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Boost VC backs Storyline’s Alexa skill builder

Have you felt a disconnect with your Alexa and wished she could share more of your sense of humor or tell you an  actually  scary ghost story? Startup Storyline makes designing your own Alexa skills as easy and dragging and dropping speech blocks, and has just raised $770,000 in a funding round led by Boost VC to help grow its skill builder API. The company launched in 2017 to help bridge the gap between creators and the tricky voice recognition software powering smart speakers like Alexa. With its new funding, CEO and co-founder   Vasili Shynkarenka  says that Storyline is hoping to expand its team and its interface to other smart speakers, like Google Home, as well work on integrating monetization and third-party services into the interface. Storyline’s user friendly interface lets users drag-and-drop speech commands and responses to customize user’s interactions with their smart speaker devices. Users can choose between templates for a skill or a flash briefing, and test the voice recognition and logic of the design live in their browser window. Since its launch, over 12,000 Storyline users have published 2,500 skills in the Alexa Skills Store — more than 6% of all skills in the store. The interface has also been used by the grand-prize winners of Amazon’s developer  Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids and the publication Slate . For Shynkarenka, the creation of these skills is vastly different from the creation of a typical smartphone app. “Most people think of Alexa as another software platform, like a smartphone or the web, and that’s not actually true,” he said.

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Personal finance startup SmartAsset raises $28M

I first wrote about SmartAsset nearly six years ago, when it launched its first product , a tool allowing prospective homebuyers to analyze the rent vs. buy decision and to see what kind of home they could actually afford. According to co-founder and CEO Michael Carvin, “On the consumer side, our strategy has never really changed. Our mission is to help people make the best personal finance decisions and to build the web’s best resource for personal finance decision-making.” Of course, some aspects of the company have evolved. For one thing, SmartAsset now offers tools, calculators and content in a number of categories, including taxes, retirement and banking. For another, it’s announcing today that it has raised $28 million in Series C funding, bringing its total raised to more than $51 million. The new round comes from Focus Financial Partners (a firm backed by Stone Point Capital and KKR), Javelin Venture Partners, TTV Capital, IA Capital, Contour Venture Partners, Citi Ventures, Fabrice Grinda and others. Carvin said SmartAsset reached more than 45 million uniques last month, nearly doubling its traffic year-over-year. And 25 percent of that traffic comes from repeat visitors. As for how SmartAsset makes money from those visitors, it does so partly by promoting financial products like mortgages. But Carvin said the biggest piece is the SmartAdvisor platform , which connects financial advisors with potential investors. Carvin described it as “the web’s first digital lead generation platform for financial advisors,” and compared the SmartAsset business model to Zillow’s, saying both companies have built big audiences that they can then match up with real estate or finance professionals. In SmartAsset’s case, users fill out a questionaire and then work with a SmartAsset concierge to help them find an advisor who’s a good fit. Carvin added that the advisors on the platform have been screened by the company, for example to ensure that they haven’t had any criminal violations and that FCC hasn’t upheld any complaints against them for the past decade. Asked whether this focus on financial advisors has led SmartAsset to change the way it designs its consumer products Carvin said, “We believe the better the user experience, the better our business will work

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Gmail proves that some people hate smart suggestions

Gmail has recently introduced a brand new redesign . While you can disable or ignore most of the new features, Gmail has started resurfacing old unanswered emails with a suggestion that you should reply. And this is what it looks like: The orange text immediately grabs your attention. By bumping the email thread to the top of your inbox, Gmails also breaks the chronological order of your inbox. Gmail is also making a judgement by telling you that maybe you should have replied and you’ve been procrastinating. Social networks already bombard us constantly with awful content that makes us sad or angry. Your email inbox shouldn’t make you feel guilty or stressed. Even if the suggestions can be accurate, it’s a bit creepy, it’s poorly implemented and it makes you feel like you’re no longer in control of your inbox. There’s a reason why Gmail lets you disable all the smart features. Some users don’t want smart categories, important emails first and smart reply suggestions.

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