On-demand workspace platform Breather taps new CEO

Breather, the platform that provides on-demand private workspace, announced today that it has appointed Bryan Murphy as its new CEO. Before joining Breather, Murphy was the founder and President of direct-to-consumer mattress startup, Tomorrow Sleep. Prior to Tomorrow Sleep, Murphy held posts as an advisor to investment firms and as an executive at eBay after the […]

Breather’s new CEO Bryan Murphy / Breather Press Kit

Breather, the platform that provides on-demand private workspace, announced today that it has appointed Bryan Murphy as its new CEO.

Before joining Breather, Murphy was the founder and President of direct-to-consumer mattress startup, Tomorrow Sleep. Prior to Tomorrow Sleep, Murphy held posts as an advisor to investment firms and as an executive at eBay after the company acquired his previous company, WHI Solutions – an e-commerce platform for aftermarket auto parts – where Murphy was the co-founder and CEO.

Breather believes Murphy’s extensive background scaling e-commerce and SaaS platforms, as well as his experience working with incumbents across a number of traditional industries, can help it execute through its next stage of global growth.

Murphy is filling the vacancy left by co-founder and former CEO Julien Smith, who stepped down as chief executive this past September, just three months after the company completed its $45 million Series C round, which was led by Menlo Ventures and saw participation from RRE Ventures, Temasek Holdings, Ascendas-Singbridge, and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

In a past statement on his transition, Smith said: “As I reflect on my strengths and consider what it will take for the company to reach its full potential, I realize bringing on an executive with experience scaling a company through the next level of growth is the best thing for the business.”

Smith, who remains with the company as Chairman of the Board, believes Murphy more than fits the bill. “Bryan’s record of scaling brands in competitive markets makes him an ideal leader to support this momentum, and I’m excited to see where he takes us next,” Smith said.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Murphy explained that Breather’s next growth phase will ultimately come down to its ability to continue the global expansion of its network of locations and partner landlords while striking the optimal balance between rental economics and employee utility, productivity and performance. With new spaces and ramped marketing efforts, Murphy and the company expect 2019 to be a big year for Breather – “I think this year, you’re going to start hearing a lot about Breather and it really being in a leadership role for the industry.”

Breather’s workspace at 900 Broadway in New York City is one of 500+ network locations accessible to users.

On Breather’s platform, users are currently able to access a network of over 500 private workspaces across ten major cities around the world, which can be booked as meeting space or short-term private office space.

Meeting spaces can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes, while office space can be booked on a month-to-month basis, providing businesses with financial flexibility, private and more spacious alternatives to coworking options, and the ability to easily change offices as they grow. For landlords, Breather allows property owners to generate value from underutilized space by providing a turnkey digital booking system, as well as expertise in the short-term rental space.

Murphy explained to TechCrunch that part of what excited him most about his new role was his belief in Breather’s significant product-market fit and the immense addressable market that he sees for flexible workspaces longer-term. With limited penetration to date, Murphy feels the commercial office space industry is in just the third inning of significant transformation. 

Murphy believes that long-term growth for Breather and other flexible space providers will be driven by a heightened focus on employee flexibility and wellness, a growing number of currently underserved companies whose needs fall between coworking and traditional direct leasing, and the need for landlords to support a wider variety of office space options as workforce demographics and behaviors shift. 

Murphy believes that the ease, flexibility and unlocked value Breather provides puts the platform in a great position to win share.

“Breather has built a remarkable commercial real estate e-commerce and services platform that offers one-click access to over 500 workspaces around the world,” said Murphy in a press release. “To our customers, having access to workspace that is turnkey, affordable, beautiful, productive and that can flex up and down based on needs is a total game changer.”

To date, Breather has served over 500,000 customers and has raised over $120 million in investment.

Facebook poaches Google’s AR/VR engineering lead to take over Portal team

Facebook is bringing on the engineering lead for Google’s entire AR/VR team to tackle Portal hardware. Ryan Cairns comes aboard after 12 years at Google, where he was most recently the engineering lead for a team of more than 500 people tackling AR/VR at the big G, including Daydream, Lens and ARCore, according to his LinkedIn. […]

Facebook is bringing on the engineering lead for Google’s entire AR/VR team to tackle Portal hardware.

Ryan Cairns comes aboard after 12 years at Google, where he was most recently the engineering lead for a team of more than 500 people tackling AR/VR at the big G, including Daydream, Lens and ARCore, according to his LinkedIn.

His arrival comes after some big changes to Facebook’s hardware team. Last month, the company shook up its Building 8 hardware team, splitting it up into Facebook Reality Labs (AR/VR) and Portal teams. Rafa Camargo took over the Portal team while Michael Abrash stayed in charge of Facebook Reality Labs, according to a Business Insider report. Today’s shakeup shifts Camargo to taking over AR/VR, while Cairns will take on Portal.

No word on how this affects the role of Michael Abrash, who has been a very public face for the company’s AR/VR efforts. We’ve reached out to Facebook for more info.

Update 12:42 PT: Facebook has confirmed Abrash still holds his role as chief scientist leading Facebook Reality Labs.

Bringing an AR/VR engineer to take on Portal while the guy who was leading Portal takes on AR/VR may seem a bit questionable but Facebook does see quite a bit of crossover between the two hardware efforts which both heavily leverage computer vision tech. While Portal takes the similar form factor of other smart screens from Google and Amazon, what distinguishes it are the features that track people’s bodies and faces to automatically frame shots when users are further away from the camera as well as applying AR selfie masks that are available in other products.

Snap CFO Tim Stone is resigning

Snap CFO Tim Stone is leaving the company, according to documents Snap filed with the SEC today. “Tim has made a big impact in his short time on our team and we are very grateful for all of his hard work,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in a memo, obtained by TechCrunch, to employees. “I […]

Snap CFO Tim Stone is leaving the company, according to documents Snap filed with the SEC today.

“Tim has made a big impact in his short time on our team and we are very grateful for all of his hard work,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in a memo, obtained by TechCrunch, to employees. “I know we have all benefitted from his customer focus and the way he has encouraged all of us to operate as owners.”

This marks Snap’s second CFO departure in the last 12 months.

“Mr. Stone has confirmed that this transition is not related to any disagreement with us on any matter relating to our accounting, strategy, management, operations, policies, regulatory matters, or practices (financial or otherwise),” Snap General Counsel and Secretary Michael O’Sullivan wrote in the filing. “Mr. Stone’s last day has not been determined. Mr. Stone will continue to serve as Chief Financial Officer to assist in the search for a replacement and an effective transition of his duties, including through our scheduled full year 2018 financial results announcement.”

In Spiegel’s memo, he also notes that Stone’s departure is not related to any disagreements pertaining to its finances (see full memo below).

Stone is a long-time Amazon executive who joined Snap from Amazon back in May to replace outgoing CFO Drew Vollero. Vollero served as Snap’s first CFO.

Snap is currently finalizing its Q4 2018 results and says it expects to report revenue and adjusted EBITDA results “that are slightly favorable to the top end of our previously reported quarterly guidance ranges for each.”

Snap closed the day up 3.65 percent at $6.54 per share. In after-hours trading, Snap is trading down more than seven percent.

Here’s the full text of Spiegel’s memo:

Team,

I wanted to let you know that Tim Stone, our CFO, has decided to leave Snap.

Tim has made a big impact in his short time on our team and we are very grateful for all of his hard work. I know we have all benefitted from his customer focus and the way he has encouraged all of us to operate as owners.

Tim will remain at Snap to help with the transition, including through our Q4 and full year earnings call on February 5th.

Tim’s transition is not related to any disagreement with us on any matter relating to our accounting, strategy, management, operations, policies, regulatory matters, or practices (financial or otherwise).

Please join me in wishing Tim all the best in his future endeavors!

TechCrunch has reached out to Snap and will update this story if we hear back.

SpaceX will lay off hundreds to ‘become a leaner company’

SpaceX plans to lay off approximately 10 percent of its workforce in order to manage its costs, the company confirmed to TechCrunch today. The news comes as the company embarks on an ambitious plan to develop and test an interplanetary spacecraft while simultaneously performing frequent orbital launches.

SpaceX plans to lay off approximately 10 percent of its workforce in order to manage its costs, the company confirmed to TechCrunch today. First reported by Ars Technica’s Eric Berger, the news comes as the company embarks on an ambitious plan to develop and test an interplanetary spacecraft while simultaneously performing frequent orbital launches.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, SpaceX explained that the layoffs are in pursuit of becoming a “leaner company” and that they were only necessary due to “the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead.”

To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company. Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team. We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX’s mission. This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.

The company employed at least 7,000 people in late 2017 when COO Gwynne Shotwell last gave a number — which means around 700 will lose their jobs.

I asked SpaceX for more information on where these jobs might come from — engineering, manufacturing, sales, certain projects, etc — but apart from the statement the company did not offer any answers.

Layoffs of this scale ring alarm bells pretty much across the board, but the company has insisted that it is solvent and successful. And indeed even if it were not, it is hard to imagine that its extremely successful and increasingly reliable Falcon 9 launch vehicle would cease operations any time soon. In fact one might expect launch numbers to increase with financial difficulties in order to increase revenue.

Why such a major reduction in workforce, and why now? The company’s excuse of wanting to be lean doesn’t explain much; SpaceX can hardly have any fat to trim off it considering how young and small it is compared with other aerospace concerns, as well as the breadth of its services and research. It seems unlikely that there are hundreds of middle managers loafing their way to a paycheck. It’s far more likely SpaceX barely has enough employees to do what it already does.

But mounting costs may simply have caught up with SpaceX’s ambitions; it has, after all, been forging forward on multiple fronts, any single one of which would be more than enough for a single company.

It has been building and actively improving its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles for years, with the former now more or less in a final state but the latter far from it. It has been researching and prototyping an interplanetary spacecraft, formerly known as the BFR and now Starship. It is building and testing a crewed capsule intended to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. And it is planning a 400-strong constellation of satellites to deliver high speed internet connectivity at a global scale.

So it is perhaps understandable that despite raising $450 million in 2017 and having another round of a similar size rumored to be in negotiation right now, the money is pouring out just about as fast as investors can pour it in. Hundreds of millions in contracts help as well, but they bring costs and responsibilities with them. Its many projects hold the promise of riches, but require years of incubation and investment.

The most logical place to cut from would perhaps be the Falcon 9 development team; CEO Elon Musk indicated that large scale R&D on the platform was ending and being reallocated to the Falcon Heavy and Starship projects. Therefore there may well be designers and engineers who are more easy to part with than others. But that is merely speculation.

All this is just to say that SpaceX’s financials and operations are too complicated to write off major layoffs as simply due to revenue shortfalls or overzealous hiring. I have asked SpaceX for more details and will update this post if I hear back; in the meantime we are very likely to hear more from the company, or the talkative Musk, in the next few days.

Square loses another key executive as Mary Kay Bowman joins Visa

The news comes shortly after Jack Dorsey’s merchant services and mobile payments company lost long-time CFO Sarah Friar to Nextdoor.

Square’s C-suite continues to shuffle. One week after the merchant services and mobile payments company tapped Amrita Ahuja to lead finance, replacing long-time executive Sarah Friar who landed the chief executive role at Nextdoor, the company’s head of payments, Mary Kay Bowman, has joined Visa as its head of seller solutions.

Square didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bowman joined Square in 2015 after more than a decade at Amazon, most recently as the e-commerce giant’s director of global payments. In her new role, Visa says Bowman will lead the credit card company’s “strategy for acceptance products and solutions, driving the design, development and delivery of new services and solutions that will transform the payment experience for both sellers and consumers.”

“This is a critical role, as the point of sale is undergoing dramatic change as it shifts from traditional payment acceptance to digital, cross-channel payment experiences,” Visa wrote in a company announcement released Friday morning.

Square finds its Sarah Friar replacement with new CFO Amrita Ahuja

The mobile payments company has tapped former Blizzard Entertainment CFO Amrita Ahuja.

Founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey says Square has poached Amrita Ahuja from Blizzard Entertainment, a division of the gaming company Activision Blizzard, to lead finance at the merchant services and mobile payments company.

Ahuja will join Square later this month, about three months after long-time Square chief financial officer Sarah Friar exited the company in favor of a CEO opportunity at Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking site. Friar, often described as Dorsey’s right-hand woman, joined Square in 2012 and led the startup through an initial public offering that valued the company at about $3 billion.

Prior to an eight-year stint at Blizzard, Ahuja clocked in a few years at Fox Networks Group, the Walt Disney Company and Morgan Stanley, where she was an analyst in the investment banking division.

“In Amrita, we have found an amazing, multidimensional business leader,” Dorsey said in a statement. “Amrita brings the ability to consider and balance opportunities across our entire business, and she will help strengthen our discipline as we invest, build, and scale.”

Shares of Square [NYSE: SQ] dropped more than 8 percent on Thursday.

Netflix hires Activision CFO & former Disney exec Spencer Neumann as its new CFO

Netflix has officially confirmed the hiring of its new Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann, formerly CFO at Activision Blizzard. The announcement directly follows reports from Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, which said Netflix had poached Neumann from Activision and would start him in his new position this year. CNBC on Wednesday reported Neumann had been fired from Activision two days […]

Netflix has officially confirmed the hiring of its new Chief Financial Officer Spencer Neumann, formerly CFO at Activision Blizzard. The announcement directly follows reports from Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, which said Netflix had poached Neumann from Activision and would start him in his new position this year.

CNBC on Wednesday reported Neumann had been fired from Activision two days ago because he was pursuing another job. Activision declined to state the cause of his firing, saying only that it was “unrelated to the Company’s financial reporting or disclosure controls and procedures,” in a regulatory filing.

Activision said Dennis Durkin, who was CFO from 2012 through 2017, would return to his role to replace Neumann.

At Netflix, Neumann will replace David Wells, who served as CFO since 2010.

“Spencer is a stellar entertainment executive and we’re thrilled that he will help us provide amazing stories to people all over the world,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive officer, in a statement. “I also want to again say thank you to David Wells, on behalf of the company and our shareholders, for his invaluable contributions at Netflix over the past 14 years.”

Neumann became CFO at Activision Blizzard in May 2017. Prior to that, he held a number of roles within Disney and elsewhere. From 2012 up until his hiring at Activision, Neumann was CFO and executive vice president of Global Guest Experience of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He also worked in private equity at Providence Equity Partners and Summit Partners.

Also at Disney, which Neumann first joined in 1992, he had served as executive vice president of the ABC Television Network from 2001 to 2004 and CFO of the Walt Disney Internet Group from 1999 to 2001.

His hiring is notable, given Disney’s plans to introduce a Netflix competitor of its own this year, with the forthcoming launch of the Disney+ streaming service. Netflix is also facing increased competition from AT&T, which is creating several new streaming services following its Time Warner acquisition, as well from Hulu, which becomes majority-owned by Disney with its acquisition of  21st Century Fox.

To keep up, Netflix has been increasing its spending on content. It reportedly spent $8 billion in 2018, and that figure is set to grow this year as the streamer invests heavily in originals to help grow and retain its customer base.

“Netflix is a singular brand, and I’m excited and honored for the opportunity to work with the Netflix team and all of our stakeholders to build on the company’s exceptional track record of success and innovation,” said Neumann in a statement.

Image credits: Netflix (logo); LinkedIn (profile photo)

HQ Trivia launches HQ Words tonight under reinstalled CEO

HQ’s expansion beyond trivia emerges from beta tonight, but the question is whether it’s different and accessible enough to revive the startup’s growth. HQ Words opens to everyone with today’s 6:30pm pacific broadcast within the HQ Trivia app after several weeks of closed beta testing of the Wheel Of Fortune-style game. The launch will be […]

HQ’s expansion beyond trivia emerges from beta tonight, but the question is whether it’s different and accessible enough to revive the startup’s growth. HQ Words opens to everyone with today’s 6:30pm pacific broadcast within the HQ Trivia app after several weeks of closed beta testing of the Wheel Of Fortune-style game. The launch will be the first big move of Rus Yusupov now that’s been officially renamed CEO a week after the tragic death of fellow co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll, HQ confirms to TechCrunch.

“Intermedia Labs introduced the world to a category defining product, HQ Trivia. Once again, with HQ Words, Intermedia Labs is poised to captivate the world with a revolutionary experience that will bring people together in new ways around live mobile video” Yusupov tells us. “HQ Words is the most interactive experience we’ve ever made.”

Kroll’s passing comes at a tough time for HQ. Its daily player count has declined since it became a phenomenon a year ago. The novelty has begun to wear off, and with so many experienced trivia whizzes, cash jackpots are often split between enough people that winners only get a few bucks. Interrupting your days or nights to play at a particular time can be inconvenient compared to the legions of always-available other games. Yusupov, who was HQ’s CEO until Kroll took over in September, will have to figure out what will attract casual crosswords players and those who flocked to Zynga’s Words With Friends — the kind of disruptive thinking Kroll excelled at.

“Colin and I shared many incredible life moments over the last 7 years. We embarked on an incredible journey co-founding two breakthrough companies together – and the lessons we learned at Vine and HQ will continue to have a big impact on me. Like many relationships, we’ve also had our challenges – but it was during these challenging times that Colin’s kind soul and big heart would truly shine” Yusupov wrote in a statement about his co-founder that was originally published by Digiday in a touching memorial post. Between building Vine and HQ together, the pair have reimagined mobile entertainment, giving millions a chance to show off their wits and creativity. “He had this incredible ability to make everyone feel special. He listened well. He thought deeply. But above all, he cared about people more than work. The driving force behind his innovations was the positive impact they would have on people and world. Colin’s innovations and inventions have changed many people’s lives for the better and will continue to impact the world for years to come.”

HQ Trivia’s co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll passed away earlier this month

How To Play HQ Words

In HQ Words, players compete live to solve word puzzles by correctly choosing what letters are hidden. You can find the game inside the existing HQ Trivia iOS and Android apps. Host Anna Roisman pluckily provides a clue and then dispenses hints as the 25-second timer for each puzzle counts down. If the clue is “gemstone” and you’re shown “_ _ _ m _ _ _”, you’ll have to tap D, I, A, O, and N in any order. Choose three wrong letters or fail to fill out the words and you lose. You’ll spin a wheel before the game starts to get one letter that’s automatically revealed each round.

Make it through ten rounds and you and other winners get a cut of the cash prize, with the three who solved the puzzles fastest scoring a bigger chunk of the jackpot. The startup earns money through selling you extra lives inside Words, though it will probably feature sponsored games and product placement like Trivia does to pull in marketing dollars. Words will go live daily at 6:30pm pacific after Trivia’s 6:00 game, so you can turn it into HQ hour with family and friends.

HQ Words is much more frenetic than Trivia. Rather than picking a single answer, you have to rapidly tap letters through a combination of educated and uneducated guesses. That means it really does feel more interactive since you’re not sitting for minutes with just a sole answer tap to keep you awake. And because it doesn’t require deep and broad trivia knowledge, Words could appeal to a wider audience. The spinner also adds an element of pure luck, as a weaker player who gets to auto-reveal a vowel might fare better than a wiser player who gets stuck with a “Z” like I always seem to.

Fill In The Blank

The concern is that at its core, Words is still quite similar to Trivia. They’re both real-time, elimination round-based knowledge games played against everyone for money. Both at times feel like they use cheap tricks to eliminate you. A recent Words puzzle asked you to name a noisy instrument, but the answer wasn’t “kazoo” but “buzzing kazoo” — something I’m not sure anyone has ever formally called it. Given the faster pace of interaction, even tiny glitches or moments of lag can be enough to make you lose a round. An HQ Words beta game earlier this week failed to show some users the keyboard, causing mass elimination. The pressure to get HQ’s engineering working flawlessly has never been higher.

The phrasing of some HQ Words answers seems like a stretch

HQ originally agreed to let TechCrunch interview Kroll about what makes Words different enough to change the startup’s momentum. Yusupov was supposed to fill in after Kroll was sadly found dead last Friday of an apparent drug overdose. He later declined to talk or provide written responses. That’s understandable during this time of mourning and transition. But HQ will still need to build an answer into its app. Meanwhile, Chinese clones and US competitors have begun co-opting the live video quiz idea. Facebook has even built a game show platform for content makers to create their own.

HQ could benefit from a better onboarding experience that lets people play a sample game solo to get them hooked and tide them over until the next scheduled broadcast. Mini-games or ways to play along after you’re eliminated could boost total view time and the value of brand sponsorships. A “quiet mode” that silences the between-round chatter and distills HQ to just the questions and puzzles might make it easier to play while multi-tasking. Head-to-head versions of Trivia and Words might help HQ feel more intimate, and there’s an opportunity to integrate peer-to-peer gambling like ProveIt trivia.  And branching out beyond knowledge games into more social or arcade-style titles would counter the idea that HQ is just for brainiacs.

Around the height of HQ’s popularity it raised a $15 million funding round at a $100 million valuation. That seems justified given HQ will reportedly earn around $10 million in revenue this year. Gamers are fickle, though, and today’s Fortnite can wind up tomorrow’s Pokemon Go — a flash in the pan that fizzles out. Words is a great bridge to a world outside of Trivia, but HQ must evolve not just iterate.

Apple’s AI boss has been bumped up to the company’s executive team

Apple has just confirmed that John Giannandrea, the ex-Googler machine learning veteran who joined the company back in April, has joined the likes of Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue and Angela Ahrendts on the executive team. His role on the executive team will be “Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy,” […]

Apple has just confirmed that John Giannandrea, the ex-Googler machine learning veteran who joined the company back in April, has joined the likes of Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue and Angela Ahrendts on the executive team.

His role on the executive team will be “Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy,” signaling just how key AI and machine learning will be to Apple moving forward.
Giannandrea has been leading Apple’s Siri and Core ML team for months, bringing the two previously distinct teams together under one leader.

Prior to Apple, Giannandrea spent eight years leading the AI push at Google; as of 2016, he was leading the search team, as well.

We spoke to Giannandrea at TechCrunch Disrupt shortly before he parted ways with Google. You can see that video here:

HQ Trivia and Vine co-founder Colin Kroll found dead of suspected overdose

Colin Kroll, the 35-year-old co-founder and CEO of the HQ Trivia app, has been found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his apartment, TechCrunch has confirmed. A spokesman for the NYPD told us that a female called 911 for a wellness check on Kroll’s apartment and he was found dead inside at 08:00 hours […]

Colin Kroll, the 35-year-old co-founder and CEO of the HQ Trivia app, has been found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his apartment, TechCrunch has confirmed.

A spokesman for the NYPD told us that a female called 911 for a wellness check on Kroll’s apartment and he was found dead inside at 08:00 hours today.

The police department said the investigation is ongoing but added that the cause of death is “allegedly a drug overdose”.

“We’re still waiting on the ME’s report to confirm that,” he added.

The story was reported earlier by TMZ — which cites a police source saying cocaine and heroin were believed to be involved.

We reached out to HQ for comment but the company has declined to make a statement at this time.

Kroll was only named CEO of the HQ Trivia mobile game show app three months ago, replacing Rus Yusupov who moved over to serve as chief creative officer.

Prior to taking the CEO role Kroll served as HQ’s CTO.

He co-founded the startup in 2015, a few months after moving on from Vine — the Twitter-owned short video format startup that he also co-founded.

It’s not clear who will take over the CEO role for HQ at this stage but Yusupov looks a likely candidate at least in the interim.

Kroll started his career as a software engineer at Right Media, which went on to be acquired by Yahoo in 2006.

From then until 2011, he led the engineering team in Yahoo’s search and advertising tech group before joining luxury travel site Jetsetter as VP of Product — where he went on to be promoted to CTO.

In 2012 he left to start Vine with co-founders Dominik Hofmann and Yusopov.