EBay, Stripe and Mastercard drop out of Facebook’s Libra Association

Oof — a week after PayPal announced plans to part ways with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project and the related association of the same name, three more names are reportedly breaking away: eBay, Stripe and Mastercard. (Update: and now Visa!)

In a comment to TechCrunch, a Stripe spokesperson leaves the door open for them to potentially work with Libra in the future — but not right now:

“Stripe is supportive of projects that aim to make online commerce more accessible for people around the world. Libra has this potential. We will follow its progress closely and remain open to working with the Libra Association at a later stage.”

Word of eBay’s exit comes via Reuters, which quotes an eBay spokesperson as saying:

“We highly respect the vision of the Libra Association; however, eBay has made the decision to not move forward as a founding member.”

Mastercard’s looming departure, meanwhile, just broke in the WSJ.

This is a fairly massive hit for the project, with three flagship partners all bailing simultaneously. It all happens just days after reports that regulatory pressure behind the scenes was causing a number of members to reconsider their support.

Update: Visa has now backed out as well, citing regulatory concerns directly:

Visa has decided not to join the Libra Association at this time. We will continue to evaluate and our ultimate decision will be determined by a number of factors, including the Association’s ability to fully satisfy all requisite regulatory expectations.

Story developing..

Steam will soon let you play local-only multiplayer games with far off friends

 

Co-op video games are wonderful.

Alas, it’s not always possible to get everyone in front of the same TV — and not all co-op games have online play, so playing across the Internet is out.

With that in mind, Valve has been working on something it calls “Remote Play Together” that it’s planning on rolling into its Steam game launcher later this month. By more or less tricking the game into thinking all players are in the same room, it’ll let you play generally-local-only multiplayer games with your friends remotely.

Valve published a note, first noticed by PCGamer, about the upcoming feature on its developers-only Steamworks site. The note quickly made its way to the Unity developer forums.

“Your local multiplayer games will soon be improved with automatic support for Remote Play Together on Steam,” it reads. “All local multiplayer, local co-op, and split-screen games will be automatically included in the Remote Play Together beta, which we plan to launch the week of October 21.”

The pending launch was later confirmed by Valve’s Alden Kroll:

So how does it work? If you’ve ever used PS4’s remote play (which lets you push PS4 games to your smartphone) or cast a game from your PC to an Nvidia SHIELD, it’s a bit like that… just tweaked for multiplayer. One player hosts the game on their computer; Steam sends a stream of the visuals to everyone else, capturing controller/keyboard input and sending it back to player one. As far as the game knows, everyone is sitting around the same screen.

It’s important to note, of course, that some games will almost certainly fare better than others here. While streaming tech is only getting better, it inherently introduces latency — and in plenty of games, latency kills. Hopefully Valve makes it clear to players that this is all pretty unofficial; if a game isn’t playable because of latency or anything else remote play brings into the mix, it’s not really the developer’s fault. Valve says developers can opt out of the beta feature if they see fit.

Valve says Remote Play Together will officially support up to 4 players in one game, and notes that the experience will only be as good as the connections of everyone involved.

Avalow wants to be your gardening coach

What’s the opposite of a green thumb?

Whatever it is, I have that. My house and yard are full of succulents not because they’re trendy, but because anything else I try to plant dies within a month. When I turn to Google to figure out why my zucchini plant randomly turned white and fell over (did I over water it? Under water it? Plant it on the wrong side of my house? Look at it the wrong way too many times?), I fall into a rabbit hole of forum posts with a million different answers, get overwhelmed, and go back to buying my zucchini from the store like a chump.

Avalow, a company presenting in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield today, wants to help would-be gardeners like myself with a solution that’s 50% hardware and 50% online coaching.

Unlike most of the hardware that hits the stage at Disrupt, you don’t plug Avalon’s hardware into anything. There’s no Bluetooth, WiFi, batteries, or robotic arms involved.

Instead, they’ve built a self-watering, sub-irrigation-based, raised planter bed. You fill a water reservoir about once a week, and your plants pull up water through the soil by way of capillary action. By letting the plants pull up just the water they need, the company says their planter requires about 30x less water than top-down gardening might.

Their planter costs $400, which might seem a bit wild to anyone who’s used to growing things at the cost of digging a hole in the ground. For comparison, a basic, all-wood raised planter box of similar dimensions (without the self-watering reservoir) would cost you $50-$150 from a big box store. Avalow’s bed is built to last — the company says it should hold up for at least 25 years, though some parts like the self-watering system’s wicks should be replaced every 5 years or so. It’s also insulated to keep your plant’s roots safe through weather hot and cold.

The company’s founders tell me they’ve shipped about 400 units so far during its pre-launch pilot program.

avalow diagram

But there’s a bit more to Avalow than a fancy planter. That feeling of disappointment that comes when you go out to check your plants and find that, after 5 weeks of careful watering and care, your little plant friend has suddenly dropped dead? They want to help you avoid it — and if something does go wrong, help you figure out exactly what happened.

To do this, Avalow is also selling a gardening coaching service. At around $120 per season (or roughly $33 per month if bought annually), their experts will help you figure out what you should grow (based on where you are, the local climates, and your personal goals), when to harvest, etc. When your plant does something funky — be it mystery spots on the leaves, sudden plant death, or anything in between — you can chat with your gardening coach for advice, sending them pictures that might help them figure out what’s going on. They’ll send you the soil and seedlings to get started, plus whatever soil amendments they recommend to make things grow best from season to season. It’s like having a really, really smart gardener friend on speed dial, except they don’t get annoyed when you call them about your zucchini for the seventh time.

Avalow partners with expert gardeners and hires them as coaches. Their coaching team currently includes plant biologists from UC Berkeley, orchard managers, and master certified gardeners. With decades of experience, they’re able to adapt their advice across regions and climates.

As someone who finds himself thinking “I should totally grow some vegetables!” once a year only to end up disappointed and hungry… I totally get this. Having your plant die randomly six weeks into the process sucks and is super demotivating. Having someone who can say “Oh! That’s not your fault, you just need more [whatever] in the soil!” would be real nice. I don’t know that I’d sign up for it season after season, but I can definitely see myself using it to get things going (/growing.)

Rune raises $2M to help you find new friends in mobile games, starting with Brawl Stars

Multiplayer games are more fun when you get to play with the same crew regularly. Playing with the same people means better cooperation, deeper strategies, and, if all goes well, more wins.

But what if none of your friends play the game you want to play?

Rune, a company out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 class, wants to use AI to help you find the right people to play with, connecting you via voice chat. And they’ve just closed a $2M seed round to get it done.

The round was led by the gaming-focused firm Makers Fund, and backed by byFounders, E14 Fund, VentureSouq, and Gmail creator Paul Buchheit.

The first game they’re supporting is Brawl Stars, the popular free-to-play mobile game built by Clash of Clans creator Supercell. It’s a pretty perfect game for something like this — it’s a game where strategic teams have a solid advantage, but where building such a team from scratch can be tough. Brawl Stars will automatically match you with teammates if you’re playing alone, but in-game communication is limited and random players tend to only hang around for a game or two.

brawl stars

Supercell’s Brawl Stars

When you first sign up, Rune asks you a handful of questions to start tuning their matchmaking algorithm. Which language(s) do you speak? How much Brawl Stars have you played (how many “trophies” have you earned?) What sort of gameplay are you looking for right now — are you just messing around, or are you looking for nothing but wins? Push a button, and the matchmaking system starts its search.

The more you play, the better the algorithm is tuned. If you seem to have longer play sessions with certain players, for example, it can prioritize matchmaking you with players their algorithms see as similar. (For the curious: while they will tune the matchmaking algorithms based on metadata like who you’re chatting with and for how long, Rune co-founder Sanjay Guruprasad tells me that they don’t store or analyze the actual voice communication in any way.)

The company says that players have collectively spent around 50,000 hours chatting through the app since launching in March of 2019.

Rune’s matchmaking and voice chat systems are currently limited to two players. Since Brawl Stars (and plenty of other Battle Royale/arena style games) have game modes that support up to three players per team, Sanjay tells me that 3-player matchmaking and voice chat are “both in the pipeline and will come out soon.”

Rune plans to support other games beyond Brawl Stars in the future — in fact, driving traffic to other games is part of their plans to monetize the free app. Once you’ve befriended someone, you’re free to use Rune for voice chat with whatever game you want; it just runs in the background, so what you’re playing doesn’t matter too much.

Rune is available for free on iOS here, and on Android here.

Cloosiv raises $1M to bring mobile ordering to every coffee shop

 

A few months back we took a look at Cloosiv, a company aiming to provide smaller coffee shops a mobile ordering solution that can compete with those of the mega coffee chains.

Today the Cloosiv team is announcing that they’ve raised a $1M seed round.

Most coffee shops want to be able to offer mobile ordering — but apps are tough to build and maintain, and users don’t want to install an app for a coffee shop they might only visit once or twice.

Instead, Cloosiv’s approach is to build one big network of coffee shops all under the same app roof. Open up Cloosiv, and up pops a list of nearby, Cloosiv-enabled shops. Tap into any of the shops, and you’ll get a mobile ordering experience not unlike what you’ll find at the huge name competitors — with things like order history, item customization, and tipping all incorporated. Cloosiv charges merchants a percentage off each order, with the percentage decreasing as order volume goes up.

cloosiv ordering

Cloosiv founder Tim Griffin tells me that investors in the round include Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham, Roger Dickey (Founder and former CEO of Gigster), Avichal Garg (former Facebook Director of Product Management), Ken Deeter, Brad Powers (CTO of Passport), and John Kim (co-founder of the chat API company SendBird).

Cloosiv currently has around 315 locations using the platform, and they’re expecting to pass 500 by the end of this year.

With mobile ordering making up at least 13% of Starbucks’ transactions in the US last year, this space is heating up. A competing platform out of Seattle, Joe Coffee, announced just a few months back that it had raised $750k with plans to expand its network to other major cities.

While Cloosiv merchants currently receive orders through the standalone Cloosiv app, the next step for the company is integrating orders into the point-of-sales apps many merchants are already using — like Clover, Micros, and Square. Griffin tells me a partnership with Square is already in the works, with integration into the Square point-of-sales app “close.”

cloosiv merchant

Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.

Logitech acquires popular game streaming tool Streamlabs for around $89M

 

If you’re into livestreaming video games, you’ve probably heard of Streamlabs. They make a popular, free software tool for overlaying content on top of whatever game you’re playing, allowing streamers to pop everything from sponsorship logos to donation alerts on top of their video.

Logitech has acquired the company for roughly $89M, plus $29M in bonus payments if the team can hit “significant revenue growth targets”.

Streamlabs says that they have about 1.6M streamers using their tool each month, with 161 million hours streamed through it since it launched in beta in January of 2018. They also have a mobile streaming app, which the company says has around 480k users.

The acquisition makes a good amount of sense. Logitech has been pushing into the space for some time now, with purpose built hardware for gamers and streamers (like, say, webcams that auto-remove everything behind you for a greenscreen-style overlay effect.) Now they’ve got the software to push people to after their hardware is all setup, and it’s already a proven solution.

In a post announcing the acquisition, Streamlabs founder Ali Moiz says that their tools will remain free, and they’ll continue to support any platform they already support today (so Windows, Android, and iOS.)

Here are the 22 companies from Alchemist Accelerator’s Demo Day XXII

Alchemist Accelerator, a startup incubator which focuses on enterprise companies, held a demo day yesterday for its 22nd batch.

Each company got 5 minutes to tell a theater full of investors who they are, what they’re building, and why they might be the best to build it. We saw companies working on everything from industrial robotic vacuums, to platforms for healthcare facilities, to AI-driven money lending platforms.

Couldn’t be in the room, but want to know which companies debuted? Here’s my notes on all twenty two teams, in the order in which the presented:

1) Cresance: Uses AI to cut cloud operating costs, using their algorithms to detect wastage. Companies are spending $200B on the cloud in 2019; Cresance estimates that this will go up to $500B in 3-5 years.

bridgefy

2) Bridgefy: Building mobile apps that continue to work when the user’s own internet connection is unavailable. Their framework allows apps to fall back to a Bluetooth mesh network made up of other nearby users. Founder Jorge Rios says they’ve signed over 12,700 license agreements in four months, with Bridgefy’s own messaging app seeing 140,000 downloads in four weeks (largely driven by a surge in users during the Hong Kong protests.) Was introduced to the stage by Twitter co-founder and Bridgefy investor Biz Stone.

3) Synapbox: Helps brands determine how their image/video content will perform, and tells them what they can do to improve performance. Founder Cristina De la Peña says the company is projecting an ARR of over $1 million, with the company making $60k in August and $85k in September.

4) Teleon Health: A software platform for senior care facilities. Their first product is a HIPAA-compliant staff communication platform that allows staffers to easily reach each other, access and discuss patient data, and send scheduling updates.

5) Particle: AI insights for commodity markets (like cobalt, or platinum), constantly scanning “over one million highly relevant data points each day” for things like weather disasters, local conflicts, etc. $1M in revenue in 2019, and predicts that they’ll triple that in 2020.

pristem

6) Pristēm: Steam cleaning in a portable box. Meant to be a dry cleaning alternative for offices, hotels, apartments, etc. Hardware license + monthly subscription. The company’s co-founder says they have letters of intent from Marriot, Hyatt, and other hotel chains. Company name is pronounced like “Pristine” mashed up with the word “steam”.

7) EveraLabs: An at-home, mail-in kit which the company says allows for stem cell collection from urine. The idea would be to collect stem cells when you’re young for use in case of health issues later.

8) testRigor: Produces autonomous “human-level” testing for software in development. Currently seeing a $200k ARR, forecasting $300k in the next 30 days. Co-founder Artem Golubev says testRigor is already talking with 26 companies, including GrubHub, stockX, and Genentech.

9) Spectrum CannaLabs: Faster, accurate, and dedicated testing for legal cannabis products. In many states, all legal cannabis products must be tested for things like residual pesticides, funguses, heavy metals, and foreign materials prior to distribution— but Spectrum says the labs are overrun.

10) Gritwell: A platform meant to connect practitioners like dietitians, nutritionists, and naturopaths to patients with chronic health conditions. The company is initially focusing on patients with Lupus, later expanding to other autoimmune diseases.

11) Green Light Labs: A marketing platform meant to convince users to switch to electric vehicles. Their MyGreenCar and MyFleetBuy apps analyze your trips while you drive, calculating how much different cars might cost you (or your company) to run. Currently has $1.3M in contracted revenue.

12) Friendly Robots: Autonomous vacuums for the cleaning industry — think Roomba, but bigger, built for large/complicated commercial spaces, and with dramatically improved autonomy. CEO Xiao Xiao previously worked at Apple, designing and building things like the odometry/motion sensing algorithms for the Apple Watch.

13) Bludot: A cloud-based platform for helping city governments oversee and analyze the growth of its local businesses, tying into data like licensing/permitting and providing a place for the city to communicate with the owners. They’ve currently completed a pilot program with one mid-size city.

14) Coolso: A muscle-sensing, wrist-worn device for controlling devices with gestures. Initially focused on industrial use cases. Co-founder Jack Wu says their solution is cheaper to build but more stable than alternative approaches like Thalmic Labs’ Myo or Leap Motion.

15) Crelytics: A software platform for lenders with AI-driven risk assessment and fraud detection, and a customizable decision engine. Currently seeing $100k+ in ARR.

16) LEAD: A platform meant to help companies “develop an amazing workplace culture” by matching employees based on interests and professional backgrounds and getting them together every 1-4 weeks for coffee, lunch, or virtual check-ins. Ties into existing software like Slack and Google Suite.

celly

17) Celly.ai: AI-powered microscopy diagnosis. Strap an iPhone to a microscope’s lens with their optical adapter, and Celly’s neural networks can help analyze blood smears, starting with blood cell counts.

18) Blushup: Marketplace and appointment booking solution for beauty retailers (like L’oreal/Lancome). Company founder Monique Salvador says only 37% of beauty retailers currently use online booking solutions.

19) Modality.ai: Analyzes video of a user (recorded while they interact with an on-screen avatar) for facial movements and speech patterns to evaluate changes in neurological diseases. Intended to make clinical drug trials for these conditions more efficient thanks to standardized/objective data.

20) Chowmill: Faster, easier meal ordering for enterprises for things like group meetings and events. Enter info like dietary preferences, favorite cuisines, and budget, and Chowmill automates much of the remaining process away. Founded Mubeen Arbab says the company is currently seeing gross margins of roughly 40%. In January they saw 25k in revenue; by August, that was up to $118k.

21) Yaydoo: Procurement automation for companies, making things like negotiation and recurring orders more efficient. Projecting a $1.2M ARR

22) SmartBins: Smart dispensers for bulk products at the grocery store. Works with existing bulk bins. The customer uses the bulk bin as normal, and SmartBin’s system automatically calculates how much product was pulled from the bin and has a label/tag printed for them at a nearby kiosk. Company co-founder David Conway say they’ve already got a sale agreement with the company that makes 100% of the bulk bin fixtures on the market. Brands and retailers get a dashboard with item-by-item purchasing analytics.

Alchemist Accelerator is launching a European program

Enterprise-focused startup accelerator Alchemist is expanding its footprint this morning with the launch of an initiative focused on European startups.

While Alchemist was happy to accept European companies into their US program before — they tell me they’ve had about 25 European startups go through Alchemist already — it hasn’t been a focus.

With the aptly named Alchemist Europe, Alchemist will be opening up an office in Munich and bringing in its first Europe-focused cohort. Alchemist expects this first class of companies to debut with its first Europe Demo Day sometime in early 2020.

Like Alchemist US, Alchemist Europe will focus on enterprise companies and teams that make their money from corporations. More specifically, Alchemist says in its announcement of the program that the European base will specialize in “Industry 4.0, robotics, mobility, power generation and distribution, industrial artificial intelligence and virtual reality”

Ethan Prater, formerly the VP of Product for Castlight Health, will be heading up the Europe division as its Managing Director.

So why expand now? Alchemist US managing director Ravi Belani tells me its because they’ve now built out their network and internal software to sufficiently support European companies “with the full experience of the US program, remotely.”

And it helps that they’ve found a pretty significant partner in the region. Alchemist is building out this European initiative in a partnership with Next47 — the VC/investing arm of European mega co. Siemens, which also happens to be headquartered in Munich.

I’m told Next47 has committed $2.5 million to Alchemist as part of the deal, and has reserved an additional $2.5 million for potential further investment.

Alchemist Accelerator in the US, meanwhile, is just about to wrap up its latest class. It’ll host its 22nd demo day today, with 23 companies launching in all. They’ll have a livestream of the event here, with presentations beginning at 3 PM Pacific.

Wing will test drone delivery in the US with Walgreens and FedEx

Wing, the drone delivery company that started its life within the Google X lab before spinning out into its own thing under the Alphabet umbrella, is prepping for takeoff.

The company announced this morning that it’s launching a test program in Virginia with Walgreens, FedEx and local retailer Sugar Magnolia.

As part of the program, Wing will be able to deliver kids’ snacks (goldfish, water, gummy bears and yogurt were mentioned as examples) and over-the-counter meds (like Tylenol or cough drops) from Walgreens, select packages from FedEx Express and sweets and stationary from Sugar Magnolia.

Alas, unless you’re one of the roughly 22,000 people in Christiansburg, Va. and happen to be in a neighborhood they’ve deemed eligible, you’re not going to be able to check it out just yet. Wing says the pilot program is limited to the small Montgomery County town for now as they work with locals to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The company declined to give any sort of timeline for when the program might expand to other parts of the U.S.

So how does it work?

When the customer places an order, one of Wing’s delivery drones heads for a pickup location. As Wing’s drones are only allowed to takeoff or land in specific locations, pickups and deliveries are handled via a tether, with the drone itself hovering about 20 feet in the air. Once at the pickup location, a tether is lowered and a human operator hooks the package onto the line. The drone winches the package into the air, secures it, and heads for its destination.

Once in flight, Wing says its drone cruises at about 60-70mph, with a range of about six miles each way. Once the drone arrives at the delivery location, the same tether line lowers the package. When the drone detects that the package has reached the ground, the package is released and the drone heads back home. All in all, Wing estimates they can make a delivery within about 10 minutes of a customer finalizing their order.

And if the tether gets stuck on something, or someone tries to grab it and tug it down? The drone is designed to detect the resistance and release the tether, dropping the line to the ground.

wing fedex

Wing says its drone can currently handle a payload of about 3 lbs, with the drone itself weighing roughly 10 lbs.

Wing won’t charge pilot program customers for delivery; customers will pay the store’s sticker price, and delivery during this test phase will be free.

Wing says the first deliveries should start next month.