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Monthly Archives: November 2019

Black Friday sees record $7.4B in online sales, $2.9B spent using smartphones



Following swiftly on the heels of a Thanksgiving that broke records with $4.2 billion in online sales, Black Friday also hit a new high, although it just fell short of predictions. According to analytics from Adobe, consumers spent $7.4 billion online yesterday buying goods online via computers, tablets and smartphones. The figures were up by $1.2 billion on Black Friday 2018, but they actually fell short of Adobe’s prediction for the day, which was $7.5 billion.

Salesforce, meanwhile, said that its checks revealed $7.2 billion in sales (even further off the forecast).

Popular products included toys on the themes of Frozen 2, L.O.L Surprise, and Paw Patrol. Best selling video games included FIFA 20, Madden 20, and Nintendo Switch. And top electronics, meanwhile, included Apple Laptops, Airpods, and Samsung TVs.

A full $2.9 billion of Black Friday sales happened on smartphones. These conversions are growing faster than online shopping overall, so we are now approaching a tipping point where soon smartphones might outweigh web-based purchases through computers.

“With Christmas now rapidly approaching, consumers increasingly jumped on their phones rather than standing in line,” said Taylor Schreiner, Principal Analyst & Head of Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement. “Even when shoppers went to stores, they were now buying nearly 41% more online before going to the store to pick up. As such, mobile represents a growing opportunity for smaller businesses to extend the support they see from consumers buying locally in-store on Small Business Saturday to the rest of the holiday season. Small Business Saturday will accelerate sales for those retailers who can offer unique products or services that the retail giants can’t provide.”

Adobe Analytics tracks sales in real-time for 80 of the top 100 US retailers, covering 55 million SKUs and some 1 trillion transactions during the holiday sales period. Salesforce uses Commerce Cloud data and insights covering more than half a billion global shoppers across more than 30 countries.

One of the reasons we may be seeing slightly less fervent sales than the analysts had predicted is because the holiday sales season is starting earlier and earlier. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many people have days off, has for a long time been seen by retailers as the start of holiday shopping season. That has changed as retailers hope to catch more sales over a longer period of time.

As more people shop, they are also shopping for more expensive items. Adobe noted that Average Order Value was $168, a new record level yesterday for Black Friday, up 5.9% on a year ago.

Smartphone sales were up 21% over last year and those who were not buying were, as a start, browsing, with whopping 61% of all online traffic to retailers coming from smartphones, up 15.8% since last year.

As with yesterday, e-commerce “giants” with over $1 billion in sales annually were doing better than smaller sites: they had more smartphone sales, and 66% conversions on browsers on smartphones, Adobe said. They have overall also seen a 62% boost in sales this season, versus 27% for smaller retailers.

As with the Thanksgiving sales patterns — when bigger retailers also appeared to do better than their smaller counterparts — there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the bigger sites have a wider selection of goods and can afford to take hits with deep discounts on some items, in order to lure users in to add other items to their shopping cars that are not as deeply discounted. Or, bigger online retailers can simply afford to give bigger markdowns.

The other is that the bigger stores often have more flexible delivery options. Adobe noted that those using click-and-collect orders, or buy online, pick up in store / curbside grew by 43 percent.

The story is not all rosy for big retailers, however. Edison Trends notes that some big platforms are actually seeing very mixed results this time around.

It will be interesting to see how and if patterns change for smaller retailers on Sunday, which is being dubbed “small business Sunday” to focus on buying from smaller and independent shops. Shoppers have already spent $470 million, and Adobe believes it will pass the $3 billion mark. Cyber Monday, the biggest of them all, is expected to make $9.4 billion in sales.

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Ockam raises $3.2 million in seed funding to make it easier for developers to secure and scale their IoT apps



Ockam, a two-year-old, Bay Area-based company that’s selling tools to developers so they can establish an “architecture for trust” within their connected device applications, has raised $3.2 million in seed funding, including from Core Ventures, Okta Ventures, SGH Capital, and Future Ventures.

This serverless platform for IoT development is being led by CEO Matthew Gregory and CTO Mrinal Wadhwa, two cofounders with noteworthy backgrounds.

Before launching Ockam in the fall of 2017, Gregory was an “intrapreneur” at Microsoft, where he says he helped lead Azure’s pivot into open source software and container services. He also spent a couple of years at Salesforce as a product manager and, interestingly, spent a few years years ago as a system engineer working for Stars & Stripes, a syndicate of the yacht-racing competition America’s Cup where he tells us he led an engineering effort to build custom systems of sensors, analytics software and wireless communications tools needed to help the racing team make better decisions.

Madhwa was meanwhile the CTO of another privately held IoT company, Fybr, that promises real-time data analytics capable of decision making at the edge (versus in the cloud).

Some of what the startup is promising is that, using its technology, IoT systems developers will be able to build more scalable connected systems — as well, crucially, as more secure ones How? Partly through crytpographic keys and partly by assigning credentials to different entities, from devices to people to assets to services (among other things).

The company is one of a growing spate of companies hoping developers will increasingly turn to them instead of building out their own software infrastructure. For example, Particle, a seven-year-old, San Francisco-based platform for Internet of Things devices that has ambitions similar to those of Ockam, recently closed on $40 million in funding in a round that brought its total funding to $81 million).

Ockam has now raised $4.9 million in seed funding altogether, having raised a smaller amount of seed funding from Future Ventures back in May.

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Storm Ventures just closed its sixth fund with $130 million



Storm Ventures, a now 19-year-old, Sand Hill Road venture firm in Menlo Park, Ca., has closed on $130.4 million, shows a new SEC filing. The outfit began its fundraising late last, according to an earlier filing. It had closed its previous fund with $180 million in 2015.

Storm distinguishes itself in numerous ways, including its exclusive focus on seed and Series A stage enterprise startups, including mobile, SaaS and cloud infrastructure companies.

The partners also have a penchant for helping far-flung startups grow the footprint around the blog. Tae Hea Nahm, for example, a founding managing director of the firm (and cofounder of four mobile companies before that, including Airespace and MobileIron), was born in Seoul, he has told us in the past that he spends a considerable amount of time in South Korea to attend startup board meetings but also to visit with Samsun and others of Storm’s LPs, which includes Korea Telecom.

Ryan Floyd, another of the firm’s cofounders, meanwhile recently posted about his “hunt” for European founders, partly because they are more focused on revenue from the outset than some of their U.S. peers (an increasingly attractive quality in all startups suddenly).

Some of Storm’s most notable bets at the moment include Workato, a Cupertino, Ca.-based work automation platform, which two weeks ago announced $70 million in Series C funding led by Redpoint.

Storm — which was involved in the company’s Series A  and B rounds — also participated in the financing.

Another bet is Honeycomb, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based startup whose product promises developer teams that they can see production more clearly so they can resolve issues more quickly. The company raised $11.4 million in Series A funding led by Scale Venture Partners in September; Storm, which had participated in the company’s seed round, also participated among others.

Among Storm’s other, more recent first-time investments, the outfit joined the $6.75 million Series A round of Talview, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based talent assessment and hiring platform, that announced its newest funding in August. More on the company here.

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Original Content podcast: Reasons to be thankful for streaming and Star Wars



Since it’s a holiday week for those of us in the United States, we’ve put together an (even more) unstructured episode of the Original Content podcast.

Among other things, this gives us a chance to update our initial review of “The Mandalorian” by acknowledging the Disney+ show’s breakout character, known unofficially as Baby Yoda — maybe that counts as a spoiler, but he’s all over social media already, and he’s even the subject of new Disney merchandise that seems to have been rushed into production.

Beyond our “Mandalorian” catch-up, Star Wars comes up again during our discussion of things from the streaming and entertainment world that we’re thankful for.

Despite some behind-the-scenes turmoil, the Disney era at Lucasfilm has brought us some delightful films, particularly “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” It might seem kind of redundant to praise two of the most commercially successful films of all time, but it’s also an opportunity to address the online backlash and criticism directed primarily at Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

Moving beyond the galaxy far, far away, we also discuss topics like Netflix shows (“Another Life”) that we’re excited to see return, plus the streaming series (“See”) and movies (“Marriage Story”) that we’re currently enjoying.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/Thanksgiving plans
5:40 “Mandalorian” follow-up
18:33 What we’re thankful for

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Facebook bowed to a Singapore government order to brand a news post as false



Facebook added a correction notice to a post by a fringe news site that Singapore’s government said contained false information. It’s the first time the government has tried to enforce a new law against ‘fake news’ outside its borders.

The post by fringe news site States Times Review (STR), contained “scurrilous accusations” according to the Singapore government.

The States Times Review post contained accusations about the arrest of an alleged whistleblower and election-rigging.

Singapore authorities had previously ordered STR editor Alex Tan to correct the post but the Australian citizen said he would “not comply with any order from a foreign government”.

Mr Tan, who was born in Singapore, said he was an Australian citizen living in Australia and was not subject to the law. In a follow-up post, he said he would “defy and resist every unjust law”. He also posted the article on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Docs and challenged the government to order corrections there as well.

On the note Facebook said it “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”. They then embedded the note at the bottom of the original post, which was not altered. Only social media users in Singapore could see the note.

In a statement Facebook said it had applied the label as required under the “fake news” law. The law, known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill, came into effect in October.

According to Facebook’s “transparency report” it often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June.

Facebook — which has its Asia headquarters in Singapore — said it hoped assurances that the law would not impact on free expression “will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation”.

Anyone who breaks the law could be fined heavily and face a prison sentence of up to five years. The law also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread fake news, with penalties of up to S$1m (£563,000, $733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

Critics say the law’s reach gives Singapore’s government could jeopardize freedom of expression both in the city-state and outside its borders.

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Startups Weekly: Chinese investors double down on African startups



Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Airbnb’s issues. Before that, I noted Uber’s new “money” team.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you’re new, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here.


China’s pivot to Africa

Three African fintech startups; OPay, PalmPay and East African trucking logistics company Lori Systems, closed large fundraises this year. On their own, the deals aren’t particularly notable, but together, they expose a new trend within the African startup ecosystem.

This year, those three companies brought in a total of $240 million in venture capital funding from 15 different Chinese investors, who’ve become increasingly active in Africa’s tech scene. TechCrunch reporter Jake Bright, who covers African tech, writes that 2019 marks “the year Chinese investors went all in on the continent’s startup scene” — particularly its fintech projects. Why?

“The continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population — which makes fintech Africa’s most promising digital sector,” Bright notes. “In previous years, the country’s interactions with African startups were relatively light compared to deal-making on infrastructure and commodities. Chinese actors investing heavily in African mobile consumer platforms lends to looking at new data-privacy and security issues for the continent.”

Active Chinese investors in Africa include Hillhouse Capital, Meituan-Dianping, GaoRong, Source Code Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, BAI, Redpoint, IDG Capital, Sequoia China, Crystal Stream Capital, GSR Ventures, Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion and NetEase .

Here’s more of TechCrunch’s recent coverage of Africa startup activity:


VC Deals

It was a short week (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way). But here’s a quick look at the top deals of the last few days.


M&A (VR edition)

Last week, Facebook announced it was buying Beat Games, the game studio behind Beat Saber, a rhythm game that’s equal parts Fruit Ninja and Guitar Hero. Heard of the company? Maybe if you’re a gamer, but if you’re readying this newsletter because of your interest in VC, this company may not have come across your radar.

Why? It’s one of virtual reality’s biggest successes today, but it’s just an eight-person team with no funding.

“I’m really proud that we were able to build the company with this mindset of making decisions based on what is good for the game and not what is the most profitable thing,” Beat Games CEO told TechCrunch earlier this year. Read about Facebook’s acquisition here and an in-depth profile of the small team here.


Equity

If you like this newsletter, you will definitely enjoy Equity, which brings the content of this newsletter to life — in podcast form! Join myself and Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm every Friday for a quick breakdown of the week’s biggest news in venture capital and startups.

This week, we discussed Weekend Fund’s new vehicle, Cocoon’s new friend-tracking app and the unfortunate demise of a startup called Omni. You can listen here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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Thought Black Friday was over? You can still score these security cameras on sale.



Even the idea of Santa Claus inside your home without consent is a little iffy. Let’s just agree to agree that we’re all a lot happier when strangers stay on the other side of the front door.

To make sure that’s the case, it’s in your best interest to install security cameras to keep an extra eye on your home. Check out these deals on cameras that will provide an extra layer of safety for you and your family. Even better, they’re still on sale at Black Friday prices as long as you enter the code BFSAVE20 at checkout.

iPM World 360-Degree 1080p Wireless IP Security Camera

There’s no point in investing in a security camera if hackers can get their hands on your footage. The iPM World delivers complete video encryption to make sure no digital Peeping Toms can snoop on you, all while sending 360 degrees of HD streams straight to your preferred device. Normally $129.99, this camera is currently on sale for $39.99Enter code BFSAVE20, and you’ll snag it for just $31.99. Read more…

More about Smart Home, Security Camera, Black Friday, Mashable Shopping, and Consumer Tech

Gift Guide: For the budding video creator



Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

If you’re interested in cameras and taking pictures, you should definitely check out our 2019 Photography Gift Guide, but if you’re specifically looking to encourage a developing creator who wants to work with video on their preferred platform of choice, be it YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or any other, you’ve come to the right place. From smartphone accessories to get the most out of their built-in cameras, to stuff for people with more expensive dedicated camera setups, we’ve got it all.

Hex Bags camera backpacks – $190-$240

A good camera bag is a necessary accessory for anyone who is shooting with something other than their phone, and the Hex Back Loader DSLR Backpack and Hex Cinema Backpack are great options that are actually less expensive than some of the bigger brand options out there, but with modern styling that means they look less like something designed for function alone, and more like a backpack that would actually draw compliments. The Back Loader is perfect for a mirrorless kit, and should easily slide under the seat in front of you on an airplane, while the Cinema has plenty of room for larger DSLRs and lenses.

Zhiyun Weebil-S gimbal – $350

A good gimbal is a creator’s best friend, since stabilized video footage beats shaky-cam nonsense. The Zhiyun Weebill-S is a new offering from the company that basically provides the perfect blend of size, power, connectivity and control features and more. Its unique design has real advantages in the field vs. other similar gimbals, and it’s not going to break the bank, either.

Mavic Mini – $350

Mavic’s latest drone is all about distilling the consumer drone down to the basics – and it’s great. The $350 Mavic Mini is way, way cheaper than any of their fancier consumer drones, and it offers really excellent 2.7K video that looks cinematic right out of the camera. For anyone publishing on social channels who aren’t concerned about producing 4K content (no one really should be prioritizing that, really), this is the one to get, since it’s small enough it doesn’t need to be registered with the FAA to fly.

Samsung T5 – $100-$400

Samsung’s tiny, portable SSDs have a long history of delivering great reliability and performance in a form factor that’s so portable it’s easily pocketable. The drives come in sizes ranging from 500GB to 2TB, and you should be able to find them on sale in at least one of these configurations going into the holiday season, which means that you can probably find them for even less than that cost range posted above. A good SSD is a must for offloading video captured in camera on SD cards, and some of the newer cameras will let you record directly to these drives via USB-C.

Backup batteries and SD cards – Starting at around $40

These are easy gifts to get video creatives, which never go out of style and which will always be appreciated. You can never have enough spare memory cards, or enough backup batteries. Just make sure you get the right ones for whatever camera system your giftee is using: And for memory, focus on cards like the SanDisk Extreme Pro with 170MB/S  transfer speeds to ensure good performance with 4K video capture.

GoPro Hero8 – $400

A GoPro is an extremely versatile piece of kit for a video creator. The ruggedness, portability, built-in stabilization and range of modes mean you can capture some amazing additional footage to compliment stuff you’re recording on your primary camera – or give you everything you need to capture a great travel vlog in the moment. The newest GoPro Hero8 has features including more advanced stabilization, compatibility with additional video accessories, digital lenses and more tat make it the best camera the company has ever made for creators.

Microphones – $25-$200

A good microphone is a necessity for making good videos, and there are a wide range of options available. To give you just a few options at very different price points, look at the Saramonic SR-XM1. It’s a generally not sold for more than $35, and is dead simple with a 3.5mm connector to plug directly into the camera port on a wide range of devices. Saramonic also makes iPhone mics with lightning connectors for similar prices. Then, at $200, the Rode Wireless Go is more expensive – but still a bargain for a totally wireless microphone system that can provide audio directly to your camera. Pair it with an optional lavalier mic and you’re going to get great results.

 

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Mixcloud data breach exposes over 20 million user records



A data breach at Mixcloud, a U.K.-based audio streaming platform, has left more than 20 million user accounts exposed after the data was put on sale on the dark web.

The data breach happened earlier in November, according to a dark web seller who supplied a portion of the data to TechCrunch, allowing us to examine and verify the authenticity of the data.

The data contained usernames, email addresses, and passwords that appear to be scrambled with the SHA-2 algorithm, making the passwords near impossible to unscramble. The data also contained account sign-up dates and the last-login date. It also included the country from which the user signed up, their internet (IP) address, and links to profile photos.

We verified a portion of the data by validating emails against the site’s password reset feature.

The exact amount of data stolen isn’t known. The seller said there were 20 million records, but listed 21 million records on the dark web. But the data we sampled suggested there may have been as many as 22 million records.

The data was listed for sale for $4,000, or about 0.5 bitcoin. We’re not linking to the dark web listing.

Mixcloud last year secured a $11.5 million cash injection from media investment firm WndrCo, led by Hollywood media proprietor Jeffrey Katzenberg.

It’s the latest in a string of high profile data breaches in recent months. The breached data came from the same dark web seller who also alerted TechCrunch to the StockX breach earlier this year. The apparel trading company initially claimed its customer-wide password reset was for “system updates,” but later came clean, admitting it was hacked, exposing more than four million records, after TechCrunch obtained a portion of the breached data.

An email to Mixcloud’s press mailbox bounced, and its last listed public relations agency told TechCrunch it no longer represents the company.

As a London-based company, Mixcloud falls under U.K. and European data protection rules. Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual turnover for violations of European GDPR rules.

Read more:

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Woman claims restaurant review in Washington Post exposed husband's affair



The Washington Post‘s food critic Tom Sietsema received some unexpected feedback on one of his recent restaurant reviews.

The whole thing started during a live chat with Sietsema on the Washington Post‘s website about the dining scene in DC. An anonymous woman alleged that a recent restaurant review from Sietsema helped expose her husband’s affair. 

“Well Tom your latest review is accompanied by a picture of my husband dining with a woman who isn’t me!” the woman writes. 

So, this popped up on my live online food chat today. Cheaters, take heed! pic.twitter.com/1LzQ6qS7Kb

— Tom Sietsema (@tomsietsema) November 27, 2019 Read more…

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