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Tag Archives: startups

Covee uses blockchain to allow experts worldwide to collaborate

Solving complex data-driven problems requires a lot of teamwork. But, of course, teamwork is typically restricted to companies where everyone is working under the same roof. While distributed teams have become commonplace in tech startups, taking that to the next level by linking up disparate groups of people all working on the same problem (but not in the same company) has been all but impossible. However, in theory, you could use a blockchain to do such a thing, where the work generated was constantly accounted for on-chain. That’s in theory. In practice, there’s now a startup that claims to have come up with this model. And it’s raised funding. Covee , a startup out of Berlin, has raised a modest €1.35 million in a round led by LocalGlobe in London, with Atlantic Labs in Berlin and a selection of angels. Prior to this, the company was bootstrapped by CEO Dr. Marcel Dietsch, who left his job at a London-based hedge fund, and his long-time friend, Dr. Raphael Schoettler, COO, who had previously worked for Deutsche Bank. They are joined by Dr. Jochen Krause, CTO, an early blockchain investor and bitcoin miner, and former quant developer and data scientist, respectively, at Scalable Capital and Valora. What sort of things could this platform be used for

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Want to talk about the future? Join me on Technotopia

Technotopia is a podcast about the future. It assumes the world won’t fall into a dystopia and therefore is optimistic about our chances for human success. I’m looking for cool people to talk to and I’d like for you to join me. I love guests who are are excited about the future and technology but I do not require a technology background. I want artists, writers, programmers, makers, and thinkers. I want to ask smart people why we shouldn’t despair. Want to join in? Fill this out to schedule a time. PR people fill it out as if you were your client so I can contact them directly. I usually record a few episodes a week so I have a nice buffer during the month. Before you come on: 1. Listen to at least one episode

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Twitter also sold data access to Cambridge Analytica-linked researcher

Since it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the personal data of millions of Facebook users , one question has lingered in the minds of the public: What other data did Dr. Aleksandr Kogan gain access to? Twitter confirmed to The Telegraph on Saturday that GSR, Kogan’s own commercial enterprise, had purchased one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets from a five-month period between December 2014 and April 2015. Twitter told Bloomberg that, following an internal review, the company did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter. Twitter sells API access to large organizations or enterprises for the purposes of surveying sentiment or opinion during various events, or around certain topics or ideas. Here’s what a Twitter spokesperson said to The Telegraph: Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices. Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules. Obviously, this doesn’t have the same scope as the data harvested about users on Facebook. Twitter’s data on users is far less personal. Location on the platform is opt-in and generic at that, and users are not forced to use their real name on the platform. Cambridge Analytica tweeted out this morning that the data obtained by Kogan/GSR from Twitter was never purchased or used by Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica has never received Twitter data from GSR or Aleksandr Kogan, and has never done any work with GSR on Twitter data. GSR was only ever a contractor to Cambridge Analytica and we understand it did work for many other companies.

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Emissary wants to make sales networking obsolete

There is nothing meritocratic about sales. A startup may have the best product, the best vision, and the most compelling presentation, only to discover that their sales team is talking to the wrong decision-maker or not making the right kind of small talk. Unfortunately, that critical information — that network intelligence — isn’t written down in a book somewhere or on an online forum, but generally is uncovered by extensive networking and gossip. For David Hammer and his team at Emissary , that is a problem to solve. “I am not sure I want a world where the best networkers win,” he explained to me. Emissary is a hybrid SaaS marketplace which connects sales teams on one side with people (called emissaries, naturally) who can guide them through the sales process at companies they are familiar with. The best emissaries are generally ex-executives and employees who have recently left the target company, and therefore understand the decision-making processes and the politics of the organization. “Our first mission is pretty simple: there should be an Emissary on every deal out there,” Hammer said. Expert networks, such as GLG, have been around for years, but have traditionally focused on investors willing to shell out huge dollars to understand a company’s strategic thinking. Emissary’s goal is to be much more democratized, targeting a broader range of both decision-makers and customers. It’s product is designed to be intelligent, encouraging customers to ask for help before a sales process falters. The startup has raised $14 million to date according to Crunchbase, with Canaan leading the last series A round. While Emissary is certainly a creative startup, its the questions spanning knowledge arbitrage, labor markets, and ethics it poses that I think are most interesting.

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Maverick, a social network for young women, launches with $2.7M in funding

While Bumble BFF and Hey! Vina help adult women find new friends, there isn’t a social network dedicated to young women. But Brooke Chaffin and Catherine Connors are looking to change that with the introduction of Maverick , a social network that connects young girls with female mentors to express their creativity in a safe space. Here’s how it works: When a new user signs up, they can browse through various challenges set forth by Catalysts, inspiring role models selected specifically by the founders to inspire the younger demographic on the network. These challenges include things like making their own super hero, creating their own dance number or choosing a mantra. Users, usually between the ages of 10 and 20, can post their response to a challenge via photo or a 30-second video and browse the responses of others. Interestingly, Maverick has done away with ‘likes’ and instead offers points for various types of engagement, like posting a response to a challenge, posting a comment, or giving someone a badge. For now, there are four badges on the platform (unique, creative, unstoppable, and daring) and the company has plans to add more badges as it grows. But Maverick isn’t just an app. The company also plans on holding a series of one-day live events across the country, highlighting young women emerging on the platform in categories like STEAM, entrepreneurship, comedy and music. In fact, the first live event goes down tomorrow in Los Angeles, featuring “Founding Mavericks” or role models such as Chloe & Halle Bailey, Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight, Daunnette Reyome, Laurie Hernandez and Ruby Karp. For now, Maverick is a free app focused on growing its user base.

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Square is acquiring website builder Weebly for $365M

Square just announced that it’s reached an agreement to acquire Weebly for $365 million in cash and stock. While Square is best known for its payment software and hardware , it’s also been expanding into other areas; for example, with the acquisition of food delivery service Caviar and corporate catering startup Zesty . Weebly, meanwhile, offers easy-to-use website-building tools. While those tools can be used by individuals (my personal website is built on Weebly), the company has increasingly focused on serving small businesses and e-commerce companies . Meanwhile, competitor Squarespace raised $200 million at a $1.7 billion valuation at the end of last year. Square says that by acquiring Weebly, it can create “one cohesive solution” for entrepreneurs looking to build an online and offline business. And because 40 percent of Weebly’s 625,000 paid subscribers are outside the U.S., the deal will help Square expand globally. “Square and Weebly share a passion for empowering and celebrating entrepreneurs,” said Square CEO Jack Dorsey in the acquisition release. “Square began its journey with in-person solutions while Weebly began its journey online. Since then, we’ve both been building services to bridge these channels, and we can go even further and faster together.” Weebly was founded in 2007 by David Rusenko, Chris Fanini and Dan Veltr. (Rusenko, who’s still the company’s CEO, is pictured above.) According to Crunchbase, the company raised $35.7 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, Tencent Holdings, Baseline Ventures, Floodgate, Felicis, Ron Conway and Y Combinator. Square says the acquisition price includes stock for Weebly founders and employees that will vest over a four-year period. Update:  During a conference call with reporters, Square executives were asked whether the company is becoming more acquisitive. CFO Sarah Friar said it was more a case of “serendipity.” In this instance, Square and Weebly had been working together for years now, and she said, “We love the way David and the company talk about the entrepreneur. Culturally, we feel very aligned.” Friar cautioned against into reading this as a situation where Square “decided to wake up … and do a bunch of acquisitions.” For the most part, she said the company will stick to “a build path and a partner path.” Most of the Weebly team will be joining Square. Rusenko added that he just finished the all-hands meeting where he announced the acquisition.

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DeepCode cleans your code with the power of AI

Zurich-based DeepCode claims that their system — essentially a tool for analyzing and improving code — is like Grammarly for programmers. The system, which uses a corpus of 250,000 rules, reads your public and private GitHub repositories and tells you how to fix problems, remain compatible and generally improve your programs. Founded by Veselin Raychev, advisor Martin Vechev and Boris Paskalev, the team has extensive experience in machine learning and AI research. This project is a spin-off from ETH in Switzerland and is a standalone research project turned programming utility. How does it work? Pretty well. I ran one of my public repositories through the system and received 49 suggestions in 449 files. The fixes range from literal code changes — changing name: String, to name: type: String,  — to suggestions for code that might be actually missing in function calls. It’s an interesting tool, especially if you need help finding hidden bugs in your code. The advice this tool gives is also surprisingly precise. Because it can build its own recommendations based on large amounts of code it finds things humans might miss. “We built a platform that understands the intent of the code,” said Paskalev. “We autonomously understand millions of repositories and note the changes developers are making.

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Digital banking startup Revolut raises $250M at a valuation of $1.7B

Revolut , the London-based fintech that offers a digital banking account and sprawling set of other financial services, is disclosing that it has raised a whopping $250 million in Series C funding, less than three years since launching. The new round, which gives the company a $1.7 billion post-money valuation — a five-fold increase in under a year, we’re told — was led by Hong Kong based DST Global, along with a group of new and existing investors that includes Index Ventures, and Ribbit Capital. In case you aren’t keeping up, it brings the total amount raised by Revolut to $340 million in less than 36 months. To put this into context, TransferWise — London’s undisputed fintech darling and on some features a direct competitor to Revolut — recently announced $280 million in Series D investment, giving the company a reported post-money valuation of $1.6 billion . The difference? It took TransferWise seven years compared to Revolut’s three. That’s testament to how much value investors are now placing on bank-disrupting fintech or perhaps signs of a fintech bubble. Or both. It is also worth remembering that these are private valuations with neither company yet to float on the public markets, even if TranserWise looks increasingly a candidate to do so. Meanwhile, Revolut says the new round of funding and surge in valuation follows “incredible growth figures to date,” with the fintech now processing $1.8 billion through the platform each month and signing up between 6,000 and 8,000 new customers every day. It claims nearly 2 million customers in total, of which 250,000 are daily active users, roughly 400,000 are weekly active users and 900,000 are monthly active users. The company says the target is 100 million customers in the next five years.

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Adtech company BuySellAds acquires a majority stake Digg

It looks like  Digg has found a new owner: digital advertising company BuySellAds , which has acquired a majority stake in the news aggregator. It seems that last month’s  shut down of Digg Reader  was a sign that there were changes in the works. BuySellAds CEO Todd Garland confirmed the acquisition to Fast Company , and a company spokesperson told me, “It’s true.” Garland seems very aware that Digg readers may be skeptical about a company called BuySellAds, but he told Fast Company, “Don’t pay attention to the name, people.” He also said, “Our plan with Digg is to not screw it up.” Digg was previously  acquired by Betaworks in 2012. The startup studio’s CEO John Borthwick said the Digg media business (namely, Digg.com) is now a joint venture, with Betaworks and all of Digg’s previous shareholders retaining a stake in the company. (Digg  took on additional funding from Gannett a couple of years ago.) In a related move, eight members of Digg’s technical team have joined Civil , a startup building a blockchain-based journalism marketplace . In a statement, the company said: Civil recently hired eight former members of Digg’s tech team. It’s a unique opportunity for us as we explore a larger partnership with Betaworks ahead of the launch of our decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism. Update: An earlier version of this article did not mention Betaworks and other shareholders retaining a stake in Digg, nor did it include the information about the company’s tech team joining Civil. Both the headline and story have been updated for accuracy.

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Rookout raises $4.2M for its rapid production debugging platform

Few people get into coding because they enjoy debugging, but since there’s no such thing as perfect code, issues inevitably pop up. Israeli startup Rookout is tackling one aspect of this by helping developers track down issues in production code without forcing developers to do any additional coding to write additional tests and re-deploy their apps. As the company announced today, it has raised $4.2 million in seed funding from TLV Partners and Emerge. Rookout co-founders Or Weis and Liran Haimovitch told me that their own experience in writing code led them to starting this project. Weis, who has taken the CEO role, with Haimovitch being the CTO, noted that only a few years ago, your code would run in its own box and you’d have full control over it. These days, however, your code may run in multiple locations and it’s virtually impossible to get access to the entire state of an application. So when bugs pop up in production — as they often do, despite all of the testing that happens throughout the development process — debugging becomes a real pain point. Rookout’s solution for this is to instrument the code with “breakpoints that don’t break.” To make this work, you connect Rookout’s online IDE with your code repository on GitHub, Bitbucket or another git hosting service (or with your local file system). The IDE will pull in the code and let you browse it. Developers typically have a hunch about where a bug may be, so when you get to the suspect file, you use Rookout’s visual rule editor to set your virtual breakpoint. Once the production code runs again, all of the data is automatically pushed into the IDE so that you can examine the entire stack trace up to where you set the breakpoint. All of this works for code that was written in Python and Node.js, as well as for Java virtual machine (JVM) languages like Scala or Kotlin. As for environments, the service currently works for code that’s deployed on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and local servers, where it can be used with both serverless and containerized applications, too. While Rookout focuses on collecting data, the team was pretty clear about the fact that Rookout doesn’t want to be an application performance monitoring tool

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Dolo delivers on the Foursquare prophecy of hyper-local tips

Dolo is the kindness of strangers as an app. Where’s the prettiest place in the park? What’s the best thing on the menu? How do I skip the line? Dolo lets you leave helpful suggestions for anyone nearby. The new social app launches out of beta today to augment the world with serendipitous tips from strangers. Built by two ex-Apple employees and backed with pre-seed funding from Floodgate, Dolo could reveal the secrets and potential friends hidden in the ether around us. Like any new social app, Dolo will have a steep uphill climb to user growth. There are also apps like Foursquare, guide books like Lonely Planet and social networks like Facebook and its Recommendations feature to compete with. But they’re often bloated, outdated or unfocused. Dolo hopes to build a new community around turning the whole world into a bulletin board. “If you take the construct of a cocktail party or a neighborhood bar, people feel more naturally ‘allowed’ to just mingle, eavesdrop, start a conversation or even meet someone new,” says Dolo co-founder and CEO Raja Haddad. “ In larger spaces (a park, a neighborhood, a city), there are no vehicles today that allow such frictionless, comfortable, fun socializing.” That means a local expert’s knowledge ends up trapped while tourists and first-timers wander aimlessly. Haddad and co-founder Benjamin Vigier met when they joined Apple in 2010 and worked on its Apple Store App before Haddad move on to Apple Watch marketing and Vigier helped develop Apple Pay

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Netflix picks up ‘Follow This,’ a weekly series about BuzzFeed reporters

Netflix and BuzzFeed News are teaming up for a 20-episode documentary series called Follow This . According to Variety , the show will be less focused on breaking news and more on taking us behind the scenes to show how BuzzFeed News reporters put together specific stories. For example, in the clip below, BuzzFeed’s Scaachi Koul talks about her reporting around ASMR . Follow This will be produced by BuzzFeed News, with Jessica Harrop serving as showrunner and one of its executive producers. When it premieres on July 9, it won’t follow Netflix’s standard release strategy. Instead, a new 15-minute episode will come out every week. Netflix executives have been emphatic about wanting to stay out of the live news business , but the streaming service has introduced more news- and reality-based programming over the past few years, including documentaries (like an upcoming film from Vice Media’s Motherboard ) and talk shows . BuzzFeed, meanwhile, has been creating video series for a variety of channels, including its AM to DM series for Twitter . The company told Variety it’s also pitching cable networks on a nightly news show.

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Rocketrip raises $15 million to reward cost-saving employees

If your company lets you expense the nicest hotel when you travel, why wouldn’t you? But what if you got to split the savings with your employer by selecting a less expensive hotel? A New York-based startup called Rocketrip believes most employees will opt to save companies money if they are incentivized to do so. It’s built an enterprise platform that rewards employees with gift cards if they go under budget on travel and transportation. After five years of signing up business clients like Twitter and Pandora, Rocketrip is raising $15 million in Series C funding led by GV (Google Ventures) to keep expanding. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Canaan Partners are also in the round. Inspired by Google’s internal travel system, Rocketrip CEO Dan Ruch calls his solution a “behavioral change platform.” Employees “always optimize for self-preservation, self-interest,” and are likely to book a cheaper flight if it means a gift card at a place like Amazon, Bloomingdale’s or Home Depot, Ruch claims. He said that the average business trip booked by Rocketrip saves companies $208. Ruch believes that Rocketrip has built a currency that motivates teams. He says some employees even gift Rocketrip points to congratulate colleagues on birthdays and promotions. When it comes to enterprise platforms, Rocketrip is “one of those unique situations where everyone is really excited to use it,” said Canaan Partners’ Michael Gilroy, who holds a board seat

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Fat Lama, the online marketplace for renting out things you own, raises $10M

Fat Lama , the startup that offers a fully insured peer-to-peer rental marketplace for almost anything , is getting a little fatter. The London-based company has raised $10 million in Series A funding in a round led by Ophelia Brown’s recently outed Blossom Capital, with participation from Niklas Zennström’s Atomico and existing backer Y Combinator. Aiming to do for rentals what eBay did for buying and selling used items, Fat Lama was conceived in early 2016 after the experience its founders had renovating an office space in London. They found themselves spending almost a third of their budget on what co-founder and CEO Chaz Englander describes as “single-use” items that were difficult to rent, such as power tools, tile-cutters, and industrial vacuums. “The probability was that the majority of those items were lying around unused in the same block we were working in,” he says, “but our only option to hire was to go to a rental shop on the other side of town, during working hours, to pay a premium for commercial hire. That was when we had the first conversations about creating a rental marketplace”. For Fat Lama to have a chance of succeeding where older rental startups had failed, the team figured out that a number of problems beyond simply matching supply with demand would need to be solved. Traditional rental companies typically require the borrower to leave quite a large cash deposit in case an item is broken, lost or stolen. Like-wise, equipment-sharing websites that don’t require a deposit can be perceived as too risky for the lender. Fat Lama’s solution is to fully insure each item rented for an amount up to $30,000, something Englander tells me took nine months to secure and is a major differentiator from competitors. Borrowers are still liable for the full value of an item if they break or lose it, but the insurance will reimburse the lender if there’s a dispute between the borrower and Fat Lama, or if the borrower simply refuses (or can’t) pay.

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Real-time developer tool startup Pusher pulls in $8M in Series A funding

Pusher , the London startup that provides tools and cloud infrastructure for developers to add real-time functionality to their apps, such as push notifications and messages, has pulled in $8 million in Series A funding. The round was led by London VC firm Balderton Capital, with participation from Heavybit, the San Francisco-based investor that specialises in helping developer product companies scale. Founded in 2011 — off the back of a modest $1 million in seed funding — Pusher aims to significantly lower the barriers for developers who want to build real-time features into their websites and apps. This was originally delivered via a general purpose realtime API and supporting cloud infrastructure, enabling app developers to more easily build things like rich push notifications, live content updates, and various real-time collaboration and communication features. However, more recently the company has began rolling out additional offerings dedicated to specific real-time functionality. The first of those is Chatkit, an API and SDK intended to do a lot of the heavy lifting required to add chat functionality to an app or service. In a call, Pusher co-founder Max Williams told me the startup’s Series A will be used to continue building new developer products and to establish a bigger presence in the U.S. so that it can be closer to customers. Pusher already has a small team working out of Heavybit’s San Francisco office, but in line with growth it plans to eventually set up a bigger office on the West Coast and aims to have up to 30 people working in the U.S. by the end of the year. These will be in sales, marketing and customer support

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