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Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year ). Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total. While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times. Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal , a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students. In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs. In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform.

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Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase shared big news Monday that federal regulators are allowing the popular cryptocurrency exchange to proceed with plans to sell cryptocurrency tokens that are deemed securities. Last month, Coinbase acquired  Keystone Capital , a California-based FINRA-registered broker-dealer that operates as an alternative trading system. With the announcement, the SF-based cryptocurrency exchange disclosed that it would still need to get regulatory approval to operate under the Keystone licenses. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority gave Coinbase just that, Bloomberg reported, approving that deal alongside the acquisitions of Venovate Marketplace and Digital Wealth. Today’s news opens up the scope of Coinbase’s ambitions to the billions of dollars that have been raised in initial coin offerings over the past several months. With permission to trade tokenized securities, Coinbase users could soon have the ability to move beyond the limited cryptocurrency options currently available to be traded on the site’s central exchange which currently just lists Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin. The company announced last week that it was exploring adding five new tokens to its exchange, including Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x. In a blog post, the company specified that the announcement did not necessarily deem that these tokens were not securities and that classification might vary by jurisdiction.

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Aiming to make billboard advertising more programmatic, Adquick raises $2.1 million

Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Initialized Capital and an investor in Adquick , a new service that’s looking to bring billboard advertising into the internet age, bought his last billboard ad just this year. For several years, the Reddit founder had turned to outdoor advertising as a tool to troll politicians and advocate for various positions (and celebrate his famous wife ). The last political billboard, in 2012, was to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. It was also the impetus for his investment in Adquick. “I’d seen pitches from a number of competitors that were all just static websites on top of the single business,” says Ohanian. What he was looking for, and what he eventually found in Adquick was a company that had managed to map all of the billboard advertising options available in the U.S. and was offering would-be advertisers a way to digitally distribute their ads and book inventory. “For us the reason why it was such an exciting initial investment was because we saw the opportunity and the talent of the team,” Ohanian says. Matthew O’Connor, Adquick’s chief executive previously worked at Instacart and it was there that he and his team first learned about dragging traditional businesses into the online world. “This team had come out of Instacart… they came well recommended by the founders over there,”Ohanian said.

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Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light. As  The Wall Street Journal reports , Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since. The EEOC declined to provide details to TechCrunch due to “confidentiality provisions,” adding that details of an EEOC investigation “become public only when the EEOC files a lawsuit, which is typically a last resort.” An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high-quality feedback, putting out diversity and inclusion reports and involving more employees in diversity trainings. Uber put out its first diversity and inclusion report in March 2017 and in April of this year updated those numbers , which demonstrate some movement in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. In the latest report, the company noted it had increased the percentage of women in its workforce from 36.1 to 38 percent, which isn’t exactly progress to write home about. With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is hoping to rewrite its own story, but the company continues to be embroiled in leadership turbulence, like last week’s departure of Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey after an internal investigation into race-based discrimination and last month’s departure of Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John . It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t being singled out by the EEOC, which has also launched recent investigations into age discrimination at Intel and gendered pay discrepancies at Google . Still, for Uber, no news would be good news — even just for a little while.

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0x lets any app be the Craigslist of cryptocurrency

Centralized crypto exchanges like Coinbase are easy but expensive because they introduce a middleman. Not-for-profit project 0x allows any developer to quickly build their own decentralized cryptocurrency exchange and decide their own fees. It acts like Craigslist, connecting traders without ever holding the tokens itself. And instead of having to bootstrap their way to enough users trading tokens on their app alone so that there’s liquidity, 0x offers cross-platform liquidity between users on the different projects it powers. The problem is the user experience of decentralized apps is often crappy compared to the consumer apps we’re used to across the rest of tech. From sign-in to recovering accounts to conducting transactions, it’s a lot more complicated than Facebook Login, PayPal, or Shopify. Bitcoin and Ethereum prices remain well below half their peaks because it’s difficult to do much with cryptocurrency right now. Until the decentralized infrastructure improves, the dreams of how blockchains can improve the world remain distant. 0x is trying to fix that by ensuring developers all don’t have to reinvent the exchange wheel. It began as a for-profit exchange before the team recognized the massive usability gap. So instead it became a decentralized exchange protocol, and raised $24 million in an ICO for its ZRX token. That’s how relayers — the apps who use it to build exchanges for ERC20 tokens atop the Ethereum blockchain — can charge fees.

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Prime Down: Amazon’s sale day turns into fail day

Update : Here’s how to get around Amazon’s error. Use smile.amazon.com. TechCrunch confirmed this workaround works. It’s not just you. Amazon Prime Day started 15 minutes ago, and so far, it’s not going well for Amazon. The landing page for Prime Day does not work. When most links are clicked, readers are sent to an error page or to a landing page that sends readers back to the main landing page. Direct links to the product pages, either from outside links or the single product placement on the landing page, seem to work fine. I just bought this tent two weeks ago for $120. Some users are reporting errors when completing a purchase, too. This is a huge blow to Amazon and its faux holiday Prime Day. The retailer has been pushing this event for weeks and there are some great deals to be had . It’s not a good look for the world’s largest retailer even though the retailer saw glitches last year too.

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Hear BMW’s Dieter May explain the connected car at Disrupt SF 2018

Mobility is undergoing a radical transformation and the topic will be thoroughly examined at Disrupt SF this September. We’re excited to have BMW’s Dieter May speak on the main stage about how the German car company is addressing the connected car while still building, what they say is, the ultimate driving machine. And bonus! May plans to unveil something brand new right on the Main Stage. We can’t share many details on the unveiling, but we can say that it’s certainly worth your attention. May has been at BMW since 2014 when he joined the car company after eight years at Nokia. He currently leads the digital products and services as a Senior Vice President. It’s an interesting position that puts him in the middle of merging consumer technology with the driving experience — and doing it in a safe manner. That’s the tricky part and a topic we’re excited to speak to him about. BMW is in a tough position like most auto makers. Consumers expect the latest and flashiest technology. Massive LCD screens are expected now to display rich navigation with always-updated information. Auto makers need to deploy this technology in a manner that is safe and practical. BMW just revealed its latest in-car operating system that upends traditional BMW style in favor of what’s best for the driver. We’re excited to talk to talk to May about how automakers and startups alike should address consumer’s expectations. Dieter May joins several other notable figures in the mobility space speaking at Disrupt SF including Cruise’s Kyle Vogt and Aurora’s Chris Urmson.

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Uber’s head of policy for flying taxis and autonomous vehicles leaves for self-driving car startup Voyage

Uber’s head of policy for autonomous vehicles and urban aviation, Justin Erlich, has left the company to join self-driving car startup Voyage, TechCrunch has learned. To lead its policy efforts for autonomous vehicles, Uber recently brought on Miriam Chaum, previously of Philanthropy University. “We wish Justin all the best with his new opportunity at Voyage,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. Erlich’s departure comes a couple of months after Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, left the company . At Voyage, Erlich will lead the company’s strategy, policy and legal efforts. Voyage, led by CEO Oliver Cameron, spun out of Udacity last year and has since deployed Level 4 autonomous vehicles in retirement communities in California and Florida . Erlich previously worked under Attorney General Kamala Harris, where he focused on emerging technology and the key policies that the government will want to have in place to ensure technology helps the people of California. During his time, autonomous vehicles were becoming more and more exciting, he told me back in February. You can hear that full conversation below. I’ve reached out to Erlich and Voyage and will update this story if I hear back.

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Instapaper is leaving Pinterest, two years after being acquired

Back in August of 2016, Pinterest acquired Instapaper , the read-it-later bookmarking service originally built by Marco Arment. Just shy of two years later, Instapaper is going back to being independent. In a blog post published this afternoon , the team clarifies that a new company called “Instant Paper, Inc.” has been formed to oversee Instapaper, and that it’ll largely be made up of the same folks who’ve worked on it since ~2013. Don’t expect much to change, for better or worse — at least, not immediately. The company is waiting three weeks before officially transferring ownership, in order to “give its users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.” The team doesn’t outline the reasoning for splitting away, but it has many users hoping its newly regained independence means it can become GDPR-compliant sooner than later. Instapaper shut off its services in Europe back in May so they could “make changes in light of GDPR”; two months later, the service remains offline in the EU. Instapaper confirmed this afternoon that GDPR-compliance is still a goal: We're working on GDPR compliance and hope to have the service available to everyone in the EU as soon as we can — InstapaperHelp (@InstapaperHelp) July 16, 2018

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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

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The final season of ‘Unreal’ debuts on Hulu

Unreal , the critically acclaimed series that takes viewers behind the scenes of fictional reality TV show  Everlasting , has moved to Hulu . Today’s announcement confirms earlier reports that Hulu was negotiating with A+E Studios to get first dibs on Unreal ‘s fourth and final season. The show’s first three seasons aired on Lifetime, with the third season recently wrapping up just a few months ago, in April. Now all eight episodes of Season 4 are live on Hulu — a departure from the streaming service’s standard approach of releasing just one or two episodes of its original shows each week. Unreal once again stars Shiri Appleby as Rachel and Constance Zimmer as Quinn, producers who return to Everlasting for an “All Stars” season that brings back old contestants. While Unreal’s cable audience has been declining steadily , Hulu says its viewers have embraced the show — it’s not releasing total audience numbers, but apparently the average viewer binges three to four episodes of the show in one session and usually completes a full season in “a matter of days.” “UnREAL has captivated audiences on Hulu since season one, so when this opportunity came to us, we knew we couldn’t miss out,” said Hulu’s senior vice president of content Craig Erwich in the announcement. “This is a unique way to both satisfy fans of the show, while also continuing to introduce it to new audiences.”

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Amazon puts its own devices on sale early for Prime Day

Amazon is kicking off today’s Prime Day a bit early. Although its annual sale technically begins at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET this afternoon, it put its own devices on sale 12 hours early. The company is marking down its Alexa-enabled products like Echo, Fire TV, and Fire tablets, as well as its home security products like the Cloud Cam and more recently acquired Ring Video Doorbell. The retailer has also released a list of Prime Day deals, which encompasses other Amazon product discounts, as well as those from other manufacturers. This year’s Prime Day promises to be the largest yet, both in terms of the number of deals and the length of the sale itself, which has been stretched to 36 hours. Prime members will be able to shop over 1 million deals worldwide in an expanded number of international markets outside the U.S. That’s up from over 100,000 deals just two years ago, the retailer noted. The Amazon devices on sale now include the following: Save $20 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, only $19.99 Save $110 on Toshiba 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition, only $289.99 Save $30 on Echo Spot, only $99.99 Save $30 on Echo (Second Generation), only $69.99 Save $20 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, only $59.99 Save $100 on Echo Look, only $99.99 Save $60 on Amazon Cloud Cam, only $59.99 Save $75 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, only $174 Save $30 on Fire HD8 tablet with Alexa, only $49.99 Save $30 on Fire HD 8 tablet and new Show Mode Charging Dock bundle, only $79.99 Eligible Prime members get 10% back on select Amazon devices, including Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle, when they shop on Prime Day using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card or Amazon Prime Store Card Prime members new to Amazon Music Unlimited can six months free of the premium music streaming service with purchase of select Amazon Echo devices during Prime Day Amazon heavily discounts its own devices on Prime Day, so you can be sure these are pretty good deals. For example, the lowest price on the Fire TV Stick before today was $24.99 – now it’s $19.99. The Fire TV (Pendant) is also $10 less than it was during its biggest price drop. And even the brand-new Fire TV Cube has been marked down from $119.99 to $89.99. If you bundle it with a Cloud Cam, you can save $90 off both. Though oddly not in Amazon’s advertised list above, the Echo Dot is on sale, too. The smaller Echo speaker was last year’s best seller on Prime Day, and Amazon is clearly hoping to repeat history by marking down the Dot again. Last year, it was $34.99 on Prime Day, now it’s $29.99  – and one of the better deals to be found

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WeWork takes meat off the menu as part of environmental policy drive

WeWork, the co-working startup that’s valued at ~$20 billion and has some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally plus nearly 6,000 staff of its own, will no long allow employees to expense meat. It will also no longer serve meat at company events. The policy shift is intended to reduce the business’ environmental impact. The new internal policy was reported on Friday by Bloomberg  which obtained a company memo in which co-founder Miguel McKelvey revealed the policy, writing: “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact — even more than switching to a hybrid car.” So Elon Musk take note. A WeWork spokeswoman confirmed the new policy to us — which specifically removes red meat, poultry and pork from company menus and expenses policy. Though she emphasized that the company is not prohibiting WeWork staff or members from bringing in meat-based meals they’ve paid for themselves. Members are also still free to host their own events at WeWork locations and serve meat they’ve paid for themselves. The policy only applies to food purchased (or paid for) by WeWork itself. The spokeswoman also confirmed that fish is not covered in the meat-free initiative. The internal memo announcing the meat-free policy is embedded below: Global Team, One thing that inspires me most about WeWork is our ability to effect positive change. Our team, united together, has no limit when solving any problem. That’s the Power of We

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Proportunity offers ‘help to buy’ loans based on predicting future house prices

Proportunity , a London-based startup and Entrepreneur First alumni, wants to help first time buyers get on the property ladder earlier or purchase a home more to their liking. The company, which recently became an FCA authorised mortgage lender, claims to use machine learning to accurately forecast future house prices and the areas of London that will see the highest growth in the next few years. Based on confidence in this modelling, it will soon begin offering equity loans to boost your deposit when buying a first home. Specifically, once Proportunity has used its technology to help identify a property for sale that both fits your needs and offers good house price growth prospects, the startup will offer an equity loan of up to 15 percent of the property’s price. You then combine this loan with the money you have already saved for a deposit so that you can apply for a mortgage with a lower loan-to-value ratio, which in turn will command a lower interest rate. The way it works is quite similar to the U.K. government’s “Help To Buy” scheme , except it isn’t restricted to a new build and you have to pay monthly interest on the loan from the get-go. Like Help To Buy, when you sell the house or remortgage it in five years time, you have to repay the Proportunity equity loan at 15 percent of the current market price. Therefore, if the price of the house has gone up, the amount you pay back will have also increased. In the unlikelihood that the price has gone down, the startup loses money. Overall, however, since a Proportunity loan is interest-only until you pay it back after five years, the company says the combined monthly repayments are less than if you took out a 95 percent mortgage to buy the same home. And unlike shared ownership schemes, you don’t have to pay rent on the 15 percent of your home funded by a Proportunity loan.

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Golden Equator Capital and Korea Investment Partners announce $88M Southeast Asia fund

There’s more money flowing into Southeast Asia’s tech startup scene after Singapore’s  Golden Equator Capital and Seoul-based Korea Investment Partners announced plans for a collaborative $88 million (SG$120 million) fund for the region. The two investment firms will act as joint partners for the vehicle, which is expected to hit a first close before September and a final close by the end of 2018. Already, they claim to have 65 percent of the target capital committed by LPs. The firms are aiming for the Series A and B spaces with a typical check size of between $1.5 million and $3.7 million for what will be known as the GEC-KIP Fund. It isn’t exactly clear what focus the fund will adopt for investments. Southeast Asia often falls off the radar for investment in Asia, with the far larger countries of China and India typically getting the attention, but rising internet access among the region’s cumulative population of over 600 million signals growth potential. A recent report co-authored by Google forecasts Southeast Asia’s ‘internet economy’ reaching more than $200 billion by 2025, up from just $30 billion in 2015. A few unicorns, including ride-sharing companies Grab and Go-Jek, have also helped put it on the map for investors. Speaking of investors, Golden Equator Capital is part of Golden Equator , a Singapore-based group of businesses that includes financial services, consulting, an incubator and, of course, investment funds. The firm has existing ties with Korea — via a Korea-focused health tech incubator launched last year — and its advisory team includes Taizo Son , founder of Japanese VC firm Mistletoe and brother of SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son.

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