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Oura raises $28 million for its health and sleep tracking ring

Posted by | ceo, Eurie Kim, forerunner ventures, Gadgets, Google, Gradient Ventures, hardware, Health, jack dorsey, Jesse Dorogusker, oura, Oura Ring, Recent Funding, Square, Startups, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Smart rings are still a relatively young category in the wearable hardware world, but the Oura Ring seems to be a standout in terms of early success. The Oura Ring hardware is sleek and packed with sensors, allowing it to measure a user’s sleep patterns, take your body temperature and track activity, and now Oura has raised $28 million in Series B funding to bring on new key hires and product updates.

In a Medium post announcing the raise, Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai revealed that to date, the company has sold over 150,000 of its rings since launch (which was in early 2018) and that its team has grown to over 100 people globally. The Series B funding comes from Forerunner Ventures, which has a strong track record when it comes to direct-to-consumer product company investments, as well as from Gradient Ventures and Square.

Along with the investment, Oura gains two new board members, and one new board observer all with expertise in different aspects of the startup’s business: Forerunner’s Eurie Kim and Square’s hardware lead Jesse Dorogusker are the new board members, and Gradient partner (and former VP of engineering at Google) Anna Patterson joins as the observer.

Oura will be revamping its website and adding a new web-based portal for Oura Ring users that offers “actionable insights,” the company says, and it’s going to be doing more in terms of collaborating with academic researchers on ensuring its products measurements and guidance remain as accurate and useful as possible.

Oura prioritizes the role of sleep in terms of its contribution to health, and has also recently ventured into the realm of meditation, but it acts as a general fitness tracking device as well. It has attracted a number of fans among the plugged-in tech elite, too, including Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey. The company deserves kudos for delivering a solid, attractive and feature-rich gadget in a category that seemed like a tough sell in the early offing, and this new funding is a good vote of confidence.

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Twitter CEO’s weak argument why investors shouldn’t fire him

Posted by | Advertising Tech, africa, Apps, augmented reality, coronavirus, cryptocurrency, Drama, Elliott Management, Finance, jack dorsey, Mobile, Personnel, Policy, Social, Square, Talent, TC, Twitter, vine | No Comments

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey might not spend six months a year in Africa, claims the real product development is under the hood and gives an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok. Today he tweeted, via Twitter’s investor relations account, a multi-pronged defense of his leadership and the company’s progress.

The proclamations come as notorious activist investor Elliott Management prepares to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO, Bloomberg reported last week. Sources confirmed to TechCrunch that Elliott has taken a 4% to 5% stake in Twitter. Elliott has previously bullied eBay, AT&T and other major corporations into making changes and triggered CEO departures.

…Focusing on one job and increasing accountability has made a huge difference for us. One of our core jobs is to keep people informed. We want to be a service that people turn to… to see what’s happening, to be a credible source that people learn from.

— Twitter Investor Relations (@TwitterIR) March 5, 2020

Specifically, Elliott is seeking change because of Twitter’s weak market performance, which as of last month had fallen 6.2% since July 2015, while Facebook had grown 121%. The corporate raider reportedly takes issue with Dorsey also running fintech giant Square, and having planned to spend up to six months a year in Africa. Dorsey tweeted that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!),” despite cryptocurrency having little to do with Twitter.

Rapid executive turnover is another sore spot. Finally, Twitter is seen as moving glacially slow on product development, with little about its core service changing in the past five years beyond a move from 140 to 280 characters per tweet. Competing social apps like Facebook and Snapchat have made landmark acquisitions and launched significant new products like Marketplace, Stories and Discover.

Dorsey spoke today at the Morgan Stanley investor conference, though apparently didn’t field questions about Elliott’s incursion. The CEO did take to his platform to lay out an argument for why Twitter is doing better than it looks, though without mentioning the activist investor directly. That type of response, without mentioning to whom it’s directed, is popularly known as a subtweet. Here’s what he outlined:

On democracy: Twitter has prioritized healthy conversation and now “the #1 initiative is the integrity of the conversation around the elections” around the world, which it’s learning from. It’s now using humans and machine learning to weed out misinformation, yet Twitter still hasn’t rolled out labels on false news despite Facebook launching them in late 2016.

On revenue: Twitter expects to complete a rebuild of its core ad server in the first half of 2020, and it’s improving the experience of mobile app install ads so it can court more performance ad dollars. This comes seven years late to Facebook’s big push around app install ads.

On shutting down products: Dorsey claims that “5 years ago we had to do a really hard reset and that takes time to build from… we had been a company that was trying to do too many things…” But was it? Other than Moments, which largely flopped, and the move to the algorithmic feed ranking, Twitter sure didn’t seem to be doing too much and was already being criticized for slow product evolution as it tried to avoid disturbing its most hardcore users.

On stagnation: “Some people talk about the slow pace of development at Twitter. The expectation is to see surface level changes, but the most impactful changes are happening below the surface,” Dorsey claims, citing using machine learning to improve feed and notification relevance.

Yet it seems telling that Twitter suddenly announced yesterday that it was testing Instagram Stories-esque feature Fleets in Brazil. No launch event. No U.S. beta. No indication of when it might roll out elsewhere. It seems like hasty and suspiciously convenient timing for a reveal that might convince investors it is actually building new things.

On talent: Twitter is apparently hiring top engineers “that maybe we couldn’t get 3 years ago.” 2017 was also Twitter’s share price low point of $14 compared to $34 today, so it’s not much of an accomplishment that hiring is easier now. Dorsey claims that “Engineering is my main focus. Everything else follows from that.” Yet it’s been years since fail whales were prevalent, and the core concern now is that there’s not enough to do on Twitter, rather than what it does offer doesn’t function well.

On Jack himself: Dorsey says he should have added more context “about my intention to spend a few months in Africa this year,” including its growing population that’s still getting online. Yet the “Huge opportunity especially for young people to join Twitter” seemed far from his mind as he focused on how crypto trading was driving adoption of Square’s Cash App.

“I need to reevaluate” the plan to work from Africa “in light of COVID-19 and everything else going on.” That makes coronavirus a nice scapegoat for the decision while the phrase “everything else” is doing some very heavy lifting in the face of Elliott’s activist investing.

Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On fighting harassment: Nothing. The fact that Twitter’s most severe ongoing problem doesn’t even get a mention should clue you in to how many troubles have stacked up in front of Dorsey.

Running Twitter is a big job. So big it’s seen a slew of leaders ranging from founders like Ev Williams to hired guns like Dick Costolo peel off after mediocre performance. If Dorsey wants to stay CEO, that should be his full-time, work-from-headquarters gig.

This isn’t just another business. Twitter is a crucial communications utility for the world. Its absence of innovation, failure to defend vulnerable users and an inability to deliver financially has massive repercussions for society. It means Twitter hasn’t had the products or kept the users to earn the profits to be able to invest in solving its problems. Making Twitter live up to its potential is no side hustle.

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Why social networks want even more gaming

Posted by | augmented reality, ccp games, Facebook, Gaming, instagram, TC, Twitter, Virtual reality, virtual worlds, WeChat | No Comments

Even if you don’t play games, you have spent years of your life in one or more virtual worlds.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WeChat are lightweight versions of virtual worlds. They don’t offer terrain for avatars to explore, but they are neighborhoods within cyberspace where we store assets, develop relationships and, in some instances, might even choose to hide behind an alias.

The faces we present on these platforms are different from the ones we show our friends in person. While we usually use real names and photos, our presence on Twitter and Instagram is an avatar of sorts. What we do (and do not) post, how we say what we say, how we portray ourselves through selectively chosen (and often edited) photos — it’s an online persona. The aim — conscious and subconscious — is to build social capital within the particular cultural environment of these virtual spaces.

(This is part two of a seven-part series about virtual worlds.)

The social capital gained or lost within a virtual space can connect directly to social capital in the physical world. The worlds are separate but intertwined; what percent of news stories these days revolve around what someone posted on Twitter or Instagram?

Social media apps have virtual economies the same way as games like Fortnite do, they’re just smaller and involve fewer users thus far. There is constant trading of goods and services that exist only within the virtual world of a social app. For example, individuals and companies spend real money on trading Twitter handles, buying Instagram followers, purchasing special image filters and on Twitch memberships that put a badge next to their name to signify their status as a financial supporter of a specific streamer.

On this point, CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson told me, “there’s not much reality in reality anymore,” given how much of our daily lives in “the real world” are about creating, consuming and interacting online, noting that many social media influencers earn more money in these virtual worlds than factory workers can make building physical items.

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Daily Crunch: Twitter threads are getting easier

Posted by | Daily Crunch, Mobile, Social, Twitter | No Comments

Twitter is rolling out a “continue thread” button, ViacomCBS has big plans for its streaming service and Morgan Stanley acquires E-Trade. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 20, 2020.

1. Twitter adds a button so you can thread your shower thoughts

Twitter is adding a new feature for mobile users to make it easier to link dispersed tweets together. Per 9to5Mac, the feature — which Twitter tweeted about yesterday — is slowly rolling out to its iOS app. (At the time of writing we spotted it in Europe.)

The feature lets you pull down as you’re composing a tweet to create a thread, or to see a “continue thread” option.

2. CBS All Access to gain content from Nick, MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures & more

Until now, CBS All Access was of primary interest to Star Trek fans, but in today’s otherwise underwhelming Q4 earnings of the newly merged ViacomCBS, the company said the plan is to launch a new “broad pay” streaming service that will include CBS All Access content along with other ViacomCBS assets in film and TV.

3. What the $13B E-Trade deal says about Robinhood’s valuation

News broke this morning that Morgan Stanley, a banking behemoth, will buy E-Trade, an online brokerage and financial services firm, for around $13 billion in stock. Meanwhile, Robinhood has about twice the accounts as E-Trade — but E-Trade probably has more assets under management. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. A group of ex-NSA and Amazon engineers are building a ‘GitHub for data’

Data is often highly sensitive and out of reach, kept under lock and key by red tape and compliance, requiring weeks for approval. So the aforementioned engineers started Gretel, an early-stage startup that aims to help developers safely share and collaborate with sensitive data in real time.

5. HungryPanda, a food delivery app for Chinese communities, raises $20 million

Founded in the United Kingdom, where its service first launched in Nottingham, HungryPanda is now available in 31 cities in the U.K., Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

6. Google gobbling Fitbit is a major privacy risk, warns EU data protection advisor

The European Data Protection Board has intervened to raise concerns about Google’s plan to scoop up the health and activity data of millions of Fitbit users. Google confirmed its plan to acquire Fitbit last November, but regulators are in the process of considering whether to allow the tech giant to gobble up all of Fitbit’s data.

7. Sling TV reports first-ever subscriber decline

This week, the company reported its first-ever decline in Sling TV subscribers, with a drop of 94,000 customers in the fourth quarter. Dish says the streaming service ended the year with 2.59 million total subscribers.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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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.]

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Twitter-backed ShareChat eyes fantasy sports in India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, dream11, Facebook, Gaming, Hotstar, india, sequoia capital, sharechat, Social, Twitter, Xiaomi | No Comments

The growing market of fantasy sports in India may soon have a new and odd entrant: ShareChat .

The local social networking app, which in August last year raised $100 million in a financing round led by Twitter, has developed a fantasy sports app and has been quietly testing it for six months, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

ShareChat’s fantasy sports app, called Jeet11, allows betting on cricket and football matches and has already amassed more than 120,000 registered users, the sources said. The app, or its website, does not disclose its association with ShareChat.

A ShareChat spokesperson confirmed the existence of the app and said the startup was testing the product.

Jeet11 is not available for download on the Google Play Store due to the Android maker’s guidelines on betting apps, so ShareChat has been distributing it through Xiaomi’s GetApps app store and the Jeet11 website, and has been promoting it on Instagram. It is also available as a web app.

Fantasy sports, a quite popular business in many markets, has gained some traction in India in recent years. Dream11, backed by gaming giant Tencent, claimed to have more than 65 million users early last year. It has raised about $100 million to date and is already valued north of $1 billion.

Bangalore-based MPL, which counts Sequoia Capital India as an investor and has raised more than $40 million, appointed Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, as its brand ambassador last year.

In the last two years, scores of startups have emerged to grab a slice of the market, and the vast majority of them are focused on cricket. Cricket is the most popular sport in India, just ask Disney’s Hotstar, which claimed to have more than 100 million daily active users during the cricket season last year.

Or ask Facebook, which unsuccessfully bid $600 million to secure streaming rights of the IPL cricket tournament. It has since grabbed rights to some cricket content and appointed the Hotstar chief as its India head.

So it comes as no surprise that many sports betting apps have signed cricketers as their brand ambassador. Hala-Play has roped in Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, while Chennai-based Fantain Sports has appointed Suresh Raina.

But despite the growing popularity of fantasy sports apps, where users pick players and bet real money on their performances, the niche is still sketchy in many markets that consider it betting. In fact, Twitter itself restricts promotion of fantasy sports services in many markets across the world.

In India, too, several states, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana, have banned fantasy sports betting. Jeet11 currently requires users to confirm that they don’t live in any of the restricted states before signing up for the service.

“It doesn’t help matters either that the fantasy sports business’ attempts at legitimacy involve trying to be seen as video games — a cursory glance at a speakers panel for any Indian video game developer event is evidence of this — rather than riding on its own merits,” said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet the Mako Reactor.

An executive who works at one of the top fantasy sports startups in India, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that despite handing out cash rewards to thousands of users each day, it is still challenging to retain customers after the conclusion of any popular cricket tournament. “And that’s after you have somehow convinced them to visit your website or download the app,” he said.

For ShareChat, which has been exploring ways to monetize its 60 million-plus users and posted a loss of about $58 million on no revenue in the financial year ending March 31, that’s anything but music to the ears. In recent months, the startup, which serves users in more than a dozen local languages, has been experimenting with ads.

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Instagram gives unfollow suggestions in new ‘following categories’

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Mobile, Social, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Instagram will now show you who you interact with least frequently in case you want to unfollow them. In an effort to help you keep your feed clean and relevant, today Instagram is launching “following categories” that divides the list of who you follow into batches, including “most seen in feed” and “least interacted with.” That way if someone annoying or boring is overwhelming your feed, or there’s someone whose content you’ve proven to not be interested in, you can easily remove them. Time to axe those courtesy and pity follows.

“Instagram is really about bringing you closer to the people and things you care about — but we know that over time, your interests and relationships can evolve and change,” a spokesperson tells me. “Whether you graduate, move to a new city, or become obsessed with a new interest and find a community, we want to make it easier to manage the accounts you follow on Instagram so that they best represent your current connections and interests.”

To access the feature, go to your profile, then “following,” then you’ll see the categories you can explore. You’re also able to sort who you follow by earliest to latest and vice versa, in case you want to clear out your earliest adds or make sure you actually care about the latest people you followed.

By increasing the density of high-quality posts in your feed and Stories by getting you to unfollow irrelevant accounts, Instagram could boost ad views. You’ll come across fewer lame posts that might make you close the app so you instead keep scrolling and fast-forwarding while racking up ad impressions. Instagram reportedly hit $20 billion in 2019 revenue according to Bloomberg.

I’ve been asking Twitter to build unfollow suggestions since 2013, but Instagram beat them to it. Even with filtered feeds, the algorithms can get things wrong and show too much of people you don’t care about.

Following back or adding someone who asks has become part of the modern-day social contract. It can be rude and cause drama to refuse, so people just bloat their following list. Manually sorting through, trying to remember who people are and if you see them too often or constantly ignore them can be a slow and emotionally draining chore. With Instagram now 10 years old, Twitter 14 and Facebook 16, we’ve had a long time to accidentally screw up our social graph.

Perhaps unfollow suggestions took this long because no app wants to overtly shame specific people. But Instagram’s approach via clear, quantifiable categories is just vague enough that you probably won’t screenshot them and show the friends it said to nix. With that sensitivity, Instagram has pulled off the rare feat of improving the user experience while simultaneously benefiting its revenue engine.

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Russia’s push back against big tech has major consequences for Apple

Posted by | Android, Apple, Column, Developer, donald trump, Google, hardware, huawei, LinkedIn, Messenger, Moscow, Pavel Durov, Policy, pornhub, privacy, russia, smart device, Tim Cook, Turkey, Twitter | No Comments
Josh Nadeau
Contributor

Josh Nadeau is a Canadian journalist based in St. Petersburg who covers the intersection of Russia, technology and culture. He has written for The Economist, Atlas Obscura and The Outline.

Last month, Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize Apple for not unlocking two iPhones belonging to the Pensacola shooter, another volley in the struggle between big tech and the world’s governing bodies. But even the White House’s censure pales in comparison to the Kremlin’s ongoing plans. Apple, as the timing would have it, also happens to be in Vladimir Putin’s sights.

The company’s long-running policy of not preloading third-party software onto its devices is coming up against a new piece of Russian legislation requiring every smart device to be sold with certain applications already installed, many of which are produced by the government. Inside the country, the policy has even been called the zakon protiv Apple, or the “law against Apple,” for how it disproportionately affects the tech giant. While the law was passed last November, the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service released the full list of apps only last week.

These regulations form the latest move in what’s turning out to be one of the largest national campaigns for digital control outside of Asia. These laws have been steadily accumulating since 2014 and are described as a way of consolidating sovereignty over the digital space — threatening to push companies out of the country if they fail to comply. Apple, for instance, will have to choose by July 1 whether maintaining access to the Russian market is worth making a revolutionary change in their policy. The same choice is given to any company wishing to do business in the country.

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Adding India to your business

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Asia, Brainly, Column, duolingo, FlixBus, india, LinkedIn, Netflix, Paytm, Snap, Snapchat, Spotify, Tinder, Truecaller, Twitter, Vyng, wattpad | No Comments
Kumar Shah
Contributor

Kumar Shah is the founder of Transit Capital, a cross-border VC firm that partners with growth-stage entrepreneurs building global champions.

At the start of recruiting season in business school, a top-tier consulting firm sent an invite to the entire class: “over your career, you will either be sitting with us or across from us. We would like to get to know you.”

If you’re building a large-scale technology startup, sooner or later, you should be having a conversation about the Indian market. India’s growth is often compared to China’s, but the big difference between these two markets is that India has an open internet infrastructure, where the best product wins.

In the last decade, Indian consumers have enjoyed the trifecta of cheap smartphones (courtesy of Android), some of the lowest data rates on the planet (courtesy of Mukesh Ambani’s telecom firm Jio) and rising disposable income. Most consumer startups from the U.S., Europe and China have already seen a large number of users organically adopt their product as hundreds of millions of Indians have come online.

Some examples:

  • for most of 2018 and 2019, Tinder was the highest grossing app in India
  • Quora and Pinterest are consistently in the top 30 most visited websites
  • India is the largest or second-largest user base for Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Linkedin, Twitter, Snapchat and many other platforms

Snapchat, in particular, has seen tremendous growth in the Indian market. In March 2019, Snap launched eight new languages — five of which are spoken in India. Consequently, the company reported in Q3 2019 that 6 million out of the 7 million new Daily Active Users added were from outside the U.S. Snapchat’s stock is up almost 3x in the last year, well ahead of Nasdaq’s performance in the same period.

As a cross-border investment firm investing in U.S. and European companies to help them grow in India, we thought it would be useful to share our conversations with growth-stage entrepreneurs about the Indian market. In this article, we will focus on consumer-facing (B2C and B2B2C) companies.

What segment of India do you want to target first? 

While everyone thinks of India as a singular 1.3 billion-consumer market, there are, in fact, multiple sub-segments that have their own characteristics and are acquired differently. The India 1 segment, arguably the most lucrative, constitutes the 25+ million Indians who have credit cards, form the 10 million iPhone install base and were Netflix’s first 500,000 users in the country. The India 2 segment requires products that work in languages other than English and potentially different product features (such as voice input). Snapchat is now focused on acquiring India 2 users with its new language strategy.

What are the best ways to acquire users in this segment?

The short answer is — it depends. If you are in a category (such as gaming) that appeals to a broad demographic and geography, strategic partnerships with mobile OEMs or unicorns building super apps (Paytm and PhonePe for example) will give you a high-volume distribution channel. If you are a wellness app that is focused on India 1 users only, then it makes sense to prioritize channels or partnerships, such as hospital chains in Tier 1 cities, to acquire that segment of users. If you already have organic traction in the country, look at your analytics (for example, cities where your users are based, price range of phone models being used and so on) to understand your initial set of power users.

What is your monetization and pricing strategy? 

The monetization strategy that worked in your existing market(s) may not work in the Indian market. From both an addressable base of paying customers (see the install base of credit cards above) to the ARPU, Asian markets have significantly lagged their western counterparts.

The good news is that with the strong adoption of Unified Payments Interface (UPI), a first-of-its-kind payments protocol that can be implemented by third-party applications, there is almost no friction (or costs) to receive payment amounts as small as two cents. When in India, you should be using UPI.

While Tinder found success with subscription billing at U.S. prices, Netflix entered India with a ~$7/month billing plan in line with their global rates but realized that growth would only come through innovations such as mobile-only plans at $2.80/month. Apple and Spotify have been clear that they want to target the mass market and launched with plans that are close to $1.50/month, a significant discount to their U.S. and European plans.

While these companies have found success with subscription billing, more likely monetization models are advertising led (YouTube) or freemium. Are there features in your product that you can charge a premium for while still offering a subset of the product for free (and cover your direct costs through advertising)? Are there partnerships (such as the ones that Netflix and Amazon Video have signed with Indian telcos) where you can get paid indirectly for your core product?

Build your costs in line with your target segment and pricing

Now that you have a better idea of your target market size and expected pricing, you should build a cost structure that is in line with expected revenues. Most of the companies we track have acquired their first five million customers (or more) in India with an initial team of one to three people on the ground. From both a team build out as well as customer acquisition cost point of view, most companies have been disappointed that they have invested in resources well ahead of understanding the size of their target market and expected revenues.

Find a local partner

If you aren’t setting up a local team in the near term, we recommend having a local partner/shareholder that is aligned with your business and plans. From regular follow-ups on strategic conversations to keeping tabs on changes in regulations, having someone local who understands your business is critical to your entry and expansion plans. Similar to the scrutiny that internet companies face in other countries, India is also drafting regulations for localized data storage and mandating a local point of contact for companies that have more than 5 million users.

For entrepreneurs building global champions, having an India strategy is essential and can form the beachhead to expand into Southeast Asia and the Middle East. As Mary Meeker has repeatedly noted in her annual report, India and Indonesia will be the first and third-largest open internet markets in the world.

What excites our team is that India is already home to significant user bases for early and growth-stage private companies such as Truecaller (100 million daily users), Quora (second largest market), Duolingo (10 million users), Brainly (20 million users), Wattpad (3 million users) and Vyng (14 million installs), while others such as FlixBus are actively setting up operations.

We hope you found the above information helpful. And if you are building a global technology company, we would like to get to know you.

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TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Posted by | Airbnb, Apple, Apps, Bing, Diversity, Drama, Education, Elon Musk, Facebook, Facebook Researchgate, giphy, Hack, hardware, HQ Trivia, microsoft bing, Mobile, Personnel, pi-top, Policy, Security, Social, Startups, TC, The Boring Company, Transportation, tufts, Twitter, WannaCry | No Comments

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at tips@techcrunch.com or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

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