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Walking Duck is a digital news startup trying to find middle ground in US politics

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 1:56am

Can any news organization bridge the separate realities that the left and right seem to occupy in U.S. politics? A new startup with the odd-yet-memorable name Walking Duck is going to try.

Walking Duck (an inversion of a “lame duck” president — a phrasing that has earned criticism as ableist — and a reference to the duck test) was founded by journalist Mark Halperin, as well as Paul and Audra Wilke, who are also backing it with their PR firm Upright Position Communications.

While the startup is producing a variety of content and events, including virtual town halls, there are three main pieces to the Walking Duck strategy at launch — the Walking Duck website, which aggregates news from other publications, usually focused on a few key stories for the day, with additional commentary; plus Halperin’s newsletter Wide World of News and his Newsmax show Mark Halperin’s Focus Group.

Halperin also serves as Walking Duck’s managing editor, and he said that he and the Wilkes have a shared vision for a publication that’s different from “the partisan media,” where “everything is cast through the lens of the red tribe or the blue tribe.”

And yes, aggregation is a key part of that vision, not just allowing the startup to cover national news with a relatively small team of five (for now), but also to offer different perspectives. In fact, Halperin argued that any news organization that’s being honest will admit that it’s doing aggregation.

Image Credits: Walking Duck

“Even if you have a big scoop about something, people want to know: What’s the reaction to the scoop, how is that scoop being treated elsewhere?” he said. “Aggregation can be smarter and faster and less ideological than exists in a lot of places. You can aggregate for everyone and elevate smart over angry.”

In my conversation with Halperin and Paul Wilke (Walking Duck’s CEO), I suggested that the “both sides” approach (which other new publications are also touting) has its limitations: When you’ve got a (now former) president seeking to undermine an election that he lost, and when his supporters violently storm the Capitol, simply presenting two sides of an argument as if they were equally valid seems insufficient.

“We don’t always try to show both sides, accuracy matters,” Wilke said. Similarly, Halperin said that it’s less about making sure there’s a 50-50 balance, and more about avoiding the limitations of a partisan lens. As an example, he argued that liberal outlets demonized former FBI director James Comey after his memo may have cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election, then reversed course and valorized him after President Trump fired him.

“I think he should be covered on the individual incidents in a way that’s consistent,” Halperin said.

All of that might sound incongruous from a journalist with a show on Newsmax — which, far from being a center-of-the-road network, has attracted an audience by being more pro-Trump and more willing to spread election misinformation than Fox News. But Halperin and Wilke said that by creating a show that brings four Trump voters and four Biden voters (not professional pundits) from across the country together over Zoom and attempting to find common ground, they’re exposing conservative viewers to new points of view — and they’d be happy to do the same for liberals if the show was on MSNBC.

“Just go to any cable news network and try to find a show that’s talking to Trump voters and talking to Biden voters,” Halperin said. “We’re doing it every week. That’s the essence of trying to grapple with how do these two groups talk to each other.”

Halperin does have an existing relationship with Newsmax, which came after he lost his contracts at more mainstream networks following numerous accusations of sexual harassment.

When I brought up the accusations in my initial email correspondence with Wilke, he said, “[Mark’s] history is firmly in his past. He’s expressed remorse, been through counseling and has publicly (and privately) apologized to his victims, and they have … accepted his apologies. Additionally, Upright (my other company) is a PR firm that has more women than men, and we’re bringing some of them over to Walking Duck, and we discussed this issue with them and made sure they felt comfortable and knew that a safe workplace was a priority.”

I also broached the topic on our call, and Halperin said, “I recognize the expectations that people have. I’ve just continued to do my best to be a good colleague and a good professional. If people are willing to let me work, I appreciate the opportunities. But it’s up to them.”

Three views on the future of media startups

Categories: Business News

AI-powered transcription service Otter.ai can now record from Google Meet

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 1:56am

Otter.ai, the A.I.-powered voice transcription service that already integrates with Zoom for recording online meetings and webinars, is today bringing its service to Google Meet’s over 100 million users. However, in this case, Otter.ai will provide its live, interactive transcripts and video captions by way of a Chrome web browser extension.

Once installed, a “Live Notes” panel will launch directly in the Chrome web browser during Google Meet calls, where it appears on the side of the Google Meet interface. The panel can be moved around and scrolled through as the meeting is underway.

Here, users can view the live transcript of the online meeting, as it occurs. They can also adjust the text size, then save and share the audio transcripts when the meeting has wrapped.

The company says the feature helps businesses cut down on miscommunication, particularly for non-native English speakers who may have trouble understanding the spoken word. It also offers a more accessible way for engaging with live meeting content.

And because the transcriptions can be shared after the fact, people who missed the meeting can still be looped in to catch up — an increasing need in the remote-work era of the pandemic, where home and parenting responsibilities can often distract users from their daily tasks.

The transcripts themselves can also be edited after the fact by adding images and highlights, and they can be searched by keywords, as with any Otter.ai transcription.

In addition, users can access the company’s Live Captions feature that supports custom vocabulary. Otter points out that there are other live captioning options already available for Google Meet, but the difference here is that Otter’s system creates a collaborative transcript when the meeting ends. Other systems, meanwhile, tend to just offer live captions during the meeting itself.

To use the new feature, Chrome users will need to install the Otter.ai Chrome extension from the Chrome Web Store, then sign in to their Otter.ai account. The new feature is available to all Otter.ai customers, including those on Basic, Pro and Business plans.

Otter in the past leveraged its earlier Zoom integration to push more users from free plans to paid tiers and will likely do the same with the new Google Meet support. The company’s paid plans offer the ability to record more minutes per month and include a range of additional features like the ability to import audio and video for transcription, a variety of export options, advanced search features, Dropbox sync, added security measures and more.

The company has seen its business increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying shift to online meetings. Last April, Otter said it had transcribed over 25 million meetings, and its revenue run rate had doubled compared with the end of 2019. In 2020, Otter.ai’s revenue was up 8x over last year, the company said. It has now transcribed over 100 million meetings and 300 billion+ minutes to date.

Otter.ai’s newest feature offers live, interactive transcripts of your Zoom meetings

Categories: Business News

<b>VoIP</b> Software Market 2021 |Post COVID-19 Impact Analysis by Emerging Trends | Forecast to 2026

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 22 - 1:42am
The VoIP Software Market Report includes: Market outlook: situation and dynamics. Competitive environment: Depends on manufacturers, suppliers, ...
Categories: VoIP News

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 1:30am

In TechCrunch investor surveys of years past, we’ve seen a big focus on fixing what’s broken or bringing the infrastructure into the modern era. But the world has dramatically changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More of us saw our doctor on video than ever before in 2020 — reaching a 300-fold increase in telehealth visits. It was the year healthcare finally moved fully into the digital space with data management solutions as well. And, though those digital visits have fallen slightly from the beginning of the pandemic, it doesn’t look like people want to go back to the way things were in the foreseeable future.

Now we’re onto the next phase where more people will be getting vaccinated, more of us will likely start to return to the office towards the end of the year, and there’s now a slew of new tech solutions to the issues 2020 presented. If you are investment-minded, as so many of our TechCrunch readers are, you will likely see a lot of potential in this space in 2021.

So we asked some of our favorite health tech VCs from The TechCrunch List where we are headed in the next year, what they’re most excited about and where they might be investing their dollars next. We asked each of them the same six questions, and each provided similar thoughts, but different approaches. Their responses have been edited for space and clarity:

Bryan Roberts and Bob Kocker, partners, Venrock

Do you see more consumer demand for digital services? How does this trend affect what you are looking to invest in for 2021?
The pandemic certainly intensified pressure on the legacy, fee-for-service, activity-based healthcare system since volumes dried up for several months. People were scared to go to the doctor and doctors who are only paid when they see patients saw their revenue evaporate overnight. Telemedicine offered some revenue salvation fee-for-service healthcare but it was impossible to do as many tests and procedures so they have by and large, since summer 2020, reverted back to in-person as much as possible for increased revenue capture.

On the other hand, value-based providers were, in the short term, more insulated as they are paid based on typical levels of utilization. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has motivated more providers to embrace value-based care because it offers much more stable cash flows and does not depend on the tyranny of cramming more patients into the daily schedule.

With value-based care, the incentives are strongly aligned for more, and continued, tech-enabled virtual care since it is more profitable for those clinicians when they detect diseases earlier and take action to avoid hospitalizations. The beauty of virtual and tech-enabled care is that it can be delivered more frequently and group visits can be facilitated easily, with multiple specialists or people supporting a patient, to improve coordination and speed of action. Also, much more data can be brought to bear to make these interactions higher quality. Imagine how much better blood pressure is controlled when a doctor has not just the in-office reading but also all of the daily readings, or diabetic control when it is informed by all the data from a patient’s continuous glucose monitor, or post-surgical care when a surgeon can review daily pictures of the surgical site.

The enormity of the opportunity to make healthcare more productive and recession-proof growth from our aging population will attract more entrepreneurs and more capital to healthcare IT.

Digital health funding broke records in 2020, with investors pouring in over $10 billion in the first three quarters and a jump in deals overall, compared to the previous year. Do you see that trend continuing as we move back to offices and out of this pandemic or do you think this was a blip due to special circumstances?

We think growth in healthcare IT has been and will continue to be, driven by (1) better businesses and business models via aligned economic incentives and information and (2) some big wins in the space via Teladoc-Livongo merger and JD Health IPO — so both sides of the supply (great businesses) — demand (investor interest) equation. For payers, many healthcare providers and patients, it is in their interest to adopt more cost-effective approaches for care delivery and to access new data to derive insights and remove arbitrages. These prerequisites are strongly aligned in favor of more healthcare IT company formation, rapid growth and successful exits.

While people may spend more time receiving in-person HC in the future than today, we think the rapid adoption of virtual care in 2020 coupled with ever-stronger incentives for the healthcare system to emulate consumer technology usability and the never-ending imperative of improving affordability, will continue to drive demand for startups. We also think that downward cost pressures will drive demand for technology to replace fax-machine-era, labor-first administrative processes too.

What do you think are the biggest trends to look out for in the digital healthcare industry this next year, given we are likely toward the end of the year to see more workers return to the office and everyone resuming activities as they did before this pandemic hit?

We think that telehealth will become the “Intel Inside” for many of the full stack healthcare IT businesses — Medicare Advantage payers, navigation companies, virtual pharmacies, virtual primary care practices — and that patients will continue to embrace telehealth. As a result, payers will increasingly redesign how insurance benefits work to encourage every patient to start with a telehealth visit every time. In many cases, telehealth will be able to fully resolve the problem and if not, guide the patient, along with the relevant data, to the best next step in care. This will improve responsiveness and reduce costs. We do think that brick-and-mortar players will lag behind since they continue to have strong incentives for in-person care and procedures to cover their large fixed costs.

COVID-19 has also made inescapable the inadequacy of behavioral healthcare in America. We have observed this firsthand through our investment in Lyra Health, which experienced dramatic growth in 2020. We think greater access to behavioral health, better coordination of behavioral health and primary care, better use of medications and tech-enabled care for more complex behavioral health conditions are all large opportunities.

We also foresee virtual care growing in more specialty care areas as patients demand more convenient ways to access specialist expertise and value-based primary care doctors desire more rapid and cost-effective ways to co-manage patients.

How will the Biden administration possibly affect your funding strategy in the digital health field now that there’s a change of the guard?

Economic incentives to lower healthcare cost growth and the desire to use information and data to find arbitrages and insights are as aligned as ever. Remember, the law driving the adoption of new payment models is MACRA, which passed the Senate in a bipartisan 92-8 vote in 2015. This implies an uninterrupted effort to drive the adoption of value-based care in Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid. A Biden administration will also continue efforts to create more interoperable data systems and support telehealth adoption.

A Biden administration also reduces uncertainty around the permanence of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They instead will focus their efforts on expanding coverage through enhanced subsidies to buy insurance, more marketing of ACA plans, greater support for e-broker enrollment and strong incentives for states to expand Medicaid. And we do not think Medicare for All will be seriously considered by a ~50/50 Senate, although it will likely be spoken about periodically and loudly by the far left.

What’s the biggest category in your mind for digital health this next year? Why is that?

“Technology-enabled, virtual-everything” as the initial journey in healthcare, until you need to visit a facility because in-person is necessary. In 2020, we witnessed about a decade of user adoption compressed into six months as COVID-19 made it scary, or even impossible, to access in-person healthcare. Nearly every clinician in America, and at about half of the population, conducted a virtual healthcare visit in 2020. What happened? Patients liked it. Clinicians found virtual visits useful. And going forward we think that most care will incorporate aspects of virtual care, asynchronous communication and in-person encounters only when a procedure is needed. As importantly, payers found these approaches to be more cost-effective since care was delivered more rapidly and with only the most necessary diagnostics tests ordered.

Finally, are there any rising startups in your portfolio we should keep our eyes on at TechCrunch? 

We have two portfolio companies that may be very compelling candidates:  Suki and NewCo Health.

Suki has created a virtual medical assistant that acts as a voice user interface for electronic health records, enabling a doctor to write their clinical notes, enter orders, view information and exchange data with other providers dramatically and more efficiently. They have launched primary care and specialist doctors across dozens of health systems in 2020.

NewCo Health is a startup trying to democratize access to world-class cancer outcomes. Starting initially in Asia, they are tech-enabling the diagnosis, treatment planning and care management processes for cancer patients, connecting expert clinicians to every cancer case.

Categories: Business News

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 12:48am

This morning, while checking the latest price for shares of recent IPO Poshmark, I noticed that they were down from their first-day results. The company’s pricing was more than strong, and its first trading results were nearly comical.

After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.

But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

So The Exchange, ever at your service, raced around to collect the data. And what did we find? Most hot tech IPOs have held onto their gains, and many have actually run up the score in the ensuing weeks.

Lemonade is a great example. It first targeted a $23 to $26 per-share IPO price. That rose to $26 to $28 per share, then it priced at $29 per share. It opened at $50.06 per share, closing the day worth $69.41. 

And today? A single Lemonade share will set you back $145.21. The company is now worth $8.22 billion, despite only posting Q3 revenues of $17.8 million, a decline from the year-ago period (for more on why that is, and why it isn’t as bad as you might initially think, read this.)

Analysts anticipate that Lemonade will post revenues of $18.91 million in Q4 2020, again via Yahoo Finance, putting the company on an annualized run rate of 109x. For a business running with net margins of -173.6% in its most recent quarter. And that’s after Lemonade announced a large share sale!

All this is to say that the fiery optimism fueling dazzling IPO debuts has the potential to keep pushing them higher. Which you can view as troubling, if you are a boring index funder like myself; enticing, if you are a founder looking to go public in the near-future; and potentially irksome if you are a VC annoyed when upside leaks to parties other than yourself.

This brings us to our data set. Below, I’ve collated a host of recent IPOs, their opens and their current prices. Only one has shed value.

And then we reexamined eight 2020 offerings that you will recall so we could run the same exercise. The results were not what I expected and indicate a stock market — let alone an IPO market — sufficiently inflated to warrant the whispered moniker of bubble.

Let’s have some fun.

Up, and then up some more
Categories: Business News

South African startup Aerobotics raises $17M to scale its AI-for-agriculture platform

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 12:43am

As the global agricultural industry stretches to meet expected population growth and food demand, and food security becomes more of a pressing issue with global warming, a startup out of South Africa is using artificial intelligence to help farmers manage their farms, trees and fruits.

Aerobotics, a South African startup that provides intelligent tools to the world’s agriculture industry, has raised $17 million in an oversubscribed Series B round.

South African consumer internet giant Naspers led the round through its investment arm, Naspers Foundry, investing $5.6 million, according to Aerobotics. Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank and Platform Investment Partners also participated.

Founded in 2014 by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer, Aerobotics is currently focused on building tools for fruit and tree farmers. Using artificial intelligence, drones and other robotics, its technology helps track and assess the health of these crops, including identifying when trees are sick, tracking pests and diseases, and analytics for better yield management. 

The company has progressed its technology and provides to farmers independent and reliable yield estimations and harvest schedules by collecting and processing both tree and fruit imagery from citrus growers early in the season. In turn, farmers can prepare their stock, predict demand and ensure their customers have the best quality of produce.

Kenya’s Apollo Agriculture raises $6M Series A led by Anthemis

Aerobotics has experienced record growth in the last few years. For one, it claims to have the largest proprietary data set of trees and citrus fruit in the world, having processed 81 million trees and more than a million citrus fruit.

The seven-year-old startup is based in Cape Town, South Africa. At a time when many of the startups out of the African continent have focused their attention primarily on identifying and fixing challenges at home, Aerobotics has found a lot of traction for its services abroad, too. It has offices in the U.S., Australia and Portugal — like Africa, home to other major, global agricultural economies — and operates in 18 countries across Africa, the Americas, Europe and Australia. 

Image Credits: Aerobotics

Within that, the U.S. is the company’s primary market, and Aerobotics says it has two provisional patents pending in the country, one for systems and methods for estimating tree age and another for systems and methods for predicting yield.  

The company said it plans to use this Series B investment to continue developing more technology and product delivery, both for the U.S. and other markets. 

“We’re committed to providing intelligent tools to optimize automation, minimize inputs and maximize production. We look forward to further co-developing our products with the agricultural industry leaders,” said Paterson, the CEO in a statement.

Once heralded as a frontier for technology centuries ago, the agriculture industry has stalled in that aspect for a long while. However, agritech companies like Aerobotics that support climate-smart agriculture and help farmers have sprung forth trying to take the industry back to its past glory. Investors have taken notice and over the past five years, investments have flowed with breathtaking pace. 

For Aerobotics, it raised $600,000 from 4Di Capital and Savannah Fund as part of its seed round in September 2017. The company then raised a further $4 million in Series A funding in February 2019, led by Nedbank Capital and Paper Plane Ventures.

SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

Naspers Foundry, the lead investor in this Series B round, was launched by Naspers in 2019 as a 1.4 billion rand (~$100 million) fund for tech startups in South Africa. 

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa, said of the investment, “Food security is of paramount importance in South Africa and the Aerobotics platform provides a positive contribution towards helping to sustain it. This type of tech innovation addresses societal challenges and is exactly the type of early-stage company that Naspers Foundry looks to back.”

Besides Aerobotics, Naspers Foundry has invested in online cleaning service SweepSouth, and food service platform Food Supply Network.

Categories: Business News

PlayVS acquires GameSeta to accelerate expansion into Canada

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 12:35am

PlayVS, the esports company bringing organized leagues to high schools and colleges, is today announcing its first acquisition. The startup, which has raised more than $100 million, has acquired GameSeta, a Vancouver-based startup that is also looking to provide infrastructure for high school esports teams. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal will accelerate PlayVS during its growth phase and help it expand into the Canadian market. GameSeta has a partnership with BC School Sports, the governing body for organized school sports in British Columbia, which will transfer to PlayVS.

PlayVS has a similar (and exclusive) partnership with NFHS, the high school equivalent of the NCAA, here in the States. The company has also sprinted into the college market, launching a college product as part of a partnership between PlayVS and Epic Games. Since launching a college offering, total player growth is up 460 percent. The company has also launched a new $900,000 scholarship pool for high schools and colleges.

Founded by Delane Parnell in the beginning of 2018, PlayVS has grown rapidly, brokering partnerships with school sports organizations and publishers alike. In fact, PlayVS title offerings include League of Legends, Rocket League, SMITE, Overwatch, Fortnite, FIFA 21 and Madden NFL 21. PlayVS has served more than 19,000 high schools across all 50 states. It boasts more than 230,000 registered users.

PlayVS acts as a portal for schools to create esports teams and compete against other schools. Traditional sports like basketball and baseball have established systems (and governing organizations) to organize league schedules, playoffs, referees and more. PlayVS has positioned itself as that governing body and organizational system for esports.

Not only does PlayVS facilitate these leagues, but it also offers colleges and esports organizations a much-needed recruitment tool, letting them view games and track metrics of individual players.

As part of the acquisition, GameSeta’s Tawanda Masawi and Rana Taj will join the PlayVS team and lead Canadian operations.

Alongside geographic expansion, PlayVS is also looking to expand beyond high schools and colleges with plans to launch a direct to consumer product.

“We’re going to launch some direct consumer products directly in partnership with publishers to open up the PlayVS ecosystem so people can organize and join competitions, whether they are associated with high schools or otherwise,” said Parnell. “We’re really excited about that. The markets in general have just shown great appetite for gaming as a form of entertainment and content. Obviously, players are really excited about eSports as a form of content and a way to engage in competition and so we want to make sure that PlayVS is a place where people compete more broadly.”

Categories: Business News

Voice over Internet Protocol (<b>VoIP</b>) Services Market | Industry Analysis, Market Trends ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 22 - 12:34am
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Services Market | Industry Analysis, Market Trends, Opportunities, and Forecast 2027. 4 min read. 12 hours ago ...
Categories: VoIP News

<b>VoIP</b> Market 2021 Complete Technical Report – Nippon Shokubhai, Evonik Industries, Sumitomo ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 22 - 12:02am
The Global VoIP Market consists of data accumulated from numerous primary and secondary sources. This information has been verified and validated ...
Categories: VoIP News

Cloud infrastructure startup CloudNatix gets $4.5 million seed round led by DNX Ventures

Startup News - 2021, January 22 - 12:00am

CloudNatix founder and chief executive officer Rohit Seth. Image Credits: CloudNatix

CloudNatix, a startup that provides infrastructure for businesses with multiple cloud and on-premise operations, announced it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding. The round was led by DNX Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on United States and Japanese B2B startups, with participation from Cota Capital. Existing investors Incubate Fund, Vela Partners and 468 Capital also contributed.

The company also added DNX Ventures managing partner Hiro Rio Maeda to its board of directors.

DNX Ventures launches $315 million fund for US and Japanese B2B startups

CloudNatix was founded in 2018 by chief executive officer Rohit Seth, who previously held lead engineering roles at Google. The company’s platform helps businesses reduce IT costs by analyzing their infrastructure spending and then using automation to make IT operations across multiple clouds more efficient. The company’s typical customer spends between $500,000 to $50 million on infrastructure each year, and use at least one cloud service provider in addition to on-premise networks.

Built on open-source software like Kubernetes and Prometheus, CloudNatix works with all major cloud providers and on-premise networks. For DevOps teams, it helps configure and manage infrastructure that runs both legacy and modern cloud-native applications, and enables them to transition more easily from on-premise networks to cloud services.

CloudNatix competes most directly with VMware and Red Hat OpenShift. But both of those services are limited to their base platforms, while CloudNatix’s advantage is that it is agnostic to base platforms and cloud service providers, Seth told TechCrunch.

The company’s seed round will be used to scale its engineering, customer support and sales teams.

Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

 

Categories: Business News

TripActions raises $155M at $5B valuation as corporate travel recovers from pandemic lows

Startup News - 2021, January 21 - 11:48pm

This morning TripActions, a software company whose tools help businesses book and manage corporate travel, announced a new $155 million investment.

Three investors led the round: prior investor Andreessen Horowitz, Addition and Elad Gil. The new investment, a Series E, values TripActions at $5 billion on a post-money basis, a company spokesperson wrote via email.

Valuation marks are normally only moderately useful, but in the case of TripActions’ latest round carry more weight.

The company — along with restaurant software unicorn Toast — became something of a poster-child for the impact of COVID-19 on some categories of startups. TechCrunch covered the launch of a new $500 million credit facility for a TripActions product called Liquid in late February, 2020. A month later, in late March, TripActions laid off hundreds of staff as the travel market froze solid.

For a company that had raised $250 million at a $4 billion valuation in mid-2019, it was a dramatic reversal of fortunes. (TripActions did raise an additional $125 million in what it called “convertible-to-IPO financing” last June, when the travel market was especially bleak.)

TripActions lays off hundreds amid COVID-19 travel freeze

Today, however, investors are betting on the company’s fortunes, not only providing it with another nine-figures of capital, but giving it a new, larger valuation as well.

An up-round less than a year after layoffs is an impressive recovery, so TechCrunch wanted to learn more about the corporate travel market, TripActions’ bread and butter, and the pace of the venerable business trip’s recovery; as COVID-19 vaccines roll out, how quickly are employees getting back onto planes?

According to a company spokesperson, the corporate travel market is at “20 percent levels as of this month,” while growing between 3% and 6% “week-over-week.” That pace of recovery could have given investors confidence that TripActions’ recovery to at least most of its former strength was merely a matter of time.

TechCrunch also asked TripActions what the corporate travel market will look like in the Zoom-ready, hybrid-work world that many expect. A spokesperson wrote that the company “strongly” believes that corporate travel will come back, “maybe not at 100 percent immediately,” but to 75% “within the next year.”

The spokesperson also wrote that a more distributed working population could actually boost corporate travel. If that bears out, TripActions could wind up in a stronger position post-COVID than it might have managed if the pandemic had never happened. For a unicorn forced to lay off so many workers when its market temporarily disappeared, such a return to power would be a coup.

Returning to the round, TripActions intends to use the new monies to invest in its product. The company highlighted recent feature releases in an email to TechCrunch to underscore the point, including software integrations, adding that it intends to keep working on its finance-focused Liquid product.

The spokesperson also said that the company “will build features on the travel side for distributed teams to meet in-person more easily.” As many anticipate that the days of completely geographically centered companies are over, the decision makes sense.

TripActions secures $500M credit facility for its new corporate travel product

TechCrunch asked what portion of its previously laid-off staff have been rehired to date, and if the new funds will be used to rehire employees that were let go last year. We’ll update the piece when we hear back.

Regardless, from pre-pandemic highs, to a COVID-19 trough, to today with a newly raised valuation and lots of new cash, TripActions’ last year is a future business case study in the making.

Categories: Business News

<b>Voip</b> Softphones Market Size, Demand, Trends and Growth by Business Opportunities, Latest ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 21 - 11:32pm
Voip Softphones Market has recently added by Qurate Research to its vast repository. Report is one of the most comprehensive and important data ...
Categories: VoIP News

Soci raises $80M for its localized marketing platform

Startup News - 2021, January 21 - 11:02pm

Soci, a startup focused on what it calls “localized marketing,” is announcing that it has raised $80 million in Series D funding.

National and global companies like Ace Hardware, Anytime Fitness, The Hertz Corporation and Nekter Juice Bar use Soci (pronounced soh-shee) to coordinate individual stores as they promote themselves through search, social media, review platforms and ad campaigns. Soci said that in 2020, it brought on more than 100 new customers, representing nearly 30,000 new locations.

Co-founder and CEO Afif Khoury told me that the pandemic was a crucial moment for the platform, with so many businesses “scrambling to find a real solution to connect with local audiences.”

One of the key advantages to Soci’s approach, Khoury said, is to allow the national marketing team to share content and assets so that each location stays true to the “national corporate personality,” while also allowing each location to express  a “local personality.” During the pandemic, businesses could share basic information about “who’s open, who’s not” while also “commiserating and expressing the humanity that’s often missing element from marketing nationally.”

“The result there was businesses that had to close, when they had their grand reopenings, people wanted to support that business,” he said. “It created a sort of bond that hopefully lasts forever.”

Soci raises $12M to help big brands manage local marketing

Khoury also emphasized that Soci has built a comprehensive platform that businesses can use to manage all their localized marketing, because “nobody wants to have seven different logins to seven different systems, especially at the local level.”

The new funding, he said, will allow Soci to make the platform even more comprehensive, both through acquisitions and integrations: “We want to connect into the CRM, the point-of-sale, the rewards program and take all that data and marry that to our search, social, reviews data to start to build a profile on a customer.”

Soci has now raised a total of $110 million. The Series D was led by JMI Equity, with participation from Ankona Capital, Seismic CEO Doug Winter and Khoury himself.

“All signs point to an equally difficult first few months of this year for restaurants and other businesses dependent on their communities,” said JMI’s Suken Vakil in a statement. “This means there will be a continued need for localized marketing campaigns that align with national brand values but also provide for community-specific messaging. SOCi’s multi-location functionality positions it as a market leader that currently stands far beyond its competitors as the must-have platform solution for multi-location franchises/brands.”

5 VCs agree: COVID-19 reshaped adtech and martech

Categories: Business News

Creative Fabrica, a platform for digital crafting resources, lands $7 million Series A

Startup News - 2021, January 21 - 10:16pm

Roemie Hillenaar and Anca Stefan, the co-founders of Creative Fabrica

Creative Fabrica is best known as a marketplace for digital files, like fonts, graphics and machine embroidery designs, created for crafters. Now the Amsterdam-based startup is planning to expand into new verticals, including yarn crafts and projects for kids, with a $7 million Series A round led by Felix Capital. FJ Labs and returning investor Peak Capital also participated.

The new funding brings Creative Fabrica’s total raised to about $7.6 million, including its 2019 seed round.

Before launching Creative Fabrica in 2016, co-founders Anca Stefan and Roemie Hillenaar ran a digital agency. The startup was created to make finding digital files for creative projects easier. It started as a marketplace, but now also includes a showcase for finished projects, tools for creating fonts and word art, and a subscription service called the Craft Club. The company currently claims more than one million users around the world, with about 60% located in the United States and 20% in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Creative Fabrica’s sellers make money in a couple of ways. If their digital assets are purchased individually, they get 50% of revenue. Files downloaded through the subscription service are assigned points, with creators receiving revenue at the end of the subscription period based on the number of points they accumulate.

Hillenaar, the company’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch that Creative Fabrica launches new verticals based on what they see users sharing on their platform. For example, its designs are often used for die-cutting, and it recently launched POD (print on demand) files and digital embroidery verticals based on user interest.

Many of the files sold on Creative Fabrica include a commercial license and about 35% of its users actively sell the crafts they make. There are several other marketplaces that offers digital downloads for crafters and designers, including Etsy and Creative Market. Hillenaar said Creative Fabrica’s automated curation gives it more control over copyright infringement than Etsy, which means its users have more assurance that they can sell things made with its files without running into issues. While Creative Market also sells fonts, vector graphics and other files, it is mostly targeted toward publishers and website designers. Creative Fabrica’s focus on crafters means it files are designed to work with home equipment like Silhouette, a die-cutting machine.

Creative Fabrica also focuses on the entire creative process of a crafter or the “full funnel,” Hillenaar added. For example, someone who wants to make decorations for a birthday party can look through projects shared to the platform for inspiration, download digital materials and then start crafting using Creative Fabrica’s tutorials. Since many of Creative Fabrica’s crafts involve equipment like desktop die-cutting machines or sewing and embroidery machines, the platform offers a series of comprehensive tutorials to help crafters get started.

As Creative Fabrica expands into verticals like yarn crafts (it already offers knitting and crochet patterns) and kids projects, it’ll compete more directly with site likes Ravelry, which many yarn crafters rely on for patterns and services like Kiwi Crate that supply materials and instructions for children. Hillenaar said Creative Fabrica’s value proposition is focusing on the many people who take part in several different kinds of crafts.

According to a report from the Association for Creative Industries, about 63% of American households are involved with some form of craft. Out of that number, most partake in multiple kinds of projects.

“Somebody who is knitting is also likely to do die-cutting or woodworking, or another type of craft,” he said. “We believe that with our holistic view on this market we can cater to your whole creative crafting side instead of focusing on just one niche.”

Categories: Business News

babyTEL Rebrands as Cloudli Communications to Focus on Next Generation Voice, Data and ...

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 21 - 9:56pm
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Israel’s startup ecosystem powers ahead, amid a year of change

Startup News - 2021, January 21 - 9:01pm

Released in 2011, “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” was a book that laid claim to the idea that Israel was an unusual type of country. It had produced, and was poised to produce, an enormous number of technology startups, given its relatively small size. The moniker became so ubiquitous, both at home and abroad, that “Israel Startup Nation” is now the name of the country’s professional cycling team.

But it’s been hard to argue against this position in the last 10 years, as the country powered ahead, famously producing ground-breaking startups like Waze, which was eventually picked up by Google for more than $1 billion in 2013. Waze’s 100 employees received about $1.2 million on average, the largest payout to employees in Israeli high tech at the time, and the exit created a pool of new entrepreneurs and angel investors.

Israel’s heady mix of questioning culture, tradition of national military service, higher education, the widespread use of English, appetite for risk and team spirit makes for a fertile place for fast-moving companies to appear.

And while Israel doesn’t have a Silicon Valley, it named its high-tech cluster “Silicon Wadi” (“wadi” means dry desert river bed in Arabic and colloquial Hebrew).

After a record year for Israeli startups, 16 investors tell us what’s next

Much of Israel’s high-tech industry has emerged from former members of the country’s elite military intelligence units, such as the Unit 8200 Intelligence division. From age 13 Israel’s students are exposed to advanced computing studies, and the cultural push to go into tech is strong. Traditional professions attract low salaries compared to software professionals.

Israel’s startups industry began emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A significant event came with acquisition by AOL of the the ICQ messaging system developed by Mirabilis. The Yozma Programme (Hebrew for “initiative”) from the government, in 1993, was seminal: It offered attractive tax incentives to foreign VCs in Israel and promised to double any investment with funds from the government. This came decades ahead of most western governments.

It wasn’t long before venture capital firms started up and major tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Samsung had R&D centers and accelerators located in the country.

So how are they doing?

At the start of 2020, Israeli startups and technology companies were looking back on a good 2019. Over the last decade, startup funding for Israeli entrepreneurs increased by 400%. In 2019 there was a 30% increase in startup funding and a 102% increase in M&A activity. The country was experiencing a six-year upward funding trend. And in 2019, Bay Area investors put $1.4 billion into Israeli companies.

2020 was a record year for Israel’s security startup ecosystem

By the end of last year, the annual Israeli Tech Review 2020 showed that Israeli tech firms had raised a record $9.93 billion in 2020, up 27% year on year, in 578 transactions — but M&A deals had plunged.

Israeli startups closed out December 2020 by raising $768 million in funding. In December 2018 that figure was $230 million, in 2019 it was just under $200 million.

Late-stage companies drew in $8.33 billion, from $6.51 billion in 2019, and there were 20 deals over $100 million totaling $3.26 billion, compared to 18 totaling $2.62 billion in 2019.

Top IPOs among startups were Lemonade, an AI-based insurance firm, on the New York Stock Exchange; and life sciences firm Nanox, which raised $165 million on the Nasdaq.

The winners in 2020 were cybersecurity, fintech and Internet of Things, with food tech coming on strong. But while the country has become famous for its cybersecurity startups, AI now accounts for nearly half of all investments into Israeli startups. That said, every sector is experiencing growth. Investors are also now favoring companies that speak to the COVID-era, such as cybersecurity, e-commerce and remote technologies for work and healthcare.

There are currently more than 30 tech companies in Israel that are valued over $1 billion. And four startups passed the $1 billion valuation just last year: mobile game developer Moon Active; Cato Networks, a cloud-based enterprise security platform; ride-hailing app developer Gett got $100 million ahead of its rumored IPO; and behavioral biometrics startup BioCatch.

And there was a reminder that Israel can produce truly “magical” tech: Tel Aviv battery storage firm StoreDot raised money from Samsung Ventures and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for its battery which can fully charge a motor scooter in five minutes.

Quick-charging battery startup StoreDot gets $60M on $500M valuation led by Daimler

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic put a break on mergers and acquisitions in 2020, as the world economy closed down.

M&A was just $7.8 billion in 93 deals, compared to over $14.2 billion in 143 M&A deals in 2019. RestAR was acquired by American giant Unity; CloudEssence was acquired by a U.S. cyber company; and Kenshoo acquired Signals Analytics.

And in 2020, Israeli companies made 121 funding deals on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and global capital markets, raising a total of $6.55 billion, compared to $1.95 billion raised in capital markets in Israel and abroad in 2019, as IPOs became an attractive exit alternative.

However, early-round investments (seed and A rounds) slowed due to pandemic uncertainty, but picked up again toward the end of the year. As in other countries in “COVID 2020”, VC tended to focus on existing portfolio companies.

COVID brought unexpected upsides: Israeli startups, usually facing longs flight to Europe or the U.S. to raise larger rounds of funding, suddenly found that Zoom was bringing investors to them.

Israeli startups adapted extremely well in the COVID era, and that doesn’t look like it’s changing. Startup Snapshot found that 55% of startups profiled had changed (or considered changing) their product due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, remote-working — which comes naturally to Israeli entrepreneurs — is “flattening” the world, giving a great advantage to normally distant startup ecosystems like Israel’s.

Via Transportation raised $400 million in Q1. Next Insurance raised $250 million in Q3. Seven exit transactions with over the $500 million mark happened in Q1-Q3/2020, compared to 10 for all of 2019. These included Checkmarx for $1.1 billion and Moovit, also for a billion.

There are three main hubs for the Israeli tech scene (in order of size): Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s economy and therefore startup scene suffered after the second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising that began in late September 2000 and ended around 2005). But today the city is far more stable, and is therefore attracting an increasing number of startups. And let’s not forget visual recognition company Mobileye, now worth $9.11 billion (£7 billion), came from Jerusalem.

Extra Crunch membership now available to readers in Israel

Israel’s government is very supportive of its high-tech economy. When it noticed seed-stage startups were flagging, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) announced the launch of a new funding program to help seed-stage and early-stage startups, earmarking NIS 80 million ($25 million) for the project.

This will offer participating companies grants worth 40% of an investment round up to $1.1 million and 50% of a total investment round for startups in the country or whose founders come from under-represented communities — Arab Israeli, ultra-Orthodox and women — in the high-tech industry.

Investments in Israeli seed-stage startups decreased both absolutely and as a percentage of total investments in Israeli startups (to 6% from 11%). However, the decline may also be a function of large tech firms setting up incubation hubs to cut up and absorb talent.

Another notable aspect of Israel’s startups scene is its, sometimes halting, attempt to engage with its Arab Israeli population. Arab Israelis account for 20% of Israel’s population but are hugely underrepresented in the tech sector. The Hybrid Programme is designed to address this disparity.

It, and others like it, is a reminder that Israel is geographically in the Middle East. Since the recent normalization pact between Israel and the UAE, relations with Arab states have begun to thaw. Indeed, more than 50,000 Israelis have visited the United Arab Emirates since the agreement.

In late November, Dubai-based DIFC FinTech Hive — the biggest financial innovation hub in the Middle East — signed a milestone agreement with Israel’s fintech (Aviv). Both entities will now work together to facilitate the cross-border exchange of knowledge and business between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Perhaps it’s a sign that Israel is becoming more at ease with its place in the region? Certainly, both Israel’s tech scene and the Arab world’s is set to benefit from these more cordial relations.

Our Israel survey is here.

Categories: Business News

Cisco to purchase Acacia Communications

Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 21 - 8:03pm
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Categories: VoIP News

Financial forecasting startup Springbox AI launches its apps and raises $2M

Startup News - 2021, January 21 - 8:03pm

Springbox AI, an AI-powered financial forecasting application designed to replace financial market investment service and aimed at the average financial markets trader, has launched on iOS and Android.

It’s been built by a team of founders who previously worked at Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS and BNP Paribas. It’s so far raised $2 million in funding from private investors in Europe.

The app costs $49 a month, and includes a range of tools, including market forecasting; live market screening of stocks, forex and futures markets; and trading news.

Springbox AI co-founder Kassem Lahham said: “Most brokers focus their marketing by selling investors the dream or the myth of easy money, resulting in 96% of self-traders losing money and quitting. Using Springbox AI, traders will have access to an app that will help them succeed, focused on the data.”

Springbox competes with trading apps like eToro, but eToro focuses on social trading and following a strong investor from the community. Springbox is designed for slightly more sophisticated traders, say the founders.

Categories: Business News

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Google News - VoIP - 2021, January 21 - 6:54pm
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