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In a push into Europe, WeWork competitor Knotel acquires Ahoy!Berlin

Coworking and flexible office space has become a hot business in the last few years, as attested by the rise and rise of WeWork. Startups and entrepreneurs needed flexible working space that could flex up and down as their companies changed. The days of signing a 5-year lease were very, very over. But others have arrived in this office space arena. In the US, the company beginning to breathe down the neck of WeWork is Knotel , which last year raised a Series A round of $25 million, then another round of $70m, and then another $5m in debt (not previously announced). It now claims it has one million square feet in NYC versus WeWork’s four million, achieved in the last 2 years. It’s now pushing out internationally, with the acquisition today of Ahoy!Berlin , a workspace operator in Berlin, Germany. The deal follows Knotel’s expansion in Europe – first in London, in the first quarter of 2018. Amol Sarva, co-founder and CEO of Knotel said in a statement: “Many innovative CEOs have been making Berlin their HQ. Now they have the first of many agile offices to locate and achieve their ambitions.” Ahoy is in Berlin’s historic Mitte district and has clients such as Daimler-backed Fleetboard Innovation Hub, and Bringmeister, an online food and home delivery service. Ahoy was co-founded in 2012 by Nikita Roshkow and Nikolas Woischnik, who previously launched the entrepreneurship community TechBerlin. Woischnik also cofounded the 20,000 person tech event Tech Open Air Berlin , on this week. “We’re thrilled to join up with Knotel and expand deeper in Berlin and beyond,” said Roshkow. “What they’ve achieved in a short period, combined with our local expertise, is a signal for growth.”

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Google Play now makes it easier to manage your subscriptions

Mobile app subscriptions are a big business, but consumers sometimes hesitate to sign up because pausing and cancelling existing subscriptions hasn’t been as easy as opting in. Google is now addressing those concerns with the official launch of its subscription center for Android users. The new feature centralizes all your Google Play subscriptions, and offers a way for you to find others you might like to try. The feature was first introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, and recently rolled out to Android users, the company says. However, Google hadn’t formally announced its arrival until today. Access to the subscriptions center only takes one tap – the link is directly available from the “hamburger” menu in the Play Store app. Apple’s page for subscription management, by comparison, is far more tucked away. On iOS, you have to tap on your profile icon in the App Store app, then tap on your name. This already seem unintuitive – especially considering that a link to “Purchases” is on this Account screen. Why wouldn’t Subscriptions be here, too? But instead, you have to go to the next screen, then scroll down to near the bottom to find “Subscriptions” and tap that. To turn any individual subscription off, you have to go to its own page, scroll to the bottom and tap “Cancel.” This process should be more streamlined for iOS users

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Instagram hits 1 billion monthly users, up from 800M in September

Instagram’s meteoric rise continues, dwarfing the stagnant growth rates of Snapchat and Facebook. Today Instagram announced that it has reached 1 billion monthly active users, after reaching 800 million in September 2017 with 500 million daily users. That massive audience could be a powerful draw for IGTV, the longer-form video hub it’s launching for creators today. While IGTV monetization options are expected in the future, content makers may flock to it early just to get exposure and build their fan base. Instagram launches IGTV video hub for creators While Snapchat’s daily user count grew just 2.13 percent in Q1 2018 to 191 million, and Facebook’s monthly count grew 3.14 percent to reach 2.196 billion, Instagram is growing closer to 5 percent per quarter. Hitting the 1 billion user milestone could put more pressure on Instagram to carry its weight in the Facebook family and bring home more cash. Facebook doesn’t break out Instagram’s revenue and has never given any guidance about it. But eMarketer estimates that Instagram will generate $5.48 billion in U.S. ad revenue in 2018, up 70 percent from last year. It reports that Instagram makes up 28.2 pecent of Facebook’s mobile ad revenue. The Instagram brand increasingly looks like Facebook’s life raft.

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Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million. Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge . Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo. Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developers and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.” Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers at large enterprises can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes. “They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.” Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle. “Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.” Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

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Mobile website creator Universe nabs $4 million Series A

The small team behind Universe , an iOS app which allows users to build modular, simple websites in a minute or two, has scored some new funding as it looks to grow its operations and its ambitions. The startup has closed a $4 million Series A investment from Javelin Venture Partners, General Catalyst, Y Combinator, Box Group, Eniac Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Yuri Sagalov, Louis Beryl and others. Universe has raised $7.2 million to date. The startup’s focus on building mobile websites has aimed to bypass the more complicated approaches of desktop-first web design companies for a process that feels a bit more like editing an Instagram photo. Over 160 thousand sites have been built with the app. We covered the Brooklyn-based company when it launched last year and when it graduated from Y Combinator with seed funding. The team is still just 3 full-time employees; with this latest funding the team is looking to grow a bit. “Javelin got excited about Universe because we saw a massive group of content creators that aren’t sitting at a desk or taking the time and cost to develop a website with the traditional tools,” Noah Doyle, Javelin’s managing director said in a statement. “We loved how Universe’s grid-based interface gives anyone the power to design a high quality web presence, and see it as transformative for artists, free agent professionals, small business owners and individual personal use, too.” Universe has spent the last few months rethinking how it’s approaching monetization with power users of the service. The company is switching from an a la carte approach that let users use a custom URL or ditch Universe branding on their site for an extra $3 a pop to a Pro tier that’s a flat $10 per month and will gain new functionality over time. Universe is iOS-only for now, you can check it out  here .

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Facebook tests ‘subscription Groups’ that charge for exclusive content

Facebook is starting to let Group admins charge $4.99 to $29.99 per month for access to special sub-Groups full of exclusive posts. A hand-picked array of parenting, cooking and “organize my home” Groups will be the first to get the chance to spawn a subscription Group open to their members. During the test , Facebook won’t be taking a cut, but because the feature bills through iOS and Android, those operating systems get their 30 percent cut of a user’s first year of subscription and 15 percent after that. But if Facebook eventually did ask for a revenue share, it could finally start to monetize the Groups feature that’s grown to more than 1 billion users. The idea for subscription Groups originally came from the admins. “It’s not so much about making money as it is investing in their community,” says Facebook Groups product manager Alex Deve. “The fact that there will be funds coming out of the activity helps them create higher-quality content.” Some admins tell Facebook they actually want to funnel subscription dues back into activities their Group does together offline. Content users might get in the exclusive version of groups includes video tutorials, lists of tips and support directly from admins themselves. For example, Sarah Mueller’s Declutter My Home Group is launching a $14.99 per month Organize My Home subscription Group that will teach members how to stay tidy with checklists and video guides. The Grown and Flown Parents group is spawning a College Admissions and Affordability subscription group with access to college counselors for $29.99. Cooking On A Budget: Recipes & Meal Planning will launch a $9.99 Meal Planning Central Premium subscription group with weekly meal plans, shopping lists for different grocery stores and more. But the point of the test is actually to figure out what admins would post and whether members find it valuable. “They have their own ideas

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YouTube woos brands with its new Creative Suite of ad tools

YouTube hopes a new set of creative tools will help it win back advertisers who may have grown disenchanted with the video network due to its ongoing content scandals . The company announced this morning a suite of tools that will allow brands and agencies to test ads, target specific audiences with customized versions of the same ad, and tell stories over a series of ads. One new tool, Video Experiments, offers AdWords advertisers a way to test video ads on YouTube’s site, as an alternative to using focus groups to determine the impact of creative on metrics brands care about like awareness or purchase intent. The service, which launches in beta later this month, will allow marketers to shift funds usually put towards those focus groups and their “simulated ad environments,” to real ad environments. The ads will run in cleanly segmented experiments on YouTube at no extra cost beyond the media investment, the company says, and turn around results in as little as three days’ time. The idea here is to allow brands to test their video ad campaigns before committing the funds to roll them out more broadly – something that could help them to tweak the creative material, or even pull back on an ad rollout that could have ended up being a total misfire  that draws consumer backlash. That’s a critical factor to consider in today’s social media landscape, where one bad ad can spread virally beyond just those who directly watched it, leading to negative consumer sentiment and even brand boycotts. Another new tool, Director Mix, was already announced last year , and is now being tested by brands like Kellogg’s in an alpha phase, ahead of its general availability. This tool lets advertisers create many versions of their same ad using swappable elements. They can customize the text, while using the existing images, sound and videos across a variety of ads. These ads can be far more personalized to YouTube viewers, as a result. For example, in a test with Campbell’s Soup , bumper ads appeared for those watching “Orange is the New Black” clips that said “does your cooking make prison food seem good? We’ve got a soup for that.” But the same ad customized for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” instead included the line “Dinner for One?” McDonald’s had also used Director Mix in the past to create 77 pieces of content from one ad.

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Apple picks up the immigrant anthology series ‘Little America’ for its streaming service

Apple’s latest addition to its upcoming video streaming service is a timely one. The company has picked up “Little America,” a half-hour anthology series which looks at the “funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring, and surprising stories” of immigrants in America. The series comes from Oscar-nominated screenwriters of “The Big Sick,” Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon, and Emmy-nominated producer and writer Lee Eisenberg (“The Office,” “SMILF”). Eisenberg will also exec produce alongside Emmy winning producer, writer and director Alan Yang (“Master of None,””Parks and Recreation”), and he will serve as showrunner. Joshuah Bearman and Joshua Davis will executive produce for Epic Magazine, where the stories originated, alongside co-executive producer Arthur Spector. “Little America” is being produced by Universal Television for Apple.  The series, which was previously in development, was inspired by the true stories featured in Epic Magazine which aim to humanize immigrants at a time when nationalism and distrust of outsiders has taken root in the U.S. As the “Little America” website explains : Everyone here came from somewhere else. Even Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait at some point. This is the basic American idea — an identity open to all — but it can be easy to forget from inside. And that’s when politics can turn ugly, as it has recently, with our political narrative becoming a story of blame and fear. “Little America” is meant to counter that narrative with a fuller portrait of our most recent arrivals. This is arguably Apple’s first show that has a political undertone, in the sense that it aims to increase empathy around the topic of immigration in a nation that’s currently lacking. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently spoke out against the family separation taking place at the U.S.

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GoFundMe now allows team fundraising, where multiple people collaborate to raise money

GoFundMe , the popular service for raising money for causes with some $5 billion raised to date, is expanding its platform to serve more community efforts: today the company is launching GoFundMe Team Fundraising , which lets groups of people collectively raise money for a single effort. The idea is that it will make it possible for schools, churches, sports teams, and other groups to set up fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe . In many cases, groups have traditionally relied on people to use offline methods to raise money for a single cause, or if people have used digital platforms, harnessing those individual campaigns has not been straightforward. The idea with GoFundMe’s team product is that the organization that is raising the money can create the main repository, and then link up individuals to that anchor so that they can collect contributions directly. Then those contributions can all feed into the main goal as they go along, and campaign leaders can run leaderboards to show how they are progressing. Early tests of the Team feature have included  sports teams ,  school groups raising money for travel to an event;  work teams  raising for a cause; and local communities . As with GoFundMe’s other fundraising options, there is no platform fee for starting or running a team campaign, as GoFundMe has now switched to a “tips” model. (There are still standard card processing fees.) “Before, when a sports team, school club, professional organization or other group was looking to raise money together, the options were limited and could take a lot of time and resources in order to execute successfully,” said Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe, in a statement. “ With GoFundMe Team Fundraising, we’re introducing an easy social fundraising solution to maximize reach and success for groups.These new tools will also give our existing community another way to fundraise. Our goal is to make fundraising faster, easier and more efficient for anyone looking to raise money, whether an individual, nonprofit or team.” The move to expand to a team option is somewhat overdue for GoFundMe: fundraising in groups either for something for that group, or for a cause supported by that group, is one of the more popular ways of driving and getting donations. GoFundMe has built a strong business around individuals starting campaigns for specific causes, so this, in a way, is part of a second wave of expansion for the company. It’s not coming a moment too soon. GoFundMe is currently the market leader when it comes to fundraising platforms, but it is facing very strong competition in the form of Facebook. The social networking behemoth has been working hard to expand its own fundraising services  (which also has a team element) as part of its strategy to highlight its role as a community builder and strengthener (and not just a place to get your entertainment and news fixes).

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Amazon Prime Wardrobe officially launches to all U.S. Prime members

Prime Wardrobe , Amazon’s “try before you buy” shopping service first  announced last summer , is officially out of beta and open to all Prime members in the U.S. as of today. The service has been gradually opening up to more customers over the course of the year, so many Prime members may have already had access before today’s official unveiling. Prime Wardrobe is Amazon’s answer to the increasingly popular personalized shopping services like Stitch Fix and Trunk, which send a curated box of clothing to customers on a regular basis. These services allow consumers to try on clothing and other items in the home, then keep what they like and send back the rest. However, Amazon’s service is more of a DIY version – instead of using stylists, you fill your own box with at least three and as many as eight items at a time. You then have a week to try on the items and return those you don’t want before being charged. Like many of its rivals, Prime Wardrobe isn’t just aimed at women – it features collections for men, children, and baby, too. The service is largely meant to help address one of the biggest problems with shopping for clothes online: fit. Clothing designers have their own interpretation of sizing, and it’s often difficult for shoppers to get a sense of how something will really look without trying it on. Items may be too short or long, too long or tight in some spots, or shoppers might have an issue with how the fabric feels, the draping, the hemline, the quality of the workmanship, and other concerns. Home try-on eliminates this obstacle to online clothing shopping, because it makes it easy to send items back when they don’t work. Not all of Amazon’s online inventory is included in Prime Wardrobe, which means you can’t just browse the site and pick anything you want for home try-on. Instead, you have to visit the Prime Wardrobe section to fill your box

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Hired raises $30M to build an easy subscription pipeline for company hiring

Recruiting is one of the latest industries to get a data science makeover through companies like Hired and Triplebyte, but the former hopes to turn it into a subscription business just like other enterprise software companies — and has raised a new pile of funding to do that. Hired looks to serve as a one-stop recruiting point for both companies and potential candidates. The startup collects information like a basic profile, some thoughts on what those candidates are looking for, and your resume information, and then crunches that through a series of back-end algorithms and processes in order to figure out the best match for that candidate. It then points those candidates to hiring managers at companies that are looking for a strong pipeline of candidates, though the company now hopes that they will be able to build a kind of recurring revenue model for those companies with its subscription business. Hired today also said it has raised $30 million in new financing led by the  Investment Management Corporation of Ontario. “Outside of your choice of life partner your choice of where to work is the second most important decision to make,” CEO Mehul Patel said. “You spend most of your time at work, and any misery or joy you take back to your life partner. When you look at recruiting, it’s a massive industry, and to companies it’s existential to find great talent — but it’s massively broken. Ask anyone who searches for a job whether it works great, and you are going to get a unanimous answer that it doesn’t.” Chances are you’ve gotten a few pitches on LinkedIn to go throw your information on Hired, but that’s all part of the performance marketing that the company hopes to use to get a robust set of candidates onto the platform. By doing that, it can continue to not only have a steady stream of candidates, but also collect more and more information on what candidates might be the best fit. For example, a school might not be the best indicator of future success, while the number of followers on a Github account could be a better barometer for the performance of the candidate. It’s a pretty intuitive result, but not one that hiring managers are likely actively tracking unless they already know that’s the best protocol

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Facebook launches Workplace for Good, a free version of its enterprise product for non-profits

Workplace is making a push into the non-profit segment. Today the enterprise communications app from Facebook — which competes against the likes of Slack, Hipchat, and Microsoft’s Teams — is launching a new tier of the product called Workplace for Good, which will let non-profits use the product for no fee. To be completely clear, Facebook has  never charged non-profits to use Workplace, and it’s already used by over 2,500 of them out of the 30,000 or so organisations using Workplace. The ranks include Oxfam, Save the Children, and many educational institutions, who use it to link up their employees, contractors, students with teachers, stakeholders in their groups and more. There is even a Workplace group started by non-profits for all the nonprofits to access to swap stories, advice and so on. But, as of today, Facebook is going to be making a bigger push to open the product up to charities, educational institutions and non-governmental organisations, regardless of their size. ( Pricing for regular, for-profit businesses is on a freemium basis, with a premium tier that gives access to some 52 apps and services starting at is $3 per active user, per month up to 5,000 users.) Facebook been increasingly focused on non-profits and how it can work with them in recent times. The company now has a fundraising platform that they can use to collect money for charitable causes, and most recently it has been promoting it by encouraging people to raise money for causes on their birthdays and other occasions. That user-led fundraising push is actually in the middle of a major viral campaign at the moment: three people (all of whom happen to be former Facebook employees) are raising money to give legal support to families detained and separated at the border between the US and Mexico by way of collecting donations for RAICES, a legal organization. Originally aimed at raising $1,500, it’s now at $9.5 million and counting .

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Taiwan-based media startup The News Lens raises Series C for its international growth plans

The News Lens launched in 2013 as an independent news site for Taiwanese readers disenchanted with the country’s tabloid-ridden media. Now it has 9 million monthly unique readers, offices in Taipei and Hong Kong and just announced it has raised a Series C. The Taipei-based startup did not disclose the exact amount of the round, but founder and CEO Joey Chung told TechCrunch it’s between $3 million to $4 million. The round includes participation from Dorcas, Hazel Asset Management, Walden International and returning investor North Base Media. Individual investors in the round include Steve Chen, co-founder and former chief technology officer of YouTube, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Charles Huang, the co-creator of Guitar Hero. At the very beginning, The News Lens was a Facebook page that shared news and analysis before launching its eponymous site with original content and videos. Now the startup envisions its future as a media group, with several brands. Earlier this year, The News Lens acquired two Taiwanese content producers, tech news site Inside and sports site Sports Vision , which still operate as separate brands. The News Lens’ two other verticals are its flagship news site, which now has Chinese-language editions for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as an English version for international readers, and ELD , which covers lifestyle and fashion. The News Lens will use some of its new capital to launch its in-house content management and data analytics platform and plans to gain more international readers through strategic partnerships or acquisitions of other Chinese-language online media companies.

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Meditation app Calm hits a $250M valuation amid an explosion of interest in mindfulness apps

Just a few years ago, it might have been a bit of a challenge to convince investors that a mindfulness app would end up being a big business — but thanks to an increasing focus on mental health from both startups and larger companies, companies like Calm are now capturing the excitement of investors. From meditation sessions like you might find on other apps to tracks called “sleep stories” designed to help people get control of their sleep, Calm serves as a suite of content for users focusing on mental wellness. It’s one of an increasingly hot space centered around mental wellness and maintaining a sort of mindfulness in the hope that it’ll convert into a daily habit and help people just generally feel, well, more calm. The company says it has raised $27 million in a new financing round that values it at a $250 million pre-money led by Insight Venture Partners with Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participating. Before this, Calm raised around $1.5 million in seed funding. “There’s definitely a bias toward the physical body in fitness,” co-founder Michael Acton Smith said. “For a long time there’s been a certain amount of embarrassment and shame talking about our own feelings. A lot of people are realizing that we’re all, at different times, going through tough times. I think that’s part of the culture we’ve grown up in. Everything’s been about improving the efficiency and improving the effectiveness and the external circumstances. We haven’t considered the internal circumstances the same way.

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