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Monthly Archives: August 2020

Apple alum’s jobs app for India’s workers secures $8 million



Javed, a middle-aged man, worked as a driver before losing that job earlier this year as coronavirus spread across India, prompting New Delhi to enforce a nationwide lockdown and temporarily curb several business activities.

There are millions of people like Javed in India today who have lost their livelihood in recent months. They are low-skilled workers and are currently struggling to secure another job.

An Apple alum thinks he can help. Through his app startup Apna, Nirmit Parikh is helping India’s workers learn new skills, connect with one another, and find jobs.

Parikh’s app is already changing lives. Javed, who could barely speak a few words in English before, recently posted a video on Apna app where he talked about his new job — processing raisins — in English.

In less than one year of its existence, Apna app — available on Android — has amassed over 1.2 million users.

The startup announced on Tuesday it has raised $8 million in its Series A financing round led by Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India . Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round.

In an interview with TechCrunch last week, Parikh said that these workers lack an organized community. “They are daily-wage workers. They rely on their friends to find jobs. This makes the prospects of them finding a job very difficult,” he said.

Apna app comprises of vertical communities for skilled professionals like carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

“The most powerful thing for me about Apna is its communities — I’ve seen people help each other start a business, learn a new language or find a gig! Communities harbinger trust and make the model infinitely scalable,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, a Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

The other issue they struggle with is their skillset. “An electrician would end up working decades doing the same job. If only they had access to upskilling courses — and just knew how beneficial it could be to them — they would stand to broaden their scope of work and significantly increase their earnings,” said Parikh.

Apna is addressing this gap in multiple ways. In addition to establishing a community, and rolling out upskilling courses, the startup allows users — most of whom are first time internet users — easily generate a virtual business card. The startup then shares these profiles with prospective employers. (Some of the firms that have hired from Apna app in recent weeks include Amazon, Big Basket, and HDFC Bank.)

In the last one month, Parikh said Apna has facilitated more than 1 million job interviews — up more than 3X month-on-month. During the same period, more than 3 million professional conversations occurred on the platform.

Parikh said he plans to use the fresh capital to expand Apna’s offerings, and help users launch their own businesses. He also plans to expand Apna, currently available in five Indian cities, outside of India in the future.

There are over 250 million blue and grey collar workers in India and providing them meaningful employment opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in our country, said Harshjit Sethi, Principal at Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.

“With internet usage in this demographic growing rapidly, further catalysed by the Jio effect, apps such as Apna can play a meaningful role in democratizing access to employment and skilling. Apna has built a unique product where users quickly come together in professional communities, an unmet need so far,” he added.

A handful of other players are also looking for ways to help. Last month, Google rolled out a feature in its search engine in India that allows users to create their virtual business card. The Android-maker also launched its jobs app Kormo in the country.

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Walmart+ launches Sept 15, offering same-day delivery, gas discounts and cashierless checkout for $98/yr



Walmart today officially unveiled its new membership service and Amazon Prime rival, which it’s calling “Walmart+.” The $98 per year service will combine free, unlimited same-day delivery on groceries and thousands of other items, with additional benefits, like fuel discounts and access to a new Scan & Go service, similar to Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, that will allow members to check out at Walmart stores without having to wait in line.

The service will be available starting on September 15, 2020 nationwide, reaching over 4,700 Walmart stores, including 2,700 stores that offer delivery. Members can choose to pay the $98 per year after a 15-day free-trial period, or they can pay $12.95 on a month-to-month basis.

At launch, the new program promises more than 160,000 items for same-day delivery with no per-delivery fee on orders totaling $35 or more. This is the same value proposition that Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” program offers today. With the launch of Walmart+, “Delivery Unlimited” members will be moved to the rebranded and expanded service.

In addition to delivery savings, the new Walmart+ membership will include fuel discounts of up to 5 cents per gallon on any fuel type at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations nationwide. Walmart+ members will enable the discounts by using the Walmart mobile app, either by scanning a QR code or entering a PIN at the pump. Further down the road, the program will expand to include Sam’s Club fuel stations as well.

Image Credits: Walmart

The Scan & Go membership perk, meanwhile, lets Walmart+ members pay without having to wait in checkout lines — a nice perk to have amid a pandemic, where time in store means time exposed to potential carriers of the novel coronavirus. Using the Walmart app, customers scan scan items as they shop, then pay for them using Walmart Pay for a touch-free checkout experience.

Walmart two years ago had tested cashierless Scan & Go technology in its stores, but killed the program due to shopper theft. Arguably, fewer people will use Scan & Go because it’s a paid service, which could help store staff better combat the earlier problems.

Image Credits: Walmart

As with “Delivery Unlimited,” the Walmart+ orders are picked by in-store staff then handed off to partners like Postmates, DoorDash, Roadie and Point Pickup for delivery. Not owning the end-to-end experience can cause issues for consumers, however — especially because a poor delivery experience can damage Walmart’s reputation, or because customer service issues can’t be always dealt with directly when a middleman is involved. Walmart has also seen partners come and go, as delivery services ended their relationship with Walmart over the costs involved.

Walmart claims its new program is not a Prime rival. But it could encourage some number of Prime members to make a switch.

“We’re not launching Walmart+ with the intent to compete with anything else. We’re launching it with the needs of customers in mind,” explained Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside.

“Of course, I hope that brings in more customers and makes them more loyal, but when you’re as big as Walmart is — and serving as many people as we are — this is about really doubling down with the customers that we have and getting more share of wallet and more share of mind,” Whiteside added.

Prime is a much more expansive program. For comparison, Prime offers tens of millions of products for two-day delivery, over 10 million for one-day delivery and over 3 million for same-day delivery on orders of $35 or more. Walmart+ is focused more specifically on same-day delivery, as Walmart.com already offers free one-day or two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more without requiring a membership fee.

Prime today also offers a huge array of other perks — like access to free music, video, audiobooks, Kindle books and more. Walmart+ does not.

Still, for many customers, the value in Prime is rooted in its promise of speedy delivery. But at the same time, Amazon has tested the limits of its customer loyalty by steadily raising Prime’s subscription price over the years to now $119 when paid annually, or $12.99 per month. Walmart+ undercuts Prime at $98 per year or $12.95 per month while largely catering to the online grocery shopper — a target market that has rapidly grown during the pandemic. Walmart recently reported the pandemic helped drive its own e-commerce sales, fueled  by online grocery, up 97% in the past quarter.

Image Credits: Walmart

Meanwhile, Amazon’s grocery strategy since its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods has yet to be streamlined. Amazon today continues to offer two different online grocery services, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, with a varying array of pickup and delivery options, potentially leading to consumer confusion.

That said, the pandemic has led to massive sales increases for Amazon and Walmart, along with other essential retailers like Target, with all involved reporting stellar earnings in recent quarters.

Walmart’s plans for a new subscription program had previously been reported and a placeholder website has also been live for some time. In August, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors on the company’s earnings call that it was readying the launch a membership program that would be centered around delivery. He noted also at the time how Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” subscription, launched last year, would serve a “great base of an offer” for the broader program, but didn’t offer a launch time frame.

Earlier reports said the service would include other perks, like access to more grocery time slots, promotional deals and eventually a Walmart+ credit card. The retailer declined to speak to its plans, only saying that Walmart+ benefits would expand over time.

“As is the case with any great membership offering, these benefits are not intended to be static. We will continue to leverage our assets and scale to bring solutions at unprecedented value, all while holding true to the everyday low prices that customers know they can always expect from Walmart,” Whiteside said. “In the future, we will be leveraging our wide-ranging strengths to add additional benefits for members in a range of both services and offerings,” she added.

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TikTok's new commerce integration lets creators start milkin' content for cash



TikTok is making it easier for creators to turn looped video streams into pure American profit. 

The embattled social media company announced Monday that it had entered into a new partnership with the customized online merch platform Teespring. The integration will allow creators to include links to their Teespring products directly in their videos.

TikTokkers with hearty followings already frequently link to personal merchandise stores in their bios. Selling merch like clothing, as well as digital tutorials or templates, is a popular way for independent creators to earn cash from the people who consume their content for free. The new Teespring integration builds on what creators are already doing themselves with an official and more streamlined tool. Read more…

More about Commerce, Tiktok, Tech, Consumer Tech, and Social Media Companies

Gillmor Gang: Platforming



 

Much was made during the Republican Convention of the lack of a party platform. The media characterized this as a capitulation to the Cult of Trump phenomenon, but the questioned begged was: so what? If you’re running as a candidate to disrupt the status quo…. But beneath the media framing, an important question emerges. What exactly is the platform we need to emerge from the toxic situation we find ourselves in?

For months, if not years, the technology industry has been working on a new platform to succeed the previous one. Mobile would seem to be that fundamental shift from the desktop world of Windows and PCs. The twin dominance of powerful phones by Google and Apple has created a new language of notifications and streaming video perfectly timed for the devastating pandemic. Our devices are now the front lines for managing the struggle to stay alive for our loved ones, the economy, and our future.

Zoom is of course the poster child for all that it enables, and certainly what it doesn’t. The notion of work from home is more likely a question of what is home and what’s the difference with work? The routines of life are congealing around the interactions with phone, watch, iPad, laptop, and TV. When I wake up, the first dive is for the notification stream built up overnight from overseas and then the East Coast. The rhythm varies from day to day: intense on Monday as the weekend cobwebs dissipate, more issue oriented through the middle of the week, and finally a thank-god-it’s Friday feel. Email, text messages, media updates, and work calendar reminders.

And then there’s the outline of the new platform — live streaming notifications from what some call citizen media, or the influencer network, or the loyal opposition. That last one refers to the decline in trust of the mainstream media. Maybe it’s just me, but the cable model of host-driven cyclical repetition of the headlines, talking heads, and medical ads adds up to a trip first to the mute button and eventually the off switch. Which plugs me right back into the notification stream and a new contract with us based on whether we click on the link or even allow the notification in the first place.

And these new voices are networks of one or a few, broadcasting on a global reach pastiche of cloud services that begin with the ubiquity of Zoom and its click and you’re there ease of on boarding. Then there are the key networks of record as it were: Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, YouTube, and maybe LinkedIn if you’re Brent Leary and got an early invite. There’s a whole bunch of streaming accelerators like Restream and StreamYard and Just Streams (I made that up) to use software and a dash of hardware to do what it took many thousands of dollars and cables just a few years ago. Right now it’s early days, but soon you’ll be seeing something that looks like the media it’s replacing as the OG buys in.

Don’t believe me? Just look at how streaming has disrupted the television industry. Or the music business. Or the reemergence of podcasting and newsletters. Or how messaging is growing rapidly as a preferred digital commerce and marketing channel. The pandemic has certainly had a devastating effect with the loss of theaters, events, and travel that drive so much of our economy and the emotional underpinning of our lives. But as we learn to respect the power of the virus to force this digital wave of transformation, we fuel the winners that emerge from a new hybrid blend of evolution and adaptation.

Technology has often been seen as impersonal and cold to the touch. But now we should be making friends with robots for touchless shopping, At the beginning of this Gillmor Gang session, Frank Radice seemed stunned by the administration’s takeover of the symbols of our Washington monuments for political purposes. By the end, he seemed more hopeful of a different result. We have more ways now of making our voices heard, broadcasting our own names in fireworks above and beyond the fake news and suppression. Our platform: suppress the virus, not the vote.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, August 28, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

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Reid Hoffman, Zynga’s Mark Pincus aim to raise $600M for tech-focused SPAC



Reinvent Technology Partners, a new special purpose acquisition company formed by famed investor and serial entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and veteran hedge fund manager Michael Thompson, filed Monday for a $600 million initial public offering.

The SPAC was formed by Hoffman, Pincus and Thompson, formerly of BHR Capital, with the intention of merging with a technology company. Thompson will be director, CEO and CFO. Hoffman and Pincus are co-lead directors. The company plans to list on the NYSE under the symbol RTP.U. Once, and if, the Reinvent Technology Partners raises the $600 million, the capital will move into a blind trust until its management team decides which company it wants to acquire.

SPACs are blank-check companies that are formed for the purpose of merging or acquiring other companies. SPACs have become an increasingly popular means in 2020 for venture-backed companies to go public without having to take the traditional IPO path. In the past several months, a number of venture-backed companies have merged with SPAC companies in lieu of a traditional IPO process, including online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies, lidar companies Luminar and Velodyne Lidar and a handful of electric vehicle startups such as Canoo, Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motor and Nikola Motor.

In January, Axios reported that Pincus and Thompson, with Hoffman as an adviser, were raising up to $700 million for a new investment fund that planned to focus on publicly traded tech companies in need of strategic restructuring.

Monday’s filing fills in some of the details. The brain trust that is Hoffman, Pincus and Thompson appear to view this SPAC as another means to be a new kind of venture capital partner for a tech company set to go public.

Here’s the entire letter from Hoffman and Pincus, which was included in the filing:

We believe there is a need for a new, additional type of venture capital that helps companies at scale pursue innovation and step function growth long past their IPOs.

Throughout our careers as entrepreneurs, investors, and directors, we have been students of why some tech companies sustain as market leaders. Often people view these companies from the outside in
as perfect, uninterrupted growth stories that were almost pre-ordained. However, we realize that behind these mythical growth stories are many hard fought cycles of invention and reinvention. Invention is when a company builds a new product and achieves growth in an adjacent market, such as Amazon developing AWS. Reinvention is when a company has to adapt its core products and services to continue growing in an existing market, as Netflix did moving from DVDs to streaming.

For many public tech companies — especially mid-cap sized — these cycles can prove challenging to navigate while maintaining investor alignment. We went through our own invention and reinvention cycles while public at Zynga and LinkedIn, and it wasn’t easy.

We are excited to be a new kind of venture capital partner at the table for one of the many tech companies set to go public over the next few years and to help it maintain a growth mindset, be bold, and go for it in the face of pressure to deliver quarterly results.

We hope our experience, ideas, and insights can make a difference as we partner with a founder and CEO as they build a market-leading company that delivers products and services that matter in people’s lives.

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Daily Crunch: Netflix sets some content free



Netflix tests a free promotional offering, Amazon’s drone delivery gets trial flight approval from the FAA and Neuralink shows off its human-brain tech. This is your Daily Crunch for August 31, 2020.

The big story: Netflix sets some content free

Netflix has taken some of its best-known Originals out from behind the paywall.

The company has already been testing out making select titles free in certain markets, and today it expanded that test across the globe, with a library of Netflix content, including “Stranger Things,” “Bird Box,” “When They See Us” and “Our Planet” now available free to non-subscribers (only the first episode, in the case of series). A skippable 30-second ad for Netflix plays before you watch.

“We’re looking at different marketing promotions to attract new members and give them a great Netflix experience,” the company said in a statement.

The tech giants

Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery fleet gains FAA approval for trial commercial flights — While this doesn’t mean that Amazon can immediately start operating a consumer drone delivery service, it does represent a significant step toward that goal.

Apple will now allow developers stuck in App Store jail to push bug fixes to their apps — Developers currently in standoffs with Apple’s app review team still won’t be able to submit updates with new features or content updates, however.

Google launches Google Kids Space, a ‘kids mode’ feature for Android, initially on Lenovo tablets — The feature will launch first on the Lenovo Smart Tab M10 HD Gen 2, but Google aims to bring Kids Space to more devices in time.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Elon Musk demonstrates Neuralink’s tech live using pigs with surgically implanted brain-monitoring devices — The company’s technology is meant to serve as a new kind of interface between the human brain and computing devices.

There’s a growing movement where startup founders look to exit to community — This is a collaborative working project led by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Media Enterprise Design Lab and Zebras Unite, exploring ways to help startups transition from investor-owned to community ownership.

On the matter of who was really behind @VCBrags — This is really the only post you need on the weekend’s Twitter kerfuffle.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

In a post-NDA world, does transparency help founders identify conflicts of interest? — Today, everyone is a fintech investor and no one signs NDAs, which puts founders in a difficult position.

What pandemic? Inside Boston’s scorching VC summer — Boston-area startups raised more private capital during summer 2020 than they did in summer 2019.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘High Score’ is a selective tour through video game history — For older gamers, the series provides some pleasant jolts of nostalgia.

Some of the brightest minds in Europe are joining us at Disrupt — A roundup of all the speakers we’ve got lined up in sessions specially timed for European attendees.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Virtual Mobility startup pitch night applications open



TechCrunch is on the hunt to feature 10 early-stage mobility startups at our virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 pitch night. The pitch-off event, originally set for May, will now be held October 5th – the evening before Mobility 2020. 

The top five companies from pitch night will take the stage at the main event with industry heavy hitters like  Boris Sofman of Waymo and Nancy Sun of Ike to Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan. Now we are shining a light on game changing startups – hardware and software breaking the mobility mold. From battery advancements to mapping, fuel processing to micromobility, TechCrunch wants the next generation of mobility’s brightest on stage. The process is simple:

ApplyTechCrunch editorial will review every application and demo video submitted. Companies will be reviewed based on innovation, scope of impact, uniqueness of product idea and potential for exit – IPO or acquisition. Selected companies will get to pitch on stage, receive two complimentary event tickets, an hour training with the Startup Battlefield Editor and a spot in CrunchMatch: TC’s meeting matching program.

Pitch Part I. The top ten startups from around the world will be selected to pitch live to the TC audience on the virtual stage. After a private pitch coaching session, founders will have one minute to pitch, followed by a Q&A with our expert panel of investor and industry expert judges.

Pitch Part II. The top five companies from pitch night will get a prime slot to pitch and demo their product on the main stage at Mobility 2020 in front of thousands of TC viewers – press, industry leaders and VCs.

The deadline to apply is September 15th. Selections will occur on a rolling basis so get your application in ASAP!

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Decrypted: Tesla’s ransomware near miss, Palantir’s S-1 risk factors



Another busy week in cybersecurity.

In case you missed it: A widely used messaging app used by over a million protesters has several major security flaws; a little-known loophole has let the DMV sell driver’s licenses and Social Security records to private investigators; and the U.S. government is suing to reclaim over $2.5 million in cryptocurrency stolen by North Korean hackers from two major exchanges.

But this week we are focusing on how a Tesla employee foiled a ransomware attack, and, ahead of Palantir’s debut on the stock market, how much of a risk factor is the company’s public image?


THE BIG PICTURE

Russian charged with attempted Tesla ransomware attack

$1 million. That’s how much a Tesla employee would have netted if they accepted a bribe from a Russian operative to install malware on Tesla’s Gigafactory network in Nevada. Instead, the employee told the FBI and the Russian was arrested.

The Justice Department charged the 27-year-old Russian, Egor Igorevich, weeks later as he tried to flee the United States. According to the indictment, his plan was to ask the employee to deliberately deploy ransomware on the Gigafactory’s network, grinding the network to a halt for a ransom of several million dollars. The would-be insider threat is likely the first of its kind, one ransomware expert told Wired, as financially driven hackers continue to up their game.

Tesla founder Elon Musk tweeted earlier this week confirming that Tesla was the target of the failed attack.

The attack, if carried out, could have been devastating. The indictment said that the malware was designed to extract data from the network before locking its files. This data-stealing ransomware is an increasing trend. These hacker groups not only encrypt a victim’s files but also exfiltrate the data to their servers. The hackers typically threaten to publish the victim’s files if the ransom isn’t paid.

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Netflix's 'Haunting' anthology previews your next nightmare in eery 'Bly Manor' teaser



Creepy mansion filled with creepy dolls? Check. British child singing a spooky song? Check. A whole bunch of ghost-like things that don’t look like they have mouths, but do want to violently devour any soul unlucky enough to cross their path? Check! 

On Monday, Netflix released the first teaser for horror auteur Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor. The second installment in the streaming service’s “Haunting” anthology, the new season sees the return of The Haunting of Hill House favorite Victoria Pedretti, known for her performances as Nell Crain in Hill House and Love Quinn in Netflix’s You.  Read more…

More about Netflix, Teaser, The Haunting Of Hill House, The Haunting Of Bly Manor, and Entertainment

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