The business has confidentially submitted paperwork to the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering slated for later this year, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
Earlier reports indicated the company was planning to debut on the stock market in April. In late January, Pinterest took its first official step toward a 2019 IPO, hiring Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as lead underwriters for its offering.
This is a direct response to a group of outspoken Google employees protesting the company’s arbitration practices. Forced arbitration ensures that workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal, effectively preventing employees from suing companies.
Facebook will end its unpaid market research programs and proactively take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play store in the wake of backlash following TechCrunch’s investigation about Onavo code being used in a Facebook Research app that sucked up data about teens.
In this photo taken on February 6, 2019, Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai.
India’s Economic Times is reporting that Uber is in the final stages of a deal that would see Swiggy eat up Uber Eats in India in exchange for giving the U.S. ride-hailing firm a 10 percent share of its business.
Initially available exclusively to Pixel and Android One device owners, Digital Wellbeing’s feature set is now rolling out to Nokia 6 and Nokia 8 devices with Android Pie, as well as on the new Samsung Galaxy S10.
Greetings from Chittorgarh, one of my stops on a two-week excursion through Goa and Rajasthan, India. I’ve been a little too busy exploring, photographing cows and monkeys and eating a lot of delicious food to keep up with *all* the tech news, but I’ve still got the highlights.
So huge the Silicon Valley accelerator had to move locations and set up two stages at its upcoming demo days (March 18-19) to accommodate the more than 200 startups ready to pitch investors (who will have to hop between stages at the event). There will also be a virtual demo day live-streamed for some investors to watch “because there are so few seats.” Here’s what I’m wondering… At what point is a YC cohort too big? If investors aren’t even able to view all the companies at Demo Day, what exactly is the point? Send me your thoughts.
Another week, another SoftBank deal. The Vision Fund’s latest bet is autonomous delivery. The Japanese telecom giant has invested $940 million in Nuro, the developer of a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The startup, also backed by Greylock and Gaorong Capital, will use the cash to expand its delivery service, add new partners, hire employees and scale up its fleet of self-driving bots. And while we’re on the subject of autonomous, TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup, has raised a $95 million Series D at a unicorn valuation.
TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos spoke with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, who joined Kleiner Perkins from Social Capital and Index Ventures, respectively. The pair talked about Kleiner Perkins, touching on people who’ve left the firm, how its decision-making process now works, why there are no senior women in its ranks and what they make of SoftBank’s Vision Fund.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg considered a multi-billion-dollar purchase of Unity, a game development platform. This is according to a new book coming out next week, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. Here’s more on the acquisition-that-could-have-been from TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney.
Just when you thought the scooter boom and the subscription-boom wouldn’t intersect, Grover arrived to prove you wrong. The startup is launching an e-scooter monthly subscription service in Germany. Their big idea is that instead of purchasing an e-scooter outright, GroverGo customers can enjoy unlimited e-scooter rides without the upfront costs or commitment of owning an e-scooter.
If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos chat startups.
A service that connects people to WiFi hotspots for free turned out to be one of China’s most popular apps, nestling in the top ranks with Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s digital wallet affiliate Alipay. According to a report from app tracking service App Annie, WiFi Master Key was China’s fifth-largest app and the world’s ninth largest by monthly active users in 2018, titles it also held in 2017.
Report: The State of Mobile 2019, App Annie
The aptly-named WiFi Master Key, which owns the enviable domain wifi.com, is the product of a little-known startup called LinkSure in Shanghai that gets people onto the nearest wireless networks without the need for passwords. In addition, the app also recommends news and video content based on users’ past habits to lock them in, a feature similar to that of ByteDance’s algorithm-driven Jinri Toutiao news app.
Like many consumer-facing services in China, the app is free to use and monetizes traffic through advertising. It claims 700 million MAUs in China and another 100 million around the world. WeChat and Alipay, by comparison, each has around 1 billion MAUs worldwide.
The internet connectivity service helped LinkSure secure $52 million from a Series A round and value the parent at $1 billion back in 2015, only two years after the firm had launched. LinkSure has not announced further fundings since then and has kept a relatively low profile, though its founder Chen Danian was a household name from China’s early internet days. Along with his brother Chen Tianqiao, Chen founded Shanda Games, once China’s largest operator of online games before the rise of Tencent.
In November, Chen resigned as LinkSure’s chief operating officer as former Shanda executive Wang Jingying took over the reins to become one of the few prominent female CEOs in China’s tech sector.
The idea of freeloading on strangers’ networks strikes one as dodgy (or too good to be true), but the reality is more nuanced. WiFi Master Key keeps a database of passwords while encrypts and hides them from users, the company explains on its site. How does it collect all the credentials in the first place? Well, every time someone uses it to key in a login, the internet access app transmits that piece of information to the cloud. When people use it to, say, enter the WiFi passcode a barista just gave them, the data gets stored and shared to whoever at the cafe that uses the app.
Aside from bringing connectivity, WiFi Master Key also provides news, e-book and video content to lock users in. Screenshot: TechCrunch
Those inner workings enable the app to bill itself as a WiFi “sharing” service and distance itself from anything that’s remotely a hack. But its data practice still draws concerns over user privacy. Last April, the Chinese state television broadcaster ran a 25-minute feature lambasting the app for “stealing passwords.” That was followed by an industry-wide crackdown from the state’s cybersecurity watchdog on all WiFi crowdsourcing services with lacklustre security practices.
Aside from enabling strangers to crowdsource WiFi, LinkSure has also joined hands with two major Chinese telecommunication companies to offer a separate broadband card with appealing data plans. That puts it in competition with Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and other tech firms that are working with big telcos to provide cheap or unlimited data enticing people to use their in-house apps.
Meanwhile, LinkSure is eying to beam down its own internet connection from the space as SpaceX and OneWeb do. The plan is to target the next few billion rural users who are just coming online and live in areas currently uncovered by terrestrial networks. LinkSure says it’s aiming to provide free satellite network around the world by 2026, with the first out of a constellation of 272 satellites bound to launch later this year.
A government-backed report put the number of people with internet access in China at 802 million in June, leaving nearly 600 million who are still unconnected. 30 million people came online for the first time last year, including an expanding base of elderly users who are increasingly embracing Alipay and WeChat to go about daily lives.
TaxScouts, the U.K. “tax preparation” startup founded by TransferWise and Marketinvoice alumni, has created some new paperwork of its own. The London-based company has raised £1.2 million in seed funding.
Leading the new round is SpeedInvest, with participation from Finch Capital and SeedCamp. It adds to £300,000 in pre-seed investment that TaxScouts announced six months ago.
Combining “automation” with a network of human accountants, TaxScouts’ service is designed to support you through your annual tax filing preparation and submission. However, the headline draw is that the company charges a flat fee of £99 if you pay in advance, and promises a turn-around of 1-2 days.
To achieve this, the web app walks you through your tax status, income and expenses without assuming too much prior knowledge. This includes asking you to upload or take a photo of any required documents, such as invoices or dividend certificates. The idea is that all of the admin is captured digitally and packaged up ready for an assigned accountant to check.
Last year, I took the service for a spin, the first time in years that I haven’t left my tax return to the last minute. The accountant assigned to me was helpful and his advice seemed quite good. Most importantly, the communication was speedy, both over text and in a call we needed to have to talk through the pros and cons of two alternative ways to expense a car for work.
Meanwhile, I’m told accountants like the service, too, as it potentially enables small practices to scale and therefore take on more clients. Powering this is TaxScouts’ client management system for accountants, which the startup claims is saving 3-5 days of work per month for its accounting partners.
To that end, TaxScouts says it hopes to quadruple its network of accountant partners by the end of 2019. Its longer term aim is reduce the workload of accountants by 80 percent through further “process automation and digital data processing”.
“With an ever increasing amount of people in the UK experiencing non-standard income and with late fines amounting to billions last tax season alone, the time is better than ever to fundamentally redefine the experience,” says Anthony Danon, Principal at SpeedInvest.
“TaxScouts has built automation that brings simplicity, speed and convenience through a unique approach that creates shared value across taxpayers and accountants. We are excited to be backing such a product-minded team that has led product and engineering in some of U.K.’s best fintech startup stories”.
Amazon -owned smart doorbell maker Ring is facing claims that might give some smart home enthusiasts pause. Recent reports from The Intercept and The Information have accused the company of mishandling videos collected by its line of smart home devices, failing to inform users that their videos would be reviewed by humans and failing to protect the sensitive video footage itself with encryption.
In 2016, Ring moved some of its R&D operations to Ukraine as a cost saving move. According to the Intercept’s sources, that team had “unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.” That group was also privy to a database that would allow anyone with access the ability to conduct a simple search to find videos linked to any Ring owner. At this time, the video files were unencrypted due to the “sense that encryption would make the company less valuable” expressed by leadership at the company.
At the same time the Ukraine team was allowed this access, Ring “executives and engineers” in the U.S. were allowed “unfiltered, round-the-clock live feeds from some customer cameras” even if that access was completely unnecessary for their work.
Ring reportedly leaned on its team in Ukraine, known as Ring Labs, to fill in the gaps for its troubled AI efforts. Those employees would comb through videos and manually tag objects in order to train software to one day be able to perform the recognition tasks. The videos included video from outside houses as well as video inside of them.
The company objected to the Intercept’s characterization of the situation, claiming that the training material was culled from public videos via a Ring app called Neighbors, a neighborhood watch app. It’s not clear that participants in the Neighbors app are aware that their videos are being reviewed manually by Ring’s “data operators” in Ukraine.
Ring provided the following statement to TechCrunch:
“We take the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring video recordings. These recordings are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes. Ring employees do not have access to livestreams from Ring products.
We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.”
While it sounds like Ring may not have taken user privacy very seriously in the past, that attitude appears to have shifted upon the company’s acquisition by Amazon last year. The Information describes that scenario in reporting from December:
“After a visit by Amazon representatives to the Ukraine office in May, Amazon moved to restrict access to sensitive customer information, former employees said, requiring a digital key that could only be used from within the Kiev office.
But employees quickly found ways around the restriction. “We had to apply and get access. The Ukraine office wasn’t comfortable with this, so we found a workaround,” a former Kiev employee said. “Workers could then access the system from any computer, at home or anywhere.”
It’s impossible to know if Amazon is running a tight ship with Ring’s sensitive user data now, but it’s yet another reason to consider the privacy risks posed by smart home devices, particularly surveillance ones. Setting up an at-home panopticon might feel more secure, but know you might not be the only one keeping a watchful eye on your home.
DiscountMugs.com, a large online custom mug and apparel store, had a four-month-long data breach just before the busy Christmas holiday season.
The company said in a letter to state attorneys general that hackers siphoned off credit card numbers from customers who made orders through its site between August 5 and November 16, 2018 using code injected on the company’s payments page.
The malicious card skimming code was removed from the site after it was discovered.
According to the letter, the hackers stole credit card numbers, the security code and expiration date, as well as names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and ZIP codes — everything that someone might need to make fraudulent payments.
But the company didn’t say how many people were affected by the breach. It’s believed to be thousands of customers who made purchases through the site during the four-month period.
TechCrunch reached out to Sai Koppaka, chief executive of parent company Bel USA, who did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the company’s spokesperson. Emails sent to Comvest, a private equity firm and an investor in Bel USA, also went unreturned.
DiscountMugs.com might not be a household name, but it ranks in the top 10,000 sites in the U.S., according to Alexa, bringing in thousands of customers every day.
The company becomes the latest in a line of websites affected by credit card skimming code. The so-called Magecart group of hackers have targeted thousands of sites in the past few years, scraping credit card data when a customer enters their information at the checkout and silently sending it on to the hackers’ servers.
While the thought of a machine that can squirt out endless ropes of molten glass is a bit frightening, the folks at MIT have just about perfected the process. In a paper published in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, researchers Chikara Inamura, Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Peter Houk, and Neri Oxman describe a system for 3D printing glass that offers far more control over the hot material and the final product.
Their system, called G3DP2, “is a new AM platform for molten glass that combines digitally integrated three-zone thermal control system with four-axis motion control system, introducing industrial-scale production capabilities with enhanced production rate and reliability while ensuring product accuracy and repeatability, all previously unattainable for glass.”
The system uses a closed, heated box that holds the melted glass and another thermally controlled box where it prints the object. A moveable plate drops the object lower and lower as it is being printed and the print head moves above it. The system is interesting because it actually produces clear glass structures that can be used for decoration or building. The researchers take special care to control the glass extrusion system to ensure that it cools down and crystallizes without injecting impurities or structural problems.
“In the future, combining the advantages of this AM technology with the multitude of unique material properties of glass such as transparency, strength, and chemical stability, we may start to see new archetypes of multifunctional building blocks,” wrote the creators.
Looker has been helping customers visualize and understand their data for seven years now and today it got a big reward, a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation.
The round was led by Premji Invest with new investment from Cross Creek Advisors and participation from the company’s existing investors. With today’s investment Looker has raised $280.5 million, according the company.
In spite of the large valuation, Looker CEO Frank Bien really wasn’t in the mood to focus on that particular number, which he said was arbitrary, based on the economic conditions at the time of the funding round. He said having an executive team old enough to remember the dot-com bubble from the late 1990s and the crash of 2008, keeps them grounded when it comes to those kinds of figures
Instead, he preferred to concentrate on other numbers. He reported that the company has 1600 customers now and just crossed the $100 million revenue run rate, a significant milestone for any enterprise SaaS company. What’s more, Bien reports revenue is still growing 70 percent year over year, so there’s plenty of room to keep this going.
He said he took such a large round because there was interest and he believed that it was prudent to take the investment as they move deeper into enterprise markets. “To grow effectively into enterprise customers, you have to build more product, and you have to hire sales teams that take longer to activate. So you look to grow into that, and that’s what we’re going to use this financing for,” Bien told TechCrunch.
He said it’s highly likely that this is the last private fund-raising the company will undertake as it heads toward an IPO at some point in the future. “We would absolutely view this as our last round unless something drastic changed,” Bien told TechCrunch.
For now, he’s looking to build a mature company that is ready for the public markets whenever the time is right. That involves building internal processes of a public company even if they’re not there yet. “You create that maturity either way, and I think that’s what we’re doing. So when those markets look okay, you could look at that as another funding source,” he explained.
The company currently has around 600 employees. Bien indicated that they added 200 this year alone and expect to add additional headcount in 2019 as the business continues to grow and they can take advantage of this substantial cash infusion.
Increasing wariness in Washington over China's investments in U.S. biotechnology companies may cool a hot source of capital for medical startups. Chinese investors have been a mainstay of recent fundraising by private biotechnology firms.