An app that uses AI to help you improve your basketball shot just raised $4 million

An app that uses AI to help you improve your basketball shot just raised million

Let’s be real: you are most certainly never going to be as good as Steve Nash, Chris Paul, James Harden — or really any professional NBA player. But it probably won’t stop you from trying to practice or model your game around your favorite players, and spend hours upon hours figuring out how to get better.

And while there are going to be plenty of attempts to smash image recognition and AI into that problem, a company called NEX Team is hoping to soften the blow a bit by helping casual players figure out their game, rather than trying to be as good as a professional NBA player. Using phone cameras and image recognition on the back end, its primary app HomeCourt will measure a variety of variables like shot trajectory, jump height, and body position, and help understand how to improve a player’s shooting form. It’s not designed to help that player shoot like Ray Allen, but at least start hitting those mid-range jumpers. The company said it’s raised $4 million from Charmides Capital and Mandra Capital, as well as Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Sam “Trust The Process” Hinkie (sigh), Mark Cuban and Dani Reiss.

“We don’t call ourselves a basketball company, we think of ourselves as a mobile AI company,” CEO and co-founder David Lee said. “It happens that basketball is the first sport where we’re applying our tech. When you think about digitizing sports, as a runner or cyclist, you’ve had access to a feedback loop for a while [on treadmills and other tools]. But for basketball and other sports like basketball, that loop didn’t exist. We believed with computer vision, you can digitize a lot of different sports, one of which is basketball. We’re not just building an app for the professional basketball athletes, we’re focused on building an app where value can be generated across the basketball community.”

The app starts off with an iPhone. Players can boot up their camera and begin recording their shots, and the app will go back and track what worked and what didn’t work with that shot, as well as where the player is making and missing those shots.It’s not tracking every single motion of the player, but once a player makes a shot, it will track that trajectory and shooting form, like where his or her feet are planted. That kind of feedback can help players understand the kinds of small tweaks they can make to improve their shooting percentage over time, such as release speed or jump hight. And while it’s not designed to be hugely robust like the kinds of advanced tracking technology that show up in advanced training facilities at some larger sports franchises, it aims to be a plug-and-play way of getting feedback on a player’s game right away.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily stop the app from showing up in slightly more professional situations, like recruiting or in athletic centers on college campuses, Lee said. Each college is looking for the next DeAndre Ayton or Ben Simmons, as well as new ways to try to find those recruits. While not every college will end up with the top recruits in the country and get bounced in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, it offers an additional way for younger players to refine their game to the point they potentially get the attention of those universities — or the NBA, should the one-and-done rule that requires athletes to play a year in college end up disappearing.

“A lot of these coaches are looking at a lot of evaluation tools,” Lee said. “If Alex is waking up at 5 a.m. to put in work, it’s not just about makes and misses, it’s about work ethic. It’s harder to evaluate and digitize a sport. Only [a fraction] of the basketball happens in their practice facilities. How do they help their players evaluate their workout sessions when they’re in those situations? That opens up the doors to do that as well.”

In order to appeal to those broader audiences, the startup is rolling out bite-sized challenges as a way to try to attract the more casual consumers that want to dip their toes into HomeCourt. You see these kinds of challenge-based activities in apps like Strava as a way to try to attract users or keep them engaged in a lighter and more competitive way without having to go into a full-on event like a race or a tournament. It’s one way to try to wrangle the competitive elements of sports like basketball without a ton of competitive pressure as users get more and more comfortable with the way they play and their shooting style.

That bite-sized style of activity also serves pretty well when it comes to creating content, as has been proven popular by apps like Overtime that specialize in highlights of certain players. HomeCourt hopes to add a social layer on top of that to, once again, increase that kind of stickiness and build a community around what would otherwise be a purely technical tool — and one that might scare off more casual players with a very sabermetrics-feeling approach.

Lee also said he hopes the app will eventually broaden into other sports, like Golf or Tennis, where tracking the ball might be more complicated or the motions considerably different from basketball. That’s based on building technology that tracks the movement of the player, and not just the ball, in order to determine the trajectory or success of that specific shots. The hope is that basketball is a first step in terms of achieving that.

“For golf, seeing your whole form as going into your swing is more important — that’s the input in terms of getting where the ball goes,” Lee said. “We’re trying to think about how to reduce as much friction as possible. Imagine being able to use the app to track makes or misses, but also tracking your player movement and form, measuring it, and comparing it to another player’s backswing. We’re hoping to do that in basketball [first].”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Toast raises $115M at a $1.4B valuation to create a one-stop management tool for restaurants

Toast raises 5M at a .4B valuation to create a one-stop management tool for restaurants

While massive restaurant chains might have resources to build out their own management systems or integrate with larger point-of-sale providers, Toast — a provider of tools for restaurants to manage their business — is raising a big round of funding to go after everyone else.

Now Toast is a business valued at $1.4 billion thanks to a fresh infusion of $115 million in its latest round of funding. At its core, Toast is a point-of-sale for restaurants, though over time it’s added more and more services on top of that. Now the goal is to be not just a point of sale, but offer a whole system to help restaurants operate efficiently. That can range from the actual point of sale all the way to loyalty programs and reporting on that information. The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates, with participation from new investor Tiger Global Management and other existing investors.

“We’re just trying to keep our finger on the pulse to what matters to restauranteurs,” CFO Tim Barash said. “We hear a lot about the labor side of the equation. We’re working through what to do there. If you ask restaurants about the number one thing they’re thinking about, most respondents say it’s around labor — that’s a really big one.”

Starting off in 2011 as a point-of-sale business, the company now offers a complete suite of tools that help restaurants streamline both the front and back house of the restaurant. And as Toast collects more and more data on how restaurants are using its tools — like any startup with a lot of inbound data, really — it can start helping those restaurants figure out how to improve their businesses further. That might be modifying menus slightly based on what people are enjoying, or pointing them in the right direction as to when to make slight adjustments to their basic operations.

There’s also an online ordering part of the business. Toast helps restaurants boot up an online ordering part of their business quickly, in addition to offering tools to help streamline that process. A restaurant might deal with a flood of orders or throttle them if necessary. Businesses then get reports on their whole online ordering business, helping them further calibrate what to offer — and what might work better for the in-person experience as well.

The next focus for Toast, Barash said, is figuring out the labor side of the equation. That comes down to helping restaurants not only find new employees, but also figure out how to retain them in an industry with a significant amount of turnover. Attacking the hiring part of the problem is one approach, though there are other approaches like Pared, which looks to turn the labor market for restaurants into an on-demand one. But there’s obvious low-hanging fruit, like making it easier to switch shifts among other things, Barash said.

“1 in 11 working human beings work in restaurants,” Barash said. “I would say we’re still trying to figure out what we can do as a central platform of record, continuing to carry a high quality network of partners or us building some things ourselves. We’re early days in figuring them out. If you go to any restaurant in Boston, and look at all the help wanted signs, you can see the barrier to being successful is a lot of times more on the employee side than on the guest side. Then once you have them hired, you have to think about how you can retain those employees and make sure they’re engaged and successful.”

Toast isn’t the only startup looking to own a point-of-sale and then expand into other elements of running a business, though. Lightspeed POST, which also offers a pretty large set of tools for brick-and-mortar stores — including restaurants — raised $166 million late last year.There are also the obvious point-of-sale competitors like Square that, while designed to be a broad solution and not just target restaurants, are pretty widely adopted and can also try to own that whole restaurant management stack from clocking in and out to getting reports on what’s selling well.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Browser maker Opera has filed to go public

Browser maker Opera has filed to go public

Norway-based company Opera Ltd. has filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. According to its F-1 document, the company plans to raise up to $115 million.

In 2017, Opera generated $128.9 million in operating revenue, which led to a net income of $6.1 million.

While many people are already familiar with the web browser Opera, the company itself has had a tumultuous history. Opera shareholders separated the company into two different entities — the browser maker and the adtech operations.

The advertising company is now called Otello. And a consortium of Chinese companies acquired the web browser, the consumer products and the Opera brand. That second part is the one that is going public in the U.S.

Opera currently manages a web browser for desktop computers and a handful of web browsers for mobile phones. On Android, you can download Opera, Opera Mini and Opera Touch. On iOS, you’ll only find Opera Mini. More recently, the company launched a standalone Opera News app.

Overall, Opera currently has around 182 million monthly active users across its mobile products, 57.4 million monthly active users for its desktop browser and 90.2 million users for Opera News in its browsers and standalone app. There’s some overlap across those user bases.

More interestingly, Opera only makes money through three revenue sources. The main one is a deal with two search engines. Yandex is the default search engine in Russia, and Google is the default search engine in the rest of the world. As the company’s user base grows, partners pay more money to remain the default search engine.

“A small number of business partners contribute a significant portion of our revenues,” the company writes in its F-1 document. “In 2017, our top two largest business partners in aggregate contributed approximately 56.1% of our operating revenue, with Google and Yandex accounting for 43.2% and 12.9% of our operating revenue, respectively.”

The rest is ads and licensing deals. You may have noticed that Opera’s speed dial is pre-populated with websites by default, such as Booking.com or eBay. Those are advertising partners. Some phone manufacturers and telecom companies also pre-install Opera browsers on their devices. The company is getting some revenue from that too.

The browser market is highly competitive and Opera is facing tech giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. At the same time, people spend so much time in their browser that there is probably enough room for a small browser company like Opera. The company will be listed on NASDAQ under the symbol OPRA.

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

Google invests $22M in feature phone operating system KaiOS

Google invests M in feature phone operating system KaiOS

Google is turning startup investor to further its goal of putting Google services like search, maps, and its voice assistant front and center for the next billion internet users in emerging markets. It has invested $22 million into KaiOS, the company that has built an eponymous operating system for feature phones that packs a range of native apps and other smartphone-like services. As part of the investment, KaiOS will be working on integrating Google services like search, maps, YouTube and its voice assistant into more KaiOS devices, after initially announcing Google apps for KaiOS-powered Nokia phones earlier this year.

“This funding will help us fast-track development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart feature phones, allowing us to connect the vast population that still cannot access the internet, especially in emerging markets,” said KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville in a statement.

Our mobile world is dominated today by smartphones: there were about 1.6 billion of them sold last year. But feature phones have continued to move, too: it’s estimated that there were about 450 million-500 million of them shipped in 2017. And their sales are actually growing faster right now than their souped-up cousins.

KaiOS-powered phones play squarely in the latter category, and they are gaining traction in markets where feature phones still hold sway. In India, they have overtaken Apple’s iOS to become the second-most popular devices after Android handsets.

KaiOS tells us that there have been more than 40 million KaiOS phones shipped to-date, while data from Counterpoint research suggests its shipments grew 11,400 percent year-on-year to reach 23 million in Q1 2018. The research firm estimates that a more broad uptick in feature phone buying, fueled no doubt by Jio’s huge numbers and HMD Nokia, led to Android-based smartphone shipments declining 14 percent year-on-year in that same Q1 2018 period.

Google’s KaiOS investment could be seen as a way of introducing its services to feature phone users who might eventually graduate to smartphones. However, there is also scope for holding on to these users even as they stay in the feature phone category, which continues to evolve and become more functional.

“We’re excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices,” said Codeville, the KaiOS CEO. “Having an intelligent voice assistant on an affordable mobile phone is truly revolutionary as it helps overcome some of the limitations a keypad brings.”

A Nokia device running KaiOS

KaiOS is a U.S.-based project that started in 2017, built on the ashes of Mozilla’s failed Firefox OS experiment, as a fork of the Linux codebase. Firefox OS was intended to be the basis of a new wave of HTML-5, low-cost smartphones. And while those devices and the wider ecosystem never really took off, KaiOS has fared significantly better.

KaiOS powers phones made by OEMs including Nokia (HMD), Micromax and Alcatel, and it works with carriers including Sprint and AT&T — it counts offices in North America, Europe and Asia. But its most significant deployment to date has been with India’s Reliance Jio, the challenger telco that disrupted the Indian market with affordable 4G data packages.

Reliance Jio offers its own range of KaiOS handsets, and coupling that with its low-cost data packages, KaiOS’ share of India’s phone market has reportedly jumped to 15 percent — overtaking Apple’s iOS in the process and putting it second behind only Android. (Jio’s own devices have actually increased the number of feature phones in India, such has been its impact in the country.)

That market share alone in a high-growth market like India is likely enough to pique Google’s interest.

“We want to ensure that Google apps and services are available to everyone, whether they are using desktops, smartphones, or feature phones.” said Anjali Joshi, VP of Product Management for Google’s Next Billion Users division, in a statement. “Following the success of the JioPhones, we are excited to work with KaiOS to further improve access to information for feature phone users around the world.”

Beyond this, the Next Billion business unit works on customizing the Google experience and services to fit the needs of new internet users in emerging markets, including the launch of new services like this neighborhoods app and a successful public WiFi program.

While Google continues to develop its Android smartphone platform, it has long been an advocate of expanding its services to other platforms, too, and that’s been the case with KaiOS.

In February, KaiOS announced that it would be adding Google Search, Google Maps and the Google Voice Assistant to the new Nokia 8110 feature phone, and it seems that this is the Google agreement that will be expanded to all models as part of Google’s investment.

To be clear, Google services are not the only ones on KaiOS. It added apps for Twitter and Facebook earlier this year, and it mixes dedicated KaiOS apps — WhatsApp is said to be coming — with others that are more basic HTML-5 web apps.

Google’s investment in KaiOS is the latest in a line of direct startup deals from the U.S. tech giant that sit alongside investments made by GV and CapitalG, its two investment arms. Google has also backed concierge service Dunzo and is partnering with the carrier Orange to make investments and potentially acquire startups in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Note: The original version of this post has been updated to provide more data around KaiOS shipments and Android shipment declines.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Pared picks up $10M to help restaurant employees live an on-demand life

Pared picks up M to help restaurant employees live an on-demand life

On the busiest nights, a restaurant can’t afford to even lose a dishwasher to getting sick or not being around — or simply ghosting on the company — and end up frustrating the whole experience for the rest of the staff and restaurant goers.

It’s a problem that Will Pacio was acutely familiar with during his time at Spice Kit, and it’s why he and Dave Lu — who didn’t really have much experience other than delivering Chinese food in high school, but wanted to get into the industry — started Pared. It essentially serves as an on-demand tool for restaurant workers, who might find themselves already working across multiple different jobs or multiple different restaurants and are looking for a lifestyle over which they have some more control. The company said it has raised a $10 million financing round led by CRV, with existing investors Uncork Capital and True Ventures also participating. CRV partner Saar Gur is joining the company’s board of directors.

“Even if I go [to Craigslist], it’ll take four to six weeks to get someone to show up,” Lu said. “You hire them, you train them, and then they don’t show up to work the very first day. Even if I paid overtime, I don’t have enough employees to cover the shifts. For [Pacio] it was a nightmare, and I just want to be able to tap an app to get that kid from Safeway across the street who knows how to make sandwiches and make them for me.”

The app largely focuses on back-of-the-house operations like line cooks, prep cooks, and dishwashers, though it could theoretically extend to any part of the restaurant experience. Restaurants go to the app and say they are looking for what the app calls a ‘Pro’ in whatever role they need, and are able to book the employee right away for the slot they have in their schedule. It might come at a slight premium over the typical hire, but restaurants are already willing to pay overtime in order to cover those gaps and keep things moving smoothly, Lu said.

For employees, it’s a pretty similar experience — they see a job posted on the app, with a time slot, and they make themselves available for an hourly wage. The second benefit, Lu said, is that they can start to slowly make a name for themselves if they are able to prove out their skills and move up the ranks at any of those restaurants. The culinary community is a small one, he said, and it offers a lot of room to start building up a reputation as an exceptional chef or just finally get a first shot at a sauté position in the kitchen after working at the back of the house. That, too, might be part of the appeal of jumping on a service like Pared rather than just driving for Uber.

“On our platform, every shift and rating you get, every connection you get in the industry — and it’s a very tight network — you build up your own reputation or identity,” Lu said. “We’re helping them build up, it’s more like a race to the top than a race to the bottom. They start off as a prep cook, and they start getting offers for line cook positions. We might have videos for learning to do this or that. They can work their way up to build that reputation. It’s all about reputation, it’s about people you trust.”

And like Uber, that flexibility is one of the more critical selling points of the application. A line cook might want to spend some time in New York to learn the scene there, and with an app like Pared, they can get access to some potential openings at restaurants in the area. As their experience — and their reputation — builds up over time, Lu hopes Pared gets known as a launching point for many careers, in addition to just offering restaurant workers a more flexible lifestyle.

There are certainly larger platforms that aren’t just targeting the restaurant ecosystem, and look to be a more global hub for hourly workers. Shiftgig, which raised $20 million last year, is one interpretation of that idea. But by offering a more curated and focused experience — one for which a kind of aspirational chef might keep gravitating back toward because they hope to one day end up running their own kitchen — can help build up that reputation for having a reliable workforce that any restaurant can use.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

EveryTeam raises $3M to create a living internal company lexicon

EveryTeam raises M to create a living internal company lexicon

As companies get bigger and bigger, all the critical information about a company — even its mission and culture statements — can get lost in a massive pile of Google Docs or files strewn across dozens of collaboration tools, making it nearly impossible to find. That’s where the team behind EveryTeam hopes to step in and clean things up.

EveryTeam serves as a sort of hub for all of the documents and core information about a company — a kind of living library that adapts over time and can easily suck in new information as it comes about. The idea is that employees might not necessarily be going to the same internal portal for that information, or might not be updating that portal, and the information continues to sit across multiple different buckets within a company. The company came about from former GitHubbers Todd Berman, Connor Sears, and Scott Goldman, which are looking to bring that same level of collaboration and simplicity to access to internal employee information. The startup said it has raised $3 million in a seed round from Harrison Metal, Upside Partnership, Index Ventures and Greylock Partners.

“People end up creating content in them but struggling to maintain content in these [internal communications] tools,” CEO Todd Berman said. “Whether they’re using a combination of Google Docs, or Dropbox Paper, or Confluence, there’s tons of people trying to do a lot of different things here. A lot of these tools are focused on the creation, where people felt there was a lot of opportunity. But for our potential customers, the issue is that their content is all over the place. it’s not in one spot.”

EVERYTEAM TOP

 

EveryTeam works to surface up those kinds of critical employee documents that are probably fine to just exist in some Google Drive somewhere very early on — which might include the information for the WiFi or the schedule for office snacks. But as more and more docs flow in, EveryTeam has to parse through all of those and ensure that the right important ones are surfaced up in front of everyone, especially as they become more and more important over time. For larger and large companies, that content management can get out of control and devolve into a lot of messages across the organization just to find a single document. EveryTeam integrates with GitHub, Google Drive, Dropbox, Figma, and Airtable among others.

“It ends up looking in a lot of cases like how GitHub works — GitHub is a tool to maintain, curate and publish software. You’re publishing source code, but a lot of the workflows feel very natural and feel very similar. Ultimately, where we ended up from a product perspective is, it’s more about being a layer on top of these services [like Box] to provide a plane of organization.”

EveryTeam isn’t the only startup looking to rethink the internal employee wiki. Slite, another startup looking to create an intelligent internal notes tool that can serve as a hub of information for employees, also said it raised $4.4 million earlier this year. The idea there is to bring the Slack-like simplicity that has become popular among employees — at least, at the startup level — to a variety of different areas that haven’t changed in a while. Internal note-taking, and that Wiki functionality, is one. EveryTeam decided to work with the idea that content is just going to exist all over the place anyway, and try to fit into the employee workflow that way.

“You want to curate and expose content that exists in ten to 12 different tools you use every day,” Berman said. “Ultimately, that’s part of my day-to-day flow. I’m usually in four to five web apps. When [some tools] take the Slack model they often get very focused on recency, and that determines an arbiter of value.[You have to think], what is the desire path for a document that becomes load-bearing in the company. It starts off a little weird, people edit it, it ideates and matures, and it stands the test of time. How do you create an application that helps that happen.”

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

Back Market raises $48 million for its refurbished device marketplace

Back Market raises million for its refurbished device marketplace
If you’ve tried selling your old smartphone on a refurbishment website, chances are you ended up with a dozen browser tabs comparing prices. French startup Back Market is taking advantage of this fragmented industry to create a marketplace and aggregate all refurbishers on a single online platform.
The startup just raised $48 million (€41 million). Groupe Arnault, Eurazeo, Aglaé Ventures and Daphni participated in today’s funding round.
Back in May, the company told me that it was working with over 270 factories. Back Market has generated over $110 million in gross merchandise volume over the past three years. The service is now live in France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy. The company just expanded to the U.S.
“Before, refurbishment was just a thing for tech savvy people and tech bloggers,” co-founder and chief creative officer Vianney Vaute told me. “With Back Market, it becomes a mainstream alternative.”
Working with multiple factories is also a competitive advantage when it comes to pricing, fail rate and quality assurance. Back Market has an overview on the industry and can choose to work with some partners and leave underperforming ones behind. The startup needs to build a brand that consumers can trust.
While smartphones and laptops are the most prominent products on the homepage, Back Market also accepts game consoles, TVs, headphones, coffee machines and more. Back Market also sells Apple products refurbished by Apple itself.
Now that smartphones have become a mature market, many customers aren’t looking for new and shiny devices. Some customers can be perfectly happy with a phone that was released last year or two years ago. It represents an opportunity for Back Market and the refurbishment industry as a whole.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Amino raises $45M to bring fan communities to smartphones

Amino raises M to bring fan communities to smartphones

Amino has raised a big Series C round of funding — $45 million from GV, Venrock, Union Square Ventures, Goodwater Capital and Time Warner Investments, with Hearst Ventures joining as a new investor.

Co-founder and CEO Ben Anderson has described Amino as a way to help people who have “passionate niche interests” find others who feel the same way, via smartphone apps.

The company started out with apps focused on a handful of topics like K-pop, anime and Doctor Who, but it later added the ability for anyone to launch new communities in the main Amino app, and there are now more than 2.5 million communities.

Of course, some of these communities are more active than others, and there’s some overlap between them. But Max Sebela, who is general manager for Amino’s English-language apps, said there’s less overlap than you might think, because “each interest is actually a universe of micro interest.” For example, there might be one community focused on sharing strategy and tactics around the video game Overwatch, while another might revolve around sharing Overwatch fan art.

Ultimately, Sebela said it’s up to the founders and leaders of each community to decide what the community wants to focus on, and which product features they want to use to enable that. Meanwhile, Anderson said Amino is constantly tweaking its algorithms to make sure it’s surfacing the best communities for each user.

“Instead of one big, blue ocean, we provide a million lakes and help you find the exact right one,” he added.

Amino Voice Chats

Perhaps even more impressive than the number of communities is the amount of time the average user spends in Amino — more than 70 minutes per day.

One of the initial inspirations for the startup was a real-world anime convention, and Amino getting closer to that experience with the addition of features like live voice and video chat, as well as the screening room, where you can watch videos with other users.

During our conversation, Sebela opened up one of the K-Pop communities on his phone and was quickly able to listen in on a chat room where multiple users were singing along together. (Sadly, we didn’t join the singing.)

“The technology is not super unique,” Anderson acknowledged. “What makes it really special is, I can voice chat with my friends on a lot of different networks, but here I can hop in and join a voice chat with 10 Harry Potter fans who I may not know in my real life.”

While these features are already live, Anderson said they’ve been “downplayed” while Amino tests them out and works out the kinks. Now it’s ready to put them “front-and-center” in the app.

Amino has now raised more than $70 million in total funding.

It’s also been testing out ways to make money, which Anderson said will occur primarily through a subscription service — though apparently it’s too early for him to offer more details.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch