To rebuild satellite communications, Ubiquitilink starts at ground level

Communications satellites are multiplying year by year as more companies vie to create an orbital network that brings high-speed internet to the globe. Ubiquitilink, a new company headed by Nanoracks co-founder Charles Miller, is taking a different tack: reinventing the Earthbound side of the technology stack.

Miller’s intuition, backed by approval and funding from a number of investors and communications giants, is that people are competing to solve the wrong problem in the comsat world. Driving down the cost of satellites isn’t going to create the revolution they hope. Instead, he thinks the way forward lies in completely rebuilding the “user terminal,” usually a ground station or large antenna.

“If you’re focused on bridging the digital divide, say you have to build a thousand satellites and a hundred million user terminals,” he said, “which should you optimize for cost?”

Of course dropping the price of satellites has plenty of benefits on its own, but he does have a point. What happens when a satellite network is in place to cover most of the planet but the only devices that can access it cost thousands of dollars or have to be in proximity to some subsidized high-tech hub?

There are billions of phones on the planet, he points out, yet only 10 percent of the world has anything like a mobile connection. Serving the hundreds of millions who at any given moment have no signal, he suggests, is a no-brainer. And you’re not going to do it by adding more towers; if that was a valid business proposition, telecoms would have done it years ago.

Instead, Miller’s plan is to outfit phones with a new hardware-software stack that will offer a baseline level of communication whenever a phone would otherwise lapse into “no service.” And he claims it’ll be possible for less than $5 per person.

He was coy about the exact nature of this tech, but I didn’t get the sense that it’s vaporware or anything like that. Miller and his team are seasoned space and telecoms people, and of course you don’t generally launch a satellite to test vaporware.

But Ubiquitilink does have a bird in the air, with testing of their tech set to start next month and two more launches planned. The stack already been proven on the ground, Miller said, and has garnered serious interest.

“We’ve been in stealth for several years and have signed up 22 partners — 20 are multi-billion dollar companies,” he said, adding that the latter are mainly communications companies, though he declined to name them. The company has also gotten regulatory clearance to test in five countries, including the US.

Miller self-funded the company at the outset, but soon raised a pre-seed round led by Blazar Ventures (and indirectly, telecoms infrastructure standby Neustar). Unshackled led the seed round, along with RRE Ventures, Rise of the Rest, and One Way Ventures. All told the company is working with a total $6.5 million, which it will use to finance its launches and tests; once they’ve taken place it will be safer to dispel a bit of the mystery around the tech.

“UbiquitiLink represents one of the largest opportunities in telecommunications,” Unshackled founding partner Manan Mehta said, calling the company’s team “maniacally focused.”

I’m more than a little interested to find out more about this stealth attempt, three years in the making so far, to rebuild satellite communications from the ground up. Some skepticism is warranted, but the pedigree here is difficult to doubt; we’ll know more once orbital testing commences in the next few months.

Netflix now lets you share a favorite title directly to Instagram Stories

Having reached critical mass, Netflix shows are now influencing culture — whether that’s prompting everyone to “tidy up” or causing chaos with “Bird Box”-inspired challenges. For good or bad, what happens on Netflix is talked about, memed and shared across the social media landscape. Today, Netflix is launching a new feature aimed at better inserting its brand into those online conversations: Instagram Story integration.

Launching first on iOS, Netflix users will be able to share their favorite movies and shows to their Instagram Story right from the Netflix mobile app.

The feature will add the title’s custom art to a users’ Instagram Story, where it remains visible for 24 hours. The Story can also be customized with other options, like a user poll, for example.

If the viewer has the Netflix app installed on their iPhone, they’ll see a “watch on Netflix” link in the Story that takes them to the show’s or movie’s page in the Netflix app when tapped.

This isn’t the first time you could share a show from Netflix’s app to a social platform — that’s been supported for some time. However, the existing experience will pull up iOS’s “share sheet” (the built-in sharing function in the iOS operating system).

According to a screenshot provided by Netflix, however, the new sharing feature is now a part of the Netflix app itself.

After tapping “share,” a screen appears with various options, including WhatsApp, Messages, Messenger, Twitter, Line and more, in addition to the newly added “Instagram Stories.”

The launch follows Facebook’s introduction of an option last year that allows third-party apps to share their in-app content to Instagram Stories. The idea was to provide users with an alternative to screenshotting what they wanted to share from other apps — like a song, a video, a playlist, etc. — to Instagram Stories. It’s also meant to provide a more seamless experience for the Story’s viewers, as they’re able to tap the Story to engage with the shared content — while also giving the brand more control over the look-and-feel of what’s being shared.

In Netflix’s case, it’s branding shared title art with the name of the show or film, as well as a teaser or slogan, and the words “Netflix Original,” where relevant. (The feature works with all titles, not just originals.)

The feature could prompt more word-of-mouth recommendations between friends and followers on Instagram, whose Stories platform alone is bigger than Snapchat, reaching more than 400 million users. And it could help content go viral within a certain fan base or demographic — like teen girl viewers or sci-fi fans, for instance — as prominent Instagram accounts shared the Netflix show.

“We’re always on the lookout for ways to make it easier for members to share the Netflix titles they’re obsessing about and help them discover something new to watch,” said Netflix in a statement about the launch.

Instagram Stories integration is launching today on iOS to Netflix users worldwide. An Android version is in the works.

Google will start retiring Hangouts for G Suite users in October

Google’s strategy around its consumer messaging services remains baffling, especially since it killed off Allo (yet kept Duo on life support). Today, the company clarified the timeline of the transition from classic Hangouts to Chat and Meet for its paying G Suite customers. For them, the Hangouts retirement party will start in October of this year.

For consumers, the situation remains unclear, but Google says there will be free versions of Chat and Meet that will become available “following the transition of G Suite customers.” As of now, there is no timeline, so for all we know, Hangouts will remain up and running into 2020.

As for G Suite users, Google says it will start bringing more features from classic Hangouts to Chat between April and September. Those include integration with Gmail, the ability to talk to external users, improved video calling and making calls with Google Voice.

Google originally started migrating Hangouts users to the Meet video conferencing service last year. The story there was pretty straightforward, though, given that Meet was a new service with new functionality. For Hangouts, the story is far more complicated, and Hangouts Chat isn’t currently available to consumers. They do have the choice between dozens of other messaging apps, though, and all of this confusion is likely to cost Google quite a few users.

Elliott Management letter puts eBay on notice to improve stock performance, sell StubHub

Elliott Management, a NYC investment firm well known for its activist streak, released a letter today sent to eBay’s management. The letter put the company on notice that the stock needs to do better, much better. And it outlined a five-step plan, including selling StubHub, it believes can get eBay there.

Elliott is making this request as managers of funds owning more than 4 percent of eBay’s stock. It believes that with some tweaks, the company stock, which sits at $33.71 this morning (up over eight percent) could be worth substantially more. In fact, the company believes if eBay follows its advice it could increase the stock price to $55-$63 per share.

Elliott, which doesn’t tend to be subtle in its assessments of a company’s performance, didn’t pull any punches in its statement regarding the letter to eBay. “Despite its remarkable history as one of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms, eBay as a public-company investment has underperformed both its peers and the market for a prolonged period of time.”

While the letter took great pains to compliment the company, pointing out that it has successfully morphed from an auction marketplace for used goods to a full-fledged eCommerce marketplace in its own right, it was clear that it believed eBay is grossly underperforming.

The firm dug into the issues, as it sees them, in the letter itself. “Over the past five years, eBay’s total return has been more than 100% lower than peers and ~35% to ~65% lower than the technology indices. Moreover, eBay has declined 20% over the past year alone relative to a roughly flat equity market,” Elliot wrote in the letter.

It went on, “Most disappointing, however, is that this significant underperformance has occurred despite strong end-market performance. As the broader internet universe has flourished, especially e-commerce peers, eBay’s stock has floundered.”

The company didn’t just complain though. It outlined a five-step plan to improve the stock. For starters, it wants eBay to look carefully at moving StubHub and eBay’s classified properties and concentrate more fully on the core marketplace, which it believes is the true gem here.

Along those same lines, the company wants eBay to revitalize that marketplace, which it believes has been mishandled badly. “eBay’s Marketplace is a strategically valuable asset that has weathered prolonged, self-inflicted misexecution. Management should turn its singular attention to growing and strengthening Marketplace,” Elliott wrote in the letter.

It also believes the company could improve its operational efficiency. “Today eBay suffers from an inefficient organizational structure, wasteful spend and a misallocation of resources,” Elliott wrote. Next, it wants more capital returned to stockholders and finally it needs a management review and greater oversight.

eBay did not respond to an email request for comment on this proposal. If that changes, we will update the article.

Wynd raises $82 million for its store management service

French startup Wynd raised another $82 million (€72 million) from Natixis, Sofina and BNF capital. The company started with a point-of-sale solution for restaurants and other brick-and-mortar stores. It now provides a one-stop-shop for all your digital needs when it comes to managing your offline and online sales.

The startup has raised $127 million in total (€112 million) from today’s new investors as well as Sodexo, Orange and Alven.

Wynd provides a software-as-a-service platform for everything that can be powered by computers. The service manages your inventory, handles orders, payments and tells your staff what they’re supposed to do to prepare orders for your customers.

Everything is omnichannel, which means that an online sale and an offline sale are handled the same way in the system — there’s just a different parameter when it comes to delivery. Your inventory is unified across your e-commerce websites and stores. And Wynd can also replace your product information management service.

If you’re already using other services for some parts of your business, Wynd has an API and integrates with third-party services. For instance, you can connect Wynd with your ERP.

Wynd also lets you get detailed reports on your products and your staff. On this front, Wynd competes with Excel and good old static exports. Having dynamic dashboards can help you be more reactive and understand why a specific product is taking off for example.

And now, big brands are using Wynd to manage their sales, such as Carrefour, Total, MK2 and Monceau Fleurs. 30 percent of the company’s revenue comes from other countries.

The Pill Club raises $51M as VCs find new opportunities in women’s health

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception.

The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. Consumer-focused investor VMG Partners has led its $51 million Series B, with participation from new investors GV and ACME Capital (formerly known as Sherpa Capital), and existing investors Base10 Partners and Shasta Ventures. The Pill Club declined to disclose its valuation.

Launched in 2016 in San Carlos, California, The Pill Club couples healthcare services with at-home delivery, reaching customers in all 50 states. With a team of doctors, nurses and patient care coordinators, the startup operates its own pharmacy and is licensed to prescribe medication in 35 states. With the new funding, which brings its total raised to $67 million, founder and chief executive officer Nick Chang said he plans to scale the business 50 percent and expand its prescription service across the entire U.S.

“At the end of the day, our company is about empowering women,” Chang told TechCrunch. “What does that mean? It means empowering our patients to make their own healthcare decisions and making reproductive healthcare more common — something to not be shy about or worried about.”

Chang, who has spent his career in medicine and holds an M.D. from Duke University, previously founded Ganogen. The business, which sought to facilitate patient’s access to organ donors, ultimately shut down but was a catalyst to The Pill Club’s formation, as were experiences from Chang’s youth.

“I [grew] up with an older sister who was on birth control since she was 14 for menstrual regulation,” Chang said. “She really felt embarrassed to pick up the medication and to talk to anyone about it and that was really insightful for me. There are so many hurdles in accessing birth control besides clinics being around.”

Some 67 million women between the ages of 13 to 44 live in the U.S.; 19 million of them live in contraceptive deserts, or areas that lack reasonable access to public clinics. The Pill Club wants to eliminate those deserts, as do other companies in the digital health arena.

Digital health has remained one of the hottest destinations for VC investment. In 2018, investors put about $4.5 billion into U.S. companies in the sector, a 17 percent increase year-over-year, according to PitchBook data. Telemedicine startups garnered a record $1.25 billion in funding in that timeframe thanks to large financings for industry leader Oscar, a health insurance startup that raised $540 million in 2018 alone; as well as an $88 million Series A for newcomer Roman, which offers a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction.

Startups focused on women’s health, meanwhile, have continued to garner more attention from VCs. These companies, including The Pill Club and comepetitor Nurx, have not only benefited from the rapid rise of telehealth, but also from a societal shift sparked in part by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit women’s access to birth control.

“People want to talk about this,” Chang said. “With so much happening from Hollywood to politics … it’s really got some people to say ‘ok, we really need to talk about what we are prioritizing as a society.'”

In addition to accelerating the expansion of its 260-person team, The Pill Club plans to use the investment to explore launching more services within women’s healthcare and to broaden the educational content it offers its customers.

“This is just the beginning of a much broader and bigger movement,” Chang said.

The Pill Club raises $51M as VCs find new opportunities in women’s health

Through telemedicine and direct-to-consumer sales platforms, startups are streamlining the historically arduous process of accessing contraception.

The latest effort to secure a significant financing round is The Pill Club, an online birth control prescription and delivery service. Consumer-focused investor VMG Partners has led its $51 million Series B, with participation from new investors GV and ACME Capital (formerly known as Sherpa Capital), and existing investors Base10 Partners and Shasta Ventures. The Pill Club declined to disclose its valuation.

Launched in 2016 in San Carlos, California, The Pill Club couples healthcare services with at-home delivery, reaching customers in all 50 states. With a team of doctors, nurses and patient care coordinators, the startup operates its own pharmacy and is licensed to prescribe medication in 35 states. With the new funding, which brings its total raised to $67 million, founder and chief executive officer Nick Chang said he plans to scale the business 50 percent and expand its prescription service across the entire U.S.

“At the end of the day, our company is about empowering women,” Chang told TechCrunch. “What does that mean? It means empowering our patients to make their own healthcare decisions and making reproductive healthcare more common — something to not be shy about or worried about.”

Chang, who has spent his career in medicine and holds an M.D. from Duke University, previously founded Ganogen. The business, which sought to facilitate patient’s access to organ donors, ultimately shut down but was a catalyst to The Pill Club’s formation, as were experiences from Chang’s youth.

“I [grew] up with an older sister who was on birth control since she was 14 for menstrual regulation,” Chang said. “She really felt embarrassed to pick up the medication and to talk to anyone about it and that was really insightful for me. There are so many hurdles in accessing birth control besides clinics being around.”

Some 67 million women between the ages of 13 to 44 live in the U.S.; 19 million of them live in contraceptive deserts, or areas that lack reasonable access to public clinics. The Pill Club wants to eliminate those deserts, as do other companies in the digital health arena.

Digital health has remained one of the hottest destinations for VC investment. In 2018, investors put about $4.5 billion into U.S. companies in the sector, a 17 percent increase year-over-year, according to PitchBook data. Telemedicine startups garnered a record $1.25 billion in funding in that timeframe thanks to large financings for industry leader Oscar, a health insurance startup that raised $540 million in 2018 alone; as well as an $88 million Series A for newcomer Roman, which offers a cloud pharmacy for erectile dysfunction.

Startups focused on women’s health, meanwhile, have continued to garner more attention from VCs. These companies, including The Pill Club and comepetitor Nurx, have not only benefited from the rapid rise of telehealth, but also from a societal shift sparked in part by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit women’s access to birth control.

“People want to talk about this,” Chang said. “With so much happening from Hollywood to politics … it’s really got some people to say ‘ok, we really need to talk about what we are prioritizing as a society.'”

In addition to accelerating the expansion of its 260-person team, The Pill Club plans to use the investment to explore launching more services within women’s healthcare and to broaden the educational content it offers its customers.

“This is just the beginning of a much broader and bigger movement,” Chang said.

UK startup veteran and investor Wendy Tan White joins Alphabet X as Vice President

Wendy Tan White, a veteran of the U.K. startup scene — including founding SaaS website builder Moonfruit, which exited to Yell Group for $37 million — is joining Alphabet X (formerly Google X), TechCrunch has learned.

According to sources, Tan White was approached by Google late last year, as she weighed up a number of other options, including raising a VC fund of her own dedicated to “deep tech”. Ultimately, she’s decided to join Google X, where she’ll hold the position of Vice President and will be part of the leadership team.

I understand she’ll be reporting directly Astro Teller, the head of X (or “Captain of Moonshots”). “She will be managing, mentoring and supporting a range of teams across X,” a source tells me.

As well as founding and exiting Moonfruit with her husband Joe, Tan White has recently been a very active investor in the U.K., both in a personal capacity and as former Partner at BGF Ventures, the early-stage U.K. venture capital fund where she remains an advisor.

She led the Open Cosmos Series A for BGF, amongst others. Tan White’s over 30 personal investments, along with her husband Joe, include Public.io, Whitehat, Cleo, CloudNC, OpenCosmos, Automata, Massless, Q-bot, Streetbees, and Xihelm.

Prior to BGF, she was a General Partner at Entrepreneur First, the London-headquartered deep tech company builder, which is backed by Greylock, and remains a popular figure amongst EF alumni.

(I’m told Joe White will remain in his current post as General Partner at Entrepreneur First, and, along with Wendy, will be based in the U.S., where he already spends much of his time.)

Wendy Tan White is also a Board Trustee of the Alan Turing Institute (the U.K.’s National AI Institute), a Member of the UK Digital Economy Council, on the Board of TechNation and Imperial College, DoC. She was awarded an MBE for services to business and technology in 2016 and Women in IT, Business Role Model of the Year 2017.