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Cluep, a Canadian startup that raised just $500k, acquired for $40M

Everyone loves a tale of a bootstrapped startup founder’s journey to an eight-figure exit. The team at Toronto-based Cluep have a good one. The founders of the adtech startup raised less than $500,000 from angel investors before selling their company to Impact Group for $40 million ($53 milllion CAD) this week. Founded in 2012, Karan Walia, Sobi Walia and Anton Mamonov were just  21, 17 and 16 years old, respectively, when they started  the digital advertising platform, which uses artificial intelligence  to help brands connect and engage with people based on what they are sharing, how they are feeling and the places they’ve been. They, being teenagers, struggled initially to get the company off the ground. At one point, the trio hacked into computers at a university in Toronto to train the neural networks on large amounts of data sets because they didn’t have enough money to buy their own tech. On a shoe-string budget, they would split meals at Popeyes to get by. “No one wanted to give us money at that time so we had to live off of my student loans,” Walia told TechCrunch . “ We did pretty much everything, whether it was programming and building the product, or going out and selling. I was our first sales rep and I was pretty bad early on but I learned.” Ultimately, Cluep was able to raise enough from angels to pay themselves a salary, hire a few engineers and sales representatives, and move into an actual office. From that point, their revenue began growing significantly YoY. 2015: $2 million CAD in revenue 2016: $6 million CAD in revenue 2017: $14.5 million CAD in revenue 2018: On track to bring in ~$30 million CAD They fielded offers from VCs toward the end of 2015 and considered raising a proper Series A round of capital, but ultimately decided staying independent would lead to the best exit. “This way allowed us to basically maintain control and exit on our terms,” Walia said. Impact Group, a Boise, Idaho-based grocery sales and marketing agency, will operate Cluep independently.

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Amazon updates the Echo Plus so it can control the smart home when the internet goes down

Amazon today is giving its premium smart home-ready Echo Plus device a notable update. The device, which includes a smart home hub built into the Echo, is now getting a new fabric design, and a temperature sensor. However, what’s more interesting is the addition of something Amazon calls “local voice control.” What this means is that if the internet goes down, you’ll still be able to use Alexa to control your smart home devices. As the company explained this morning at its hardware event in Seattle , a hub that works with a cloud-based system can often run into trouble when internet access becomes spotty or unavailable. So what the company did to address this is build in local voice control, a new capability that takes the best of its natural language understanding and its automatic speech recognition and runs it all locally on the device. So when the internet goes down (and Amazon says it’s starting with the smart home capabilities here, when it comes to local voice control) you can still say “Alexa, turn on the lights” or “Alexa, turn on the plug,” and it’ll work. This feature will get better over time as the devices add more local control and more capabilities, the company noted. Meanwhile, the temperature sensor feature will allow Alexa owners to add temperatures into their routines. For example, if the room gets too chilly, Alexa can tell you. The updated version of the Echo Plus will still remain $149 and it will be shipping in every country that Alexa is in today. Check out our full coverage from the event  here .

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Amazon FreeTime for Alexa adds routines, kids’ podcasts and audiobooks

Amazon today announced it’s rolling out new features for its FreeTime service for parents and children, which recently started working with Alexa,  allowing parents to control children’s experience with the personal assistant. Now, the FreeTime service for Alexa will also support routines – the combination of voice commands that can be kicked off with a single phrase. For example, parents could say, “Alexa, it’s bedtime” to have Alexa turn off the lights, lower the shades and play lullabies. The company said it’s also adding other features for kids, as well, including podcasts and over 1,000 audiobooks for kids. See our full coverage from the event  here .

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Bird hits 10 million scooter rides

Bird just announced 10 million scooter rides since launching about one year ago. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because Bird competitor Lime earlier today announced it surpassed 11.5 million rides across its shared bikes and scooters . Bird, which launched last September in Santa Monica, Calif., currently operates in 100 cities and has over two million unique riders, Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch. But Bird’s first year of operations has been full of ups and downs. Many of the downs have been around regulatory issues. Bird faced, and overcame them, in Santa Monica but failed in San Francisco. “I think anytime you’re doing something new that the cities haven’t contemplated before, there always seems to be gray area on where you fit in in the regulatory environment,” VanderZanden said. “Cities hadn’t thought about electric scooters and electric scooter sharing. We collaborated very closely with the cities we’re in now.” Although San Francisco did not grant an operating permit to Bird — the city gave them to Scoot and Skip — VanderZanden stressed that “San Francisco is one city. We’re in 100 cities.” He also said Bird is not looking to appeal the decision in San Francisco. Lime, however, is in engaging in the appeals process. As Bird enters its second year of operations, the name of the game is to double down on its efforts with cities and building out its government tech platform. Bird is also looking into manufacturing its own scooters to provide more durability to its customers and differentiate itself from other scooters on the market. “We’ve been investing heavily in that area,” VanderZanden said. “You’ll start to see new vehicles coming from us soon.” He added, “we want to keep building vehicles that are more ruggedized but also vehicles that have new features for the riders as well.” And Bird definitely has the funds to do that

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GoPro shakes up its entire camera line

GoPro delivered a big refresh of its cameras today with a lot of new product names but not quite as many hardware updates as we’ve seen in past updates. The new lineup from GoPro is definitely less confusing from a branding perspective. The Hero7 White, Silver and Black will cost $199, $299 and $399 respectively. Unlike past years, the company will be discontinuing the previous generations rather than just dropping the price. The company did not offer any updates on its Fusion 360-degree camera. The new cameras ship September 27. In terms of the new product line, here’s what you’re looking at when it comes to specs. Hero7 White Specs $199 Max video: 1440p @ 60 frames Waterproof up to 10m 10MP photos Hero7 Silver Specs $299 Max video: 4K @ 30 frames Waterproof up to 10m 10MP photos GPS Hero7 Black Specs $399 Max video: 4K @ 60 frames Slow-mo: 2.7K @ 120 frames, 1080p @ 240 frames Waterproof up to 10m 12MP HDR photos Live-streaming GPS While the White and Silver models both have a new color palette, they both have lost the small front LCD status screen that could help you determine what mode you were in. It’s an interesting move that probably offered a drop in bill of materials cost for the cameras and offered a broader range of differences between low and high-end models but they do ultimately kind of feel like downgrades to the Hero5 Black and Hero they are replacing in the lineup. The flagship Hero7 Black is again the star of the group, but the differences between the newcomer and its preceding model are far less pronounced than in past releases. You can check out our Hero7 Black review for some more details on how the hardware and software stack up.

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Lime hits 11.5 million bike and scooter rides

Bike and scooter company Lime recently hit 11.5 million rides,  a couple of months after it surpassed six million rides . This milestone comes just 14 months after Lime deployed its first bikes. Today, Lime is in more than 100 markets throughout the U.S. and Europe. Last December , Lime brought its bikes to a number of European cities and in June,  Lime brought its scooters to Paris . By the end of this year, Lime plans to launch in an additional 50 cities. The rise of shared personal electric vehicles has also led to a new type of side hustle for some people. Through Lime’s Juicer program, which enables anyone to make money from charging scooters overnight, the company has paid out millions of dollars to those workers. Lime has raised $467 million in funding, with its most recent round coming in at  $335 million. The round, led by GV, included participation from Uber .

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Marvel superheroes like Loki and Scarlet Witch may get their own streaming shows

It looks like we’re getting more details about the superhero side of Disney’s planned ( and apparently still-unnamed ) streaming service, thanks to a story in Variety . We already knew that the Disney service would include original Marvel and Star Wars shows. On the Star Wars side, there’s a revival of “The Clone Wars” and a live action series produced by Jon Favreau , for which Disney might pay $100 million for the first 10 episodes . Now Variety is reporting that Disney has plans for limited series that will star Marvel superheroes like Loki and Scarlet Witch (yes, they’re actually reformed supervillains, but let’s not get technical here). Basically, these are characters who are popular but maybe not popular enough to carry a big-budget film on their own. That also means you shouldn’t expect an Iron Man or Captain America series. Disney and Marvel haven’t confirmed any of these plans, but this does sound like a plausible approach. Apparently, the goal is to create limit series of six to eight episodes. And The shows be much more closely linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than previous Marvel TV. The characters will be played by the same actors who portrayed them on the big screen, and where previously, and the shows will be produced by the previously movie-focused Marvel Studios . ( Disney separated Kevin Feige’s Studios unit from Marvel Entertainment in 2015. )

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Sen. Harris tells federal agencies to get serious about facial recognition risks

Facial recognition technology presents myriad opportunities as well as risks, but it seems like the government tends to only consider the former when deploying it for law enforcement and clerical purposes. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has written the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission telling them they need to get with the program and face up to the very real biases and risks attending the controversial tech. In three letters provided to TechCrunch (and embedded at the bottom of this post), Sen. Harris, along with several other notable legislators, pointed out recent research showing how facial recognition can produce or reinforce bias, or otherwise misfire. This must be considered and accommodated in the rules, guidance, and applications of federal agencies. Other lawmakers and authorities have sent letters to various companies and CEOs or held hearings, but representatives for Sen. Harris explained that there is also a need to advance the issue within the government as well. Sen. Harris at a recent hearing. Attention paid to agencies like the FTC and EEOC that are “responsible for enforcing fairness” is “a signal to companies that the cop on the beat is paying attention, and an indirect signal that they need to be paying attention too. What we’re interested in is the fairness outcome rather than one particular company’s practices.” If this research and the possibility of poorly controlled AI systems aren’t considered in the creation of rules and laws, or in the applications and deployments of the technology, serious harm could ensue

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Microsoft launches new AI applications for customer service and sales

Like virtually every other major tech company, Microsoft is currently on a mission to bring machine learning to all of its applications. It’s no surprise then that it’s also bringing ‘AI’ to its highly profitable Dynamics 365 CRM products. A year ago, the company introduced its first Dynamics 365 AI solutions and today it’s expanding this portfolio with the launch of three new products: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Customer Service and Market Insights. “Many people, when they talk about CRM, or ERP of old, they referred to them as systems of oppression, they captured data,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate VP for business applications and industry. “But they didn’t provide any value back to the end user — and what that end user really needs is a system of empowerment, not oppression.” It’s no secret that few people love their CRM systems (except for maybe a handful of Dreamforce attendees), but ‘system of oppression’ is far from the ideal choice of words here. Yet Taylor is right that early systems often kept data siloed. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft argues that Dynamics 365 does not do that, allowing it to now use all of this data to build machine learning-driven experiences for specific tasks. Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, unsurprisingly, is meant to help sales teams get deeper insights into their prospects using sentiment analysis. That’s obviously among the most basic of machine learning applications these days, but AI for Sales also helps these salespeople understand what actions they should take next and which prospects to prioritize. It’ll also help managers coach their individual sellers on the actions they should take. Similarly, the Customer Service app focuses on using natural language understanding to understand and predict customer service problems and leverage virtual agents to lower costs. Taylor used this part of the announcement to throw some shade at Microsoft’s competitor Salesforce. “Many, many vendors offer this, but they offer it in a way that is very cumbersome for organizations to adopt,” she said.

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Twitter is bringing back the chronological timeline

Your Twitter prayers are answered! Well, maybe not the prayers about harassment or the ones about an edit tweet button, but your other prayers. Today in a series of tweets, the company announced that it had heard the cries of its various disgruntled users and will bring back a form of the pure chronological timeline that users can opt into. Twitter first took an interest in a more algorithmic timeline three-ish years ago  and committed to it in 2016. 4/ So, we’re working on providing you with an easily accessible way to switch between a timeline of Tweets that are most relevant for you and a timeline of the latest Tweets. You’ll see us test this in the coming weeks. — Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) September 17, 2018 Some users were under the impression that they were living that algo-free life already by toggling off the “Show the best Tweets first” option in the account settings menu. Unfortunately for all of us, unchecking this box didn’t revert Twitter to ye olde pure chronological timeline so much as it removed some of the more prominent algorithmic bits that would otherwise be served to users first thing.  Users regularly observed non-chronological timeline behaviors even with the option toggled off. As Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour elaborated , “We’re working on making it easier for people to control their Twitter timeline, including providing an easy switch to see the most recent tweets.” Nostalgic users who want regular old Twitter back can expect to see the feature in testing “in the coming weeks.” We’re ready to pull the switch, just tell us when.

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Stripe moves into brick-and-mortar payments with Terminal

Stripe is expanding beyond online payments with the launch of a new product for in-person payments at brick-and-mortar stores, called Terminal . The company said Terminal has three main components — there’s hardware, namely card readers built by Stripe partners BBPOS and Verifone, but also SDKs and APIs for customizing checkout experiences, as well as software for managing connected devices. Stripe’s co-founder and president John Collison discussed the launch at the Code Commerce conference today. Interviewer Jason Del Rey brought up Square, which seems like the obvious point of comparison, and Collison acknowledged there will probably be areas where the companies will compete. However, he argued that Stripe and Square are largely targeting different customers — where Square built a card reader for businesses like coffee shops and restaurants, Stripe is aimed at more tech-savvy businesses. Its initial Terminal customers include Warby Parker and Glossier, and it’s also being used by software platforms like Mindbody, Zenoti, AtVenu and Universe. As Collison put it, Stripe is built for companies “who will geek out about APIs with us.” And that applies to Terminal as well, which Collison said is specifically built for online businesses that are moving into brick-and-mortar stores. The goal here is to help them unify their online and offline customer data and experiences. And while there’s been some debate about whether most web-based, direct-to-consumer businesses are true tech companies, he argued, “All of them value technology and fundamentally, their assets are not the retail distribution they have or anything like that.” “We will happily work with all manner of companies, but the kinds of customers we get excited about, the kinds of customers we are designing for, are the ones who are moving very quickly,” he added.

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Surveillance camera vulnerability could allow hackers to spy on and alter recordings

In newly published research, security firm Tenable reveals how popular video surveillance camera software could be manipulated, allowing would-be attackers the ability to view, disable or otherwise manipulate video footage. The vulnerability, which researchers fittingly dubbed “ Peekaboo ,” affects software created by NUUO, a surveillance system software maker with clients including hospitals, banks and schools around the globe. The vulnerability works via a stack buffer overflow, overwhelming the targeted software and opening the door for remote code execution. That loophole means that an attacker could remotely access and take over accounts with no authorization, even taking over networked cameras connected to the target device. “This is particularly devastating because not only is an attacker able to control the NVR camera but the credentials for all the cameras connected to the NVR are stored in plaintext on disk,” Tenable writes. Tenable provides more details on potential exploits tested with one of NUUO’s NVRMini2 devices on its GitHub page . One exploit “grabs the credentials to the cameras that are connected to the NVR, creates a hidden admin user, and disconnects any cameras that are currently connected to the NVR.” Not great. Tenable set its disclosure to NUUO in motion on June 1. NUUO committed to a September 13 patch date to fix the issue but the date was later pushed to September 18, when anyone with affected equipment can expect to see firmware version 3.9.0.1. Organizations that might be vulnerable can use a plugin from the researchers to determine if they’re at risk or contact the manufacturer directly. TechCrunch reached out to NUUO about its plans to push a patch and notify affected users

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Shopify is bringing Apple’s latest AR tech to their platform

Shopify is leaning on phone-based AR to make online purchases look a little more lifelike for users. The Canadian commerce company announced today they have added support for AR Quick Look, one of Apple’s new features from ARKit 2, which will be going live with iOS 12 later today and will be available for integrations with the 600,000 merchants currently on their platform. Merchants will be able to use the tools to upload 3D models of their products, which users will be able to tap on the goods inside Safari to view in their real-world environments. While viewing goods like this was possible in the past iteration of ARKit, with this integration, users won’t need to download another app — they can check out the products in AR with a lot less friction. Augmented reality has a lot of potential to change how e-commerce operates as users feel like they can gain better impressions of what the physical goods they’re buying will look and operate like in real life. With phone and tablet-based AR, the challenge is cluing users into the fact that these features exist, while also making them more worthwhile than gimmicky.

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LendInvest raises $39.5M to grow its P2P property finance platform

A cloud hangs over the UK housing market as the UK government stumbles slowly through its negotiations to leave the European Union. But startups that are bringing innovative twists to housing finance seem to be singing a different tune. Today, LendInvest , a peer-to-peer platform that connects property buyers in the UK with people willing to finance those purchases (bypassing traditional mortgage lending infrastructure in the process), announced that it has raised around $39.5 million (around £30.5 million) in a Series C round of funding led by existing investor Atomico, which participation also from  GP Bullhound and Tiger Management (founded by hedge fund investor Julian Robertson). The plan will be to use this funding to continue to develop its technology and grow business into more the traditional (and bigger) mortgage business. A spokesperson for the company says there are no plans to extend beyond the UK market for now. LendInvest is currently profitable , albeit modestly, with Ebitda of about $2.8 million on gross group revenues of $70 million in the 12 months that ended in March of this year, and it says this round is likely to be the last before it lists publicly. “Having recorded a fourth consecutive annual profit, raising capital wasn’t a necessity for LendInvest but by beefing up our balance sheet and bringing on some very experienced additional investors, we are well placed to capitalise on opportunities in the future,” said  Christian Faes, cofounder and CEO of LendInvest, in a statement. “Using technology LendInvest is building a new kind of financial services business, and an extremely scalable platform, which is changing the way mortgages are funded and work in the UK.” LendInvest is not disclosing its valuation with this round (we’ve asked) but for some context, back in 2015 it was valued at $103.25 million, according to data from Pitchbook . At the time it was generating only around one-quarter of the revenues it’s making now, although with a higher Ebitda margin — meaning that it’s valuation now is likely to be much higher. LendInvest says that it has raised over £1 billion to date. But to be clear,  LendInvest counts both the funding it has raised through its investment platform, and that from outside investors such as in this round, when it gives that figure. According to PitchBook, it has raised around $152 million from VCs and other firms. The remainder, meanwhile, is one indicator of the platform’s success to date.  LendInvest currently helps property buyers pick up bridging finance, development finance and also finance for buy-to-let properties, and it says it has lent nearly $2 billion (£1.5 billion) across 5,000 properties in the UK since it was founded in 2012. It’s competing against the established route that property buyers take in the UK today when searching for finance.

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Twitter now puts live broadcasts at the top of your timeline

Twitter will now put live streams and broadcasts started by accounts you follow at the top of your timeline, making it easier to see what they’re doing in realtime. In  a tweet , Twitter said that that the new feature will include breaking news, personalities and sports. The social networking giant included the new feature in its iOS and Android apps, updated this week. Among the updates, Twitter said it’s now  also supporting audio-only live broadcasts , as well as through its sister broadcast service Periscope. Last month, Twitter discontinued its app for iOS 9 and lower versions , which according to Apple’s own data still harbors some 5 percent of all iPhone and iPad users. Twitter launches audio-only broadcasting feature on its iOS app and Periscope

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