Decentralized identity management platform Magic launches from stealth with $4M

For developers looking to quickly build identity management into their platforms, the most readily available options don’t stray far from the internet’s biggest, most data-hungry platforms.

Magic, a small SF startup building a decentralized blockchain-based identity solution, wants to create a seamless experience that feels similar to login workflows from apps like Slack and Medium where users are sent a link to that they can click to immediately log-in. Magic’s SDK allows developers to craft similar experiences to Medium and Slack without building them from scratch, leveraging authentication via blockchain key pairs that allows users to securely log-in across devices.

“Our identity these days is mostly controlled by Facebook and Google, what’s cool about this identity solution is that it’s a decentralized identity,” Magic CEO Sean Su says.

The startup is launching out of stealth, rebranding from its previous company name Fortmatic,  and announcing that they’ve raised $4 million in a seed funding round led by Placeholder. A host of other investors participated in the company’s funding, including Lightspeed Ventures, SV Angel, Social Capital, Cherubic Ventures, Volt Capital, Refactor Capital, Unusual Ventures, Naval Ravikant, Guillermo Rauch, and Roham Gharegozlou.

Su has largely sought to minimize the blockchain aspect of the company’s tech in an attempt to keep the appeal more mass market, but Magic’s early customers are largely in the blockchain world, specifically Ethereum applications. The company is free for customers with less than 250 users, and past that subscription pricing scales from a $79/mo plan to custom pricing for full white-labeled enterprise roll-outs with custom integrations. Su says the Magic platform is SOC 2 compliant.

In the company’s security documentation, they note that any user keys completely bypass Magic servers and are stored encrypted on AWS’s Key Management Service, ensuring that Magic never sees private user keys. The company is currently building out their SDK to support authenticator apps and hardware-based authentication through UB keys.

“One big difference that we have compared with something like Medium, is if you’re trying to log into your laptop and click on the link on your phone, you’d be logged in on your phone and that’s not the ideal place to edit an article,” Su says. “But with our Magic link login you’re logged into the laptop and you can click your magic link from anywhere.”

Alongside the funding news, Magic announced partnerships with front-end developer platform Vercel, Cryptokitties-maker Dapper Labs and the Max Planck Society research institute.

Paperwork automation platform Anvil raises $5 million from Google’s Gradient Ventures

Remote work has changed the tools offices need for communicating asynchronously across meetings and chat, but not all collaboration takes place in neat little chat bubbles.

Anvil is a San Francisco startup that’s aiming to transform how businesses collaborate around the humble PDF. Anvil’s automation platform levels up Google Forms and allows customers to digitize tiresome PDFs through dynamic forms that unify processes customers might have typically needed to use several pieces of software to access previously. Users can leverage the platform to create, share, fill in, sign and download completed docs without picking up a pen.

Anvil announced today that it had raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by Google’s Gradient Ventures .

The startup is competing directly with rivals like DocuSign, a product that Anvil CEO Mang-Git Ng believes is “great for completing and executing a document,” but is “lacking when it comes to actually creating the document.” Anvil integrates directly with DocuSign for customers that have already integrated the service into their workflows, but Anvil is also replicating some of the service’s functionality as they look to build out an end-to-end solution for document automation.

Anvil is focusing early efforts on courting customers in the wealth and banking space. On the pricing side, they have both per-project and subscription plans, which start at $99 per month.

Anvil’s team

The startup recently tested their own abilities to get up-and-running quickly as they partnered with a bank to create an online portal for filling out applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Ng says the startup helped Sunrise Bank customers apply for $127 million worth of PPP loans. “It was a whirlwind experience for us. We pretty much went from first conversation to deploying with them in six days,” Ng told TechCrunch.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitization of paper processes, Ng says that the company has seen a bump in interest as more companies have gone remote and discovered new needs around making paperwork more collaborative and more digital-friendly, especially when it comes to areas like onboarding, compliance and internal applications.

“The overall trend that we’ve been seeing is that people in these industries are thinking about going more digital, but generally speaking, the people who are at the forefront of that tend to be in larger organizations where squeezing a little bit more operational efficiency will save a ton of money,” Ng says. “But as we’ve gone into lockdown, everybody has to figure out how to do things remotely and the solutions that help people do things remotely are definitely pushing to the forefront.”

Citi Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Financial Venture Studio and 122 West also participated in Anvil’s seed round.

Snapchat is no longer promoting Trump’s posts

Snap announced this morning that it will not be promoting content from President Trump’s Snapchat account in its Discover tab following statements from Trump last week on Twitter, which threatened that protestors could be met with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”

The move is notable for many reasons, but particularly interesting because social media platforms have tended to only discipline popular accounts when they’ve violated the rules on their own platform. Snapchat users will still be able to access content from Trump’s feed if they subscribe to it or search specifically for the account. At this point Snap is simply limiting his account to organic reach and stripping him from their curated feed.

“We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover,” a Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement.

Snapchat’s personalized Discover feed sources content from news publishers and accounts on the service but often skews more towards entertainment news compared to competing products like Twitter’s curated Moments threads, which focuses heavily on breaking news.

Earlier this week, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel shared a letter regarding the recent protests, noting that he was “heartbroken and enraged by the treatment of black people and people of color in America.” In the letter posted to Snap’s site, Spiegel also called for the establishment of a “diverse, non-partisan Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations.”

Snap’s decision here comes after Twitter hid one of Trump’s tweets regarding the Minneapolis protests on the basis of its violating Twitter rules for “glorifying violence.” Twitter had previously added fact checks to two of Trump’s tweets related to mail-in voting. Facebook came under fire internally this week after CEO Mark Zuckerberg declined to remove the same content that Twitter had on the basis of newsworthiness, a move that prompted some employees to stage a remote walk-out and pushed company leadership including Zuckerberg to host a company meeting on the topic.

Zoom’s paid usage skyrockets as remote work takes over

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, few companies seemed more poised to receive a usage bump than Zoom and its enterprise-grade video chat platform, but it turns out Zoom’s growth has outpaced those expectations.

In the company’s quarterly earnings release, Zoom delivered a beat that represented 169% year-over-year revenue growth, but they did so on the back of huge customer growth. The company detailed that they now had 265,400 customers with more than 10 users on their account, a number Zoom said represented a 354% surge. Zoom also saw a big spike in high-budget customers who had spent more than $100K on the platform in the past year, noting these customers had grown 90% since Q1 of last year.

One thing we didn’t get was an update on total daily active or monthly active users on the platform.

In April, the company garnered ire for offering up misleading figures claiming the service had 300 million daily active users. Zoom later corrected the error, noting that these were not DAUs and were merely daily active participants, a distinction which highlights that users in multiple meetings per day were likely counted multiple times inside this metric.

The company’s massive influx of enterprise users is hardly surprising as more companies have leaned on services like Zoom to ease their transition to remote work among shelter-in-place related office shutdowns.

“The COVID-19 crisis has driven higher demand for distributed, face-to-face interactions and collaboration using Zoom. Use cases have grown rapidly as people integrated Zoom into their work, learning, and personal lives,” Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan said in a statement accompanying the release.

Peloton’s fitness app finally lands on Apple TV

Since announcing in March that they were extending the free trial of their digital subscription from 30 to 90 days for a short time, Peloton has been rolling out more support for TV screens, adding Android TV back in April and announcing today that they’ve launched an official Apple TV app.

Shelter-in-place and the associated shutdowns of gyms across the country have led to a surge in sales of at-home gym equipment that have also benefitted Peloton. Peloton’s share price has been on a tear since shelter-in-place took hold, nearly doubling in value since early March.

Since then, the company has had to deal with unexpected adjustments like changes to how they deliver their at-home hardware safely, how they record exercise classes in a socially distant manner, but they’ve also had to expand to more platforms as they’ve seen usage shift.

Initially, dedicated TV apps didn’t make a ton of sense since users could already cast to their TVs from an iOS or Android device, but as Peloton has built out the audience of their digital-only subscription plan, the use case of people setting their yoga mat in front of their TV and firing up a class became less fringe.

The company’s digital-only subscription plan retails for $12.99 per month. The Apple TV app is available for download today.

 

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz is out

Magic Leap talked a big game, and few were more responsible for fostering a cult of hype and excitement around its vision of the future than the company’s founder and CEO Rony Abovitz. Today, the CEO announced that the company has indeed secured a new bout of funding, but that the company will be attempting to mount a major turnaround without him at the helm.

According to a memo sent to staff, first obtained by Business Insider, Abovitz will continue on with the company through a transition period but that the company has been “actively recruiting candidates” to replace him.

“We have closed significant new funding and have very positive momentum towards closing key strategic enterprise partnerships,” the staff memo reads. “As the Board and I planned the changes we made and what Magic Leap needs for this next focused phase, it became clear to us that a change in my role was a natural next step. I discussed this with the Board and we have agreed that now is the time to bring in a new CEO who can help us to commercialize our focused plan for spatial computing in enterprise.”

The announcement comes after the augmented reality startup announced substantial layoffs earlier this month and announced that it would be pivoting from developing consumer products to fully focusing on its enterprise business. It was reported earlier this month that Magic Leap had locked down an additional $350 million in funding which would help the startup avoid further layoffs.

The startup has raised billions of venture capital funding under Abovitz’s tenure, but the startup has also undergone plenty of hurdles as they attempted to outdo Apple, Microsoft and Facebook in the race to create a mainstream AR device. Abovitz always seemed to have a consumer focus for his company, so its unsurprising that the company’s board would look elsewhere as the company shifts focus to enterprise.

Instagram’s AR filters are getting more dynamic

Augmented reality filters on Instagram are picking up some new tricks with the latest update to Facebook’s Spark AR platform.

Spark AR has been making pretty consistent updates to the feature sets developers can play with in creating AR filters since it exited closed beta on Instagram last year. Today, Facebook added some new functionality to the platform on Instagram, allowing creators to build more complex filters to entice users with. Creators can now build filters that respond visually to music or allow users to apply effects to media from their camera roll. In addition to the new features, Facebook has also created AR Sticker templates that can allow creators to customize AR filters quickly.

The new AR Music feature allows developers to create filters that interact with music, be that tunes that are uploaded directly, selected from Instagram’s music selection tool or just audio that’s playing in the background. It’s a pretty logical step for Instagram, bringing equalizer-style visual effects into filters and pushing users to bring music and AR into their Stories simultaneously.

Bringing gallery selection tools to Instagram’s filters allow users to spin new AR effects on previously captured photos or video. With Media Library, one can easily grab an old photo or video and toss a filter on it, with Gallery Picker, users can transform a visual filter with media from their gallery, allowing for a level of customization that could promote more consistent usage of singular filters among users.

You can see what they look like in action on Instagram’s blog announcing the updates.

Facebook has talked a big game about augmented reality’s future across all of its platforms, but over the past several years the company has had a rough time making the camera a meaningful platform inside the Facebook app, leaving much of the development advances to Instagram, which has always had the advantage of a hefty reliance on both its in-app camera and visual filters. These new updates are iterative, but partially address one of the big underlying usability issues with AR filter effects: they often aren’t dynamic enough to encourage reuse. Bringing audio effects and greater customizability will allow developers to build filters that can hopefully have new life instilled in them again and again based on user creativity.

These new updates to Spark AR Studio are available today.

 

Walmart partners with fashion consignment marketplace thredUP

Walmart is continuing its foray into fashion e-commerce, announcing a strategic partnership with fashion resale marketplace thredUP to list a large number of the items on Walmart’s digital storefront.

With this partnership over 750,000 items from thredUP will be available on walmart.com/thredup, starting today.

Notably, only clothing items and shoes marked as “new” or “like new” will be listed, though accessories and handbags marked as “gently used” will also be available, Walmart says. The companies didn’t share details of the partnership’s revenue share model.

ThredUP’s marketplace, which bills itself as the web’s largest consignment and thrift store, allows people to buy and sell secondhand women’s and children’s apparel. Rather than simply connecting sellers with buyers, sellers send a bunch of items directly to thredUP which then inspects them and returns ones they don’t want and photographs and lists the items they do on its marketplace. When an item sells, thredUP handles shipping the item and paying out sellers.

This partnership brings Walmart access to sales of a new slew of fashion brands. The retailer has added over 1,000 fashion brands to its site over the past several years, the company notes. This isn’t thredUP’s first major partnership with an existing physical retailer, the company has previously partnered with both Macy’s and JCPenney on pilot programs of in-store rollouts of curated item selections.

One of the biggest benefits of the partnership will be the ability to score free shipping on orders over Walmart’s $35 threshold as well as the ability to  return items for free at Walmart stores.

ThredUP has raised over $305 million from investors including Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Irving Investors and Redpoint. The company shared that they had closed $175 million in funding  this past August. Last year, CEO James Reinhart told TechCrunch that the team had grown to 1,200 employees and was on track to process their 100 millionth item by year’s end.

Notion drops usage limit on its personal free tier

Notion, a popular note-taking and wiki-creation app, revamped their personal pricing plans today stripping many of the user limitations from the free tier, bringing it on par with the functionality offered by the $5 per month paid plan of yore.

The company’s previous free tier had a fairly low usage limit (1,000 “blocks,” which are Notion’s content units) that ultimately kept users from doing anything too robust without paying up. By completely removing the limit on the amount of text and data you’re able to log, Notion is ensuring that most paid users can get everything they need from a free account.

They’re not completely abandoning premium-tier personal accounts; in fact, all existing paid customers are being transitioned to “Personal Pro” accounts at the same price they were paying before. The new plan, among other features, allows for file uploads larger than 5MB, unlimited guest collaborators and, most interestingly, upcoming access to a long-awaited Notion API that the company says is “coming soon, for real.” In September, Notion announced they were making the app free for students and teachers; now the company is rolling out access to the Personal Pro plan to these users as well.

Users that were tying multiple accounts to a single free account to manage some small shared database will be automatically transitioned to a free trial of the company’s teams product. Once they hit the 1,000 block limit, they’ll have to upgrade to the teams product or figure out a way to make the guest collaboration workflow on the free personal tier meet their needs.

Last month, Notion shared they had closed a new round of funding at a staggering $2 billion valuation. It certainly seems they’ve determined their future revenues will rely on expanding their teams product rather than monetizing individual users quite as aggressively. Like many workplace tools companies, Notion has relied somewhat on bottom-up scaling, so it’s likely they saw the opportunity of getting their platform in more users’ personal workflows and transitioning some of them to their teams products as a worthwhile long-term bet.

Oculus surpasses $100 million in Quest content sales

Despite a handful of devices and years of sales, Facebook has never shared unit sales of any of their VR headsets.

Today, Oculus released a new sales figure as the company reaches the 1 year anniversary of the release of the Quest headset. We didn’t get unit sales but the company did share that they’ve sold $100 million worth of Quest content in the device’s first year — a number that indicates that while the platform is still nascent, a handful of developers are definitely making it work for them.

Of that $100 million, Facebook says 20 titles have pulled in at least $1 million each with 10 of those eclipsing $2 million in sales. Just this past October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had shared that Oculus had surpassed $100 million worth of content across all devices in its store, so this announcement seems to showcase that Quest titles are selling much faster than content for the company’s PC-based headsets.

Oculus has been struggling to keep supply chains open over the past several months in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — most of their headsets, like the Quest, have been sold out for most of 2020.

There are signs of growth though it’s clear the Quest is still a niche product. Facebook detailed on its most recent earnings call that the 80% year-over-year quarterly growth of its quarterly “Other” revenue [$297 million] was “driven primarily by Oculus products.”  Zuckerberg commented on sales of the company’s flagship VR device, “Quest has surpassed our expectations. I wish we could make more of them faster.”

Over the past year, Oculus has had good luck in pushing developers to downscale titles optimized for PC-based headsets to the Quest and many of the platforms winners have been titles that originally launched on Rift several years ago like Superhot VR.

Oculus has missed out on a small handful of hits that have landed on Steam’s VR storefront instead. The most notable of which was Valve’s recent launch of the heavily-hyped VR title Half Life: Alyx on its own Steam VR store. PlayTracker estimates that Valve has sold upwards of 650,000 copies, a number which could push that title’s revenue near $40 million. The title was compatible with the PC-powered Oculus Rift S, but is not optimized to run on the standalone Quest.

Oculus has recently been rumored to be working on a lighter, smaller version of its Quest headset which it had hoped to launch in late 2020, though that timeline may be pushed back by COVID-19.