Hedge Funds Have Never Been This Bullish On 8×8, Inc. (EGHT)

Hedge Funds Have Never Been This Bullish On 8×8, Inc. (EGHT)Amid an overall bull market, many stocks that smart money investors were collectively bullish on surged through the end of November. Among them, Facebook and Microsoft ranked among the top 3 picks and these stocks gained 54% and 51% respectively. Our research shows that most of the stocks that smart money likes historically generate strong […]


Amazon CEO says wants to work more with Pentagon

Amazon CEO says wants to work more with PentagonAmazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos said it would support the U.S. Department of Defense as technology companies vie for more defense contracts and the Pentagon seeks to modernize itself. “We are going to support the Department of Defense, this country is important,” Bezos said at an annual defense forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Tech companies have faced challenges when trying to work with the Pentagon.


This Week in Apps: Black Friday’s boost, security news and the year’s biggest apps

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week we look at how the Black Friday weekend played out on mobile (including which non-shopping category that saw a boost in revenue!), as well as a few security-related stories, TikTok’s latest bad press, plus Apple and Google’s best and most downloaded apps of 2019, and more.

Headlines

80% of Android apps are encrypting traffic by default

Google gave an update on Android security this week, noting that 80% of Android applications were encrypting traffic by default, and that percentage was higher for apps targeting Android 9 or higher, with 90% of them encrypting traffic by default. Android protects the traffic entering or leaving the devices with TLS (Transport Layer Security). Its new statistics are related to Android 7’s introduction of the Network Security Configuration in 2016, which allows app developers to configure the network security policy for their app through a declarative configuration file. Apps targeting Android 9 (API level 28) or higher automatically have a policy set by default that prevents unencrypted traffic for every domain. And since Nov. 1, 2019, all apps (including app updates) must target at least Android 9, Google says. That means the percentages will improve as more apps roll out their next updates.

Black Friday boosted mobile game revenue to a record $70M

U.S. sales holiday Black Friday wasn’t just good for online shoppers, who spent a record $7.4 billion in sales, $2.9 billion from smartphones. It also boosted iOS and Android mobile game revenue to a single-day record of $69.7 million in the U.S., according to Sensor Tower. This was the most revenue ever generated in a single day for the category, and it represents a 25% increase over 2018. Marvel Contest of Champions from Kabam led the day with approximately $2.7 million in player spending. Two titles from Playrix — Gardenscapes and Homescapes — also won big, with $1 million and $969,000 in revenue, respectively.

These increases indicate that consumers are looking for all kinds of deals on Black Friday, not just those related to holiday gift-giving. They’re also happy to spend on themselves in games. Mobile publishers caught on to this trend and offered special in-game deals on Black Friday which really paid off.

Did Walmart beat Amazon’s app on Black Friday?

Sensor Tower and Apptopia said it did. App Annie also said it did, but then later took it back (see update). In any event, it must have been a close race. According to Sensor Tower, Walmart’s app reached No.1 on the U.S. App Store on Black Friday with 113,000 new downloads, a year-over-year increase of 23%. Amazon had 102,000 downloads, making it No. 2.

Arguably, many Amazon shoppers already have the app installed, so this is more about Walmart’s e-commerce growth more so than some ding on Amazon.

In fact, Apptopia said that Amazon still had 162% more mobile sessions over the full holiday weekend — meaning Amazon was more shopped than Walmart.

More broadly, mobile shopping is still huge on Black Friday. The top 10 shopping apps grew their new installs by 11% over last year on Black Friday, to reach a combined 527,000 installs.

Report: Android Advanced Protection Program could prevent sideloading

Google’s Advanced Protection Program protects the accounts of those at risks of targeted attacks — like journalists, activists, business leaders, and political campaign teams. This week, 9to5Google found the program may get a new protection feature with the ability to block sideloading of apps, according to an APK breakdown. What’s not yet clear is if program members will have the option to disable the protection, but there are some indications that may be the case. Another feature the report uncovered appears to show that Play Protect will automatically scan all apps, including those from outside the Play Store. This won’t affect the majority of Android users, of course, but it is an indication of where Google believes security risks may be found: sideloaded apps.

Bug hunter suggests Security.plist standard for apps

Raising VC in Silicon Valley as a female POC

As the world grows increasingly digital, the craving for face-to-face connections is surging. Squad, an invite-only community and app, is trying to fill the need for offline connections by curating tight-knit events for Gen Z and Millennials.

“It mimics building relationships in real life,” says founder and CEO Isa Watson.

It’s an idea that investors are already backing: Squad closed a $3.5 million seed round and plans to raise its Series A in early 2020, but the road to securing that round was anything but easy. During a conversation on the How I Raised It podcast, Watson shared the ups and downs of her unique path to fundraising.

Establish credibility for a few years before fundraising

She started by putting some of the earliest capital into the business herself with support from her family. She then worked her way through more than 200 meetings in Silicon Valley to build up her credibility as a founder — a step that she can’t stress enough — before Squad even started its official seed round.

“Despite the fact that I went to MIT, despite the fact that I managed a billion-dollar product at JPMorgan Chase and even built a huge digital product, I was still a Silicon Valley outsider,” Watson says.

People sometimes have the perception that being an alumni at a top U.S. university will mean they can go to Silicon Valley and just be “in,” Watson explains, but that’s not quite how it works.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of credibility building,” she says. “That’s what I was doing for a few years before we actually did our official seed round. By the time I did it, it was like my reputation preceded me and there was enough familiarity with me.”

isa watson squad ceo

Isa Watson, Squad founder and CEO

Don’t do the cold outreach thing — warm introductions only

Despite taking more than 200 meetings in her efforts to crack Silicon Valley, Watson never took a cold meeting.

“Cold outreach is a tactic that I see a lot of founders using,” she says, “whereas I would argue that the more effective introduction comes from someone who knows someone.”

Leveraging the connections she built was critical in connecting Watson to her eventual funders. “They’re all referring you to the next three people to talk to,” Watson says. “It becomes like tree branches and then a network that’s growing in a multiplicative fashion.”

One of Squad’s earliest investors was Steven Aldrich, who at the time was working as chief product officer at GoDaddy . Both Aldrich and Watson grew up in North Carolina, and Steven’s father shared hometown roots with her, which helped her make the initial connection.

“It was about consistently making connections like that,” she says. “Steven introduced me to three people, and then those three other people introduced me to two people. And that’s essentially how I got the ball rolling.”

Not all meetings need to be about meeting for coffees or lunches, either — Watson took plenty of calls while expanding her network, as well. But the important step was making those connections, which was “a really hard hustle and grind, head down,” for the first two years.

Be really specific when asking for advice

When meeting people in Silicon Valley or expanding her network of prospective funders, Watson didn’t tease future funding rounds or send off vague meeting requests.

In trying to build out her network, she first researched a couple of key things: who did she need to know in order to build a really strong product, and who did she need to know in order to have solid distribution or growth marketing? Once she identified those folks, she would reach out to them individually and ask them for specific advice in their area of expertise.

“People always say, ‘When you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money,’” Watson says. “Being super-explicit in the ask and explaining how you’ll spend their time and their brain space is super important.” No one has time for a generic request like, “Hey, can I pick your brain?”

When you’ve connected with someone, you should always ask them for recommendations for experts in specific areas — like growth marketing, product, etc. If they volunteer a few names, ask if you can send an email that they could forward on to introduce you to those individuals.

Following the introductions, it’s important to remember that it’s not just a “one and done,” as she says. Once you’ve met with someone through an introduction, follow up: let them know how the meetings went and thank them again.

“It’s like really, really intense relationship management, and it’s something that people with the highest EQ do best,” says Watson. “I would identify my needs, make specific asks … and then I would make sure to explicitly ask if they did not offer for three other intros for people that could be helpful, that would be excited about what we’re doing.”

Secret weapon: your fundraising quarterback

When she realized it was time to start raising money for Squad, her first move was to identify her “quarterback for fundraising” — in this case, Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures. It’s helpful, according to Watson, to not have “too many cooks in the kitchen,” or else you’ll end up with far too many opinions that don’t align.

Hudson had already invested a small amount of money in Squad at the time, but he quickly became the person Watson went to for feedback on her pitches. He counseled her on other aspects of running a process.

“One thing Charles tells me is that, with fundraising, you’re likely only going to be successful if that’s your core focus at that time,” Watson says. “It’s not something you can do passively.”

So Hudson and Watson sat down and came up with a list of 35 target venture capitalists. He introduced her to five who she didn’t expect to be a good fit. They first went with the ones they didn’t expect would be a perfect match so she could gather feedback and see if Squad was actually ready to raise capital.

Of those first five meetings, one or two “were complete dings” and turned Squad down outright — but Watson made it to partner meetings in the three other meetings, a sign that VCs were seriously considering Squad.

Based on that feedback, Hudson introduced Watson to 10 more VCs — and shortly after, she met Michael Dearing at Harrison Metal, who led Squad’s seed round.

Choose your seed funders carefully

After Dearing offered up a term sheet of $3 million, Watson quickly had offers from other VCs.

“It’s funny because it took me deliberately being in the market for fundraising for like two and a half months to get that ‘yes’ from Michael. Before that, I had no cash really committed,” she says. “And then after just a few days of letting people know I had a term sheet for $3 million, I had like $6 million on a table. VCs are such followers.”

With that many offers on the table following Dearing’s lead, Watson was in the enviable position of needing to pick who she’d let into the seed round. So how did she choose?

“The first thing is value add,” Watson says. She asked herself: “did I feel like I had the right assortment of value? I maybe want someone in there who’s really strong on product; I may want someone who’s really strong at growth, strong at marketing.”

Her second criteria for making the decision was a less resume-focused. Simply put, she went with her gut.

“One thing that founders really, really underestimate is — is this person a good human being? I went with the people that I had felt most comfortable with, the people who I felt I could trust based on my interactions with them, and who were just supportive along the way.”

Dutch startup Meatable is developing lab-grown pork and has $10 million in new financing to do it

Meatable, the Dutch startup developing cruelty-free technologies for manufacturing cultured meat, is pivoting to pork production as a swine flu epidemic ravages one quarter of the world’s pork supply — and has raised $10 million in financing to support its new direction.

When the company unveiled its technology last year, it was one of several companies working on the production of meat derived from animal cells — a method of meat production that theoretically has a far smaller carbon emissions footprint and is better for the environment than traditional animal farming.

At the time, it was one of several companies — including Memphis Meats, Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, HigherSteaks and many, many pursuing technologies — to bring cultured beef to market. Now, as pork prices rise globally, Meatable becomes one of the first companies to publicly shift gears and turn its attention to the other white meat.

That’s not the only way the company is setting itself apart from its peers in the market. Meatable is also an early claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.

Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or Chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.

We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early-stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood. 

To pursue its new path, the company has raised $7 million from a slew of angel and institutional investors and a $3 million grant from the European Commission . Angel investors include Taavet Hinrikus, the chief executive and co-founder of TransferWise, and Albert Wenger, a managing partner at the New York-based venture firm Union Square Ventures.

Meatable’s De Nood says that the new cash will be used to accelerate the development of its prototype. The small-scale bioreactor the company had initially targeted for development in 2021 will now be ready by 2020 and the company is hoping to have an industry-scale plant online manufacturing thousands of kilograms of meat by 2025, according to De Nood.

Industrial farming is responsible for between 14% and 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change and Meatable argues that cultured (lab-grown) meat has the potential to use 96% less water and 99% less land than industrial farming. Powering facilities using renewable energy could further reduce emissions associated with meat production, according to Meatable.

Essential tools for today’s digital nomad

The world isn’t ready for the digital nomad movement.

If projections are to be believed, the growing trend in how people choose to live and work is fast outpacing the service and policy enhancements needed to keep up with a borderless workforce bound only by its need for a reliable Wi-Fi connection. But that’s not slowing down the nomads.

The Economist theorizes that there could be as many as one billion remote workers by 2035. Such a movement has implications for entities ranging from banks and insurance companies to national governments — but few organizations are in the habit of looking 15 years down the road and altering course appropriately. But even short-term, the numbers deserve our attention: about 59 million people are considering joining the digital nomad movement in the next two to three years.

Put another way: in the next 24 to 36 months, roughly the population of Italy plans to sever traditional workplace ties so they can go mobile. How are our global services and infrastructures going to accommodate these individuals?

Having spent more than six years as a digital nomad myself, I can tell you that there’s a steep learning curve to this lifestyle. While it’s one that I’ve found well worth the effort, tapping into the networks and services needed to sustain my professional and personal networks hasn’t always been easy. Looking back to when I first gave into my wanderlust, after starting my career in the late ‘90s dot-com era as a serial entrepreneur in the U.S. digital marketing and ad tech industries, I can’t help but muse that I wish I knew then what I know now.

So for all of those aspiring or early stage nomads out there, in hopes that your own transitions to the nomadic lifestyle might be easier than my own, I’m here to tell you what I know now. While we can expect to see a great deal of change over the next couple decades, as the world economy races to catch up to the digital nomad movement, these are the essential considerations — and your best options — when it comes to the core elements needed to sustain yourself in your nomadic ramblings today.

Accommodations

Let’s start with the basics: where to live.

It’s almost impossible for digital nomads to find suitable accommodations at fair prices within major U.S. metropolitan areas that foster the standard of living they’re seeking. That’s one of the main reasons why so many nomads are ending up in Asian countries and other economical international destinations. In addition to being lower-cost, these destinations offer desirable alternatives to city environments where the standard 9-5 is required to afford everything the city has to offer.

When it comes to finding a place to live, whether for a few days or many months, there are a lot of options. The one that makes the most sense has a lot to do with your individual situation and preferences. Most important is having a place to stay with strong Wi-Fi. Consider:

Airbnb: Given its popularity for vacation rentals, a lot of new nomads initially turn here. While it allows for a more “at home” feel in a rental (because it is someone’s home), it can quickly become cost-prohibitive. Airbnb is great for short-term rentals, but comparatively expensive for anything more than a couple weeks.

Booking and Agoda: Similar to Airbnb, but these sites are more professional in that they’re mostly used by professionally-run apartments, hotels and resorts. All are great for those who are looking for more services with their accommodations. But they don’t always have the home-like feel that many nomads crave, and like Airbnb, they can get expensive fast.

Facebook Groups: A number of Facebook Groups for digital nomads have emerged recently. These groups can be handy because they let guests and hosts connect directly and come to mutually agreeable arrangements. However, these groups aren’t a rental platform. Guests don’t have access to reviews or an easy way to issue payments confidently. So while accommodations can be a bit more affordable when organized through groups, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get.

Hostels: As any rambling college student can attest, hostels are an affordable, social way to see the world. But living at a hostel offers little privacy and near-constant disruption, often of the drunken partying variety. It’s not a terribly viable route for nomadic couples or anyone looking for living space that can also double as an office. 

Hotels: On the flip side, hotels are great for couples. But for nomads spending weeks or even months abroad, they’re expensive and can be isolating for people looking to truly immerse themselves in new local cultures. Hotels are best reserved for short-term expeditions.

VIP hostels (e.g., Selina): This new breed of the hostel experience offers a great combination of co-working and social connections that help nomads connect with like-minded people. They provide some level of privacy, but these accommodations — like others — become expensive in the long term if you want your own bedroom.

Co-living spaces: As with co-working spaces, there’s a growing movement in which digital nomads come together to share the cost of living accommodations, which range from multi-bedroom apartments to large-scale co-living buildings complete with kitchens, shared and private bathrooms, working and community spaces. These environments are great for making connections while having access to privacy when needed, but branded co-living spaces will still cost more than a local midterm apartment.

Midterm rental platforms: For nomads looking to stay in one place for a month or more and truly soak in the culture, midterm rental platforms represent a more-affordable alternative to platforms like Airbnb. These platforms (full disclosure: I now operate one of them, by the name of NomadX) offer affordable month-to-month options with fast Wi-Fi in everyday neighborhoods, which enables you to connect more deeply with the local community without an overly long commitment. That said, this category is still quite new, so midterm rental inventory might be limited or nonexistent in the market you’re considering.

Couchsurfing: Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Couchsurfing, a social network for travelers and nomads that makes it possible to connect directly with locals and even crash on their sofas for free. That said, Couchsurfing is only designed for short-term stays, it’s not very professional and it’s quickly evolving into more of a dating/hook-up platform than anything else.

Also, a quick note on Wi-Fi: No matter where you stay, you’ll need to ensure you can always be connected in order to stay on top of work. While you can check with your current mobile provider on international roaming plans, the coverage might be limited and ultimately become expensive. You might instead want to consider buying a local SIM card in every country and using it with your smartphone. That way, you can use your phone as a hotspot and get internet on your laptop. In a pinch, though, it’s good to have a backup mobile hotspot option. (For example, I travel with a Skyroam Solis.)

Insurance

We digital nomads are risk takers by nature, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want or appreciate a safety net. After all, having an accident isn’t a choice. Unfortunately, if nomads can’t get coverage for a fair price, many opt to forego insurance altogether and end up resorting to crowdfunding if they end up in a bad situation. I’ve had several friends get into accidents in foreign countries, and they couldn’t get proper medical treatment until they’d crowdfunded the needed resources. This is a worst-case scenario, and it’s one that I hope becomes a thing of the past as more borderless options for insurance emerge.