Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh

Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year).

Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total.

While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times.

Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal, a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students.

In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs.

In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform. The company has diversified across several new domains and has achieved amazing word of mouth among learners.”

Elon Musk tweets he’ll “bet ya a signed dollar” that Thai cave rescuer is a “pedo”

Elon Musk seems not only intent on burning all the goodwill he earned for trying to help last week’s Thai cave rescue, but roll around in its ashes. In a series of extraordinarily offensive, now deleted tweets, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO called a British diver who participated in last week’s dangerous rescue mission a “pedo guy,” adding in another tweet “bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”

Musk’s tantrum was triggered by an interview the diver, Vern Unsworth, gave CNN International last Friday, in which he said Musk could stick the small submarine he had SpaceX engineers build “where it hurts.” Though the submarine was intended to help the 12 boys stranded with their soccer coach navigate flooded cave passageways, Unsworth, who helped plan the rescue operation and recruited other cave diving experts, said it “had absolutely no chance of working.”

Unworth added that Musk “had no conception of what the cave passage was like. The submarine, I believe, was about 5 foot 6 long, rigid, so it wouldn’t have gone round corners or round any obstacles. It wouldn’t hadn’t have made the first 50 meters into the cave from the dive start point.” When the reporter mentioned that Musk had gone into the cave on Tuesday, Unsworth said he was “asked to leave very quickly. And so he should have been.”

The rescue mission, made even more challenging by monsoon season, claimed the life of a Thai Navy seal before all boys were saved last week.

This is not the first time that Musk has clashed with a member of the cave rescue team. As confirmation came in that the last group of boys and their coach had been freed on July 10, the head of the rescue mission, Narongsak Osatanakorn, told reporters that “although [Musk’s] technology is good and sophisticated it’s not practical for this mission.”

In response, Musk dismissed the credentials of Ostanakorn, who led the joint command center coordinating the operation and is former acting governor of Chiang Rai, the province where the cave is located. In a tweet he said Ostanakorn was “described inaccurately as ‘rescue chief'” and “is not the subject matter expert” (the Columbus Dispatch reports that Ostanakorn holds a Master’s degree from Ohio State University, where he studied geodetic engineering and surveying).

Though Musk’s dismissal of Ostanakorn brought him a round of criticism, many still gave him credit for his efforts. After all, engineering a submarine in a few days to save a group of children is an impressive and laudable feat. While Musk is known for going on strange Twitter rants, his attack on Unsworth is an entirely different stratosphere. In addition to defaming Unsworth in a particularly heinous way, the implication that a British diver would only go to Thailand, one of the world’s top diving destinations, for child sex tourism is problematic and arguably racist, as many people have pointed out.

TechCrunch has contacted SpaceX for comment on Musk’s remarks.

Headout lands $10M Series A to help tourists book last-minute outings

Imagine being in a new city with a few hours to kill, but no idea what to do. Headout is a travel app that enables tourists to book outings at very short notice, in most cases on the same day. The startup announced today that it’s raised a $10 million Series A led by returning investors Nexus Venture Partners and Version One Ventures to support its ambitious growth targets.

Over the next 18 months, co-founder and CEO Varun Khona says the startup wants to expand from 20 cities to 100 cities in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The app recently added French, German and Spanish in select markets and aims to have all of its inventory available in 12 languages by the end of next year. Its bookings includes sightseeing tours, museum tickets and shows.

Headout’s Series A brings its total raised to $12 million. Its seed round was announced in 2015, when TechCrunch first profiled the company. The startup claims it has grown eight times over the past 12 months and is profitable.

As it enters new markets, however, Headout will be up against a roster of competitors that also offer experience bookings for tourists. These include Klook, TripAdvisor-owned Viator, Get Your Guide and Airbnb’s Experiences feature.

Khona says Headout’s main edge is tailoring its inventory and technology platform for “spontaneous last-minute mobile use cases.” It’s also a managed marketplace, meaning it standardizes pricing and quality, with the hope of creating a consistent experience across all outings. The startup says this focus on combining quality with unit economics means it’s enabled customers to save an average of 18% on last-minute bookings.

The U.S. and ZTE reach a deal that will lift export ban

The United States government has made a deal with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE that, once completed, will lift the ban preventing the company from working with American suppliers. The agreement eases tensions in the U.S.-China trade war because the seven-year denial order, which the Trump administration imposed in April after ZTE violated sanctions against North Korea and Iran, was a major point of contention between the two countries.

According to a statement from the Commerce Department, once ZTE completes a $400 million escrow payment, the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will lift the ban. The Commerce Department says “the ZTE settlement represents the toughest penalty and strictest compliance regime the Department has ever imposed in such a case. It will deter future bad actors and ensure the Department is able to protect the United States from those that would do us harm.”

Many U.S. lawmakers are still concerned about the security repercussions of the deal, however, and a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week that could potentially restore some of the penalties imposed on ZTE.

The denial order was imposed because the Commerce Department claimed that ZTE violated U.S. laws against selling equipment containing American technology to Iran and North Korea, and not only failed to follow the terms of a 2017 agreement with the Department of Justice, but also lied to the U.S. The ban cut off access to several of ZTE’s key suppliers, including Qualcomm, and was severe enough that it was described as a “death penalty” for the company, which reportedly expected to lose $3 billion as a result.

But ZTE quickly became a pawn in the U.S-China trade wars and the Trump administration said in May that the company could continue buying from U.S. suppliers if it paid a fine of at least $1.3 billion and replaced its senior management and board. ZTE’s new management team was put into place last week, with new CEO Xu Ziyang promising stronger compliance procedures.

California’s new online cancellation law benefits many disgruntled subscribers in other places, too

A new California law that went into effect on July 1 will make it much easier for people to cancel subscriptions online. Since the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), includes all services that have paying customers in the state, it will also benefit dissatisfied customers in many places outside California.

The legislation, California Senate Bill No. 313, covers “any business that makes an automatic renewal or continuous service offer to a consumer in this state,” so that includes a very wide range of services, including newspapers and magazines, subscription boxes, streaming services and more. Not only that, but if you made the subscription online, the law stipulates that you are also allowed to cancel it online. In other words, you can no longer be forced to call a customer service phone number to stop the service, a task that is usually much more frustrating and time-consuming than signing up in the first place.

The bill also requires more transparency in how companies present promotional offers. For example, if they lure in users with a free trial or gift, then they also need to include a “clear and conspicuous explanation” in the offer of how much customers will be charged after the trial ends or if the pricing will change. It also needs to tell you how to cancel (and actually allow you to do so) before you are charged.

If you sign up for a subscription at a promotional or discounted price that is only valid for a certain amount of time, the company must get your consent again before charging your debit or credit card when the price returns to its normal rate.

According to Nieman Lab, many news organizations in California are already making changes to their systems to comply with the new law.

Mobike unveils first initiatives since acquisition by Meituan, including no longer requiring deposits in China

Mobike made a roster of announcements about its bikesharing program today, including the end of customer deposits in China and full integration into Meituan Diaping’s app. The developments, its first since its acquisition by Meituan for $2.7 billion in April, are meant to help Mobike become a stronger competitor against Ofo, its biggest rival, and a slew of smaller startups in China’s heated bikesharing wars.

Mobike, which claims 200 million users, will have the chance to reach more customers thanks to its integration into Meituan’s platform. Meituan has ambitious growth plans (filed for an IPO in Hong Kong last month) and describes itself as a “one-stop super app” because of the large range of services, including dining, salon, entertainment and travel bookings, it offers. Meituan’s 310 million users were already able to pay for Mobike on the platform and will now also be able to rent a bike through the app.

Mobike also upped the ante for competitors by announcing that it will stop requiring users in China to pay 299 RMB (about $45) deposits and will refund all deposits already paid. Mobike says it is getting rid of deposits to “establish a no-threshold, zero-burden and zero-condition deposit-free standard for the entire bikesharing industry.” (Since the new policy only applies to users in China, instead of all 200 million Mobike users, TechCrunch has contacted the company for more information about how much money it is refunding).

Deposits are a contentious issue among bikesharing users. Though Mobike and Ofo claim they do not use customer deposits to fund operations, some bikesharing startups have been accused of spending deposits on operational expenses, with users complaining that it is very difficult to get their money back, even if they stop using a service or it goes out of business. The issue has resulted in Chinese lawmakers drafting regulations that require bikesharing companies to store deposits in a separate bank account so the funds are still available to return to customers even if a company goes out of business.

Another controversial issue is the large number of trashed or abandoned bikes created by bikesharing companies, with photos of “bikesharing graveyards” becoming symbolic of the sector’s excesses and unsustainable growth. To address environmental concerns, Mobike says it is launching a bike components recycling program in partnership with several companies, including Dow, China Recycling Resources and Tianjin Xinneng Recycling Resources. Called Mobike Life Cycle, the program will recycle bike components into new parts or raw materials. Mobike says it has already recycled and reused over 300,000 Mobike tires.

Mobike will also add a new e-bike that can reach a top speed of 20 km/hour and travel up to 70 km on a single charge. The company hopes that the e-bike, which will be available in China and Mobike’s international markets, will increase trip lengths. In its press statement, Mobike says most of its bikes are used for trips up to 3 km, but the e-bikes will hopefully increase that to 5 km.

All charges against ex-Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including lewd act on a child, dismissed by judge

All charges against former Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including a sexual abuse of a child, have been dropped. According to a statement from Jaffer’s representatives, San Mateo County Judge Stephanie Garratt dismissed the charges today. Jaffer was arrested last October and charged with several serious offenses, including a lewd act on one of his children, child abuse and battery on a police officer.

The dismissal is confirmed by San Mateo County Superior Court’s online records. The case (number 17NF012415A) had been scheduled to go to jury trial in late August.

Jaffer, whose full name is Zainali Jaffer, said in a statement that:

Being wrongfully accused of these crimes has been a terrible experience, which has had a deep and lasting impact on my family and the employees of my business. Those closest to me knew I was innocent and were confident that all of the charges against me would eventually be dismissed. I want to thank the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for carefully reviewing and considering all of the information and evidence in this case and dropping all the charges. I am also incredibly grateful for the continued and unwavering support of my wife and family, and look forward to spending some quality time with them.

Vungle, the fast-rising mobile ad startup Jaffer co-founded in 2011, removed him from the company immediately after they learned about the charges in October. TechCrunch has contacted Vungle and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for comment.

Redbox lands deal with Warner to rent DVDs on the same day they go on sale in physical stores

DVD and Blu-ray rental kiosk operator Redbox announced a deal with Warner Bros. today that allows it to begin offering new releases on the same day they go on sale in physical retail stores. Redbox’s former agreement with the studio meant they had to wait until seven days after the home-video release. In a statement, Redbox said this deal also maintains the availability of new releases in Redbox On Demand, its streaming rental service.

According to Variety, this means Redbox now has same-day deals with almost all of the major studios. In addition to Warner Bros., they include Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Lionsgate (its deal with 20th Century Fox is similar to its previous one with Warner Bros ., in that it allows Redbox to rent its movies seven days after their home-video release). One notable exception is Disney, which Redbox has not had a distribution deal with since 2012. This is likely due to an ongoing legal dispute involving digital download codes for Disney content.

Redbox now operates more than 41,500 kiosks, which it said in its announcement is “more locations than Starbucks and McDonalds in the U.S. combined.”

While the idea of waiting for DVD rentals might seem quaint in the age of on-demand and streaming everything, many Americans still rent discs. According to the NPD Group, nearly a third of people it surveyed in the United States last year said they rent DVDs and Blu-rays in addition to using a subscription service like Netflix. Despite reporting declining revenue before its parent company, Outerwall, agreed to be taken private in July 2016, Redbox doubled down on kiosks last year, adding 1,500 with plans to add more this year.

Jury rules Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine owe $25M to early Beats collaborator

Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones

A Los Angeles jury has ruled that Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the founders of Apple-owned Beats Electronic, owe $25.25 million in royalties to an early collaborator who helped create the first model of Beats Studio headphones. Founded in 2008, Beats was acquired by Apple in 2014.

The plaintiff, Steven Lamar, claims that he first proposed the concept behind the headphones to Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (real name Andre Young) in early 2006 and continued working with the Beats founders until falling out with them later that year. This led to a settlement that Lamar claims stipulated he would receive royalties on all future releases in the Beats Studio line. Dre and Iovine argued, however, that they had fulfilled their end of the agreement by paying Lamar royalties for the original headphone model, which was released in 2008.

The jury decided that under the 2007 settlement, Lamar is indeed entitled to a percentage of the sales on all models of Studio headphones.

TechCrunch has sent requests for comment to Apple, Beats and Roam, the headphone company founded by Lamar.

Tim Cook speaks out at Fortune’s CEO Initiative on hot-button issues like immigration

Tim Cook at an Apple event in 2016.

At Fortune’s CEO Initiative event today, Tim Cook shared his opinion on a number of contentious issues, including immigration, political news and smartphone addiction. Here are some highlights from his conversation with Fortune executive editor Adam Lashinsky.

On companies taking a stance on public policy and other politically charged issues, including the Trump administration’s separations of migrant families at United States-Mexico border, which Cook recently condemned as “inhumane”:

Apple is about changing the world. It became clear to me some number of years ago that you don’t do that by staying quiet on things that matter. For us, that’s the driving issue,” he said.

Although there’s “no formula” dictating what Apple addresses publicly, Cook said the company considers “do we have a standing, do we have a right to talk about this issue?” For Apple, he said this means they “typically speak about education, privacy, about human rights, about immigration and the environment.”

When asked by Lashinsky why Apple has standing to speak about immigration and human rights, Cook replied that many immigrants work at Apple, including more than 300 people protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and “several thousand” employees on H1B visas.

“To me, too often in the case of immigration, people quickly get to numbers, but there are real people behind this, who have real feelings and they’re a core part of the United States, so we have significant standing there,” he added.

Cook also claimed that Apple doesn’t address politics directly as a company. “We stick to policy, how people are treated, what is immigration policy. We work with people from both parties or no party. Sometimes one party doesn’t like what we do, or the other one doesn’t, or both don’t.”

On Apple’s announcement this week that it will launch human curation in Apple News, starting with coverage of the U.S. mid-term elections. In addition to editors picking stories, the section will also feature articles exclusive to Apple News.

Cook said that “news was kind of going a little crazy” and drew parallels between its approach to Apple News and the App Store, which has had relatively stringent rules about what is allowed since its inception. “Apple has always stood for curation,” he said. “We’ve always believed quality, not quantity, is the most important thing.“

“We felt top stories should be selected by humans, not to be political at all and not to check the views of these, but to make sure you’re not keeping content that just strictly has the goal of enraging people,” he added. “We hope to bring this same kind of view to different subjects over a period of time and will pick from outlets from conservative to liberal to in-between, if there is such a thing anymore.”

On the recent announcement of more parental controls and “digital wellness” features for iOS 12 that are meant to help users manage their screen time.

Despite increasing media coverage about the overuse of devices and potential links to depression and a recent activist shareholder letter calling on Apple to research the impact of smartphones on children, Cook said the company’s actions weren’t “in response to a specific point that was made.”

“But I think it’s become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices, and we’ve tried to think through pretty deeply about how we can help that,” he added. “Honestly, we’ve never wanted people to overuse our products. We want people to be empowered from them and do things they couldn’t do otherwise, but if you spend all your time on your phone, then you are spending too much time.”

On how much longer he plans to be CEO of Apple. Cook has been in the position for nearly seven years, taking over in 2011 shortly before the death of Steve Jobs.

“it’s a privilege to be CEO. Hopefully I’ve got some good time left,” he said.