Accion Systems takes on $3M in Boeing-led round to advance its tiny satellite thrusters

Accion Systems takes on M in Boeing-led round to advance its tiny satellite thrusters
Accion Systems, the startup aiming to reinvent satellite propulsion with an innovative and tiny new thruster, has attracted significant investment from Boeing’s HorizonX Ventures. The $3 million round should give the company a bit of breathing room while it continues to prove and improve its technology.
“Investing in startups with next-generation concepts accelerates satellite innovation, unlocking new possibilities and economics in Earth orbit and deep space,” said HorizonX Ventures managing director Brian Schettler in a press release.
Accion, whose founder and CEO Natalya Bailey graced the stage of Disrupt just a few weeks ago, makes what’s called a “tiled ionic liquid electrospray” propulsion system, or TILE. This system is highly efficient and can be made the size of a postage stamp or much larger depending on the requirements of the satellite.
Example of a TILE attached to a satellite chassis.
The company has tested its tech in terrestrial facilities and in space, but it hasn’t been used for any missions just yet — though that may change soon. A pair of student-engineered cubesats equipped with TILE thrusters are scheduled to take off on RocketLab’s first big commercial payload launch, “It’s Business Time.” It’s been delayed a few times but early November is the next launch window, so everyone cross your fingers.
Another launch scheduled for November is the IRVINE 02 cubesat, which will sport TILEs and go up aboard a Falcon 9 loaded with supplies for the International Space Station.
The Boeing investment (Gettylab also participated in the round) doesn’t include any guarantees like equipping Boeing-built satellites with the thrusters. But the company is certainly already dedicated to this type of tech and the arrangement is characterized as a partnership — so it’s definitely a possibility.
Natalya Bailey and Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures) at Disrupt Berlin 2017.
A Boeing representative told me that this is aimed to help Accion scale, and that the latter will have access to the former’s testing facilities and expertise. “We believe there will be many applications for Accion’s propulsion system, and will be monitoring and assessing the tech as it continues to mature,” they wrote in an email.
I asked Accion what the new funding will be directed towards, but a representative only indicated that it would be used for the usual things: research, operations, staff expenses, and so on. Not some big skunk works project, then. The company’s last big round was in 2016, when it raised $7.5 million.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Kapwing is Adobe for the meme generation

Kapwing is Adobe for the meme generation

Need to resize a video for IGTV? Add subtitles for Twitter? Throw in sound effects for YouTube? Or collage it with other clips for the Instagram feed? Kapwing lets you do all that and more for free from a mobile browser or website. This scrappy new startup is building the vertical video era’s creative suite full of editing tools for every occasion.

Pronounced “Ka-pwing,” like the sound of a ricocheted bullet, the company was founded by two former Google Image Search staffers. Now after six months of quiet bootstrapping, it’s announcing a $1.7 million seed round led by Kleiner Perkins.

Kapwing hopes to rapidly adapt to shifting memescape and its fragmented media formats, seizing on opportunities like creators needing to turn their long-form landscape videos vertical for Instagram’s recently launched IGTV. The free version slaps a Kapwing.com watermark on all its exports for virality, but users can pay $20 a month to remove it.

While sites like Imgur and Imgflip offer lightweight tools for static memes and GIFs, “the tools and community for doing that for video are kinda inaccessible,” says co-founder and CEO Julia Enthoven. “You have something you install on your computer with fancy hardware. You should able to create and riff off of people,” even if you just have your phone, she tells me. Indeed, 100,000 users are already getting crafty with Kapwing.

“We want to make these really relevant trending formats so anyone can jump in,” Enthoven declares. “Down the line, we want to make a destination for consuming that content.”

Kapwing co-founders Eric Lu and Julia Enthoven

Enthoven and Eric Lu both worked at Google Image Search in the lauded Associate Product Manager (APM) program that’s minted many future founders for companies like Quip, Asana and Polyvore. But after two years, they noticed a big gap in the creative ecosystem. Enthoven explains that “The idea came from using outdated tools for making the types of videos people want to make for social media — short-form, snackable video you record with your phone. It’s so difficult to make those kinds of videos in today’s editors.”

So the pair of 25-year-olds left in September to start Kapwing. They named it after their favorite sound effect from the Calvin & Hobbes comics when the make-believe tiger would deflect toy gunshots from his best pal. “It’s an onomatopoeia, and that’s sort of cool because video is all about movement and sound.”

After starting with a meme editor for slapping text above and below images, Kapwing saw a sudden growth spurt as creators raced to convert landscape videos for vertical IGTV. Now it has a wide range of tools, with more planned.

The current selection includes:

  • Meme Maker
  • Subtitles
  • Multi-Video Montage Maker
  • Video Collage
  • Video Filters
  • Image To Video Converter
  • Add Overlaid Text To Video
  • Add Music To Video With MP3 Uploads
  • Resize Video
  • Reverse Video
  • Loop Video
  • Trim Video
  • Mute Video
  • Stop Motion Maker
  • Sound Effects Maker

Kapwing definitely has some annoying shortcomings. There’s an 80mb limit on uploads, so don’t expect to be messing with much 4K videos or especially long clips. You can’t subtitle a GIF, and the meme maker flipped vertical photos sideways without warning. It also lacks some of the slick tools that Snapchat has developed, like a magic eraser for Photoshopping stuff out and a background changer, or the automatic themed video editing found in products like Google Photos.

The No. 1 thing it needs is a selective cropping tool. Instead of letting you manually move the vertical frame around inside a landscape video so you always catch the action, it just grabs the center. That left me staring at blank space between myself and an interview subject when I uploaded this burger robot startup video. It’s something apps like RotateNFlip and Flixup already offer. Hopefully the funding that also comes from Shasta, Shrug Capital, Sinai, Village Global, and ZhenFund will let it tackle some of these troubles.

Beyond meme-loving teens and semi-pro creators, Kapwing has found an audience amongst school teachers. The simplicity and onscreen instructions make it well-suited for young students, and it works on Chromebooks because there’s no need to download software.

The paid version has found some traction with content marketers and sponsored creators who don’t want a distracting watermark included. That business model is always in danger of encroachment from free tools, though, so Kapwing hopes to also become a place to view the meme content it exports. That network model is more defensible if it gains a big enough audience, and could be monetized with ads. Though it will put it in competition with Imgur, Reddit and the big dogs like Instagram.

“We aspire to become a hub for consumption,” Enthoven concluded. “Consume, get an idea, and share with each other.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

Yesterday, we learned that 18-month-old, Bay Area-based electric scooter rental company Lime is joining forces with the ride-hailing giant Uber, which is both investing in the company as part of a $335 million round and planning to promote Lime in its mobile app. According to Bloomberg, Uber also plans to plaster its logo on Lime’s scooters.

Lime isn’t being acquired outright, in short, but it looks like it will be. At least, Uber struck a similar arrangement with the electric bike company JUMP bikes before spending $200 million to acquire the company in spring.

There are as many questions raised by this kind of tie-up as answered, but the biggest may be what the impact means for Lime’s fiercest rival in the e-scooter wars, 15-month-old L.A.-based Bird, which several sources tell us also discussed a potential partnership with Uber.

Despite recently raising $300 million in fresh capital at a somewhat stunning $2 billion valuation, could its goose be, ahem, cooked?

At first glance, it would appear so. Uber’s travel app is the most downloaded in the U.S. by a wide margin, despite gains made last year by its closest U.S. competitor, Lyft, as Uber battled one scandal after another. It’s easy to imagine that Lime’s integration with Uber will give it the kind of immediate brand reach that most founders can only dream about.

A related issue for Bird is its relationship with Lyft, which . . . isn’t great. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, burned that bridge when, not so long after Lyft acqui-hired VanderZanden from a small startup he’d launched and made him its COO, he left to join rival Uber.

Lyft, which sued VanderZanden for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement when he joined Uber,  later settled with him for undisclosed terms. But given their history, it’s hard to imagine Lyft — which also has a much smaller checkbook than Uber — paying top dollar to acquire his company.

Where that leaves Bird is an open question, but people familiar with both Bird and Lime suggest the e-scooter war is far from over.

For example, though Uber sees its partnership with Lime as “another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs,” two sources familiar with Bird’s thinking are quick to underscore its plans to expand internationally quickly and not merely fight a turf war in the U.S. (It already has one office in China.) 

That Sequoia Capital led Bird’s most recent round of funding helps on this front, given Sequoia Capital China’s growing dominance in the country and the relationships that go with it. Then again, Sequoia is also an investor in Uber, having acquired a stake in the company earlier this year, and alliances are generally temperamental in this brave new world of transportation. In just the latest unexpected twist, Lime’s newest round included not only Uber but also GV, the venture arm of Alphabet, which only recently resolved a lawsuit with Uber.

Another wrinkle to consider is the exposure that Lime receives from Uber, which could prove double-edged, given the company’s ups and downs. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, appears determined to steer the company to a smooth and decidedly undramatic public offering in another year or so. But for a company of Uber’s scale and scope, that’s a challenge, to say the least. (Its newest hire, Scott Schools —  a former top attorney at the U.S. Justice Department and now Uber’s chief compliance officer — will undoubtedly be tasked with minimizing the odds of things going astray.)

Lime’s arrangement with Uber could potentially create other opportunities for Bird. First, by agreeing to allow Uber to apply its branding to its scooters, Lime will be diluting its own brand. Even if Uber never acquires the company, riders may well associate Lime with Uber and think, for better or worse, that it’s a subsidiary.

Further, Uber does not appear to have made any promises to Lime in terms of how prominently its app is featured within its own mobile app. which already crams in quite a lot, from offering free ride coupons to featuring local offers to promoting its Uber Eats business.

Consider that in January 2017, Google added the ability to book an Uber ride to both the Android and iOS versions of its Google Maps service. Uber might have thought that a coup, too, at the time. But last summer, Google quietly removed the feature from its iOS app, and it removed the service from Android just last month. If there wasn’t much outrage over the decision, likely it’s because so few users of Google Maps noticed the feature in the first place.

Lime’s arrangement could prove more advantageous. Only time will tell. But everything considered, whether or not Bird flies away with this competition will likely owe less to Lime’s new arrangement with Uber than with its own ability to execute, including making its mobile app the kind of go-to destination that Uber has.

Certainly, that’s what BIrd’s flock would argue will happen. Yesterday afternoon, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia and a Bird board member, declined to discuss the Lime deal, instead emailing one short observation seemingly designed to say it all: “Travis [VanderZanden] is far more customer obsessed than competitor obsessed. That is a quality we look for in great founders.”

A Bird spokesperson offered an equally sanguine quote, saying that Bird is “happy to see our friends in the ride-sharing industry coalesce on the pressing need to offer a sustainable and affordable alternative to car trips.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

India’s Cashify raises $12M for its second-hand smartphone business

India’s Cashify raises M for its second-hand smartphone business

Cashify, a company that buys and sells used smartphones, is the latest India startup to raise capital from Chinese investors after it announced a $12 million Series C round.

Chinese funds CDH Investments and Morningside led the round which included participation from Aihuishou, a China-based startup that sells used electronics in a similar way to Cashify and has raised over $120 million. Existing investors including Bessemer Ventures and Shunwei also took part in the round.

This new capital takes Cashify to $19 million raised to date.

The business was started in 2013 by co-founders Mandeep Manocha (CEO), Nakul Kumar (COO) and Amit Sethi (CTO) initially as ‘ReGlobe.’ The business gives consumers a fast way to sell their existing electronics, it deals mainly in smartphones but also takes laptops, consoles, TVs and tablets.

“When we began we saw a lot of transaction for phone sales moving from offline to online,” Manocha told TechCrunch in an interview. “But consumer-to-consumer [for used devices] is highly opaque on price discovery and you never know if you’re making the right decision on price and whether the transaction will take place in the timeframe.”

These days, the company estimates that the average upgrade cycle has shifted from 20 months to 12 months, and now it is doubling down.

With Cashify, sellers simply fill out some details online about their device, then Cashify dispatches a representative who comes to their house to perform diagnostic checks and gives them cash for the device that day. The startup also offers an app which automatically carries out the checks — for example ensuring the camera, Bluetooth module, etc all work — and offers a higher cash payment for the user since Cashify uses fewer resources.

 

A sample of the Cashify Q&A for selling a device.

Beyond its website and app, Cashify gets devices from trade-in programs for Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple in India, as well as e-commerce companies like Flipkart, Amazon and Paytm Mall.

Used device acquired, what happens next is interesting.

The startup has built out a network of offline merchants who specialize in selling used phones. Each phone it acquires is then sold (perhaps after minor refurbishments) to that network, so it might pop up for sale anywhere in India.

With this new money, Cashify CEO Manocha said the company will develop an online resale site that will allow anyone to buy a used phone from the company’s network. Devices sold by Cashify online will be refurbished with new parts where needed, and they’ll include a box and six-month warranty to give a better consumer experience, Manocha added.

Today, Cashify claims to handle 100,000 smartphones a month, but it is planning to grow that to 200,000 by the end of this year. Cashify said its devices are typically low-end, those that retail for sub-$300 when new. A large part of that push comes from the online site, but the startup is also enlarging its offline merchant network and working to reach more consumers who are actually selling their device. That’s where Manocha said he sees particular value in working with Aihuishou.

Cashify is also developing other services. It recently started offering at-home repairs for customers and Manocha said that adding Chinese investors — and Aihuishou in particular — will help it with its sourcing of components for the repairs service and general refurbishments.

Cashify estimates that the used smartphone market in India will see 90 million phones sold this year, with as many as 120 million trading by 2020. That’s close to the 124 million shipments that analysts estimate India saw in 2017, but with surprisingly higher margins.

A reseller can make 10 percent profit on a device, Manocha explained, and Cashify’s own price elasticity — the difference between what it buys from consumers at and what it sells to resellers for — is typically 30-35 percent, he added. That’s more than most OEMs, but that doesn’t take into account costs on the Cashify side which bring that number down.

“When I sell to a reseller, the margins aren’t that exciting which is why we want to sell direct to consumers,” the Cashify CEO said.

The startup has plenty going on at home in India, but already it is considering overseas possibilities.

“We will focus on India for at least next 12 months but we have had discussions on markets that would make sense to enter,” Manocha, explaining that the Middle East and Southeast Asia are early frontrunners.

“We are working very closely with one of the Chinese players and figuring out if we can do some business in Hong Kong because that’s the hub for second-hand phones in this part of the world,” he added.

Note: The original version of this article was updated to correct that Amit Sethi is CTO not CFO.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Instead of points, Bumped gives equity in the companies you shop at

Instead of points, Bumped gives equity in the companies you shop at

What does brand loyalty even mean anymore? App downloads, points, stars, and other complex reward systems have not just spawned their own media empires trying to decipher them, they have failed at their most basic objective: building a stronger bond between a brand and its consumers.

Bumped wants to reinvent the loyalty space by giving consumers shares of the companies they shop at. Through Bumped’s app, consumers choose their preferred retailer in different categories (think Lowe’s vs The Home Depot in home improvement), and when they spend money at that store using a linked credit card, Bumped will automatically give them ownership in that company.

The startup, which is based in Portland and was founded in March 2017, announced the beta launch of its service today, as well as a $14.1 million series A led by Dan Ciporin at Canaan Partners, along with existing seed investors Peninsula Ventures, Commerce Ventures, and Oregon Venture Partners.

Bumped is a brokerage, and the company told me that it has passed all FINRA and SEC licensing. When consumers spend money at participating retailers, they receive bona fide shares in the companies they shop at. Each retailer determines a loyalty percentage rate, which is a minimum of 1% and can go up to 5%. Bumped then buys shares off the public market to reward consumers, and in cases where it needs to buy fractional shares, it will handle all of those logistics.

Bumped’s app allows users to track their shares

For founder and CEO David Nelsen, the startup doesn’t just make good business sense, it can have a wider social impact of democratizing access to the public equity markets. “A lot of brands need to build an authentic relationship with the customers,” he explained to me. “The brands that have a relationship with consumers, beyond price, are thriving.” With Bumped, Nelsen’s goal is to “align the interests of a shareholder and consumer, and everybody wins.”

His mission is to engage more Americans into the equity markets and the power of ownership. He notes that far too many people fail to setup their 401k, and don’t invest regularly in the stock market, citing a statistic that only 13.9% of people directly own a share of stock. By offering shares, he hopes that Bumped engages consumers to think about their relationship to companies in a whole new way. As Nelsen put it, “we are talking about bringing a whole new class of shareholders into the market.”

This isn’t the first time that Nelsen has built a company in the loyalty space. He previously was a co-founder and CEO of Giftango, a platform for prepaid digital gift cards that was acquired by InComm in late 2012.

Consumers will have to choose their Bumped loyalty partner in each category, like burgers

That previously experience has helped the company build an extensive roster for launch. Bumped has 19 brands participating in the beta, including Chipotle, Netflix, Shake Shack, Walgreens, and The Home Depot. Another 6 brands are currently papering contracts with the firm.

Ciporin of Canaan said that he wanted to fund something new in the loyalty space. “There has been just a complete lack of innovation in the loyalty space,” he explained to me. “I think about it as Robinhood meets airline points programs.” One major decider for Ciporin in making the investment was academic research, such as this paper by Jaakko Aspara, showing that becoming a shareholder in a company tended to make consumers significantly more loyal to those brands.

In the short run, Bumped heads into a crowded loyalty space that includes companies like Drop, which I have covered before on TechCrunch. Nelsen believes that the stock ownership model is “an entirely different mechanism” in loyalty, and that makes it “hard to compare” to other loyalty platforms.

Longer term, he hints at exploring how to offer this sort of equity loyalty model to small and medium businesses, a significantly more complex challenge given the lack of liquid markets for their equity. Today, the company is exclusively focused on publicly-traded companies.

Bumped today has 14 people, and is targeting a team size of around 20 employees.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth 0M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple of topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.

“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas.

Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.

“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money,” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”

Proving it as outsiders

St. Petersburg, Fla. isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.

That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.

Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukrainian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.

Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states including California, New York, and Texas. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up,” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”

Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas

Proveit was finally legal for the three-fourths of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.

Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to more than 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.

Quiz for cash

“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show,” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the ’90s, quotes, current events, rock ‘n roll, Seinfeld, tech and a rotating selection of other topics.

In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up and compared to your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list or cash out if you have more than $20.

The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ, where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.

Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like student loan repayer Givling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.

“The large tournaments are the big draw,” Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.

Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same… then get people playing little one-on-one games in-between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.

Gaming or gambling?

Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers a “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming,” users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependant, they’re obligated for your debts or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming,” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.

That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.

Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain,” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley-Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.

For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Speech recognition triggers fun AR stickers in Panda’s video app

Speech recognition triggers fun AR stickers in Panda’s video app

Panda has built the next silly social feature Snapchat and Instagram will want to steal. Today the startup launches its video messaging app that fills the screen with augmented reality effects based on the words you speak. Say “Want to get pizza?” and a 3D pizza slice hovers by your mouth. Say “I wear my sunglasses at night” and suddenly you’re wearing AR shades with a moon hung above your head. Instead of being distracted by having to pick effects out of a menu, they appear in real-time as you chat.

Panda is surprising and delightful. It’s also a bit janky, created by a five person team with under $1 million in funding. Building a video chat app user base from scratch amidst all the competition will be a struggle. But even if Panda isn’t the app to popularize the idea, it’s invented a smart way to enhance visual communication that blends into our natural behavior.

It all started with a trippy vision. Panda’s 18-year-old founder Daniel Singer had built a few failed apps and was working as a product manager at peer-to-peer therapy startup Sensay in LA. When Alaska Airlines bought Virgin, Singer scored a free flight and came to see his buddy Arjun Sethi, an investor at Social Capital in SF. That’s when suddenly “I’m hallucinating that as I’m talking the things I’m saying should appear” he tells me. Sethi dug the idea and agreed to fund a project to build it.

Panda founder Daniel Singer

Meanwhile, Singer had spent the last 6 years FaceTiming almost every day. He loved telling stories with his closest friends, yet Apple’s video chat protocol had fallen behind Snapchat and Instagram when it came to creative tools. So a year ago he raised $850,000 from Social Capital and Shrug Capital plus angels like Cyan (Banister) and Secret’s David Byttow. Singer set out to build Panda to combine FaceTime’s live chat with Snapchat’s visual flare triggered by voice.

But it turns out, “video chat is hard” he admits. So his small team settled for letting users send 10-second-max asynchronous video messages. Panda’s iOS app launched today with about 200 different voice activated stickers from footballs to sleepy Zzzzzs to a “&’%!#” censorship bar that covers your mouth when you swear. Tap them and they disappear, and soon you’ll be able to reposition them. As you trigger the effects for the first time, they go into a trophy case that gamifies voice experimentation.

Panda is fun to play around with yourself even if you aren’t actively messaging friends, which is reminiscent of how teens play with Snapchat face filters without always posting the results. The speech recognition effects will make a lot more sense if Panda can eventually succeed at solving the live video chat tech challenge. One day Singer imagines Panda making money by selling cosmetic effects that make you more attractive or fashionable, or offering sponsored effects so when you say “gym”, the headband that appears on you is Nike branded.

Unfortunately, the app can be a bit buggy and effects don’t always trigger, fooling you that you aren’t saying the right words. And it could be tough convincing buddies to download another messaging app, let alone turn it into a regular habit. Apple is also adding a slew of Memoji personalized avatars and other effects to FaceTime in its upcoming iOS 12.

Panda does advance one of technology’s fundamental pursuits: taking the fuzzy ideas in your head and translating them into meaning for others in clearer ways than just words can offer. It’s the next wave of visual communication that doesn’t require you to break from the conversation.

When I ask why other apps couldn’t just copy the speech stickers, Singer insisted “This has to be voice native.” I firmly disagree, and can easily imagine his whole app becoming just a single filter in Snapchat and Instagram Stories. He eventually acquiesced that “It’s a new reality that bits and pieces of consumer technology get traded around. I wouldn’t be surprised if others think it’s a good idea.”

It’s an uphill battle trying to disrupt today’s social giants, who are quick to seize on any idea that gives them an edge. Facebook rationalizes stealing other apps’ features by prioritizing whatever will engage its billions of users over the pride of its designers. Startups like Panda are effectively becoming outsourced R&D departments.

Still, Panda pledges to forge on (though it might be wise to take a buyout offer). Singer gets that his app won’t cure cancer or “make the world a better place” as HBO’s Silicon Valley has lampooned. “We’re going to make really fun stuff and make them laugh and smile and experience human emotion” he concludes. “At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with building entertainment and delight.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)
Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!
The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.
What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.
We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:

Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp

Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures

Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures

Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel

George McDonaugh, KR1

Candice Lo, Blossom Capital

Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners

Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel

Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker
How To Get Your Ticket For FREE
We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.
Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.
That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.
So you can grab tickets here.
Vote for your Favourite Startups
Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!
Awards by category:
Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup
Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup
Hottest Education Startup
Hottest Startup Accelerator
Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup
Hottest Games Startup
Hottest Mobile Startup
Hottest FinTech Startup
Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup
Hottest Hardware Startup
Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace
Hottest Health Startup
Hottest Cyber Security Startup
Hottest Travel Startup
Hottest Internet of Things Startup
Hottest Technology Innovation
Hottest FashionTech Startup
Hottest Tech For Good
Hottest A.I. Startup
Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year
Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year
Hottest Startup Founders
Hottest CEO of the Year
Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year
Hottest VC Investor of the Year
Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)
Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project
Hottest Blockchain DApp
Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project
Hottest Blockchain Investor
Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)
Hottest Financial Crypto Project
Hottest Blockchain for Good Project
Hottest Blockchain Identity Project
Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe
The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)
The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.
Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.
What is The Europas?
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers
• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network
• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage
• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics
• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene
• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
[email protected]
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises $5M as it plans blockchain initiative

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises M as it plans blockchain initiative

Right on the heels of launching its concierge service Hooch Black, Hooch announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding.

The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.

Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”

After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.

The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.

At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).

Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”

Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.

“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch