Startups

AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Posted by | app-store, Apple, apple inc, augmented reality, consumer products, Developer, Emerging-Technologies, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, Google, hardware, Magic Leap, Market Analysis, mixed reality, Mobile, operating systems, smartglasses, Startups, TC, Virtual reality, Wearables | No Comments

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

Powered by WPeMatico

Oculus co-founder and games industry vets form Mountaintop Studios

Posted by | Developer, doublefine, Gaming, mountaintop studios, nate mitchell, Oculus, Startups | No Comments

Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell is heading up a new game development house called Mountaintop Studios, joined by colleagues from around the gaming industry. The company aims to leave the crunch and toxic culture pervasive in game studios behind and make one that’s “collaborative, anti-crunch, diverse and inclusive.”

The founding team includes Mitchell’s former colleague Mark Terrano, who was creative director at Oculus, Matt Hansen, former COO of Double Fine, and artist Rich Lyons, who worked at Naughty Dog and Vigil.

According to its webpage, Mountaintop will be creating “multiplayer games for players who crave a challenge,” though when I chatted with Mitchell and Hansen, they cited mostly single-player titles. The theme they came back to was growth and a journey: mystery, but also mastery.

As the company’s initial blog post puts it:

It isn’t just the thrill of victory. It’s looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. How you were forced to grow, adapt and improve. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re better than you were before. And sometimes, it’s sharing the joy of the climb with your friends.

While it’s too early for the team to reveal details on their first game, “We think we’re onto something,” Mitchell said. Considering the time and effort it takes to create a AAA game these days, and the fact that Mountaintop is currently only five full-timers, we can probably expect the first details no earlier than next year.

But the founders were clear that the company is also about getting away from the culture problems in game development.

“What we really want to do is have a studio that is people first,” Mitchell said. “There are so many folks across the industry who have just been burnt out by endless crunch. And the expectations around hours don’t allow for any sort of work-life balance. We want Mountaintop to be a place where people can come and still have that.”

But it isn’t just labor issues of crunch and overtime plaguing gaming. Racism and sexism that are endemic and evident in both the final products and companies themselves. And it must be said that the founders themselves follow one of the most common and unfortunate trends in the industry: All four are white men.

Mitchell and Hansen declined to make any specific commitments as far as diversity and inclusion go, despite those values being central to the new studio. They did, at least, acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of this pursuit.

“There’s no silver bullet for inclusivity, a lot of it is long-term work,” Mitchell said. “Because it’s a fresh studio, a fresh culture, we can start from scratch with the right foundation. We never thought when we kicked off the studio that we’d be launching in the middle of not just a pandemic, but a global conversation about institutionalized racism, police violence and injustice. So talking about that stuff internally, where we stand as individuals and as a company, that informs how we act as a company.”

“One of the earliest conversations we had was around getting the culture right. Our founders are all aligned in this,” added Hansen.

“There’s a bunch of micro things we can do every day,” continued Mitchell. “Setting our cultural values, making sure people understand those, driving toward inclusivity and diversity training, excellent hiring practices, working with community groups and integrating and supporting them, maybe recruiting from there.”

It’s a lot of promises and few concrete commitments, a common theme in tech and gaming these days. Having one’s heart in the right place is nice, but what the industries need is action. Hopefully the promises are preludes to lasting decisions, but only time (plus real and sustained effort on Mountaintop’s part) will tell.

Powered by WPeMatico

DoubleDown is going public: Why isn’t its IPO worth more?

Posted by | agora, Extra Crunch, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, IPO, Market Analysis, Mobile, Startups, TC, The Exchange | No Comments

Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.”

As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem.

Even more, with a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out.

So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go!

Fundamentals

Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right?

Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $273.6 million from $266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $25.1 million to $36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $85.1 million to $101.7 million over the same period.

Powered by WPeMatico

Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming

Posted by | App, Apps, Developer, Gaming, Mobile, self-care, selfcare, Social, Startups, TC, tru luv | No Comments

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry — she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades, including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with more than 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding, including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide — the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Graner Ray’s book ‘Gender Inclusive Game Design,’ which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a ‘mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation.’ That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code (Image Credits: Brie Code)

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challenge, and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, by Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind of response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for in an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures, which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director, Julius Mokrauer, actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Privacy assistant Jumbo raises $8 million and releases major update

Posted by | Apps, Balderton Capital, Fundings & Exits, Jumbo Privacy, Mobile, privacy, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

A year after its initial release, Jumbo has two important pieces of news to announce. First, the company has released a major update of its app that protects your privacy on online services. Second, the company has raised an $8 million Series A funding round.

If you’re not familiar with Jumbo, the app wants to fix what’s broken with online privacy today. Complicated terms of services combined with customer-hostile default settings have made it really hard to understand what personal information is out there. Due to recent regulatory changes, it’s now possible to change privacy settings on many services.

While it is possible, it doesn’t mean it is easy. If you’ve tried to adjust your privacy settings on Facebook or LinkedIn, you know that it’s a convoluted process with a lot of sub-menus and non-descriptive text.

Similarly, social networks have been around for more than a decade. While you were comfortable sharing photos and public messages with a small group of friends 10 years ago, you don’t necessarily want to leave this content accessible to hundreds or even thousands of “friends” today.

The result is an iPhone and Android app that puts you in charge of your privacy. It’s essentially a dashboard that lets you control your privacy on the web. You first connect the app to various online services and you can then control those services from Jumbo. Jumbo doesn’t limit itself to what you can do with APIs, as it can mimic JavaScript calls on web pages that are unaccessible to the APIs.

For instance, if you connect your Facebook account, you can remove your profile from advertising lists, delete past searches, change the visibility of posts you’re tagged in and more. On Google, you can delete your history across multiple services — web searches, Chrome history, YouTube searches, Google Map activities, location history, etc.

More fundamentally, Jumbo challenges the fact that everything should remain online forever. Conversations you had six months ago might not be relevant today, so why can’t you delete those conversations?

Jumbo lets you delete and archive old tweets, Messenger conversations and old Facebook posts. The app can regularly scan your accounts and delete everything that is older than a certain threshold — it can be a month, a year or whatever you want.

While your friends will no longer be able to see that content, Jumbo archives everything in a tab called Vault.

With today’s update, everything has been refined. The main tab has been redesigned to inform you of what Jumbo has been doing over the past week. The company now uses background notifications to perform some tasks even if you’re not launching the app every day.

The data-breach monitoring has been improved. Jumbo now uses SpyCloud to tell you exactly what has been leaked in a data breach — your phone number, your email address, your password, your address, etc.

It’s also much easier to understand the settings you can change for each service thanks to simple toggles and recommendations that you can accept or ignore.

Image Credits: Jumbo

A clear business model

Jumbo’s basic features are free, but you’ll need to buy a subscription to access the most advanced features. Jumbo Plus lets you scan and archive your Instagram account, delete your Alexa voice recordings, manage your Reddit and Dropbox accounts and track more than one email address for data breaches.

Jumbo Pro lets you manage your LinkedIn account (and you know that LinkedIn’s privacy settings are a mess). You can also track more information as part of the data breach feature — your ID, your credit card number and your Social Security number. It also lets you activate a tracker blocker.

This new feature in the second version of Jumbo replaces default DNS settings on your phone. All DNS requests are routed through a Jumbo-managed networking profile on your phone. If you’re trying to access a tracker, the request is blocked; if you’re trying to access some legit content, the request goes through. It works in the browser and in native apps.

You can pay what you want for Jumbo Plus, from $3 per month to $8 per month. Similarly, you can pick what you want to pay for Jumbo Pro, between $9 per month and $15 per month.

You might think that you’re giving a ton of personal information to a small startup. Jumbo is well aware of that and tries to reassure its user base with radical design choices, transparency and a clear business model.

Jumbo doesn’t want to mine your data. Your archived data isn’t stored on Jumbo’s servers. It remains on your phone and optionally on your iCloud or Dropbox account as a backup.

Jumbo doesn’t even have user accounts. When you first open the app, the app assigns you a unique ID in order to send you push notifications, but that’s about it. The company has also hired companies for security audits.

“We don’t store email addresses so we don’t know why people subscribe,” Jumbo CEO Pierre Valade told me.

Profitable by 2022

Jumbo has raised an $8 million funding round. It had previously raised a $3.5 million seed round. This time, Balderton Capital is leading the round. The firm had already invested in Valade’s previous startup, Sunrise.

A lot of business angels participated in the round as well, and Jumbo is listing them all on its website. This is all about being transparent again.

Interestingly, Jumbo isn’t betting on explosive growth and eyeballs. The company says it has enough funding until February 2022. By then, the startup hopes it can attract 100,000 subscribers to reach profitability.

Powered by WPeMatico

Flipboard rolls out Storyboards as a new way to highlight content

Posted by | apple news, Apps, ceo, film, Film Production, flipboard, george floyd, Media, Mike McCue, Mobile, National-Geographic, San Francisco, Social, Startups, Storyboard, TechCrunch | No Comments

Flipboard is giving news publishers and other curators on the platform a new way to highlight content through a format called Storyboards.

Until now, Flipboard has largely focused on its Smart Magazines, which are ongoing collections that mix human and algorithmic curation, allowing readers to dive deeply into and keep up-to-date on a given topic.

Storyboards, on the other hand, are more of a one-time collection of articles, videos, podcasts, tweets and other media. Content-wise, they may not be that different from an “everything you need to know about X” roundup article, but they give publishers an easy and visually stylish way to put those roundups together.

Publishers have already been beta testing it. For example, TheGrio created a Storyboard collecting the latest coverage of George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, while National Geographic curated a package of new and old stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. And TechCrunch tried it out by doing daily roundups of coverage coming out of last year’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

Flipboard Storyboards

Image Credits: Flipboard

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told me this is something curators have been asking for, as a way to “structure their curation better and be able to do better storytelling.”

He also said that Storyboards could be a great way to highlight different products and make money with affiliate links, especially since “curated commerce is something that will probably play more and more of a significant role in our revenue.”

Vice President of Engineering Troy Brant gave me a quick tour of the product, showing me how a curator can create different sections in a Storyboard, tweak the look of those sections and populate them with different kinds of content.

These new Storyboards can be discovered in Flipboard based on the topics with which the curator tags them. They’re also shareable and embeddable via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and email.

Flipboard Curator Pro

Image Credits: Flipboard

Brant noted that Storyboards are “complementary” with Flipboard magazines, as magazines can include Storyboards and Storyboards can include magazines. He also said the company is developing “more product capabilities” to highlight the best curation, whether that takes the form of a Storyboard or magazine: “That’s actually a work in progress at the moment.”

And Storyboards come with detailed analytics about how many people are viewing them, liking them, commenting on them, flipping them and more.

All of this is part of a new tool in Flipboard called Curator Pro, which is now available to all verified users in English-speaking countries, with plans for a more global rollout soon. Brant added that Storyboards are just the “first step” for Curator Pro, with more magazine curation tools and analytics on the way as well.

Powered by WPeMatico

Payfone raises $100M for its mobile phone-based digital verification and ID platform

Posted by | Apax Digital, Enterprise, funding, Mobile, Payfone, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

As an increasing number of daily and essential services move to digital platforms — a trend that’s had a massive fillip in the last few months — having efficient but effective ways to verify that people are who they say they are online is becoming ever more important. Now, a startup called Payfone, which has built a B2B2C platform to identify and verify people using data (but no personal data) gleaned from your mobile phone, has raised $100 million to expand its business. Specifically, Rodger Desai, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that plan will be to build in more machine learning into its algorithms, expand to 35 more geographies and make strategic acquisitions to expand its technology stack.

The funding is being led by Apax Digital, with participation from an interesting list of new and existing backers. They include Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, a division of Sandbox Industries, which connects corporate investment funds with strategic startups in their space); Ralph de la Vega, the former vice chairman of AT&T; MassMutual Ventures; Synchrony; Blue Venture Fund (another Sandbox outfit); Wellington Management LLP; and the former CEO of LexisNexis, Andrew Prozes.

Several of these investors have a close link to the startup’s business: Payfone counts carriers, healthcare and insurance companies, and banks among its customers, which use Payfone technology in their backends to help verify users making transactions and logging in to their systems.

Payfone tells me it has now raised $175 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation with this round, according to PitchBook, in April 2019 when it raised previously, it was valued at $270 million. Desai added that Payfone is already profitable and business has been strong lately.

“In 2019 we processed 20 billion authentications, mostly for banks but also healthcare companies and others, and more generally, we’ve been growing 70% year-over-year,” he said. The aim is to boost that up to 100 billion authentications in the coming years, he said.

Payfone was founded in 2008 amongst a throng of mobile payment startups (hence its name) that emerged to help connect consumers, mobile content businesses and mobile carriers with simpler ways to pay using a phone, with a particular emphasis on using carrier billing infrastructure as a way of letting users pay without inputting or using cards (especially interesting in regions where credit and debit card penetration and usage are lower).

That has been an interesting if slowly growing business, so around 2015 Payfone starting to move toward using its tech and infrastructure to delve into the adjacent and related space of applying its algorithms, which use authentication data from mobile phones and networks to help carriers, banks and many other kinds of businesses verify users on their networks.

(Indeed, the connection between the technology used for mobile payments that bypasses credit/debit cards and the technology that might be used for ID verification is one that others are pursuing, too: Carrier billing startup Boku — which yesterday acquired one of its competitors, Fortumo, in a $41 million deal as part of a wider consolidation play — also acquired one of Payfone’s competitors, Danal, 18 months ago to add user authentication into its own range of services.)

The market for authentication and verification services was estimated to be worth some $6 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $12.8 billion by 2024, according to research published by MarketsandMarkets. But within that there seems to be an almost infinite amount of variations, approaches and companies offering services to carry out the work. That includes authentication apps, password managers, special hardware that generates codes, new innovations in biometrics using fingerprints and eye scans, and more.

While some of these require active participation from consumers (say by punching in passwords or authentication codes or using fingerprints), there’s also a push to develop more seamless and user-friendly, and essentially invisible, approaches, and that’s where Payfone sits.

As Desai describes it, Payfone’s behind-the-scenes solution is used either as a complement to other authentication techniques or on its own, depending on the implementation. In short, it’s based around creating “signal scores” and tokens, and is built on the concept of “data privacy and zero data knowledge architecture.” That is to say, the company’s techniques do not store any personal data and do not need personal data to provide verification information.

As he describes it, while many people might only be in their 20s when getting their first bank account (one of the common use cases for Payfone is in helping authenticate users who are signing up for accounts via mobile), they will have likely already owned a phone, likely with the same phone number, for a decade before that.

“A phone is with you and in your use for daily activities, so from that we can opine information,” he said, which the company in turn uses to create a “trust score” to identify that you are who you say you are. This involves using, for example, a bank’s data and what Desai calls “telecoms signals” against that to create anonymous tokens to determine that the person who is trying to access, say, a bank account is the same person identified with the phone being used. This, he said, has been built to be “spoof proof” so that even if someone hijacks a SIM it can’t be used to work around the technology.

While this is all proprietary to Payfone today, Desai said the company has been in conversation with other companies in the ecosystem with the aim of establishing a consortium that could compete with the likes of credit bureaus in providing data on users in a secure way.

“The trust score is based on our own proprietary signals but we envision making it more like a clearing house,” he said.

The fact that Payfone essentially works in the background has been just as much of a help as a hindrance for some observers. For example, there have been questions raised previously about how data is sourced and used by Payfone and others like it for identification purposes. Specifically, it seems that those looking closer at the data that these companies amass have taken issue not necessarily with Payfone and others like it, but with the businesses using the verification platforms, and whether they have been transparent enough about what is going on.

Payfone does provide an explanation of how it works with secure APIs to carry out its services (and that its customers are not consumers but the companies engaging Payfone’s services to work with consumer customers), and offers a route to opt out of of its services for those that seek to go that extra mile to do so, but my guess is that this might not be the end of that story if people continue to learn more about personal data, and how and where it gets used online.

In the meantime, or perhaps alongside however that plays out, there will continue to be interesting opportunities for approaches to verify users on digital platforms that respect their personal data and general right to control how any identifying detail — personal or not — gets used. Payfone’s traction so far in that area has helped it stand out to investors.

“Identity is the key enabling technology for the next generation of digital businesses,” said Daniel O’Keefe, managing partner of Apax Digital, in a statement. “Payfone’s Trust Score is core to the real-time decisioning that enterprises need in order to drive revenue while thwarting fraud and protecting privacy.” O’Keefe and his colleague, Zach Fuchs, a principal at Apax Digital, are both joining the board.

“Payfone’s technology enables frictionless customer experience, while curbing the mounting operating expense caused by manual review,” said Fuchs. 

Powered by WPeMatico

Vivid is a new challenger bank built on top of solarisBank

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, Mobile, neobank, Startups | No Comments

Meet Vivid, a new challenger bank launching in Germany that promises low fees and an integrated cashback program. The two co-founders, Alexander Emeshev and Artem Yamanov, previously worked as executives for Russian bank Tinkoff Bank.

Vivid doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and is building its product on top of well-established players. It relies on solarisBank for the banking infrastructure, a German company with a banking license that provides banking services as APIs to other fintech companies. As for debit cards, Vivid is working with Visa.

If you live in Germany and want to sign up to Vivid, you can expect a lot of features that you can find in other challenger banks, such as N26, but with a few additional features. Vivid users get a current account and a debit card. They can then manage their money from the mobile app.

The physical Vivid card doesn’t feature any identifiable details — there’s no card number, expiry date or CVV. Just like Apple’s credit card in the U.S., you have to check the mobile app to see those details. Every time you make a purchase, you receive a notification. You can lock and unlock your card from the app. The card works in Google Pay but not yet in Apple Pay.

In order to make money management easier, Vivid lets you create pockets. Those are sub-accounts presented in a grid view, like on Lydia or N26 Spaces. You can move money between pockets by swiping your finger from one pocket to another. Each pocket has its own IBAN.

You can associate your card with any pocket. Soon, you’ll also be able to share a pocket with another Vivid user. Like on Revolut, you can exchange money to another currency. The company adds a small markup fee but doesn’t share more details.

As for the cashback feature, the startup focuses on a handful of partnerships. You can earn 5% on purchases at REWE, Lieferando, BoFrost, Eismann, HelloFresh and Too Good To Go, and 10% on online subscriptions, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Nintendo Switch Online. While it’s generous, you’re limited to €20 maximum in cash back per month.

Interestingly, Vivid also wants to bring back Foursquare-style mayorship. If you often go to the same bar or café and you spend more than any other Vivid user over a two-week window, you become the mayor and receive 10% cashback.

Vivid has two plans — a free plan and a Vivid Prime subscription for €9.90 per month. Prime users receive a metal card, more cash back on everyday purchases and higher withdrawal limits.

The company plans to launch stock and ETF trading in the coming months. Vivid also plans to expand into other European countries this year.

Vivid is entering a crowded market, but already offers a solid product if everything works as expected. It’s going to be interesting to see how the product evolves and if they can attract a large user base.

Powered by WPeMatico

Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra says recession is the ‘perfect time’ to be aggressive for well-capitalized startups

Posted by | coronavirus, COVID-19, ECL, email, Enterprise, Extra Crunch, Extra Crunch Live, Mobile, Rahul Vohra, Startups, superhuman, Work | No Comments

Email is one of those things that no one likes but that we’re all forced to use. Superhuman, founded by Rahul Vohra, aims to help everyone get to inbox zero.

Launched in 2017, Superhuman charges $30 per month and is still in invite-only mode with more than 275,000 people on the waitlist. That’s by design, Vohra told us earlier this week on Extra Crunch Live.

“I think a lot of folks misunderstand the nature of our waitlist,” he said. “They assume it’s some kind of FOMO-generating technique or some kind of false scarcity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real reason we have the waitlist is that I want everyone who uses Superhuman to be deliriously happy with their experience.”

Today, the app is only available for desktop and iOS. Superhuman started with iOS because most premium users have iPhones, Vohra said. Still, many users have Android, so Superhuman’s waitlist consists mostly of Android users.

“We don’t think that if we onboard them they’d have the best experience with Superhuman because email really is an ecosystem product,” he said. “You do it just as much on the go as you do from your laptop. There’s a lot of reasons like that. So if you’re a person who identifies that as a must-have, well, we’ll take in the survey, we’ll learn about you so we know when to reach out to you. Then when we have those things built or integrated, we’ll reach out.”

We also chatted about his obsession with email, determining pricing for a premium product, the impact of COVID-19, diversity in tech in light of the police killing of George Floyd and so much more.

Throughout the conversation, Vohra also offered up some good practical advice for founders. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

On competition from Hey, the latest buzzy email app

Yeah, I’m not at all worried. I used to get worried about this. You know, 10 years ago, even as recently as five years ago, I would get worried about competitors. But I think Paul Graham has really, really great advice on this. I think he says pretty much verbatim: Startups don’t kill other startups. Competition generally doesn’t kill the startup. Other things do, like running out of money being the biggest one, or lack of momentum or lack of motivation or co-founder feuds; these are all really dangerous things.

Competition from other startups generally isn’t the thing that gets you and you know, props to the Basecamp team and everything they’ve done with Hey. It’s really impressive. I think it’s for an entirely different demographic than Superhuman is for.

Superhuman is for the person for whom essentially email is work and work is email. Our users kind of almost personally identify with their email inbox, and they’re coming from Gmail or G Suite. Typically it’s overflowing so they often receive hundreds if not thousands of emails a day, and they send off 100 emails a day. Superhuman is for high-volume email for whom email really matters. Power users, essentially, though power users isn’t quite the right articulation. What I actually say is prosumers because there’s a lot of people who come to us at Superhuman and they’re not yet power users of email, but they know they need to be.

That’s what I would call a prosumer — someone who really wants to be brilliant at doing email. Now Hey doesn’t seem to be designed for that target market. It doesn’t seem to be designed for high-volume emailers or prosumers or power users.

Powered by WPeMatico

Admix raises $7M to bring more ads to games, VR and AR

Posted by | Admix, Advertising Tech, force over mass capital, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

Adtech startup Admix is announcing that it has raised $7 million in Series A funding.

The London-based company was founded by CEO Samuel Huber (previously owner of an indie gaming studio) and COO Joe Bachle-Morris (who previously worked in the ad agency world). The company is working to bring ads to games, esports, virtual reality and augmented reality.

In-game advertising is already a huge market, but Admix says it’s differentiated by focusing on building a product that supports game advertising at scale, where advertisers can bid programmatically through traditional ad-buying platforms, rather than relying on an ad agency model.

For developers, Admix offers an SDK for the Unity and Unreal game engines, allowing them to drag and drop into their games ad formats like billboards, posters and 3D spaces. The startup says it’s working with more than 200 developers and is running campaigns from more than 500 advertisers each month, with past advertisers including National Geographic, Uber and State Farm.

“The concept of putting ads in games is obviously not new, but the scalability of our solution is what is revolutionary, delivering instant and consistent revenue to game makers, or streaming platforms,” Huber said in a statement. “This coupled with the fact that 1.5B people play games globally every day, means that gaming is becoming a truly mainstream advertising channel.”

Admix previously raised $2.1 million, according to Crunchbase. The Series A was led by U.K.-based Force Over Mass, with the participation from Speedinvest, Sure Valley Ventures and Nigel Morris (a former Dentsu Aegis executive), as well as other angel investors.

Powered by WPeMatico