Google releases a searchable database of US political ads

In an effort to provide more transparency and deliver on a promise to Congress, Google just published an archive of political ads that have run on its platform. Google’s new database, which it calls the Ad Library, is searchable through a dedicated launch page. Anyone can search for and filter ads, viewing them by candidate […]

In an effort to provide more transparency and deliver on a promise to Congress, Google just published an archive of political ads that have run on its platform.

Google’s new database, which it calls the Ad Library, is searchable through a dedicated launch page. Anyone can search for and filter ads, viewing them by candidate name or advertiser, spend, the dates the ads were live, impressions and type. For anyone looking for the biggest ad budget or the farthest reaching political ad, the ads can be sorted by spend, impressions and recency, as well. Google also provided a report on the data, showing ad spend by U.S. state, by advertiser and by top keywords.


The company added a bit of context around its other recent ad transparency efforts:

Earlier this year, we took important steps to increase transparency in political advertising. We implemented new requirements for any advertiser purchasing election ads on Google in the U.S.—these advertisers now have to provide a government-issued ID and other key information that confirms they are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, as required by law. We also required that election ads incorporate a clear “paid for by” disclosure.

The search features are pretty handy, but a few things are missing. While Google’s database does collect candidate ads in the U.S. it does not include issue ads — broader campaigns meant to influence public thought around a specific political topic — nor does it collect state or local ads. The ads are all U.S.-only, so elections elsewhere won’t show up in here either. Google says that it is collaborating with experts on potential tools that “capture a wider range of political ads” but it gave no timeline for that work. For now, ads that the tool does capture will be added into the library on a weekly basis.

Uber reports Q2 losses of $404 million, up 32 percent from Q1

While Uber isn’t required to disclose its financial results, Uber has done so for the past few quarters as it gears up to go public next year. In Q2 2018, Uber’s net revenue was up 8 percent quarter-over-quarter, at $2.7 billion. Year-over-year, that’s a 51 percent increase. Uber recorded gross bookings — the total taken […]

While Uber isn’t required to disclose its financial results, Uber has done so for the past few quarters as it gears up to go public next year. In Q2 2018, Uber’s net revenue was up 8 percent quarter-over-quarter, at $2.7 billion. Year-over-year, that’s a 51 percent increase.

Uber recorded gross bookings — the total taken for all of Uber’s transportation services — of $12 billion, a six percent quarter-over-quarter increase and a 41 percent year-over-year increase. But while Uber’s gross bookings increased, so did its losses. In Q2, Uber had adjusted EBITDA losses of $404 million compared to $304 million in losses in Q1.

Uber’s losses added up, given its investments in Eats, India, the Middle East, bikes and scooters. This quarter, Uber expanded Eats into a number of new cities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, acquired food delivery startup Andoannounced its expansion of JUMP bikes into Europe and made its scooter ambitions official.

Other key stats for Uber’s Q2 2018:

  • Adjusted EBITDA margin: 3.4 percent of gross bookings (in Q2 ’17, that was 6.3 percent)
  • Gross cash: $7.3 billion (+1 billion quarter-over-quarter)

“We had another great quarter, continuing to grow at an impressive rate for a business of our scale,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “Going forward, we’re deliberately investing in the future of our platform: big bets like Uber Eats; congestion and environmentally friendly modes of transport like Express Pool, e-bikes and scooters; emerging businesses like Freight; and high-potential markets in the Middle East and India where we are cementing our leadership position.”

While Uber technically had a good quarter, it doesn’t mean that all is well. Regarding Uber’s self-driving car efforts, the company has spent between $125 million and $200 million a quarter over the last 18 months, The Information reports. According to The Information’s sources, some of Uber’s investors are urging the company to get rid of its self-driving car program, which has been the source of many headaches at Uber as of late.

Uber declined to comment on The Information’s reporting.

In March, one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. In the weeks and months following the accident, Uber officially pulled the plug on its self-driving car operations in Arizona and laid off self-driving car operators in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

As Uber prepares for its 2019 IPO, the name of the game is to reduce losses. In July, Uber shut down its self-driving trucks division. But Uber Freight, which matches drivers with cargo needing to be shipped, is reportedly on track to make $500 million in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, Uber is aiming to take its ride-hail network into the skies with uberAIR. Uber’s plan is to develop and commercially deploy these air taxis by 2023. But in recent months, Uber has lost two key executives; Head of Policy for Autonomous Vehicles and Urban Aviation Justin Erlich and Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, left the company.

Khosrowshahi will be joining us at Disrupt SF in September. You don’t want to miss it.

Spotify is falling behind on lyrics and voice

Spotify’s lack of full lyrics support and its minimal attention to voice are beginning to become problems for the streaming service. The company has been so focused on the development of its personalization technology and programming its playlists, it has overlooked key features that its competitors – including Apple, Google, and Amazon – today offer […]

Spotify’s lack of full lyrics support and its minimal attention to voice are beginning to become problems for the streaming service. The company has been so focused on the development of its personalization technology and programming its playlists, it has overlooked key features that its competitors – including Apple, Google, and Amazon – today offer and are now capitalizing on.

For example, in the updated version of Apple Music rolling out this fall with iOS 12, users won’t just have access to lyrics in the app as before, they will also be able to perform searches by lyrics instead of only by the artist, album, or song title.

And Apple Music is actually playing catch up with Amazon on this front.

Amazon Music, which has quietly grown to become the third largest music streaming service, allows users to view the lyrics as songs play, and ties that to its Alexa voice platform. Amazon Music users with an Alexa device can also search for songs by lyrics just by saying “play the song that goes…”.

The company has been offering this capability for close to two years. While it had originally been one of Alexa’s hidden gems, today asking Alexa to pull up a song by its lyrics is considered a standard feature.

Though Google has lagged behind Apple, Spotify and Amazon in music, its clever Google Assistant is capable of search-by-lyrics, too. And as an added perk, it can also work like Shazam to identify a song that’s playing nearby.

With the rise of voice-based computing, features like asking for songs with verbal commands or querying databases of lyrics by voice are now expected features.

And where’s Spotify on this?

It has launched lyrics search only in Japan so far, and refuses to provide a timeline as to when it will make this a priority in other markets. Even tucked away in the app’s code are references to lyrics tests only in the non-U.S. markets of Thailand and Vietnam.

Those tests have been underway since the beginning of the year, we understand from sources. But the attention being given to these tests is minimal – Spotify isn’t measuring user engagement with the lyrics feature at this point. And Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wasn’t even aware his team was working on these lyrics tests, we heard, which implies a lack of management focus on this product.

Meanwhile, competitors like Apple and Amazon have dedicated lyrics teams.

We asked Spotify multiple times if it was currently testing lyrics in the U.S. (You can see one person who claims they gained access here, for example.) But the company never responded to our questions.

Image credit: Imgur via Reddit user spalatidium

Some Spotify customers who largely listen to popular music may be confused about the lack of a full lyrics product in the app. That’s because Spotify partnered with Genius in 2016 to launch “Behind the Lyrics,” which offers lyrics and music trivia on a portion of its catalog. But you don’t see all the song’s lyrics when the music plays because they’re interrupted with facts and other background  information about the song, the lyrics’ meaning, or the artist.

That same year, Spotify also ditched its ties with Musixmatch, which had been providing its lyrics support, as the two companies could no longer come to an agreement. There was expectation from users that lyrics would return at some point – but only “Behind the Lyrics” emerged to fill the void.

Demand for a real lyrics feature remains strong, though. Users regularly post on social media and Reddit about the topic.

A request for lyrics’ return is also one of the most upvoted product ideas on Spotify’s user feedback forum. It has 9,237 “likes,” making it the second-most popular request.

(The idea has been flagged “Watch this Space,” but it’s been tagged like that for so long it’s no longer a promise of something that’s soon to come.) There is no internal solution in the works, we understand, and it’s not working on a new deal with a third-party at this time.

 

The lack of lyrics is becoming a problem in other areas, as well, now that competitors are launching search-by-lyrics features that work via voice commands.

In fact, Spotify was late, in general, to address users’ interest in voice assistance – even though a primary use case for music listening is when you’re on the go – like, in the car, out walking or jogging, at the gym, biking, etc.

It only began testing a voice search option this spring, accessible through a new in-app button. Now rolled out to mobile users on Spotify Premium, the voice search product works via a long-press on the Search button in the app. You can then ask Spotify to play music, playlists, podcasts, and videos.

But the feature is still wonky. For one thing, hiding it away as a long press-triggered option means many users probably don’t know it exists. (And the floating button that pops up when you switch to search is hard to reach.) Secondly, it doesn’t address the primary reason users want to search by voice: hands-free listening.

Meanwhile, iPhone/HomePod users can tell Siri to play music with a hands-free command; Google Assistant/Google Home users can instruct the helper to play their songs – even if they only know the lyrics. And Amazon Music’s Alexa integration is live on Echo speakers, and available hands-free in its Music app.

Even third-party music services like Pandora are tapping into the voice platforms’ capabilities to provide search by lyrics. For example, Pandora Premium launched this week on Google Assistant devices like the Google Home, and offers search-by-lyrics powered by Google Assistant.

Spotify can’t offer a native search-by-lyrics feature in its app, much less search-by-lyrics using voice commands option, because it doesn’t even have fully functional lyrics.

Voice and lyrics aren’t the only challenges Spotify is facing going forward.

Spotify also lacks dedicated hardware like its own Echo or HomePod. Given the rise of voice-based computing and voice assistants, the company has the potential to cede some portion of the market as consumers end up buying into the larger ecosystems provided by the main tech players: Siri/HomePod/Apple Music vs. Google Assistant/Google Home/Google Play Music (or YouTube Music) vs. Alexa/Echo/Amazon Music (all promoted by Prime).

For now, Spotify works with partners to make sure its service performs on their platforms, but Apple isn’t playing nice in return.

Elsewhere, Spotify may play – even by voice – but won’t be as fully functional as the native solutions. With Spotify as the default service on Echo devices, for example, Alexa can’t always figure out commands that instruct it to play music by lyrics, activity, or mood – commands that work well with Amazon Music, of course.

Other cracks in Spotify’s dominance are starting to show, too.

Amazon Music has seen impressive growth, thanks to adoption in four key Prime markets, U.S., Japan, Germany and the U.K.. With now 12% of the music streaming market, it has become the dark horse that’s been largely ignored amid discussions of the Amazon vs Spotify battle. But it’s not necessarily one to count out just yet.

YouTube Music, though brand new, has managed to snag Lyor Cohen as its Global Music Head, while Spotify’s latest headlines are about losing Troy Carter.

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook just announced during the last earnings call that Apple Music has moved ahead of Spotify in North America. He also warned against ceding too much control to algorithms, in a recent interview, making a sensible argument for maintaining music’s “spiritual role” in our lives.

“We worry about the humanity being drained out of music, about it becoming a bits-and-bytes kind of world instead of the art and craft,” Cook mused.

Apple was late to music streaming, having been so tied to its download business. But it also had the luxury of time to get it right, knowing that its powerful iPhone platform means anything it launches has a built-in advantage. (And it’s poised to offer TV shows as a part of its subscription, too, which could be a further draw.)

How much time does Spotify have to get it right?

Despite these concerns, Spotify doesn’t need to panic yet – it still has more listeners, more paying customers, and more consumer mindshare in the music streaming business. It has its popular playlists and personalization features. It has its RapCaviar. But it will need to plug its holes to keep up where the market is heading, or risk losing customers to the larger platforms in the months ahead.

Grabb-It wants to turn your car’s window into a trippy video billboard

It reminds me of something out of Blade Runner. Maybe it’s because it looks a bit futuristic – a bit unreal. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at an ad somewhere I never expected to see one, like the skyscraper-height ads of Ridley Scott’s future. Grabb-It turns a car’s side rear window into a full color […]

It reminds me of something out of Blade Runner.

Maybe it’s because it looks a bit futuristic – a bit unreal. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at an ad somewhere I never expected to see one, like the skyscraper-height ads of Ridley Scott’s future.

Grabb-It turns a car’s side rear window into a full color display, playing location-aware ads to anyone who might be standing curbside. They’re currently aiming to work with rideshare/delivery drivers, enabling them to make a bit of extra coin while doing the driving they’re already doing.

As the driver crosses town, the ads can automatically switch to focus on businesses nearby. Near the ball park? It might pitch you on tickets for tonight’s game. Over in The Mission? It could play an ad about happy hour at the bar behind you.

So how’s it work? I couldn’t figure it out at first glance – but once they opened the car door, it all clicked.

The key: projection. It turns your window into a rear projection TV on wheels, of sorts.

Grabb-It applies a material to the inside of a car’s right rear window to act as a projection surface. The material is thin enough that the window can still be opened — but, in what might annoy some passengers, not thin enough that you can see much through it. They mount a small projector inside the car and point it toward the window, blasting an image bright enough to see from the outside. I saw it running in a dim below-ground parking lot and outside in direct sunlight, and the image was surprisingly clear in both cases.

The end result is quite neat to see (which is something I’m really not used to saying about tech meant to show me ads.) Because the projection material is custom cut for each car, the image can cover pretty much the entire surface of the window glass. It gives the illusion of a display custom built for the contours of the car.

It’s meant to only run when the driver is between rides. Once a passenger hops in the car, the projector is shut off – because, well, no one wants a projector blasting light in their face on the way to their next meeting.

While the company is working on its own hardware kit, the build I saw was an early iteration running a small off-the-shelf projector. Even at this stage, it’s a pretty effective demo. While this prototype requires the driver to manually toggle the projector by remote control, Grabb-It’s founders tell me their eventual hardware will automatically detect when the rear doors open and cut the projector on-the-fly. The image juddered a bit as the idling engine vibrated, though that seems like something that could be improved with better damping.

I am a bit wary of the distraction factor; will a fully animated ad playing on the car next to you work out to eyes off the road ahead? While Grabb-It tells me they’re working with the proper authorities to ensure it’s all road-legal, I imagine people might contest it as more cars utilizing the tech hit the streets.

Grabb-It says they’ll cover the cost of installation for drivers – and if a driver decides to remove it, it’s just a matter of unmounting the projector and peeling the projection material from the window.

The company tells me it’s currently testing with around 25 drivers around San Francisco, with earnouts working out to around $300 a month for those driving 40 hours a week. It’s not enough to pay the bills on its own, but it’s a solid chunk of change for something that will, if all goes to plan, be entirely automated.

Grabb-It is part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 class, and has raised $100k outside of YC from Lyft Board Of Directors member Sean Aggarwall.

LinkedIn to relaunch Groups in the flagship app as it looks to reverse ‘ghost town’ image

LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social networking platform for the working world with over 500 million users, is making a significant change as it continues to look for ways to make its platform more useful (and used). The company is relaunching Groups by rolling it into its main app by the end of the month after quietly […]

LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social networking platform for the working world with over 500 million users, is making a significant change as it continues to look for ways to make its platform more useful (and used).

The company is relaunching Groups by rolling it into its main app by the end of the month after quietly pulling the standalone app earlier this year, and it will be streamlining the service by cutting out several features, including an ability for Group administrators to pre-moderate comments; and a way to email send Group posts as emails to the whole group, while also adding in new features like threaded replies and the ability to post video and other media.

An announcement detailing the changes was sent out to a select Groups power users earlier today, and we have confirmed the details with LinkedIn directly. Mitali Pattnaik, the product manager for Groups, said that some of the discontinuations — such as the ability to approve posts before they are live — are temporary and will make their way back to the app in some form over time.

The moves come nearly three years after LinkedIn tried another approach to put some more wind into Groups’ sails. In 2015, the company hived off an updated version of Groups into its own standalone app.

Included in the changes, Groups were made private with the aim of reducing some of the spam that people were posting. The bigger idea was that, with some 2 million Groups already on LinkedIn, users would be able to dedicate more time to posting, reading and managing (if they were admins) those groups, and creating new groups, once they were in their own app. And on the part of LinkedIn, it would help the company focus on developing features specifically tailored to the Groups experience.

But the move did not go down well. In the wake of the changes, reports started to surface about how the moves stifled usage of groups, turning the platform into what some were calling a ghost town. And LinkedIn itself, it seems, was finding it a challenge to continue updating the app, even as LinkedIn itself was getting enhanced with new features.

“Being a standalone app, Groups was not able to take advantage of the overall LinkedIn ecosystem,” Pattnaik said. “Everything from the news feed to notifications to search, these things move at a fast pace, and the minute the apps got separated the main app innovated at a much faster pace and became more advanced than the standalone Groups app.”

LinkedIn then quietly pulled the Groups app in February this year, as it announced plans to integrate the feature.

It’s not clear what kind of impact the last three years have had on the product. These days company does not comment on how many groups there are, nor how much they are used, except to say that there are “over 2 million” and that more than half of all LinkedIn members are at least in one group. (The person who oversaw Groups’ move to becoming a standalone app is also no longer at the company.) LinkedIn’s main app, on the other hand, has seen session time rise by 41 percent year-on-year, “growing consecutively for several quarters.”

The removal of the standalone app is in line with how another social network has evolved its own Group effort. Almost exactly a year ago, Facebook announced that it too was killing off its Groups app so that it could integrate the feature closer with the core app experience. In both the case of LinkedIn and Facebook, the idea is somewhat the same: while we have our wider networks of friends and Pages that we follow on both platforms, sometimes there is value in communities that are focused around more specific interests, and ultimately, that might turn out to be the lever that brings more people in and out of using the main service.

On a product iteration level, it seems that LinkedIn is not the only one that found it hard to keep up with changes across two platforms that essentially rested of many of the same mechanics.

As part of being rebuilt on LinkedIn’s platform, Groups will be getting a number of new features — essentially tapping into new features that LinkedIn has rolled out over the last several quarters on its own app but hadn’t built for the (previously standalone) Groups platform.

For starters, conversations taking place in Groups will now appear in-stream on the LinkedIn feed, rather than in a separate tab. When group members are replying to posts, there will now be threaded replies, which will let people respond directly to comments within the thread.

Groups are also going to have a rich media infusion: users will be able to edit posts and share videos and other non-text formats. This is a very long overdue feature, considering how central video and rich media like GIFs have been on other platforms in getting people engaged in a service, and also considering that LinkedIn’s been showing video in its feed for a while now. “Since video launched on LinkedIn, Groups have been asking for this,” she said.

It also looks like LinkedIn will also be pushing a lot more Group activity into your notifications tab, while alongside this, it’s sunsetting the e-mail blast. That might not be such a bad thing: while it did help admins get information out (especially when Groups updates were essentially hidden from the average LinkedIn user), Pattnaik admitted that the email feature “can be abused” by those simply looking to promote themselves.

Admins are also getting a few new controls. They will be able to pin important items to the top of a Groups’ individual feed, and Pattnaik said that LinkedIn is working on a way to collapse those pinned notifications after they’ve been viewed by the member so that they don’t continue to take up space. They will also be able to approve and remove members by way of the app, as well as send out messages when necessary.

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LinkedIn, it seems, hopes that people will be able to use the LinkedIn app to discover more Groups that they can join — when Groups choose to have themselves “listed” and discoverable — but one thing that won’t be changing with the new version is that those users will still have to get permission from admins before they can join. 

While Groups have a lot in common with how groups of employees might communicate using a messaging app like Slack (or stablemate Yammer, or Facebook’s Workplace) LinkedIn says that it has no plans at the moment to develop Groups into something that could be used in this way.

The reason for this, Pattnaik says, is that for the moment LinkedIn isn’t focused on developing a way to verify whether a person is actually an employee at a particular company. “We are always evaluating ways to verify identity across the site, such as verification processes to help detect fake profiles,” a spokesperson said. It has made some small steps in building products for company-only teams, however, for example Elevate to share content among coworkers.

In the meantime, the company is also continuing to develop other products beyond the main app. Just today, Sales Navigator got a quarterly refresh with more tools to update on deals, stronger integration with CRM apps and more.

Meet the Disrupt SF 2018 Virtual Hackathon judges and our semi-finalists

Holy hackathon, people. Here’s an exciting update on the judges and semi-finalists who are set to make the Virtual Hackathon — at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2018 on September 5-7 — an event that redefines “epic.” Since June, more than 1,000 developers, programmers, hackers and tech makers all over the world have been hard at work […]

Holy hackathon, people. Here’s an exciting update on the judges and semi-finalists who are set to make the Virtual Hackathon — at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2018 on September 5-7 — an event that redefines “epic.” Since June, more than 1,000 developers, programmers, hackers and tech makers all over the world have been hard at work on their most creative hacks, and we recruited an impressive panel of judges — check out their bona fides below — to help us narrow the field.

There were so many incredible hacks, but only 30 semi-finalist slots. We don’t envy the judges, but they rose to the challenge. The semi-finalists (see below) represent the 30 highest-scoring teams, and they’ll go on to demo their projects at Disrupt SF 2018.

From that field of 30, the judges will thin the herd down to 10 finalists, and those teams will demo their product to the world on The Next Stage at Disrupt. Only one team will emerge from the pack with a hack so awesome that they simply must be named champion of the first TechCrunch Disrupt Virtual Hackathon — and pocket the $10,000 grand prize. It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

We’re honored to have such an impressive panel of judges from Slack, Pinterest, Color, Google and Cloudflare — some of the top companies in tech.

John Agan

John Agan leads Slack’s partner engineering team to support and grow the partner ecosystem. He works with top partners across the globe to build new, innovative integrations on the Slack platform and drive overall growth and improvement in the Slack app ecosystem. Prior to joining Slack, John was the global director of solutions engineering at GitHub and the principal UX engineer of Analytics Cloud at Salesforce.

Sha Sha Chu

Sha Sha Chu has 15 years of experience as a developer and engineering leader. She currently serves as the Android platform technical lead at Pinterest, where she guides the overall technical direction of the Pinterest app for Android. Previously, Sha Sha worked in the games industry, shipping several console and PC titles for franchises like James Bond, The Lord of the Rings and The Sims during her time at EA. She also contributed to development on one of the first major cloud gaming platforms with OnLive. Sha Sha holds a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford.

Wendy McKennon

Wendy McKennon, vice president of product at Color, oversees product quality and user experience. She spent several years at Google as a team leader and as an individual contributor on products such as Google Maps, Wallet and AdWords. Prior to her time at Google, she worked at Method Design and Yahoo. Wendy holds a degree in symbolic systems from Stanford University.

Marily Nika

Based in San Francisco, Marily Nika currently works on Google Assistant. She’s also a founder in the edtech space and a board member for two startups. Marily holds a doctorate in computer science, and loves new tech and fresh ideas. She’s participated in 30 hackathons to date, emceed TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathons in London and Berlin, delivered three TEDx talks and received international recognition — including the Woman of the Year 2018 Award (FDM Group) and WISE Influence Award 2015 for empowering the #womenintech community. You can find Marily on Twitter @marilynika.

Jennifer Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, head of products at Cloudflare, leads the delivery of world-class, cloud-based performance, security and content delivery solutions for companies of all sizes. Previously she was a senior vice president of product management for search at Salesforce, where she built enterprise search experiences that connect people with relevant information they need to produce business results. She led Salesforce’s Data.com, which helps customers sell faster and smarter using a foundation of intelligent insights. She also shaped the direction of Salesforce Chatter, the company’s powerful collaboration software. Prior to Salesforce, Jennifer held a variety of senior product management and marketing roles at Facebook and Adobe. Earlier in her career, Jennifer worked as a product manager at Macromedia (acquired by Adobe) for Dreamweaver — the popular graphical Web development tool — and she worked as an associate at Vector Capital.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, are the 30 semi-finalist Virtual Hackathon teams that will demo their products at Disrupt SF 2018 — but only 10 of them will move on to demo their hack on The Next Stage.

  • Loro
  • Pulse
  • Wellsheet
  • Smart Folios
  • Rivis
  • Wavy
  • faceStylr
  • Janus
  • Who’s Up?
  • Citymixr
  • Check-In Cheque-Out
  • Warmly
  • ourBlock
  • SeeThru Price Transparency Marketplace
  • GeoWorx
  • Splitsies
  • Linda
  • HEARTPartner
  • Blindsight – Virtual Eyes Through Haptic Feedback
  • TalkTalk
  • ProblemPal
  • Proliferate
  • Bocabot
  • Crohn’s AI
  • CAR-O-KE
  • Pricepoint
  • Airship bot
  • UPayBro
  • PruPay
  • Candid

In addition to the overall best in show prize from TechCrunch, we had amazing participation for our sponsors, like Visa, who gave out a slew of cash and an Oculus VR headset to the hack teams that used their API the best. Check out all the crazy projects and sponsor contests on the hackathon page.

Top execs from 6D.AI are joining us at TechCrunch Sessions AR/VR

While the potential for entertainment in virtual and augmented reality has grabbed the most headlines, these new platforms promise radical transformations across industries and the very way that people interact with their world. And no company is doing more to develop the toolkit for how to build applications for these new interactions than 6D.AI. At […]

While the potential for entertainment in virtual and augmented reality has grabbed the most headlines, these new platforms promise radical transformations across industries and the very way that people interact with their world.

And no company is doing more to develop the toolkit for how to build applications for these new interactions than 6D.AI.

At our inaugural TC Sessions: AR/VR event on UCLA’s world-famous campus on October 18, join 6D.AI co-founder and chief executive Matt Miesnieks and head of developer relations, Bruce Wooden, as they discuss 6D’s big vision of using smartphone cameras to build a cloud-based map of the world’s three-dimensional data.

The company’s goal is nothing short of supercharging augmented reality content in a way that could actually make it useful to people.

Miesnieks certainly knows about the need for applications to drive adoption in a new ecosystem. After a career in the trenches developing mobile software infrastructure for companies like Samsung and Layar, Miesnieks made the jump to AR software infrastructure in 2009.

A founding partner of the firm Super Ventures, which exclusively invests in augmented reality startups, Miesnieks was drawn to 6D and its vision as soon as he saw it demonstrated in the labs at Oxford University.

Wooden, 6D’s head of developer relations, has his own storied career in the world of augmented reality. He was a co-founder of Altspace (which was sold to Microsoft) and SVVR, the world’s largest virtual reality community.

“We want to be a platform that informs AR app developers of the real world without the real world — the structure of the real world, what’s going on in the real world, who else is in the real world — and let them build intelligent apps on top of that,” Miesnieks has said of his company’s mission.

TC Sessions: AR/VR on October 18 at UCLA is a single-day event designed to facilitate in-depth conversations, hands-on demos and networking opportunities with the industry leaders, content creators and game changers bringing innovation to the masses.

Purchase your Early Bird tickets here for just $99 and you’ll save $100 before prices go up!

Students get a special rate of just $45 when they book here.

Catching up with startup advisor (and Wealthfront CEO) Andy Rachcleff

Andy Rachleff, who cofounded the venture firm Benchmark back in 1995 and has more recently been leading the wealth management firm Wealthfront and teaching at Stanford, is widely sought out for his startup advice. It has become harder to come by, though, given the demands on Rachleff’s time. Most notably, Rachleff has had to dial back […]

Andy Rachleff, who cofounded the venture firm Benchmark back in 1995 and has more recently been leading the wealth management firm Wealthfront and teaching at Stanford, is widely sought out for his startup advice. It has become harder to come by, though, given the demands on Rachleff’s time. Most notably, Rachleff has had to dial back his work at Stanford to just one course during one quarter of the year — a class that we can only guess is heavily oversubscribed by students.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the work. Right now, he’s helping two longtime friends, AppDynamics cofounder Jyoti Bansal and VC John Vrionis with a new kind of accelerator program they are launching today (more on that here). In a quick call to discuss that program earlier this week, he also fielded a few questions from us about the current state of early-stage startup investing and how founders can best navigate it.

We asked him, for example, about how a glut of seed-stage investment has impacted the way that startups are raising money — often in pre-seed, then seed, then post-seed rounds, before raising Series A funding. We wondered if, nomenclature aside, he felt things had changed fundamentally.

As it turns out, he does not. “While the structure and characters involved are very different than 10 years ago, the steps you need to go through are no different,” said Rachleff. “The whole point is to understand what an investor at the next round expects. You have to determine whether or not you’re ready [for that next meeting], and try to achieve product-market fit as fast as possible before you get to it.” Indeed, Rachleff suggested that he thinks it unwise for founders to raise seed rounds serially. “When companies raise seed funding, [that money] is to prove the dogs want to eat the dog food. If they can’t [prove that], and they have to ask for more seed funding,” the startup becomes “less compelling” to later investors.

We asked him about some of the biggest mistakes that founders make, and he said that many of these center on who founders approach for funding, how they pace the rate at which they approach investors, and how, exactly, they pitch their startups. On that last point, said Rachleff, “People think data is a way to compel people, but it’s the story that compels people, and that has never changed, whether you’re talking about political campaigns or business presentations.” (We asked for more details, but he half-kiddingly suggested that founders will need to hear about the importance of narratives via that aforementioned accelerator program.)

We also asked Rachleff about some now-famous research he prepared some time around 2006 that suggested that every year, about 15 U.S. startups are created that eventually reach $100 million in annual revenue. His point at the time was that VCs can only succeed by getting behind those companies. (It’s largely the premise around which the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz was launched, cofounder Marc Andreessen had told this editor when the firm’s first fund was getting off the ground back in 2009.)

We wondered: is that number still 15 so many years later? Rachleff noted that he hasn’t updated his research, but he said he doesn’t “think it’s much bigger in the U.S. I do think the number is larger with Chinese companies, but here, I bet you it hasn’t changed or maybe it’s 20 companies each year that at some point reach $100 million in annual revenue.”

Before we jumped off the phone, Rachleff had a question for us, which is why there aren’t more articles about seed-funded companies going out of business. (Maybe he thinks this would keep more people from pursuing half-baked ideas.)

“Thousand of companies are raising seed funding — 10 times the amount of companies that were starting with a Series A” during the go-go dot com era of the late ’90s, he said. “But when I ask investor friends what’s happening to them all, the best answer I get is that a small number of them are successful, a slightly larger portion get acqui-hired, and the largest portion keeps raising money to keep the hope alive.”

Some of them “get to $1 million to $2 million in revenue to reach breakeven,” Rachleff continued, but, alas, that’s no reason for celebration. If a startup has raised outside funding and “there’s no money to grow into a business, that’s a failure.”

AppDynamics founder Jyoti Bansal and longtime VC John Vrionis are now taking applications for their new accelerator program

With so much money being stuffed into Silicon Valley companies these days, it’s hard to stand out as an investor, but John Vrionis and Jyoti Bansal have what they think is a winning approach — one that’s a win for startup founders, too. A little background first. Back in May, Bansal who sold his company […]

With so much money being stuffed into Silicon Valley companies these days, it’s hard to stand out as an investor, but John Vrionis and Jyoti Bansal have what they think is a winning approach — one that’s a win for startup founders, too.

A little background first. Back in May, Bansal who sold his company AppDynamics to Cisco for $3.7 billion last year, announced that he was teaming up with Vrionis, who’d spent the previous 12 years with Lightspeed Venture Partner. What they created together is a new venture firm called Unusual Ventures.

It launched publicly with a $160 million debut fund and a mission of also creating a startup education program. Fast forward a few months, and the firm will today begin accepting applications for a seven-week accelerator program that promises founders seven different three-hour-long sessions — one each week for seven weeks — with veterans of the startup industry. In return, they receive a convertible note that can range from $250,000 to $1 million, depending on the stage of the company.

Called Unusual Academy, the idea is to help these teams reach so-called product-market fit faster than they could otherwise. It also aims to prevent them from taking on too much seed funding, which can scare off Series A investors who sometimes see a glut of seed funding as a sign that a startup can’t figure out what it’s doing.

For its first batch, Unusual will be looking to work with between six and 10 companies, mostly of the business-to-business variety, and no team is too nascent, according to Vrionis. “It can be anything from a notebook idea, to a company that has already raised $7 million in funding,” he says. Unusual Ventures says it will later choose a second cohort of companies that are more consumer facing, though plans for that next batch haven’t been firmed up just yet.

It is a bit gimmicky? Yes. But given the talent Vrionis and Bansal have assembled to help startups, it’s also compelling. For example, one of the startup veterans who will spend three hours with select startups is Andy Rachleff, one of the cofounders of the storied venture firm Benchmark. Rachleff — who has for years taught entrepreneurship at Stanford while also heading up the wealth advisory startup Wealthfront — will spend three hours offering his insights on fundraising, time that some startup founders might kill for.

Another instructor is Adam Grant, the Wharton psychology and management prof and best-selling author, who will spend several hours with Unusual’s companies talking about culture and leadership. A third is Bansal himself, who will be advising the startups on how to recruit early customers and devise a strong early sales process. “Jyoti is the best I ever saw at finding early customers,” says Vrionis, who was an early supporter of Bansal when he launched AppDynamics. (Lightspeed wrote one of its first checks.) “People want him involved in their startups.”

Unusual Academy’s lessons will be held, for now, in a space in Redwood Shores, Ca., so it’s probably ideal only for Bay Area-based founders who can  travel to the different lessons over the seven-week period, which kicks off in October.

Eventually, says Vrionis, the hope beyond organizing a consumer track is to host the startups in other cities, or, at least, to let them log on remotely to hear from the advisors it assembles.

If you’re a b2b startup interested in applying for the program, just click over here.

Bumble announces a fund to invest in women-led businesses

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says. “Investing […]

Dating and networking app Bumble today announced the launch of Bumble Fund, a new vehicle focused on early stage investments specifically aimed at helping diverse, female entrepreneurs raise capital for their businesses. Sarah Jones Simmer, Bumble Chief Operating Officer, will lead Bumble Fund’s investment strategy along with Bumble Senior Advisor, Sarah Kunst, the company says.

“Investing in and empowering women in business is something that our founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is deeply passionate about and is at the very core of what Bumble stands for,” said Jones Simmer, in a statement about the fund’s launch. “Through Bumble Fund we’ll look not only to support those women leaders who have been largely ignored, but we’ll also demonstrate why those investments build smart, successful businesses.”

Bumble Fund’s initial commitments include one of the winners of Bumble’s first “Bizz Pitch” competition, Sofia Los Angeles, a swimwear company founded by Anasofia Gomez. Its other commitments so far include Mahmee, a health care platform for coordinating prenatal and postpartum care; Female Founders Fund, another early stage fund for backing female talent; BeautyCon, the digital media company and festival operator focused on the beauty industry; and venture fund Cleo Capital, also focused on female founders.

The new fund will make investments that range from $5,000 to $250,000, in companies that are headed by women and focus on women’s interests. Bumble has committed over a million so far, it says.

The team will also work to identify new, potential investments via Bumble’s own Bumble Bizz platform – the dating app’s business networking platform available within its flagship mobile app. The company will also find new founders to back through its future Bumble Bizz pitch competitions, it says.

The move could help bring more attention to Bumble Bizz, while giving the company a stake in promising companies. Bumble, however, only spoke of the need for more investment in female founders, not the other bottom line advantages to its own operations.

In a blog post, Bumble shared the fact that startups headed by women had only received 2% of all venture capital last year.

“For black, Latinx, and other women from underrepresented groups, that statistic is even more bleak,” the post explained. “Black women are both the most educated and most entrepreneurial demographic in the U.S., but received only 0.2% of all venture funding for their startups last year,” it noted.

Bumble, whose app now has over 37 million users worldwide and has an 85% female workforce, says it wants to help solve the problem of women being “largely ignored by the venture capital establishment” with this fund.