Your Sonos system will stop receiving updates if you have an old device

Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos has announced that the company is going to drop support for some of its products. Sonos stopped selling these devices a few years ago. While nothing lasts forever, dropping support is going to have a lot of implications and shows once again that the connected home isn’t as future-proof as expected.

Sonos points out that 92% of the products that it has ever sold are still in use today. It means that some people are still happily using old Sonos devices even though production has stopped since then.

“However, we’ve now come to a point where some of the oldest products have been stretched to their technical limits in terms of memory and processing power,” the company writes.

If you use a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, Sonos is basically going to make your Sonos experience worse across the board.

The company is going to stop shipping updates to those devices. If Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

But Sonos has decided that your entire ecosystem of Sonos devices is going to stop receiving updates so that all your devices are on the same firmware version. For instance, if you just bought a Sonos One but you’re still using an old Sonos Play:5, your Sonos One isn’t going to receive updates either.

The company says that you can get a discount if you replace your old device. But it will still cost you some money. It’s also ironic as the company promises a seamless music experience but then requires you to swap out speakers altogether.

Sonos should use this opportunity to rethink its product lineup. Planned obsolescence due to end-of-life is a great business model for sure. But it’s time to think about ways to keep your speakers for 10, 20 or even 30 years.

People in the 1980s would buy beautiful speakers and keep them for decades. Sure, they’d have to add a CD player in their system at some point. But modularity is a great feature.

Sonos should add a computing card slot to its devices. As systems on a chip, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth get faster and more efficient, users should be able to swap out the computing card for a new one without replacing the speaker altogether.

That would be a more environmental-friendly process than bricking old devices with their questionable recycle mode.

Challenger business bank Qonto raises $115 million round led by Tencent and DST Global

French startup Qonto has raised a $115 million Series C funding round led by Tencent and DST Global. Today’s news comes a few days after another French fintech startup Lydia raised some money from Tencent.

Existing investors Valar and Alven are also participating in today’s funding round. TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Adyen CFO Ingo Uytdehaage are also joining the round. Qonto says that it represents the largest funding round for a French fintech company.

Qonto is a challenger bank, or a neobank, but for B2B use cases. Instead of attracting millions of customers like N26 or Monzo, Qonto is serving small and medium companies as well as freelancers in Europe.

According to the startup, business banking in Europe is broken. The company thinks it can provide a much better user experience with an online- and mobile-first product.

The company has managed to attract 65,000 companies over the past two years and a half. The product is currently live in France, Italy, Spain and Germany. In 2019 alone, Qonto has managed €10 billion in transaction volume.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to double down on its existing markets, develop new features that make the platform works better in each country based on local needs and hire more people. The team should grow from 200 to 300 employees within a year.

Qonto obtained a payment institution license in June 2018 and has developed its own core banking infrastructure. Around 50% of the company’s user base is currently using Qonto’s own core banking system. Others are still relying on a third-party partner.

Moving from one back end to another requires some input from customers, which explains why there are still some customers using the legacy infrastructure. Over the coming months, Qonto plans to launch new payment features that should convince more users to switch to Qonto’s back end.

Even more important, Qonto plans to obtain a credit institution license, which could open up a ton of possibilities when it comes to features and revenue streams. The company says that it should have its new license by the end of the year.

For instance, you could imagine being able to get a credit card, apply for an overdraft and get a small loan with Qonto.

Compared to traditional banks, Qonto lets you open a bank account more easily. After signing up, Qonto offers a modern interface with your activity. You can export your transactions in no time, manage your expenses and get real-time notifications. Qonto also integrates with popular accounting tools.

When it comes to payment methods, Qonto gives you a French IBAN as well as debit cards. You can order physical or virtual cards whenever you want, customize limits and freeze a card. Qonto also supports direct debit and checks. Like many software-as-a-service products, you can also manage multiple user accounts and customize permission levels.

Maze raises $2 million and adds Figma support to enable user testing at scale

Maze wants to reinvent usability tests by letting you turn design prototypes into tests in just a few clicks. It could become the equivalent of a developing test suite for developers, but this time for designers — it could be something that you run before shipping an update to make sure everything works fine. The startup just raised a $2 million funding round and launched a couple of new features.

Since I first covered the company, Maze founders Jonathan Widawski and Thomas Mary still have the same vision. The company wants to empower designers and turn them into user testing experts. With Maze, you can turn your InVision, Marvel or Sketch projects into a browser-based user test.

You can then share a link with a group of users to get actionable insights on your upcoming design changes. Everything works in a web browser on both desktop and mobile.

After running a testing campaign, you get a detailed report with a success rate (how many people tapped on all the right buttons to achieve something in your app), where your users drop off, polling results and more.

That product has been working well, attracting 20,000 users working for IBM, Greenpeace, Accenture, BMW and more.

Now, Maze also supports Figma projects. Given the hype behind Figma, adding this feature is important to stay relevant. It also opens up a new market for Maze — companies using Figma as their main design tool.

Maze has also added a feature that should be particularly useful for companies that are just starting with user testing. The startup can put together a testers panel for you.

This is completely optional and you can just stick with your monthly software-as-a-service plan and work with your own panel. But it provides a good end-to-end experience if you want to centralize all your user testing needs under one roof.

Maze has also raised a $2 million funding round. Amplify Partners is leading the round with existing investors Seedcamp and Partech also participating. Business angles in this round also include Eric Wittman, the former Director of Operations at Adobe and COO at Figma, Peter Skomoroch, the former Head of AI Automation & Data Products at Workday, and Datadog CEO Olivier Pomel.

France improves stock options policies for startup employees

A couple of weeks ago, France’s digital minister Cédric O announced some changes when it comes to stock options in France. President Emmanuel Macron is going to talk about the new policy today ahead of the World Economic Forum.

While I don’t want to be too technical, here’s a quick overview of the changes.

First, the price of stock options (also known as BSPCE in France) won’t be based on the same VC-determined valuation. Let’s take an example — a VC fund invests in a Series A round, valuing the company at €12 million.

If you join the company after, you can get stock options based on a lower valuation, which increases the chances of higher returns. Going forward, there will be a different valuation for employees getting stock options.

Second, if you work for a foreign startup but you’re based in France, you couldn’t receive stock options. For instance, if you’re a Citymapper employee — a startup that is headquartered in London — based out of the Paris office, you could forget about stock options. Employees based in France can now receive stock options even if the company isn’t incorporated in France.

Third, the French Tech Visa now also works for foreign companies with an office in Paris. If you work for Berlin-based N26 and you want to hire a great Brazilian data scientist in your Paris office, you can now go through the fast-track visa process for startup employees.

Last year, VC firm Index Ventures coordinated an effort to overhaul stock option policies across Europe by lobbying policymakers. Hundreds of tech CEOs have signed the ‘Not Optional’ letter since then.

According to Index Ventures, Germany, Spain and Belgium are the lowest-ranked European countries when it comes to the regulatory framework around stock options.

Harvestr gathers user feedback in one place

Meet Harvestr, a software-as-a-service startup that wants to help product managers centralize customer feedback from various places. Product managers can then prioritize outstanding issues and feature requests. Finally, the platform helps you get back to your customers once changes have been implemented.

The company just raised a $650,000 funding round led by Bpifrance, with various business angels also participating, such as 360Learning co-founders Nicolas Hernandez and Guillaume Alary, as well as Station F director Roxanne Varza through the Atomico Angel Programme.

Harvestr integrates directly with Zendesk, Intercom, Salesforce, Freshdesk, Slack and Zapier. For instance, if a user opens a ticket on Zendesk and another user interacts with your support team through an Intercom chat widget, everything ends up in Harvestr.

Once you have everything in the system, Harvestr helps you prioritize tasks that seem more urgent or that are going to have a bigger impact.

When you start working on a feature or when you’re about to ship it, you can contact your users who originally reached out to talk to you about it.

Eventually, Harvestr should help you build a strong community of power users around your product. And there are many advantages in pursuing this strategy.

First, you reward your users by keeping them in the loop. It should lead to higher customer satisfaction and lower churn. Your most engaged customers could also become your best ambassadors to spread the word around.

Harvestr costs $49 per month for five seats and $99 per month for 20 seats. People working for 360Learning, HomeExchange, Dailymotion and other companies are currently using it.

Matera raises $11.2 million to let you handle residential property management yourself

Matera, the French startup formerly known as illiCopro, is raising a $11.2 million funding round (€10 million). The company has been building a SaaS platform to give you all the tools you need to handle property management for your residential building.

Index Ventures is leading the round with existing investor Samaipata also participating. Business angels, such as Bertrand Jelensperger, Paulin Dementhon and Marc-David Choukroun are also participating.

In France, there are two ways to handle property management of residential buildings. Co-owners of the hallways, elevator and common space of the building can either hire a company to do it and handle all the pesky tasks, or you can do it yourself.

Matera wants to target the second category — co-owners who want to manage their building themselves. Other startups, such as Bellman, have chosen a different approach. Matera has built a web-based platform to view information, communicate with other co-owners and make sure everything is up-to-date.

Everybody has their own account and can access the platform. Co-owners meet regularly to handle outstanding issues. Matera centralizes all topics, helps you write a report and checks that it complies with legal requirements.

Matera then handles everything that involves money. You can collect money from co-owners every month and check how your money is spent. The platform tries to do the heavy lifting when it comes to accounting.

Finally, Matera helps you manage contracts with partners — elevator maintenance, heating maintenance, cleaning company, water, electricity, insurance, taking care of the garden, etc. You get an address book or your partners and the company is working on a way to help you switch to another partner from the platform.

If there’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing yourself, Matera can help you work with legal, accounting, insurance and construction experts.

So far, Matera has managed to attract 1,000 residential buildings representing 25,000 users. The company plans to expand to other European countries in the future, starting with Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany. With today’s funding round, the company plans to hire 100 persons.

Mobile payment app Lydia raises $45 million round led by Tencent

French startup Lydia is raising a $45 million Series B round (€40 million). Tencent is leading the round with existing investors CNP Assurances, XAnge and New Alpha also participating.

If you live in France, chances are you already know Lydia quite well. The company has become a ubiquitous mobile payment app, especially for people under 30 years old. Think about it as a sort of Square Cash or Venmo, but for France.

“At first, we wanted to raise less but we ended up raising more,” Lydia co-founder and CEO Cyril Chiche told me in a phone interview.

The company has managed to attract 3 million users in France. More impressive, 25% of French people between 18 and 30 years old have a Lydia account — and 5,000 people sign up every day. Lydia currently has 90 employees.

More recently, the company has expanded beyond peer-to-peer payment. First, the company wants to help you manage your money in many different ways with an important value — everything should happen in real time.

You can create multiple Lydia accounts to put some money aside or use money in that sub-account for a specific purpose. That feature alone turns the app into a versatile money management app.

For instance, you can associate a Lydia payment card with a Lydia account and a virtual card with another Lydia account — that virtual card works with Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and more. You can change those settings in real time.

You can share accounts with other Lydia users. And shared accounts are truly shared — everyone can top up and withdraw money from that account. You can spend directly from that account or withdraw money to another account.

You can also turn any Lydia account into a money pot account. In just a few taps, you can generate a link and share it with your friends so that they can add money using their regular payment card or a Lydia account.

More recently, the company has introduced “the market”, a marketplace of other financial products. From the Lydia app, you can borrow up to €1,000 in just a few seconds. You can also insure your phone and other mobile devices. You can get some free credit when you open a bank account, insure your home with Luko, switch to another electricity and gas provider, compare mobile phone and internet providers and more.

And that strategy is going to be key in the future. “We have an ambitious goal, which is turning Lydia into a mobile financial service app,” Chiche said.

He also pointed out that the company that has been the most successful when it comes to creating a mobile marketplace of financial products is Tencent with WeChat.

“Tencent is also the number one player in the video game industry, and there’s no industry with as much user engagement,” Chiche said. Tencent acquired Supercell, bought 40% of Epic Games, acquired Riot Games (League of Legends), invested in Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Discord, etc. Lydia hopes that it can learn from Tencent on the user engagement front.

Compared to many fintech startups, Lydia doesn’t want to replace banks altogether — the company says it wants to build a meta-banking app. Peer-to-peer payments represent the top of the funnel and a great user acquisition strategy thanks to networking effects.

You can then connect your Lydia account with your bank account and your debit card. This way, you can send money back and forth between your Lydia accounts and your bank account. As a user, that strategy slowly pays off over time. After a while, you end up spending money directly from your Lydia account and relying more heavily on Lydia’s native payment features, with your bank account acting as a money back end.

At the bottom of the funnel, Lydia hopes that it can turn active Lydia users into paid customers with a handful of in-house and third-party financial products. In other words, Lydia doesn’t want to become a credit institution like a traditional bank, it wants to become a financial hub. Expanding the marketplace will be a big focus for the company going forward.

While Lydia is available in other European countries, Lydia is still massively used in its home market with other markets lagging behind. With today’s funding round, growth in foreign countries is going to be the second key topic.

At CES, companies slowly start to realize that privacy matters

Every year, Consumer Electronics Show attendees receive a branded backpack, but this year’s edition was special; made out of transparent plastic, the bag’s contents were visible without the wearer needing to unzip. It isn’t just a fashion decision. Over the years, security has become more intense and cumbersome, but attendees with transparent backpacks didn’t have to open their bags when entering.

That cheap backpack is a metaphor for an ongoing debate — how many of us are willing to exchange privacy for convenience?

Privacy was on everyone’s mind at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, from CEOs to policymakers, PR agencies and people in charge of programming the panels. For the first time in decades, Apple had a formal presence at the event; Senior Director of Global Privacy Jane Horvath spoke on a panel focused on privacy with other privacy leaders.

How Ring is rethinking privacy and security

Ring is now a major player when it comes to consumer video doorbells, security cameras — and privacy protection.

Amazon acquired the company and promotes its devices heavily on its e-commerce websites. Ring has even become a cultural phenomenon with viral videos being shared on social networks and the RingTV section on the company’s website.

But that massive success has come with a few growing pains; as Motherboard found out, customers don’t have to use two-factor authentication, which means that anybody could connect to their security camera if they re-use the same password everywhere.

When it comes to privacy, Ring’s Neighbors app has attracted a ton of controversy. Some see it as a libertarian take on neighborhood watch that empowers citizens to monitor their communities using surveillance devices.

Others have questioned partnerships between Ring and local police to help law enforcement authorities request videos from Ring users.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ring founder Jamie Siminoff looked back at the past six months, expressed some regrets and defended his company’s vision. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.


TechCrunch: Let’s talk about news first. You started mostly focused on security cameras, but you’ve expanded way beyond security cameras. And in particular, I think the light bulb that you introduced is pretty interesting. Do you want to go deeper in this area and go head to head against Phillips Hue for instance?

Jamie Siminoff: We try not to ever look at competition — like the company is going head to head with… we’ve always been a company that has invented around a mission of making neighborhoods safer.

Sometimes, that puts us into a place that would be competing with another company. But we try to look at the problem and then come up with a solution and not look at the market and try to come up with a competitive product.

No one was making — and I still don’t think there’s anyone making — a smart outdoor light bulb. We started doing the floodlight camera and we saw how important light was. We literally saw it through our camera. With motion detection, someone will come over a fence, see the light and jump back over. We literally could see the impact of light.

So you don’t think you would have done it if it wasn’t a light bulb that works outside as well as inside?

For sure. We’ve seen the advantage of linking all the lights around your home. When you walk up on a step light and that goes off, then everything goes off at the same time. It’s helpful for your own security and safety and convenience.

The light bulbs are just an extension of the floodlight. Now again, it can be used indoor because there’s no reason why it can’t be used indoor.

Following Amazon’s acquisition, do you think you have more budget, you can hire more people and you can go faster and release all these products?

It’s not a budget issue. Money was never a constraint. If you had good ideas, you could raise money — I think that’s Silicon Valley. So it’s not money. It’s knowledge and being able to reach a critical mass.

As a consumer electronics company, you need to have specialists in different areas. You can’t just get them with money, you kind of need to have a big enough thing. For example, wireless antennas. We had good wireless antennas. We did the best we thought we could do. But we get into Amazon and they have a group that’s super highly focused on each individual area of that. And we make much better antennas today.

Our reviews are up across the board, our products are more liked by our customers than they were before. Jamie Siminoff

Our reviews are up across the board, our products are more liked by our customers than they were before. To me, that’s a good measure — after Amazon, we have made more products and they’re more beloved by our customers. And I think part of that is that we can tap into resources more efficiently.

And would you say the teams are still very separate?

Amazon is kind of cool. I think it’s why a lot of companies that have been bought by Amazon stay for a long time. Amazon itself is almost an amalgamation of a lot of little startups. Internally, almost everyone is a startup CEO — there’s a lot of autonomy there.

OrCam announces new AI-enabled device for hearing impairment

OrCam is expanding its product lineup with new devices that tackle new use cases. OrCam’s best-known device is the OrCam MyEye 2 — a tiny device for people with visual impairment that you clip on your glasses to help you navigate the world around you.

At CES, OrCam announced that the MyEye 2 is getting new features. In addition to being able to point at text and signs to read text aloud, recognize faces and identify objects and money notes, you’ll be able to let the device guide you.

For instance, you can say “what’s in front of me?” and the device could tell you that there’s a door. You can then ask to be guided to that door. The MyEye 2 is also getting better at natural language processing for interactive reading sessions.

When it comes to new devices, OrCam is expanding to hearing impairment with the OrCam Hear. It can be particularly useful in loud rooms. The device helps you identify and isolate a speaker’s voice so you can follow a conversation even in a public space. You pair it with your existing Bluetooth hearing aids.

Finally, OrCam is introducing the OrCam Read, a handheld AI reader. This time, you don’t clip a camera to your glasses, you take the device in your hand and point it at text. The company says it could be particularly useful for people who have reading difficulties due to dyslexia.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch