutting the competition via subsidized prices.

Note that this applies to expanding the network as well — other Amazon devices (the Dot and its ilk) will likely not only play nice with the hub but will act as range extenders and perform other tasks like file transfers, intercom duty, throwing video, etc. Amazon is establishing a private intranet in your house.

The rich data interplay of smart devices will soon become an important firehose. How much power is being used? How many people are at home and when? What podcasts are being listened to, at what times, and by whom? When did that UPS delivery actually get to the door? Amazon already gets much of this but building a mesh network gives it greater access and allows it to set the rules, in effect. It’s a huge surface area through which to offer services and advertisements, or to preemptively meet users’ needs.

Snooping ain’t easy (or wise)

One thing that deserves a quick mention is the possibility, as it will seem to some, that Amazon will snoop on your internet traffic if you use its router. I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news is that it’s not only technically very difficult but very unwise to snoop at that level. Any important traffic going through the router will be encrypted, for one thing. And it wouldn’t be much of an advantage to Amazon anyway. The important data on you is generated by your interactions with Amazon: items you browse, shows you watch, and so on. Snatching random browsing data would be invasive and weird, with very little benefit.

Eero addressed the question directly shortly after the acquisition was announced:

Hi Steve! eero and Amazon take customer privacy very seriously and we will continue to protect it. eero does not track customers’ internet activity and this policy will not change with the acquisition.

— eero support 👋 (@eerosupport) February 11, 2019

Maybe they would have eventually as a last-ditch effort to monetize, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now the bad news. You don’t want Amazon to see your traffic? Too bad! Most of the internet runs on AWS! If Amazon really cared, it could probably do all kinds of bad stuff that way. But again it would be foolish self-sabotage.

Free-for-all

What happens next is an arms race, though it seems to me that Amazon might have already won. Google took its shot and may be once bitten, twice shy; its smart home presence isn’t nearly so large, either. Apple got out of the router game because there’s not much money in it; it won’t care if someone uses an Apple Homepod (what a name) with an Amazon router.

Huawei and Netgear already have Alexa-enabled routers, but they can’t offer the level of deep integration Amazon can; there’s no doubt the latter will reserve many interesting features for its own branded devices.

Linksys, TP-Link, Asus, and other OEMs serving the router space may blow this off to start as a toy, though it seems more likely that they will lean on the specs and utilitarian nature to push it with budget and performance markets, leaving Amazon to dominate a sliver… and hope that sliver doesn’t grow into a wedge.

One place you may see interesting competition is from someone leaning on the privacy angle. Although we’ve established that Amazon isn’t likely to use the device that way, the fear doesn’t have to be justified for it to be taken advantage of in advertising. And anyway there are other features like robust ad blocking and so on that, say, a Mozilla-powered open source router could make a case for.

But it seems likely that by acquiring an advanced but beleaguered startup that was ahead of the market, Amazon will be able to make a quick entry and multiply while the others are still engineering their responses.

Expect specials on Eeros while stock lasts, then a new wave of mesh-enabled Echo-branded devices that are backwards compatible, mega-simple to set up, and more than competitive on price. Now is the time and the living room is the place; Amazon will strike hard and perhaps it will set in motion the end of the router as mere equipment.

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FanAI buys Waypoint Media to better track fan engagement for streaming monetization

Posted by | api, esports, FanAI, Gaming, Internet, M&A, New York, online platforms, TC, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, Waypoint, world wide web | No Comments

FanAI, an audience analysis platform for esports and streaming, is buying New York-based Waypoint Media to improve its analytics tools for esports players and streamers.

The deal means that Waypoint’s Twitch Middleware API and the “Raven” tracking and URL shortener will be added to FanAI’s product portfolio. The middleware tech has the ability to track every unique registered Twitch viewer so streamers can monitor average watch time, median watch time and channel engagement.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but a person with knowledge of the deal called the acquisition a significant all-cash transaction. That likely means a nice outcome for Waypoint’s backers, the New York-based investment firm Grand Central Tech.

FanAI founder and CEO Johannes Waldstein said of the acquisition, “The way they are able to turn billions of data points into workable information is like nothing else available on the market. We will be able to provide a deeper look at audiences with the new tools and having someone like Kevin join us will cement the FanAI services at the top of the industry.”

Using the Raven URL shortener, FanAI customers can follow the ways in which users browse on online platforms, the company said in a statement.

As part of the acquisition, Waypoint’s chief product officer Kevin Hsu joins FanAI as head of Engineering, the company said.

“Combining forces with FanAI is a perfect fit; we work with the same client base and have complementary solutions to the same problem. Traditionally, FanAI has focused on more static information including social and purchasing data, while Waypoint worked to gather digital movements of the audience. Combined, we can provide the best service by giving access to even more detailed and actionable data for clients,” said Hsu, in a statement.

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Adjust expands its anti-ad fraud tech by acquiring Unbotify

Posted by | ad fraud, Adjust, Advertising Tech, M&A, Mobile, Startups, Unbotify | No Comments

Adjust, a Berlin-headquartered company focused on mobile ad measurement and fraud prevention, is acquiring bot detection startup Unbotify.

Founded in 2012, Adjust has become increasingly focused on ad fraud, and in fact created an industry group called the Coalition Against Ad Fraud a little over a year ago. Co-founder and CTO Paul Müller argued that although the industry has become increasingly concerned about fraud, Adjust has led the way in taking a more proactive approach: “Instead of just telling our clients, ‘Hey, you just spent money on fraud,’ we actively intervened and rejected attribution to a fraudulent source.”

In Müller’s view, Unbotify fits in with the company’s broader philosophy because the Israeli startup isn’t just trying to detect bots — it also “produces explainable results,” providing a clear explanation of why an impression couldn’t have come from a real human being.

“We strongly believe fraud isn’t a problem that can be solved with a magical black box or eight ball,” he said. “Fraud should not be an opinion. We believe in clear, transparent measurement of why something is fraud.”

Adjust co-founder and CEO Christian Henschel said the entire 25-person Unbotify team will be joining the company, and will continue working as an independent office in Tel Aviv. In fact, Adjust plans to double the size of the team by the end of the year.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Unbotify was founded in 2015 by Yaron Oliker and Alon Dayan. According to Crunchbase, it raised $2 million in funding from Maverick Ventures Israel.

Ultimately, Henschel said, “What we’d like to achieve is to end fraud for digital media.”

Not that they think that Adjust alone can put a stop to all fraud. Instead, they hope to simply make it too costly and difficult for fraudsters to target Adjust customers.

“If you have a lot of houses on the street, and some of the doors are heavily fortified, most of the time [the thieves] will go with the door leaning open,” Müller said. “For us, the goal is not to eliminate fraud on an idealistic level, but actually to make it financially unviable.”

The announcement comes just a month after Adjust announced it was buying data aggregation company Acquired.io.

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Mobile payment co. Boku acquires Danal for up to $68M to add user authentication

Posted by | BOKU, Danal, M&A, Mobile, payments, TC | No Comments

After going public in the U.K. last year, Boku has made an acquisition to expand its carrier billing services, which let users bill to their mobile bills mobile content purchases from companies like Apple, Microsoft, Spotify and 152 other app and other content purveyors. Today, Boku announced the acquisition of Danal, Inc., a specialist in mobile identity and authentication services, so that it can offer more sophisticated transaction services and also to move into new areas.

Boku will pay up to $68 million for Danal, the company said. Specifically, the financial terms are described by Boku as a “reverse triangular merger” and include 26.7 million Boku common shares of $0.0001 each (“Common Shares”), $3 million of Boku warrants exercisable at 141p each and $1 million in cash, along with a deferred consideration of up to $64 million, “satisfied in Common Shares and warrants, dependent on Danal’s future performance,” which Boku also described as “challenging performance targets for Danal, thereby allowing both parties to share the benefits of efficiencies and growth.”

Danal, Boku said, will become a part of a U.S. subsidiary of Boku.

The market is not particularly excited by the deal it seems: the company’s stock has dropped by more than 23 percent in trading today. Boku currently has a market cap of around £168 million ($216 million), and it says that total payment volume in the 10 months to October was up 124 percent to $2.8 billion (versus $1.3 billion the year before), and monthly active users were 12.2 million in October, up 83 percent on a year before.

This is not Danal’s first transaction with a carrier billing service. In 2016, it sold a portion of its business, BilltoMobile, to Bango for $3.5 million.

Boku is buying the rest of the business left behind, with a view to building a bridge between the data that carriers have about their users and services that those users might engage with either on their mobile devices or through other digital channels. This could include expanding the range of purchases that you can make through carrier billing, but it could potentially also be applied to any service that either has a risk of fraud — such as financial or government-run services — or could use a carrier data to help authenticate the identity of the user.

“Charging purchases to your phone bill has proved a great way for the world’s largest digital companies to acquire and retain users, but has had fairly limited application outside digital content,” said Jon Prideaux, CEO of Boku, in a statement. “This Acquisition allows us to offer services that go further and to improve user quality for our customers while at the same time improving the mobile experience for users. Mobile commerce is booming, yet many tools were developed to support PC-based commerce. Danal has shown that MNO data can also combat fraud, reduce friction in signup and ensure regulatory compliance on mobile. These problems are relevant not just to our existing digital customers but also in other sectors including e-commerce, finance, transportation and government.”

Notably, this potentially could help Boku grow revenues in developed markets alongside the emerging markets where it is currently active.

Danal, based in San Jose, already counts financial institutions, government agencies and retailers as customers, including Western Union, BNP Paribas, PayPal, Square, MoneyGram, Login.gov and USAA.

Boku said Danal  generated revenue of $5.1 million and a loss before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization of $5.2 million for the full year that ended December 31, 2017. Liabilities as of that date were $10.3 million.

The bigger picture for mobile payments are that while they continue to grow, they are still just around one-third of all e-commerce transactions, according to recent figures collected over the opening weekend of holiday sales.

Within that, billing to carriers is just one part of the overall mix, and after accounting for others in the transaction chain, it makes for thin margins. This explains partly why Boku would be working on adding new revenue streams. But in emerging markets, carrier billing is a popular alternative among users who may not have bank accounts and payment cards. This latest deal for Boku should help it in that area, too.

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