With $18M in new funding, Braintrust says it’s creating a fairer model for freelancers

Braintrust, a network for freelance technical and design talent that launched over the summer, is announcing that it has raised $18 million in new funding.

Co-founder and CEO Adam Jackson has written for TechCrunch about how tech companies need to treat independent contractors with more empathy. He told me via email that the San Francisco-based startup is making that idea a reality by offering a very different approach than existing marketplaces for freelance work.

For one thing, Braintrust only charges the companies doing the hiring — freelancers won’t have to pay to join or to bid on a project, and Braintrust won’t charge a fee on their project payments. In addition, the startup is using a cryptocurrency token that it calls Btrust to reward users who build the network, for example by inviting new customers and vetting freelance. Apparently, the token will give users a stake in how the network evolves in the future.

“Just imagine if Uber had given all of it’s drivers some ownership in the company what a different company it would be today,” Jackson said. “Braintrust will be 100% user owned. Everyone who participates on the platform has skin in the game.”

And for companies, Braintrust is supposed to allow them to tap freelancers for work that they’d normally do in-house. The startup’s clients already  include Nestle, Pacific Life, Deloitte, Porsche, Blue Cross Blue Shield and TaskRabbit.

According to Jackson, most of the talent on the platform consists of career freelancers, but with many people losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’ve seen an influx of talent coming looking to join the ranks of the freelancers.”

He added that the startup already became profitable after raising its $6 million seed round, so the new funding will allow it to build the core team and also bring in more work.

“We exist to help companies accelerate their product roadmaps and innovation, and this injection of funding will help us do just that,” Jackson said.

The new funding was led by ACME and Blockchange, with participation from new investors Pantera, Multicoin and Variant.

Google now has three mid-range Pixel phones

The Pixel has always been a mixed bag. The first-generation product was announced roughly this time four years ago, with Google finally offering a full-throated entry into the smartphone space after years of device partnerships.

Of course, by 2016, the market was already mature — particularly for Android phones. But while it was easy to write off those initial devices as Nexus-like references for future software updates, Google made it clear that it was taking the line seriously. It put any doubts to rest two years later, with its $1.1 billion acquisition of the design team from a struggling HTC.

But Google’s had struggles of its own. Slow Pixel 3 sales left the company in a tough spot, as the overall market took a hit. Google was able to correct the ship with the launch of the Pixel 3a, joining the likes of Apple and Samsung in offering budget versions of its smartphone flagship as consumers grew weary of premium prices.

It’s a strategy that makes sense. Two primary devices: a flagship and a budget model. Of course, the line has never been particularly clear for Google. For one thing, the company just doesn’t chase premium hardware in the same way that Apple, Samsung or Huawei does. Rather, it insists setting itself apart with its software — even for things like imaging. That often results in a less pronounced gap between devices. It also dulls the company’s edge with features that, more often than not, come to other Android devices.

But today’s hardware event blurred those lines more than ever. The dual-launch of the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G was arguably the most confusing element about a morning event with words “Launch Night” in its title.

Image Credits: Google

While pre-show rumors and leaks revealed a lot about the devices that ultimately proved true, they didn’t do much to distinguish the differences between the products. Turns out there’s an obvious reason: There really isn’t that much of a difference. If anything, the 4a 5G feels like a stepping stone toward the Pixel 5 — a device that would, perhaps, more fittingly have been named the Pixel 5a, if the company’s naming conventions worked that way.

We already knew that both devices were going to sport 5G. That seems to be Google taking advantage of Qualcomm’s aggressive push to bring the next-gen wireless technology to more budget devices. Really, the big driver here is that both devices utilize the same processors: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G. It is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a mid-tier processor. It’s a step down from the 865 currently found in the majority of this year’s flagships.

Likely, the decision was a cost-cutting measure, but we’ve seen evidence from a number of manufacturers that it’s possible to produce an 865-sporting device priced in the middle six digits. Both devices also sport the same dual-camera set up on the rear and the same resolution screens — though the 4a 5G’s is actually bigger (albeit with a lower pixel density), at 6.2 inches to the 5’s 6.0.

There are some differences between the products to justify the $200 pricing gap. For starters, the 5 features a 100% recycled aluminum body, whereas the 4a 5G is polycarbonate. The cheaper phone lacks waterproofing and the reverse wireless charging found on the 5. It also sports a smaller battery, though both devices have been upgraded in that respect over the 4 and 4a. Battery life, after all, was the biggest complaint against the Pixel 4 — and either way you’re going to need more milliamp hours to handle the strains of 5G and, in the case of the 5, reverse charging.

So, are you clear on all of this? Me neither, to be honest. Google’s smartphone line now contains three devices. There’s a mid-tier handset, a slightly lower-mid-tier handset and an even lower-mid-tier handset. That’s three distinct devices with about a $300 price difference, all released within months of one another. It’s as if Google saw the 3a’s successes and decided “screw it, we’re making all of our products mid-range.” Affordability isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you’re going to release three separate products over roughly a two-month span, you owe it to yourself and your fans to offer clearer value propositions.

Some of this is going to self-correct. For starters, it seems likely that the three devices will turn into two by this time next year. I don’t foresee the company keeping both an LTE and 5G model around in late-2021. There’s also the fact that the company has been undergoing a bit of an executive shakeup among the Pixel line — something that appears to point to a dramatic rethink of the line. It’s likely that the 4a, 4a 5G and 5 were already pretty far into development when Google started its executive shuffling.

Hopefully all of this will cause the company to rethink the Pixel line from the ground up and determine what Google can bring to the table that the competition can’t.

Noble Energy shareholders likely to approve $4.2 billion Chevron deal

Noble Energy shareholders likely to approve $4.2 billion Chevron dealNoble Energy Inc shareholders on Friday are expected to approve its sale to Chevron for about $4.2 billion in stock, cementing the first big energy deal since the coronavirus crushed global fuel demand. The purchase would boost Chevron's U.S. shale oil holdings and add nearly 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas reserves close to growing markets. Proxy advisers Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis have recommended approval of the deal.


SAP continues to build out customer experience business with Emarsys acquisition

SAP seemed to be all in on customer experience when it acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018. It continued on that journey today when it announced it was acquiring Austrian cloud marketing company Emarsys for an undisclosed amount of money.

Emarsys, which raised over $55 million, according to PitchBook data, gives SAP customer personalization technology. If you talk to any marketing automation vendor over the last several years, the focus has been on using a variety of data and touch points to understand the customer better, and deliver more meaningful online experiences.

With the pandemic closing or limiting access to brick and mortar stores, personalization has taken a new urgency as customers are increasingly shopping online and companies need to meet them where they are.

With Emarsys, the company is getting an omnichannel marketing solution that they say is designed to deliver messages to customers wherever they are including e-mail, mobile, social, SMS, and the web, and deliver that at scale.

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics a couple of months ago, just 20 months after buying, it left some question about whether SAP was fully committed to customer experience business.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that the acquisition shows that SAP is still very much in the game. “This illustrates that SAP is serious about CX and competing in a highly competitive space. Emarsys adds industry-specific customer engagement capabilities that should help SAP CX customers accelerate their efforts to provide their customers with the experiences they expect as their needs change over time,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As an ERP company at its core, SAP has traditionally focused on back office kind of operations, but Bob Stutz, president, SAP Customer Experience sees this acquisition as a way to continue bringing back office and front office operations together.

“With Emarsys technology, SAP Customer Experience solutions can link commerce signals with the back office and activate the preferred channel of the customer with a relevant and consistently personalized message, allowing customers the freedom to choose their own engagement,” Stutz said in a statement.

The company, which is based in Austria, was founded back in 2000 when marketing was a very different world. It has built a customer base of 1500 companies with 800 employees in 13 offices across the globe. All of this will become part of SAP, of course and come under Stutz’s purview.

As with all transactions of this type it will be subject to regulatory approval, but the deal is expected to close this quarter.

U.S. airlines rise as Trump's proposal revives bailout hope

U.S. airlines rise as Trump's proposal revives bailout hopeNegotiations for coronavirus relief aid between the White House and House Democrats had stalled in large part over the price tag, with Democrats seeking $2.2 trillion and the White House staying firm at $1.5 trillion. Shares of American Airlines, United, Delta Air Lines , and Southwest Airlines were up between 1.3% and 2.8% in pre-market trading. U.S. airlines have been pleading for another $25 billion in support to protect jobs for a further six months after the previous package, which banned furloughs, expired at midnight Sept. 30.


Ford's new CEO Farley promises urgency at automaker, shakes up management

Ford's new CEO Farley promises urgency at automaker, shakes up managementFord Motor Co's new chief executive, Jim Farley, on Thursday promised the U.S. automaker would move with urgency, responding to investor and analyst criticism of the speed at which his predecessor acted. Farley, on his first day as Ford's 11th CEO, also announced an executive shake-up that included naming a new chief financial officer. Ford's promise to accelerate its turnaround is not new at a time when it is executing an $11 billion restructuring.


Jüsto adds another $5 million in funding to build its online, delivery-only grocery store for Latin America

As it begins expanding beyond its home base in Mexico City, the on-demand, online only grocery store Jüsto has  added another $5 million in early stage funding.

The new money came from Bimbo Ventures, the strategic investment arm of one of the world’s largest bakery companies, Bimbo, and Sweet Capital, the investment fund from the founders of King.com.

Over the summer, the company expanded its services beyond Mexico City to Carretaro and saw explosive growth. According to Jüsto co-founder and company spokesman Manolo Fernandez. With sales in the first week equaling what had taken the company 200 days to achieve in Mexico City. Tavarez said it was an indicator of the demand for the company’s service across the country.

The $5 million top-up comes only a few months after Jüsto raised $12 million in funding from a slew of well-known global and Latin American investors and shows just how robust the early stage investment scene in Latin America is becoming.

As the company expands it may look to engage in some joint ventures with delivery services in other countries to expand its footprint, according to Fernandez, but for now, the focus is on growing its footprint independently.

The company will look to open operations in cities in Colombia, Peru, and potentially Ecuador in the next year, Fernandez said.

Pound Bucks Global Risk Rally on ‘Mess’ of Brexit, Legal Action

Pound Bucks Global Risk Rally on ‘Mess’ of Brexit, Legal Action(Bloomberg) -- The pound tumbled after a report that Brexit talks were failing to close differences and as the European Union planned legal action against the U.K., dashing hopes the two sides could move toward a trade deal this week.Sterling snapped a three-day winning streak after news that the U.K. and EU remain split on the issue of state aid, a sticking point in the negotiations. The currency deepened losses after a report that the EU would take the first step in a legal process against the U.K. for breaching the terms of its withdrawal agreement from the bloc.The impasse comes after several days of a more conciliatory tone from British and European officials, and more buoyant risk appetite in global markets, that had helped the pound rally from a two-month low last week. The currency is again serving as a barometer to the Brexit process, after a year dominated by Covid-19.The EU will send a “letter of formal notice” to the U.K. on Thursday over its internal market bill that would breach its withdrawal terms, a person familiar with the matter said. The U.K. has a month to respond and the process could result in a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice.“It’s a mess,” said Jordan Rochester, a currency strategist at Nomura International Plc. “We have ‘risk on’ in the background which supports the pound, but Brexit which is a drag.”The pound fell 0.6% to $1.2849 by 11:00 a.m. in London, and dropped 0.8% to 91.43 pence per euro.Negotiators are due to discuss the issue of state aid later Thursday, after Britain submitted a new round of proposals on how its rules will work after Brexit.The fact that talks could drag on longer could explain why volatility is little changed despite the latest moves in the currency, said Valentin Marinov, head of Group-of-10 currency strategy at Credit Agricole SA.So-called risk reversal options show that pound traders are in no rush to hedge the risk of a sharp decline in the U.K. currency due to Brexit risks. Sterling has been propped up this year by weakness in the dollar.“The real crunch time for the pound may come in November, especially if the two sides leave it till the last moment to settle their differences,” Marinov said. “This could also leave the pound in a holding pattern for now.”(Updates with details, comments throughout.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.