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For Madrona Venture Group, four IPOs in 20 months and a brand-new fund

Madrona Venture Group typically flies under the radar of Silicon Valley reporters, partly because it’s in Seattle. But the 23-year-old, early-stage venture firm has been having a pretty good run of late — success it just used to close its seventh fund with $300 million, the same amount it raised for its sixth fund in 2015. Among its investors: Bezos Expeditions, Vulcan Capital, and billionaire John Stanton, who is the chairman of the board of Trilogy International Partners (as well as the majority owner of the Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners). Madrona’s momentum didn’t build overnight. Four Madrona portfolio companies that have IPO’d over the last 20 months — the cloud software companies Smartsheet, Apptio, the real estate site Redfin, and the RFID chip maker Impinj —  took on average 12 years to get into the hands of public market investors. Madrona, the firm is quick to note, was there from the start, writing seed and Series A checks that today range from $200,000 to upwards of $5 million to $7 million. (The firm has, on rare occasion, invested upwards of  $30 million in a single company over the life of its investment.) Yet those four now-public companies share another trait in common; they’re all based in the Pacific Northwest, which includes greater Seattle but also cities like Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Spokane, Wa. That’s no accident. About 90 percent of Madrona’s deals are local, where the startup scene has seemingly expanded dramatically in recent years. In addition to Madrona and other local venture shops, Google, Facebook, Alibaba and Snowflake Computing have each opened engineering offices. Meanwhile, the University of Washington Computer Science Department — last year renamed the Allen School — is finishing another major building to expand its ability to graduate more CSE students.

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U.S. and China reportedly working on a deal to save ZTE

The United States and China are said to be working on a deal that would keep ZTE from going out of business. According to the Wall Street Journal , the two countries have agreed on a “broad outline” of a deal to settle a trade dispute sparked when the Commerce Department banned American companies from selling to ZTE for seven years after it violated sanctions against Iran and North Korea. If the deal goes through, the U.S. would lift the ban. In return, ZTE would have to make major leadership changes and also potentially face heavy fines. The deal would enable its business to survive, however, since many of its most important suppliers, including Qualcomm, are American and the ban has the potential to cause irreversible damage to its business. ZTE is also the fourth-largest vendor of mobile phones in the U.S. As part of the deal, China reportedly offered to remove tariffs that impact billions of dollars in U.S. farm products, though one of the WSJ’s sources said “the White House was meticulous in affirming that the case is a law enforcement matter and not a bargaining chip in negotiations.” Talk of the deal isn’t a complete surprise. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted that “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast.” He was met with backlash from officials and lawmakers concerned that the administration is softening its stance in trade negotiations with China. The Chinese government had reportedly demanded that the U.S. roll back sanctions against ZTE as a prerequisite for continuing trade talks, which stalled last month (though the countries agreed yesterday to continue)

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Subscription video services’ recommendations aren’t working, study claims

Streaming video services invest heavily in technology to improve their ability to show users a set of personalized recommendations about what to what next. But according to a new research study released today by UserTesting, it seems that consumers aren’t watching much recommended content – in fact, only 29 percent of the study’s participants said they actually watched something the service recommended. On some services, those figures were extremely low – for example, only 6 percent of HBO NOW users said they watched recommended content. That’s probably because consumers found it difficult to locate HBO NOW’s recommendations in the first place. The service was given a low 16.8 “ customer experience”  score on this front, the study says. That’s a much lower score than all other services analyzed, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube TV – all of which had scores in the 80’s. (See first chart, below). To be fair, HBO NOW doesn’t really do recommendations in the same way as the others. Its app offers a “Featured” selection of content for all users, and, if you scroll down further, there are a couple of editorial collections, like “Essential HBO” or “14 Hidden Gems You Missed the First Time.” A separate “Collections” section includes more of these suggestions, like “New Movies,” “Just Added,” “Last Chance” and others. The lack of personalized, easily located recommendations also impacted HBO NOW’s overall score in the UserTesting study, which rated the services across a variety of metrics including availability of content, friction-free viewing, ease of scrubbing and episode scanning, and other factors. HBO NOW was also was dinged by survey respondents for lagging, freezing and buffering issues, though they said they appreciated its clean design. Netflix’s overall score was 89.5, making it the highest-rated streaming service among those analyzed due to having the most relevant recommendations, overall high ease-of-use, and a speedy service

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Comcast’s mesh Wi-Fi system, xFi Pods, launches nationwide

Comcast today is officially launching its own Wi-Fi extender devices called xFi Pods that help to address problems with weak Wi-Fi signals in parts of a customer’s home due to things like the use of building materials that disrupt signals, or even just the home’s design. The launch follows Comcast’s announcement last year that it was investing  in the mesh router maker Plume, which offers plug-in “pods” that help extend Wi-Fi signals. The company said that it would launch its own xFi pods that pair with Comcast’s gateways to its own customers as a result of that deal. Those pods were initially available in select markets, including Boston, Chicago and Denver, ahead of today’s nationwide launch. The pods themselves are hexagon-shopped devices that plug in to any electrical outlet in the home, and then pair with Comcast’s xFi Wireless Gateway or the xFi Advanced Gateway to help Wi-Fi signals extend to the hard-to-reach areas of the home. The pods work with the Comcast Gateways to continuously monitor and optimize the Wi-Fi connections, Comcast explains, while its cloud-based management service evaluates the home’s Wi-Fi environment to make sure all the connected devices are using the best signal bands and Wi-Fi channels. Plus, the devices are smart enough to self-monitor their own performance, diagnose issues and “heal” themselves, as needed, says Comcast. However, early reviews of Plume’s pods were mixed. CNET said the system was slow and the pods were too expensive, for example. But Engadget found the system had the lowest latency, compared with competitors, and helped devices roam more easily and accurately.

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Epic Games will pump $100 million into Fortnite eSports competitions

Epic Games doesn’t want the party to stop. The gaming company announced today that it plans to funnel $100 million into Fortnite eSports competitions for the “2018-2019 season,” a move which will undoubtedly drive talent and enthusiasm to the battle royale title. The company announced the investment in a short blog post : In the 2018 – 2019 season, Epic Games will provide $100,000,000 to fund prize pools for Fortnite competitions. We’re getting behind competitive play in a big way, but our approach will be different – we plan to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game. Fortnite has had an explosive period of growth over the past several months since the release of its battle royale flavor following the popularity of PUBG, but Epic Games seems to be doubling down on ensuring the continued popularity of the recent multiplayer gameplay trend. Unlike a lot of popular eSports titles, Fortnite is available across a pretty wide variety of platforms beyond just the PC, with console and mobile flavors also available. Epic hasn’t released much in the way of usage numbers lately, but the game hit 2 million concurrent players in January and it has undoubtedly surged in popularity since then. Whether the young title can continue to draw attention and crowds in the face of fresher talent  moving forward will depend heavily on streamers and eSports leagues continuing to show interest, but $100 million in investment in prize pools will almost certainly prove to be quite helpful.

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Don’t expect Ubuntu maker Canonical to IPO this year

Canonical , the company best known for its Ubuntu Linux distribution, is on a path to an IPO. That’s something Canonical founder and CEO Mark Shuttleworth has been quite open about. But don’t expect that IPO to happen this year. “We did decide as a company — and that’s not just my decision — but we did decide that we want to have a commercial focus,” Shuttleworth told me during an interview at the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, Canada today. “So we picked cloud and IoT as the areas to develop that. And being a public company, given that most of our customers are now global institutions, it makes for us also to be a global institution. I think it would be great for my team to be part of a public company. It would be a lot of work, but we are not shy of work.” Unsurprisingly, Shuttleworth didn’t want to talk about the exact timeline for the IPO, though. “We will do the right thing at the right time,” he said. That right time is not this year, though. “No, there is a process that you have to go through and that takes time.

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Comcast is leaking the names and passwords of customers’ wireless routers

Comcast has just been caught in a major security snafu: revealing the passwords of its customers’ Xfinity-provided wireless routers in plaintext on the web. Anyone with a subscriber’s account number and street address number will be served up the Wi-Fi name and password via the company’s Xfinity internet activation service. Security researchers Karan Saini and Ryan Stevenson reported the issue to ZDnet . The site is meant to help people setting up their internet for the first time: ideally, you put in your data, and Comcast sends back the router credentials while activating the service. The problem is threefold: You can “activate” an account that’s already active The data required to do so is minimal and it is not verified via text or email The wireless name and password are sent on the web in plaintext This means that anyone with your account number and street address number (e.g. the 1425 in “1425 Alder Ave,” no street name, city, or apartment number needed), both of which can be found on your paper bill or in an email, will instantly be given your router’s SSID and password, allowing them to log in and use it however they like or monitor its traffic. They could also rename the router’s network or change its password, locking out subscribers. This only affects people who use a router provided by Xfinity/Comcast , which comes with its own name and password built in. Though it also returns custom SSIDs and passwords, since they’re synced with your account and can be changed via app and other methods. What can you do? While this problem is at large, it’s no good changing your password — Comcast will just provide any malicious actor the new one.

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Comcast is leaking the names and passwords of customers’ wireless routers

Comcast has just been caught in a major security snafu: revealing the passwords of its customers’ Xfinity-provided wireless routers in plaintext on the web. Anyone with a subscriber’s account number and street address number will be served up the Wi-Fi name and password via the company’s Xfinity internet activation service. Security researchers Karan Saini and Ryan Stevenson reported the issue to ZDnet . The site is meant to help people setting up their internet for the first time: ideally, you put in your data, and Comcast sends back the router credentials while activating the service. The problem is threefold: You can “activate” an account that’s already active The data required to do so is minimal and it is not verified via text or email The wireless name and password are sent on the web in plaintext This means that anyone with your account number and street address number (e.g. the 1425 in “1425 Alder Ave,” no street name, city, or apartment number needed), both of which can be found on your paper bill or in an email, will instantly be given your router’s SSID and password, allowing them to log in and use it however they like or monitor its traffic. They could also rename the router’s network or change its password, locking out subscribers. This only affects people who use a router provided by Xfinity/Comcast , which comes with its own name and password built in. Though it also returns custom SSIDs and passwords, since they’re synced with your account and can be changed via app and other methods. What can you do?

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Uizard raises funds for its AI that turns design mockups into source code

When you’re trying to build apps, there is a very tedious point where you have to stare at a wireframe and then laboriously turn it into code. Actually, the process itself is highly repetitive and ought to be much easier. The traditional software development from front-end design to front-end html/css development to working code is expensive, time-consuming, tedious and repetitive. But most approaches to solving this problem have been more complex than they need to be. What if you could just turn wireframes straight into code and then devote your time to the more complex aspects of a build? That’s the idea behind a Copenhagen-based startup called Uizard . Uizard’s computer vision and AI platform claims to be able to automatically turn design mockups — and this could be on the back of napkin — into source code that developers can plug into their backend code. It’s now raised an $800,000 pre-seed round led by New York-based LDV Capital with co-investors ByFounders, The Nordic Web Ventures, 7percent Ventures, New York Venture Partners, entrepreneur Peter Stern (co-founder of Datek) and Philipp Moehring and Andy Chung from AngelList . This fundraising will be used to grow the team and launch the beta product. The company received interest in June 2017 when they released their first research milestone dubbed “pix2code” and implementation on GitHub was the second-mosttrending project of June 2017 ahead of Facebook Prepack and Google TensorFlow.

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Instagram says ‘you’re all caught up’ in first time-well-spent feature

Without a chronological feed, it can be tough to tell if you’ve seen all the posts Instagram will show you. That can lead to more of the compulsive, passive, zombie browsing that research suggests is unhealthy as users endlessly scroll through stale content hoping for a hit of dopamine-inducing novelty. But with Instagram’s newest feature, at least users know when they’ve seen everything and can stop scrolling without FOMO. Instagram is showing some users a mid-feed alert after a bunch of browsing that says “You’re All Caught Up – You’ve seen all new post from the past 48 hours.” When asked about it, Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s testing this feature. It declined to give details about how it works, including whether the announcement means you’ve seen literally every post from people you follow from the last two days, or just the best ones that the algorithm has decided are worth showing you. The feature could help out Instagram completists who want to be sure they never miss a selfie, sunset or supper pic. Before Instagram rolled out its algorithm in the summer of 2016, they could just scroll to the last post they’d seen or when they knew they’d last visited. Warning them they’ve seen everything could quiet some of the backlash to the algorithm, which has centered around people missing content they wanted to see because the algorithm mixed up the chronology. But perhaps more importantly, it’s one of the app’s first publicly tested features that’s clearly designed with the “time well spent” movement in mind. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about prioritizing well-being  over profits, to the point that the network reduced the prevalence of viral videos in the feed so much that that app lost 1 million users in the U.S. and Canada in Q4 2017 . “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down

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Adobe to acquire Magento for $1.68B

Adobe announced today that it was acquiring Magento for $1.68 billion . The purchase gives Adobe a missing e-commerce platform piece that works in B2B and B2C contexts and should fit nicely in the company’s Experience Cloud. It should also help Adobe compete with Salesforce, which offers its own marketing, sales and service offerings in the cloud and which  bought Demandware for more than $2 billion in 2016 to provide a similar set of functionality. Brent Leary, who owns CRM Essentials and keeps a close eye on the intersection between marketing and CRM, says this fills an obvious hole in Adobe’s Experience Cloud . “Now they have an offering that allows them to close the loop with consumers, who are able to finalize a digital transaction that started online with digital marketing tools Adobe already offered,” Leary explained. Leary also sees this deal bringing Microsoft and Adobe, who have already announced partnerships in the past, closer together. “But maybe even more interesting may be how this may further the relationship Adobe has with Microsoft. As they also are missing an e-commerce piece to their customer engagement platform as well,” he pointed out. Leary speculates this could lead to an even deeper relationship between the two companies as they are each battling Salesforce. Salesforce is the 10,000-pound gorilla in this space with revenue across its various clouds reaching more than $8 billion last year. The company is  on a run rate to exceed $10 billion in 2018

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Google Photos adds likes and favorites with hearts and stars

Twitter swapped out its Favorite star icon for an appreciation-focused heart icon instead, but Google Photos is embracing both icons with an update rolling out now. The company announced this afternoon it’s adding a new star-shaped Favorites button to its photo-sharing service starting today, which will be followed by a heart-shaped “Like” button next week. The two will have different functionality, however. The Favorite (star) button will only appear on photos in your own library, allowing you to mark an individual item as a favorite which, in turn, will automatically populate a new photo album with just your favorite photos. This is a feature that most other photo services already offer, including Apple’s and previously, Google’s own Picasa, so it’s a bit of an obvious catch-up addition on Google’s part. Meanwhile, the heart icon is Google Photos’ version of the “like.” This will appear only on those photos that have been shared with you from your family and friends. You can also like a full shared album, but not any photos or albums that aren’t shared, says Google. If you want to save one of these shared photos to your own Favorites album, you have to copy it to your own library first. Though seemingly minor additions, the implementation of a proper favoriting system is actually a big design decision for a social platform. When Twitter switched from stars to hearts, for example, there was quite the user backlash . And some people continue to upset over the change years later. Even Facebook had to acquiesce to users’ demands for an alternative to its “Like” button by offering different ways to react to a post. It would have been fun to see Google Photos do something similar – perhaps a shocked emoji, or laughing with tears – in addition the simple heart. After all, we know not all the photos we take are beloved – some are just ridiculous, goofy, crazy, weird, and so on

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TheSkimm closes its $12M Series C with big names Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks on board

In March, the female-led media company and newsletter provider  theSkimm reported it was raising a $12 million  Series C from Google Ventures and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, along with several existing investors. Today, the company is confirming its Series C round has closed with a number of new, mostly female investors joining — including big names like Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks. Variety was the first to report the news of the new investors. The Series C’s additional investors include former TV journalist Willow Bay , now dean at the USC Anneberg School for Communication and Journalism; Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures; Shonda Rhimes; founder and CEO of GingerBread Capital, Linnea Roberts; CEO of ELY Capital, Hope Taitz; as well as the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.; and Michael Karsch of Juice Press. Earlier Series C investors included GV (formerly Google Ventures); Spanx founder Sara Blakely; plus former lead investors 21st Century Fox, RRE Ventures and Homebrew Ventures. TheSkimm began its life as an email newsletter, founded by former TV news producers Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg. The newsletter targets millennial women who want an easy way to keep up with the key news of the day. What makes the product so appealing is how it’s written in a conversational tone, making it accessible to a wide audience who often finds reading the news a dreary but necessary chore. Mixed in with its highlights from key U.S., political and international news are samplings of stories from pop culture and the entertainment industry, which gives the newsletter a bit of a palate cleanser — something that’s much appreciated these days. That newsletter has now grown to around 7 million subscribers, the company says. (This is the same number it reported in March.) The company has also expanded to other products since its launch, including a $2.99 per month subscription-based app for keeping up with upcoming news and televised events, a podcast, as well as original videos for YouTube and Facebook Watch via its production arm, Skimm Studios. Its video offerings include Skimm’d with…” and “Get Off the Couch” for Facebook, and digital series “Sip n’ Skimm,” which landed an interview with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, followed by a discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan assessing the proposed GOP tax plan.

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Lyft reportedly wants to launch electric scooter service

Because there aren’t enough electric scooters on the roads, Lyft is looking into launching its own fleet of electric scooters in San Francisco, The Information reports . Lyft would join the likes of Spin, Bird and Lime — the three startups that deployed their scooters in San Francisco, without permission, back in March. Lyft has reportedly been in talks with San Francisco city officials to discuss applying for a permit, and has drafted some prototypes of scooter designs. A Lyft spokesperson declined to comment. Earlier this month, the city of San Francisco laid out its requirements for companies seeking to obtain electric scooter permits. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has yet to actually finalize the application and terms, but a spokesperson told me on Friday the permit applications should be ready as early as this week. The city will issue permits for no more than five companies during the 24-month pilot program. The program would grant up to 2,500 scooters to operate, but it’s not yet clear how many scooters each company would be allowed to deploy. Here’s how SF wants to regulate electric scooters Meanwhile, Uber also has its eyes on electric scooters. In April, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told me the company plans to “look at any and all options” that would help move transportation options in ways that are city-friendly. That same month, Uber acquired bike-share startup JUMP for about $200 million . As it stands now, there are four companies that have announced electric scooter sharing

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Teen monitoring app TeenSafe exposes thousands of passwords

U.K.-based security researcher Robert Wiggins has found two exposed TeenSafe servers, leaking the passwords and information of some users of the monitoring service. TeenSafe is meant to protect teenagers by letting their parents monitor their texts, phone calls, web history, location and app downloads. The breach was first reported by ZDNet . According to the report, TeenSafe left two of their servers, which were hosted on AWS, exposed and viewable by anyone. Moreover, the database included information such as the parent’s email address, child’s Apple ID email address, device name, device unique identifier and plaintext passwords for the teenager’s Apple ID. So… just about everything. TeenSafe requires that teenagers abstain from using two-factor authentication so parents can keep an eye on their activity, making those teenagers even more vulnerable to malicious actors now that their personal information has been exposed. TeenSafe claims on its website that it encrypts data so that it wouldn’t be accessible in the case of the breach. According to ZDNet, the server held at least 10,200 records from the past three months containing customer data. The publication also included that some of those records were duplicates and that one of the servers appeared to store test data. That said, it’s unclear if there are other leaky servers with exposed data yet to be discovered.

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