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ClassPass is headed to Asia via an imminent launch in Singapore

U.S fitness startup ClassPass is headed to Asia after it announced plans to go live in Singapore, its first city in the continent. Four-year-old ClassPass allows its users to book fitness classes and packages across a multitude of gyms. The company claims to work with more than 10,000 fitness partners across over 50 cities globally. That’s mostly in the U.S. but it has also forayed into Canada, the UK and Australia and now it is seeking out additional growth opportunities. The move into Asia has been expected for some time after ClassPass hired a head of international in May . The company told TechCrunch at the time that it would soon arrive in three countries in Asia and Singapore, which has many similarities to the West in terms of economics and culture, is a logical pick as the starting point. Added to that, the country’s sovereign fund, Temasek, led ClassPass’s $70 million Series C funding round last year so you could say that is an extra factor. The identity of the other two cities remains unclear at this point, but you’d imagine that Hong Kong will be one of them. ClassPass hasn’t given a specific date for its launch other than it will come to Singapore “in the lead-up to National Day” — that’s August 9.

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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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This fan-made Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion proves video game movies don’t have to be awful

It’s not exactly a controversial statement: Movies based on video games are, generally, bad. See  Assassins Creed . Or that weird mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation . Or that Super Mario movie where Bowser (renamed “President Koopa” for some reason) was basically just a dude with bad hair for half the movie. Turns out, as this live action fan film based on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted suggests, they can be done right. This fan-made short is about as unofficial as can be, as noted by a disclaimer that pops up on screen right off the bat. And yet, it does a better job of capturing the feel of its source material than pretty much any game-based movie before it. And it stars Nathan Fillion! Captain friggin’ Reynolds himself! Fans have been saying for ages that Nathan Fillion would make for one helluva Nathan Drake, and it seems like the hive mind really nailed that casting. Is it silly? Sure. Will people who’ve never played the Uncharted series understand what’s going on? Maybe not.

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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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Lyft outlines bike and scooter plans

On the heels of Lyft’s acquisition of bike-share company Motivate , the company is gearing up to fully integrate bicycle and scooter sharing into the app. There’s no word on exactly when this will happen, but it’s likely this will happen soon. Lyft is also investing $1 million to advance transportation equity to people in underserved communities. As part of its commitment, Lyft will work with non-profit organizations like TransForm to develop programs that support people with low incomes. “Soon you will be able to get real-time transit information, plan a multi-modal trip, and use Lyft Bikes and Scooters to connect to a local transit stop or shared ride pickup location,” Lyft wrote in a blog post. In June, Lyft revamped its rider app to encourage shared rides . Currently, 35 percent of Lyft rides are shared, but the goal is to reach 50 percent shared rides by 2020, Lyft VP of Government Relations Joseph Okpaku told TechCrunch last month. With scooters and bikes offered via the app, Lyft envisions being better equipped to “bridge the first and last-mile gap.” By the end of 2019, Lyft says it aims to take one million cars off the road. Last year, Lyft says 250,000 of its community members gave up their personal cars. This comes shortly after Uber invested in part of Lime’s $335 million round . Uber’s plan is to put its logo on Lime’s scooters, Bloomberg previously reported.

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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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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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‘Serious concerns’ at FCC threaten to halt Sinclair-Tribune merger

The FCC has been under serious scrutiny by citizens, advocates and politicians alike due to its laissez-faire attitude toward, in particular, the proposed Sinclair Broadcasting merger with Tribune. But the agency is showing some backbone today with a no-nonsense declaration that the merger can’t go through unless a few “serious concerns” are addressed. It’s not the outright disapproval many have recommended, but it’s better than an unconditional green light. In a short memo posted to the agency’s site , FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained that even under his notoriously (or blessedly, depending on your politics) deregulatory regime, the proposed deal is not acceptable as is. Here it is in full: Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction. The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues. For these reasons, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The issue is that the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger would result in a company that controls a huge amount of TV stations — far more than is healthy for a single company. This was demonstrated effectively by a viral video demonstrated earlier this year showing news anchors at Sinclair stations reading the exact same script without acknowledging that it was under the direction of their owner.

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Apple emoji will soon include people with curly hair, white hair and superpowers

In honor of World Emoji Day (yes, that’s a thing), Apple is previewing some of its upcoming emoji. Later this year, Apple’s emoji set will feature people with a variety of hairstyles and colors, including curly hair, red hair and white hair. What you’re about to see are simply Apple’s take on emoji that were previously approved by the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee . Folks with curly hair, rejoice! Let’s hear it for the redheads   Like white on rice   No hair? No problem Other fun emoji include a freezing face, peacock, mango, lobster, nazar amulet, superheroes and kangaroo. Back in March, Apple proposed new emojis to represent people with disabilities  in Unicode’s next batch of emoji. Then in May, Unicode announced some of the draft candidates for its next emoji release in Q1 2019  to include some of Apple’s proposed emoji, which featured a guide dog, an ear with a hearing aid and more. If you want to hear more about what goes into emoji approval, be sure to check out this interview with Jeremy Burge, vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee.  

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Klang gets $8.95M for an MMO sim sitting atop Improbable’s dev platform

Berlin-based games studio Klang , which is building a massive multiplayer online simulation called Seed utilizing Improbable’s virtual world builder platform, has just bagged $8.95M in Series A funding to support development of the forthcoming title. The funding is led by veteran European VC firm Northzone . It follows a seed raise for Seed, finalized in March 2018, and led by Makers Fund, with participation by firstminute capital, Neoteny, Mosaic Ventures, and Novator — bringing the total funding raised for the project to $13.95M. The studio was founded in 2013, and originally based in Reykjavík, Iceland, before relocating to Berlin. Klang’s original backers include Greylock Partners, Joi Ito, and David Helgason, as well as original investors London Venture Partners. The latest tranche of funding will be used to expand its dev team and for continued production on Seed which is in pre-alpha at this stage — with no release date announced yet. Nor is there a confirmed pricing model. We understand the team is looking at a variety of ideas at this stage, such as tying the pricing to the costs of simulating the entities. They have released the below teaser showing the pre-alpha build of the game — which is described as a persistent simulation where players are tasked with colonizing an alien planet, managing multiple characters in real-time and interacting with characters managed by other human players they encounter in the game space. The persistent element refers to the game engine maintaining character activity after the player has logged off — supporting an unbroken simulation. Klang touts its founders’ three decades of combined experience working on MMOs  EVE Online  and  Dust 514, and now being rolled into designing and developing the large, player-driven world they’re building with Seed. Meanwhile London-based Improbable bagged a whopping $502M for its virtual world builder SpatialOS  just over a year ago. The dev platform lets developers design and build massively detailed environments — to offer what it bills as a new form of simulation on a massive scale — doing this by utilizing distributed cloud computing infrastructure and machine learning technology to run a swarm of  hundreds of game engines so it can support a more expansive virtual world vs software running off of  a single engine or server. Northzone partner Paul Murphy, who is leading the investment in Klang, told us: “It is unusual to raise for a specific title, and we are for all intents and purposes investing in Klang as a studio. We are very excited about the team and the creative potential of the studio

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Kodak-branded KashMiner Bitcoin mining rig for rent wasn’t — and won’t be

Write off another piece of crypto craziness: A Kodak-branded Bitcoin-mining rig that was on show at CES in January , where it generated much headshaking and skepticism that it could ever deliver the claimed returns, has evaporated into the ideas ether from whence it came. The BBC reports that the plan to rent access to Kodak-branded KashMiner devices for the chance to earn Bitcoin returns has collapsed. Spotlite USA, the company that had shown off the rig at CES, was also never officially licensed to use Kodak’s brand for the mining rig, according to the report (although the company does seemingly license Kodak’s brand for use on LED lighting products which nonetheless have nothing at all to do with Bitcoin mining so…). Nor had it installed multiple KashMiner devices at Kodak’s offices, as it had claimed. Speaking to the BBC, Spotlite CEO Halston Mikail said the US Securities and Exchange Commission prevented the scheme from going ahead. Instead of renting Bitcoin mining capacity to consumers the company now plans to run a mining operation privately, with equipment installed in Iceland — apparently without pausing to examine the logic of joining the existing pool of professional Bitcoin miners all chasing diminishing returns. Iceland has been a popular spot for setting up crypto mining ops for a while, owning to low average annual temperatures which help keep cooling costs down, plus the availability of (relatively) cheap electricity, including generated from clean geothermal energy, which can offset concerns about the environmental impact of crypto mining. Which is presumably why Spotlite has settled on Iceland for the next stage of its crypto adventure. Meanwhile, Eastman Kodak, the 130-year-old camera company whose brand was not, as it turns out, licensed by Spotlite USA for Bitocin mining, did reveal a  bona fide  brand licensing plans to get involved with cryptocurrencies and blockchain (also) in January  — announcing an imminent ICO for a photo-centric cryptocurrency (called KodakCoin), via a brand licensee (called Wenn Digital), with the mooted blockchain platform set to focus on image rights management. So at least there’s a less than entirely tenuous connection in that crypto instance.

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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’s biggest rival in China is on an acquisition spree

WeWork may have combined forces with its fiercest rival in China, Naked Hub, in a recent merger , but its new enemy numero uno in the country is also building up a roster of friends through aggressive M&A. Ucommune may not be spending the kind of cash WeWork China did — it reportedly spent $400 million to get Naked Hub — but it is quietly picking up smaller rivals via acquisitions. Last week, it completed its fourth piece of M&A of the past year with a deal to buy  Workingdom for 300 million RMB, or roughly $45 million. Two-year-old Workingdom offers working spaces in Shanghai, and online services that help SMEs and multinationals growth their businesses. An acquisition spree from Ucommune — which was forced to rebrand from UrWork following a lawsuit from WeWork — has seen it snap up lesser but strategic players  Wedo , Woo Space  and New Space  to boost its presence and rival WeWork. All told, and thanks to these deals, Ucommune claims to operate 60 offices in Beijing, 20 more in Shanghai and a significant presence in Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong. In comparison, Naked Hub says it has 10,000 members across its 24 office locations while WeWork says it has 10,000 members in 13 locations in Greater China. The U.S. firm plans to grow its reach to 40 offices by the end of this year, a move that it says will quadruple its membership numbers in China to 40,000. Those numbers explain why the acquisition deals aren’t likely to stop any time soon for Ucommune. The Chinese he company said in its latest announcement that it will “continue to acquire more co-working companies to grow its global footprint.” Currently, its presence outside of China includes New York and Singapore, but it is clearly exploiting the bursting of the co-working bubble which initially attracted a huge number of companies to the space, particularly in China. Inside a Ucommune space Ucommune last raised money when it closed a $17 million round at a valuation of 9 billion RMB ($1.4 billion) in February 2018.

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Undo gets $14M to scale to meet the software accountability challenge

Undo , a long time player in the debugging tools space, offering its program execution capture and replay technology to help others diagnose software failures, has closed a $14 million Series B round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital , the Cambridge, UK-based builder of tech and healthcare companies. The 2005 founded startup — initially bootstrapped (out of founder Greg Law’s garden shed) — has come a long way, and now has more than 30 paying customers for what it describes as its “record, rewind and replay” debugging technology, including the likes of SAP HANA, Mentor Graphics, Cadence and Micro Focus. A quick potted history: In 2012, Law quit his job to go full time on Undo, raising a small amount of angel funding and then a $1.25M from seed investment in 2014, followed by $3.3M in a series A funding in 2016. New investors in the Series B round include Global Brain Corporation, a Japanese venture capital fund; and UK-focused Parkwalk Advisors, while all Undo’s existing investor groups also participated —  including Rockspring; Martlet; Sir Peter Michael (founder of Quantel, Classic FM and California’s Peter Michael Winery); the Cambridge Angels group and Jaan Tallinn (co-founder of Skype and Kazaa). The Series B will be used to expand Undo’s software development team, accelerate product development and grow its US operations. Undo says its best markets so far are electronic design automation (EDA); database manufacturers/data management; and networking. “This funding will be used to significantly improve performance as part of Undo’s  always-on recording  vision, and also to accelerate our product roadmap and broaden the technology beyond compiled code so that it can be used with Java and other VM-based languages,” it tells us. “Our main competitor is the status quo — engineering organisations that do not evolve with the times. Old-school debugging techniques (e.g. printf, logging, core dump analysis) have been around for decades. 2000 was all about static analysis. 2010 was about dynamic analysis, 2020 will be about capturing software failures ‘in the act’ through capture & replay technology.” Undo argues that its Live Recorder technology offers “a completely new way of diagnosing software failures during development and in production” — arguing that its approach is superior to traditional debugging techniques such as printf, logging, core dump analysis which are “general purpose and provide limited information”, while it says static and dynamic analysis “are deep but can only look at specific instances of bugs” — whereas it claims its tech “can capture failure instances across the whole spectrum and therefore plugs in the gaps which no-one else has filled yet”. The UK company also sees a growing opportunity for its approach given increasingly complex and increasingly autonomous software risks becoming unaccountable, if it’s making decisions without people knowing how and why. So the wider vision for Undo is not just getting faster at fixing bugs but addressing the growing need for software makers to be able to articulate — and account for — what their programs are doing at any given moment. “Longer term it’s about that journey towards software accountability,” says Law .

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Hong Kong’s GoGoVan raises $250M from investors including Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary

Logistics on-demand service GoGoVan became Hong Kong’s first billion-dollar startup via a merger last year, and now is doubling down on growth after raising $250 million in new capital. The new round was led by InnoVision Capital, with participation from the Russia-China Investment Fund, Hongrun Capital and Qianhai Fund of Funds. Two other notable investors include Alibaba’s Cainiao logistics subsidiary — Alibaba is already an investor via its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund — and 58 Daojia Group, the parent of the ’58 Suyun’ business that merged with GoGoVan. There’s more capital coming soon it seems, with GoGoVan saying in an announcement that the $250 million is “the first phase of its new round of funding.” Despite reaching unicorn status via the merger, GoGoVan didn’t disclose a valuation for this new round. The company plans to use the money to expand its business into new markets, and in particular India and Southeast Asia, having focused on China primarily to date. Together with 58 Suyun, GoGoVan claims to cover 300 cities with some eight million registered users and 2,000 staff. The service itself is anchored around short distance logistics and trips, but GoGoVan CEO Steven Lam explained that the company plans to soon introduce a door-to-door option and other offerings that “simplify logistics and delivery services.” GoGoVan’s main rival is Lalamove, a fellow Hong Kong-based logistics startup.  Lalamove raised $100 million last year  at a valuation of nearly $1 billion. While GoGoVan’s exit was its merger, Lalamove is looking to remain independent and it has begun thinking about an IPO, which could take place in Hong Kong, its head of international Blake Larson told TechCrunch. GoGoVan and Lalamove are two of the last that remain standing from what was once a very cluttered field as the rise of Uber saw dozens of companies sprout up as an ‘Uber for logistics’ services. The secret to their survival? Getting deep into the Chinese market is one crucial factor, but from talking to the two companies over the years, both cast  the ‘Uber for X’ buzzword aside and concentrated on working with SMEs and repeat business customers rather than the shallow (and fickle) consumer market. Uber’s Cargo service , for example, offered on-demand logistics in Hong Kong but it didn’t live long before being shuttered .

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