Original Content podcast: ‘Black Mirror’ returns with one of its strongest seasons

Less than six months after releasing the disappointing interactive experiment “Bandersnatch,” Netflix’s science fiction anthology series “Black Mirror” is back with three traditionally-structured episodes.

On the latest installment of the Original Content podcast, we weigh in with our thoughts on the new season. We didn’t entirely agree on which episodes were strongest, but we agreed that there wasn’t a real misfire in the bunch.

Darrell and Jordan were most impressed the season opener, “Striking Vipers” — which uses a VR fighting game as a launching point for a thorny exploration of sexuality and friendship — while Anthony preferred “Smithereens,” in which the the driver with an Uber-style app takes a social media intern hostage. And we also had a good time with “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” which stars as Miley Cyrus as a pop star who’s merchandised as a friendly AI assistant.

Not all of the new episodes end happily, but in general, the show’s penchant for bleakness seems to have lifted (or perhaps it was simply channeled into “Bandersnatch”), leaving room for more emotional complexity. If we had any complaints, they had more to do with the relatively abbreviated season length, and with our skepticism about some of the show’s near-future technology.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
1:33 “Black Mirror” spoiler-free review
31:00 Spoiler discussion

Fiverr CEO says he’s building the ‘everything store for digital services’

Freelance marketplace Fiverr has become closely associated with the gig economy, but Micha Kaufman argued that not all gig economy companies are created equal.

I spoke to Kaufman yesterday afternoon, after Fiverr debuted on the New York Stock Exchange and spent the day climbing to 90% above the IPO price.

As we talked about Fiverr’s community of freelancers, I brought up the driver strikes before Uber’s IPO and wondered how Kaufman can ensure freelancers can benefit from the company’s success. In response, he pointed out that Fiverr sellers are often highly-skilled, and they determine the terms of the job and of payment.

“That is very different than [some of the] other platforms called gig economy,” he said.

He added that this structure means a freelance designer in (say) San Francisco doesn’t have to worry as much about about matching the prices of someone across the world, who has much lower costs and can charge less.

Fiverr NYSE

Fiverr at the NYSE

“I think that if you have a market that pushes for bidding, then definitely, yes, there’s a downward pressure,” he said. “In a market where freelancers get to define their own scope, timing, and price, you see the opposite trend. What we’re seeing is freelancers all around the world making more and more money very year. It’s a counterintuitive, or countercyclical rather, race to the top.”

To get a little more specific about that: While the company’s S-1 filing doesn’t discuss the income of individual sellers, it says the total value of all transactions on the platform increased from $213 million in 2017 to $293.5 million in 2018, and that it had 255,000 active sellers at end of the first quarter of 2019.

The S-1 also reported that the company saw a net loss of $36.1 million on revenue of $75.5 million in 2018, but Kaufman noted that the losses — as measured in negative EBITDA — are shrinking: “We are on the path to profitability. That’s the balance we’re trying to keep — focusing on growth while building a business that would be profitable in the long term.”

And he suggested that one of the things that impressed Wall Street investors was the fact that Fiverr operates less like a traditional hiring site and “much more similar to traditional e-commerce businesses like Etsy and Amazon,” where you can browse and purchase the services you need.

As for how going public changes the company, Kaufman said it means he has “a larger constituency to report to now.” But beyond that, he said, “I don’t think that that’s going to change the culture of the business or our focus. What we’re trying to create is this everything store for digital services.”

Kaufman suggested there’s room for geographic expansion, particularly in non-English-speaking countries, and to add new categories of work. More broadly, he said he wants to change the fact that the vast majority of freelancers still get hired via offline channels.

“The average time to order a service on Fiverr is 15 minutes,” he said. “Why would you spend a minute more doing it any other way?”

Daily Crunch: Fiverr goes public

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Fiverr shares climb 90% in first day of trading

Freelance marketplace Fiverr had a good first day on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company priced its IPO at $21 per share on Wednesday, raising around $111 million. It then started trading at $26, with shares climbing for most of the day and closing at $39.90 — up 90% from the IPO price.

2. Facebook backs social commerce startup Meesho in first India investment

Y Combinator alumnus Meesho is an online marketplace that connects sellers with customers on social media platforms such as WhatsApp.

3. Nintendo exec on E3, streaming and game delays

We sat down with Nintendo’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta following the big unveils to discuss the company’s take on streaming, mobile and what things look like following the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé.

4. Airbnb launches ‘Adventures’ for tourists seeking more thrills

Airbnb Adventures is effectively a collection of tours and trips lasting between three days and a week that go beyond the usual city walking tour.

5. Binance begins to restrict US users ahead of regulatory-compliant exchange launch

Binance, which processes more than $1 billion on a daily basis and for so long has embodied crypto’s Wild West culture, announced that it will launch a U.S.-based service — but, in the meantime, it is implementing restrictions for U.S. passport holders worldwide and those based in the country.

6. A widely used infusion pump can be remotely hijacked, say researchers

Researchers at healthcare security firm CyberMDX found two vulnerabilities in the Alaris Gateway Workstation, developed by medical device maker Becton Dickinson.

7. Why is Andreessen Horowitz (and everyone else) investing in Latin America now?

Investments by U.S. venture capital firms into Latin America are skyrocketing, and one of the firms leading the charge into deals is none other than Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Fiverr shares climb 90% in first day of trading

Freelance marketplace Fiverr had a good first day on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company priced its IPO at $21 per share last night, raising around $111 million. It then started trading this morning at $26, with shares climbing for most of the day and closing at $39.90 — up 90% from the IPO price.

Fiverr is one of the most well-known companies facilitating the so-called gig economy. When it filed to go public last month, the company said it has facilitated 50 million transactions between 5.5 million buyers and 830,000 freelancers.

Investors seem willing to bet on the company despite the fact that it’s losing money, reporting a net loss of $36.1 million on revenue of $75.5 million in 2018. In an interview this afternoon, founder and CEO Micha Kaufman noted that the company’s negative EBITDA is shrinking (at least when you compare the first quarter of 2019 to Q1 2018).

“We are on the path to profitability,” Kaufman said. “That’s the balance we’re trying to keep — focusing on growth while building a business that would be profitable in the long term.”

I’ll have a full story on our interview tomorrow morning.

Daily Crunch: Telegram faces new attack in China

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Telegram faces DDoS attack in China… again

The popular encrypted messaging service Telegram is once again being hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in Asia as protestors in Hong Kong take to the streets.

As they look to evade surveillance measures by government officials, Telegram is one of the tools that organizers have turned to. Four years ago, a similar attack struck the company’s service, just as China was initiating a crackdown on human rights lawyers in the country.

2. Bird confirms acquisition of Scoot

This acquisition means Bird may finally get to operate shared electric scooters in San Francisco.

3. LaLiga fined $280K for soccer app’s privacy-violating spy mode

Users of the LaLiga app were outraged to discover the smartphone software does rather more than show minute-by-minute commentary of football matches: It can use the microphone and GPS of fans’ phones to record their surroundings in a bid to identify bars that are unofficially streaming games.

4. Google leaks its own phone

Details of the Pixel 4 have been swirling around this week, so Google decided to just leak the design of its next phone via its official Twitter account, revealing the backplate and new camera module on the smartphone.

5. NFC gets a lot more powerful in iOS 13

This opens up a range of new application possibilities, Apple said, including the ability to create apps that read passports and contactless smart cards and interact with NFC-enabled hardware.

6. Facebook collected device data on 187,000 users using banned snooping app

The social media giant said in a letter to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office — which TechCrunch obtained — that it collected data on 31,000 users in the U.S., including 4,300 teenagers. The rest of the collected data came from users in India.

7. Uber’s annual flying taxi summit reveals Uber Air has a ways to go

We talked to Uber Director of Engineering for Energy Storage Systems Celina Mikolajczak at the company’s third annual Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C. this week. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Laundry startup FlyCleaners confirms major layoffs

FlyCleaners, a New York startup offering on-demand laundry pickup and delivery, has laid off “a large number” of its employees, co-founder and CEO David Salama told TechCrunch.

This confirms a story earlier this week in Crain’s New York reporting that FlyCleaners filed a notification with the Department of Labor outlining plans to close its Long Island City plant and lay off 116 employees.

As Salama explained when we profiled him several years ago, FlyCleaners customers can use the mobile app whenever they want someone to pick up their laundry — the startup handles pickup and return, while the actual cleaning is handled by local businesses.

In an email about the layoffs, Salama told me that the company (which raised a $2 million round led by Zelkova Ventures back in 2013) created its own team for pickup and delivery because “when we started FlyCleaners six years ago, the last mile logistics industry was simply not where we needed it to be in order to effectively service our customers.” More recently, however, the company has been testing out partnerships with other logistics companies as a way to “supplement” its own team.

“Recently, it became clear to us that the cost of our internal team was just too large to bear and it was starting to hamper our ability to execute strategically and to sustain and grow our business,” Salama continued. “And so, that [led] to the painful decision to lay off a large number of employees and to proceed as a more asset light organization.”

He added, “We don’t anticipate that this change will materially decrease the service we offer our customers. If anything, by partnering with larger scale logistics providers, our service should be more efficient and resilient than it currently is.”

But if partners are handling pickups, delivery and the laundry, what does FlyCleaners bring to the table? When I asked what the company will focus on moving forward, Salama said, “I prefer to be discreet about it[,] but I’m comfortable saying that our plan is to leverage our technology to create the best customer experience possible.”

He also said that the startup is working with its logistics partners to find new positions for laid-off employees.

Daily Crunch: Fortnite-maker acquires Houseparty

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Fortnite maker Epic acquires social video app Houseparty

The company behind the Unreal Engine and the ridiculously successful Fortnite phenomenon has just picked up Houseparty . Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2015, Houseparty is a social network that delivers video chat across a number of different platforms, including iOS, Android and macOS. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said, “By teaming up, we can build even more fun, shared experiences than what could be achieved alone.”

2. Facebook will not remove deepfakes of Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian and others from Instagram

The work, featured in a site-specific installation in the U.K. as well as circulating in video online, was the first high-profile test of Facebook’s content review policies since the company’s decision not to remove a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

3. Here’s Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends report

Meeker highlighted slowed growth in e-commerce sales, increased internet ad spending, data growth, as well as the rise of freemium subscription business models, telemedicine, photo-sharing, interactive gaming, the on-demand economy and more.

4. Uber will start testing Eats drone delivery

This comes after the Federal Aviation Administration awarded Uber and San Diego the right to test commercial food delivery via drone.

5. Adjust raises $227M to measure mobile ads and prevent fraud

Adjust says it’s now being used in more than 25,000 mobile apps for customers like NBCUniversal, Zynga, Robinhood, Pinterest and Procter & Gamble.

6. Facebook’s Blood Donations feature arrives in US, will alert donors in times of need

Since 2017, the company has been working with blood donation centers worldwide that have been able to use the platform to reach potential donors and then reach out to them in times of need. Now, Facebook is bringing its Blood Donations feature to the U.S.

7. The future of car ownership: Building an online dealership

Several young companies — like Carvana, Shift, Vroom and Joydrive — are attempting to put the dealership online, allowing customers to buy, trade-in and even test drive vehicles without talking to a salesman in an oversized golf pullover. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Adjust raises $227M to measure mobile ads and prevent fraud

Adjust is announcing that it has raised $227 million in new funding.

The company, founded in Berlin back in 2012, has created a variety of ad measurement and anti-fraud tools — CEO Christian Henschel said the goal is to “make marketing simpler, smarter and safer.” Adjust says it’s now being used in more than 25,000 mobile apps for customers like NBCUniversal, Zynga, Robinhood, Pinterest and Procter & Gamble.

It’s been nearly four years since the company raised its previous round of $15 million. Henschel (pictured above with his co-founder and CTO Paul Müller) told me the company was already profitable back then, and it’s continued to be profitable while growing revenue by an average of 80 percent every year. So it raised more money (a lot more), he said, “because we saw the opportunity … to grow our business even further.”

Henschel pointed to three broad areas where Adjust is planning to invest and grow. First, there’s combating fraud, where he said the company was “very early,” first launching its mobile fraud prevention suite in 2016. It expanded its offerings earlier this year with the acquisition of Unbotify.

Second, he said Adjust will continue to invest in automation and aggregation — an area where it made another recent acquisition, namely the data aggregation company Acquired.io.

“We’re giving our customers the ability to get rid of the repetitive and boring tasks and really focus them back on thigns that human beings are very good at — that is creativity,” Henschel said.

Lastly, the company (which already has 350 employees in 15 offices worldwide) will continue to invest in customer service and geographic expansion, particularly in Asia.

Speaking of acquisitions, Adjust says it’s also partnered with Japanese marketing agency Adways and acquired Adways’ attribution tool PartyTrack. So naturally, you might assume that this new capital means  even more deals are in the works, but Henschel said, “Acquisitions are always tough — it’s hard to find the right companies, and even harder to integrate them.”

In other words, he’s open to acquiring more companies, but he said, “We don’t have any plans right now.”

This new round brings Adjust’s total funding to $250 million. It was led by Eurazeo Growth, Highland Europe, Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners and Sofina.

“Adjust reached profitability just three years after its creation, and has seen extraordinary growth since then,” said Eurazeo Growth’s Yann du Rusquec in a statement. “The company is ideally positioned to further expand its product and footprint throughout 2019 and beyond, cementing its position as one of the most successful global tech champions to come out of Europe.”

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Always Be My Maybe’ is a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy

“Always Be My Maybe” — a new film starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park — continues Netflix’s streak of solid romantic comedies.

That said, anyone expecting it to match Wong’s delightfully dirty stand-up (showcased in the Netflix specials “Baby Cobra” and “Hard Knock Wife”) might be disappointed. Instead, “Always Be My Maybe” feels like a throwback to ’90s romantic comedies; after all, Park and Wong have cited “When Marry Met Sally” and “Boomerang” as inspirations.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Catherine Shu to review the film, which tells the story of Marcus (Park) and Sasha (Wong), two childhood friends who grow up together in the Bay Area, lose their virginity to each other and then drift apart — until they cross paths again in their 30s.

We didn’t all love the movie: Anthony, in particular, found some of the jokes and the character arcs to be a little formulaic. But we all had a good time, thanks to the sharply-drawn characters, the rapid-fire humor and an excellent cameo.

Anthony and Catherine also discuss how the film resonates with their own personal experiences, and how it compares to “Crazy Rich Asians.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Introduction and discussion of upcoming TV shows
10:18 Spoiler-free review of “Always Be My Maybe”
26:14 Spoiler discussion

Daily Crunch: Facebook’s cryptocurrency is coming

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Facebook plans June 18 cryptocurrency debut. Here’s what we know

Facebook is finally ready to reveal details about its cryptocurrency, codenamed Libra. It has currently scheduled a June 18 release of a white paper explaining its cryptocurrency’s basics, according to a source.

It sounds like Facebook’s cryptocurrency will be a stablecoin, transferable with zero fees via Facebook products including Messenger and WhatsApp.

2. NASA declares International Space Station ‘open for business,’ including private astronaut visits

NASA’s plan also includes allowing private business activities to take place on the ISS, including “in-space manufacturing,” marketing activities, healthcare research “and more,” NASA says.

3. How Amazon’s delivery robots will navigate your sidewalk

In Amazon’s current trial, the robots are always accompanied by human assistants — who probably look like robot dog walkers as they trot through the neighborhood.

4. HTC launches Vive Pro Eye stateside, costs four times as much as Rift S

HTC’s Vive Pro Eye headset is its latest enterprise play, integrating an eye-tracking camera to give users an additional input mode and a way for users to signal attention. It’s available in a bundle with SteamVR 2.0 base stations and Vive controllers for $1,599.

5. Depop, a social app targeting millennial and Gen Z shoppers, bags $62M, passes 13M users

Depop is a London startup that’s built an app for individuals to post and sell (mostly resell) items to groups of followers.

6. Walmart to launch in-home grocery delivery in three cities, starting this fall

The service will allow the retailer to deliver items directly to a customer’s fridge or freezer, even when that customer isn’t home.

7. Why identity startup Auth0’s founder still codes: It makes him a better boss

An interview with Eugenio Pace, who founded Auth0 in 2013. (Extra Crunch membership required.)