Mobile-first tutoring service MathCrunch becomes Yup, expands into science

The app formerly known as MathCrunch.

MathCrunch, the mobile-first education startup that helps students find personal tutors, has announced a pivot as it changes its name to Yup and expands beyond math into chemistry and physics.

Alongside today’s topic expansion and name change, the company has also revealed that it has added $4 million more to its coffers, taking its total seed funding to $7.5 million, in a round led by existing investors including Stanford’s StartX fund, which was established in 2013 to help support Stanford alumni.

Founded in 2014, MathCrunch (or Yup, as of today) is available for Android and iOS, and invites learners into a one‐on‐one live tutoring platform powered by an instant messaging service. Here, students can submit questions and connect with qualified tutors who have been vetted by the folks at Yup.

Users can also take a photo of a problem (e.g., a graph or an equation) to request help with, and ask impromptu questions about specific problems. It’s like a mobile messaging app specifically for education.

Yup: the app formerly known as MathCrunch

Above: Yup: the app formerly known as MathCrunch

Of course, Yup isn’t free to use. Back in September, the company introduced a monthly subscription that lets anyone sign up for a rolling monthly plan, with options of 60 minutes ($24), 120 minutes ($45), or 240 minutes ($80) over the month. The time is deducted from a student’s account on a minute-by-minute basis, meaning you can use the app for a quick question or a prolonged session.

Now, though, Yup is tweaking its payment plans to keep things simple. You can either pay $6.99 per month for 30 minutes, or go all-in for the unlimited plan, which will set you back $49.99. Alternatively, users can just pay on a minute-by-minute basis, which costs $0.24 per 60 seconds. But if history has taught us anything, when companies offer customers “unlimited” anything, they tend to “embrace” the offer. So doesn’t Yup’s unlimited plan open things to abuse?

Yup says that the average session length so far is around the 28-minute mark, and it has seen 300,000 signups from the 400,000 downloads it has garnered across iOS and Android. But dangle an “unlimited carrot” in front of users, and they may just keep on drinking coffee and asking questions. However, upon further probing, Yup confirmed that the unlimited plan in its current form is being offered for a “limited time to introduce people to the Yup platform,” and it “may need to increase costs come September.”

So it seems that Yup already knows that the unlimited plan is likely unsustainable, meaning this is little more than an introductory offer to entice people in. But in the pricing / sign-up section there is zero indication of this.

Yup Logo

Above: Yup logo

Another piece of today’s news left me scratching my head: Why change its name to Yup? Sure, it’s no longer restricted to math, meaning its existing name no longer fits, but “Yup” just feels a little too vague and generic to serve as a company name and brand. For me, it doesn’t really capture what the company is all about, and it will surely make searching for the company online a tough task.

“We expanded our services beyond math, so we needed a broader, yet relatable name,” Naguib Sawiris, CEO of Yup, told VentureBeat. “Yup is simple, distinctive, and positive. We want our students to understand how rewarding it is to learn, and tell them: ‘Yup, you’re on it.'”

Sawiris added that they wanted to build Yup as a “counterculture jab at the Silicon Valley zaniness,” which may partly explain why its new logo has a unicorn in it.

Yup is one of many “ed-tech” startups to emerge in what is proving to be a lucrative and disruptable space, with the likes of General Assembly, Udacity, Udemy, and Coursera all gaining mindshare. Yup is different, though: It’s not offering courses as such — it’s aimed squarely at those seeking help with very specific problems.

But more than that, the fact that it has adopted a mobile-first approach that mirrors many of the popular messaging apps out there is a clear sign of the demographic it’s targeting. Other startups from other industries are taking note too, with mobile-first and “messaging” increasingly prevalent.

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Microsoft researchers are teaching AI to write stories about groups of photos

The bottom row shows an example of stories for images in sequence.

Microsoft researchers have come up with a novel way to have computers tell stories about what’s happening in multiple photographs using artificial intelligence (AI). Today the company is publishing an academic paper describing the technology, which could one day power services that are especially useful to the visually impaired, as well as the photos, captions, and “stories” developed in the research.

The work is significant because it goes well beyond just identifying objects in images, or even videos, in order to generate captions.

“It’s still hard to evaluate, but minimally you want to get the most important things in a dimension. With storytelling, a lot more that comes in is about what the background is and what sort of stuff might have been happening around the event,” Microsoft researcher Margaret Mitchell told VentureBeat in an interview.

To advance the state of the art in this area, Microsoft relied on people to write captions for individual images, as well as captions for images in a specific order. Engineers then used the information to teach machines how to come up with entire stories to tell about those sequences of images.

The method involves deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence that Microsoft has previously used for tasks like speech recognition and machine translation. Facebook, Google, and other companies are actively engaged in this research area as well.

In this case, a recurrent neural network was employed to train on the images and words. Mitchell and her colleagues in the research borrowed an approach from the domain of machine translation called sequence-to-sequence learning. “Here, what we’re doing is we’re saying that every image is fed through a convolutional network to provide one part of the sequence, and you can go over the sequence to create a general encoding of a sequence of images, and then from that general encoding, we can decode out to the story,” said Mitchell, the principal investigator in the paper.

She and her collaborators — some of whom work at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) lab — sought to improve what was originally being produced with the system by putting certain rules in place. For instance, “the same content word cannot be produced more than once within a given story,” as they write in the paper.

An example of stories for images in sequence at bottom.

Above: An example of stories for images in sequence at bottom.

Image Credit: Screenshot

The final result is language that’s less literal but more abstract and fascinating. And over time, this sort of language could have great potential. People who ordinarily aren’t able to see photos can get an understanding of what they convey together as a set.

This would be a good next step to follow the recent wave of research into identifying objects and people in images and videos for the blind. In fact, that’s an area Mitchell has recently been exploring in association with blind Microsoft software developer Saqib Shaikh.

But even people who are learning a second language could be helped a lot by visual storytelling, and it could also inspire kids to think more creatively about what they’re seeing in the world, too, Mitchell said.

People are increasingly capturing multi-image files with the cameras on their phones, whether they be animated GIF-like Live Photos from iPhones or even entire videos. So it will become more important for machines to understand what’s going on across those larger sets of frames, and not just recognize what’s appearing in each individual frame. Mitchell sees the research going in that direction — they’re not there yet.

“It’s just some simple heuristics, really, but it shows the wealth of information we’re able to pull out from these models,” Mitchell said. “It’s really positive and quite hopeful moving forward.”

See the academic paper for more detail. Microsoft also has an official blog post about the research.

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Kangaroo Pro is a $199 Windows 10 PC with a little less portability, a lot more ports


InFocus today debuted the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro, a $199 Windows 10 portable PC that is meant to be much more capable than the original Kangaroo. The Kangaroo Pro is available on Newegg, Amazon, and now, and will go on sale at the Microsoft Store later this month.

When the Kangaroo debuted in October 2015, we explained that the term “mobile desktop” sounded like an oxymoron, but that it really is the best description. The Kangaroos are basically desktop PC towers shrunk down to the size of a phablet sans screen. Just like any desktop, you’ll still need to connect a mouse, keyboard, and monitor.

Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro ports top

The Kangaroo Pro comes with the new Dock Pro, which features one USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet ports, as well as a 2.5-inch hard drive bay and an audio port. The original Kangaroo Dock naturally didn’t include as much, so with the Pro you’re essentially getting a VGA port, another USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet port, a 2.5-inch hard drive bay, and an audio port.

The trade-off? The Kangaroo Pro is double the price, and more than twice as thick.

Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro left angled 3

There’s one port I was particularly excited about. In my hands-on with the Kangaroo, I said:

I would love if one of the future swappable docks came with an Ethernet port. After all, if I’m plugging in a monitor or a TV, I’m not going anywhere.

The audio port is also nice to have. Even though the sound works great over HDMI, sometimes you just need headphones.

The addition of VGA isn’t something I personally want, but I do see the appeal. It essentially means the Kangaroo Pro can now be hooked up to almost any PC monitor or projector. The hard drive bay (you have to open the bottom plate) essentially translates to serious storage options.

Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Pro opened

InFocus envisions the Kangaroo Pro being used as an on-the-go personal PC, a presentation device, a home theater PC, a mini home server, or just an enthusiast device. “With Kangaroo Pro, we’ve created a powerful PC in a completely new form factor that builds on the success of the Kangaroo PC,” Lawrence Yen, director of Kangaroo product marketing, said in a statement. Yeah, “completely new form factor” is definitely a stretch.

iOS users will be happy to learn that the OSLinx app, which lets you use your Kangaroo with an iPad, has been updated to support iPhones as well. The app works both the Kangaroo and Kangaroo Pro.

For reference, here are the full specs for the Kangaroo Pro:

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit Home edition
  • CPU: 1.44 GHz Intel Atom™ x5-Z8500 (Turbo Boost up to 2.24 GHz)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics Gen8 (Up to 600Mhz), Dual Display (HDMI/VGA) configurations not supported
  • Memory: 2GB LPDDR3 RAM (Kangaroo)
  • Storage: 32GB eMMC (Kangaroo)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 A/C (Dual Band) / Bluetooth 4.0
  • Expansion: microSD TF slot (support SDSC, SDHC and SDXC formats)
  • Security: Fingerprint reader
  • Battery life: 4 hours (casual use), 2200 mAh lithium-ion battery
  • Dimensions: 80.5 x 124 x 12.9mm / Dock Pro: 171 x 86 x 32.2 (mm)
  • Weight: 418g (without adapter & power cord) / 688g (including adapter & power cord)
  • Power: 36W AC Adapter, Input: 100V-220V ~ 1A, 50-60 Hz / Output: 12V/3A

Again, the base Kangaroo device is the same. You’re really just paying the extra $100 for the new Dock Pro.

If you don’t care about all the extra ports, go with the Kangaroo. If you absolutely need Ethernet, or hard drive storage, or an audio port, the Kangaroo Pro is worth considering.

You should keep in mind that at $199, however, you may want to shell out a bit more and get a cheap Windows 10 laptop. But if you really want a “mobile desktop” then look no further.

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Gilt co-founder launches photo-driven shopping startup Project September

Alexis Maybank _ Project September CEO Alexis Maybank, one of the founders of Gilt Groupe (recently acquired by the owner of Saks Fifth Avenue), has a new startup in the world of fashion and shopping — Project September. Maybank told me her aim is to “make the visual world shoppable.” In other words, if you see a photo with an item of clothing or an accessory that you love, you shouldn’t have to wonder what… Read More

Here are the 16 world leaders and organizations who are embracing Snapchat


Snapchat may be one of the hottest social networks, but unlike rivals Twitter and Facebook, it can be a bit tougher to measure the success of any individual or organization.

Still, Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications firm, decided to take a stab. The firm regularly issues reports on how world leaders and governments are using Twitter and Facebook. Now, it has decided to take a look at Snapchat.

“Snapchat is the fastest growing social media platform and, according to the latest statistics, almost two thirds of its users are aged between 13 and 24 years old, making it the ultimate platform to reach young audiences,” says the Burson-Marsteller report. “It therefore comes as no surprise that government leaders are starting to set up accounts on the platform to reach out to future leaders.”

What makes tracking Snapchat tricky is that unlike other social networks, it doesn’t post the number of followers an account has in public, or the views a snap gets. And those snaps disappear after 24 hours.

Not surprisingly, in this initial review, the numbers of users are quite small: 16 heads of state and international organizations. Those ranks include four presidents, three governments, two foreign ministries, and a foreign minister:

These include:

“Despite its limitations some governments have discovered Snapchat to be a formidable broadcasting tool to target a decidedly younger audience, either by chronicling the public activities of their leaders or to raise the level of public engagement at selected events,” says the report. “International organizations, particularly UNICEF and the European Parliament, use Snapchat to engage with their followers, often reposting their snaps. And the numbers are impressive: the UK Foreign Office reports an engagement rate of more than 60% (Snap views in comparison to followers) and a 90% completion rate (last snap views minus first snap views) of its stories.”

According to the report, the UKForeignOffice was the first of this group to create a Snapchat account, which it opened last September in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup.

The U.S. State Department followed suit in December for the COP21 environmental summit in Paris. The WhiteHouse jumped on the bandwagon in January.

The report highlights UNICEF and the European Parliament as probably doing the best job on Snapchat. The European Parliament shares its agenda and engages with followers. UNICEF has used the platform to tell powerful stories about relief work being done in places like Yemen’s capital.

Finally, the reports offers some critical advice to governments considering embracing Snapchat. Most notably: “Don’t vomit rainbows, that’s what mean kids do.”


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Fingerprint firms unlocking new markets beyond smartphones

Huawei P9: Dual-lenses & Fingerprint Scanner

STOCKHOLM (By Olof Swahnberg, Reuters) – A tap of a finger could soon suffice to identify credit card shoppers and rail commuters, offering areas of new business for specialist companies which have benefited from the use of such technology in smartphones.

Sweden’s Fingerprint Cards (FPC) sees biometric smart cards — those using fingerprint identification — becoming its fastest growing market as early as 2018, having already become the market leader in a crowded sector for supplying such sensors for smartphones.

Others within the industry are not convinced the smart card business will take off so quickly, prompting questions about whether FPC can maintain its runaway rise in valuation.

FPC’s share price surged around 1,600 percent last year as demand for fingerprint sensors in phones soared after Apple, which uses its own in-house supplier, helped to popularize the technology. FPC now has a market value of around $4.1 billion.

Advocates say the technology offers greater security and simplicity when compared to techniques such as using pin codes to confirm identification.

The fingerprint sensor business has a handful of companies supplying significant volumes today, with an equal number planning to enter the market. Three are based in the Nordic region where technology companies have thrived.

Needing to maintain its momentum, FPC says it is in initial talks with potential big customers for smart cards. It declines to name names at this stage.

“Our ambition for smart cards, and all other segments, is that we shall continue to be number one,” FPC’s Chief Executive Jorgen Lantto told Reuters.

Silicon Valley firm Synaptics, the closest rival to FPC in sensors for smartphones, is more cautious on new markets.

“It’s hard for me to project market share in a segment of the market (when) we’re not sure when it’s going to happen,” said Anthony Gioeli, vice president of marketing in the biometrics division of Synaptics.

Sascha Behlendorf, a card systems product manager at Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient, one of the top three smart card makers, expects widespread adoption of biometrics in smart cards could take some five to 10 years.

Range of uses

Gothenburg-based FPC has been around for almost two decades, building a technology business based on an old Swedish fingerprinting patent. That left it well placed when the market expanded and it has also benefited by hiring staff from Nokia and Ericsson as their mobile phone businesses declined.

Analysts say expectations for new markets have helped to underpin the huge leap in valuation for FPC.

However, Carnegie analyst Havard Nilsson this week cut his recommendation for FPC to “sell” from “hold”, citing what he called unwarranted share price appreciation and repeated his target price of 450 crowns. The shares traded at 524 crowns on Thursday.

“Given that smartphones should constitute 60-70 percent of the global addressable market (in 2020), we do not believe new verticals, such as smart cards, will be able to compensate for competitive pressure in consumer electronics,” Nilsson wrote.

He sees earnings per share peaking at 37 crowns in 2018.

Beyond payments, biometric smart cards could be used to allow access to buildings and IT-systems, according to FPC. Keyless entry to cars is another potential major market, as are wearable products such as watches or wristbands serving as a substitute identity card. FPC includes such applications in its forecasts for “other segments” of business.

FPC sees a total addressable market for this part of its business of roughly 100 million sensors in 2017 and around 500 million in 2018. It is the only player so far to make specific forecasts for these new markets.

“We talk to a lot of players and companies come to us. There is substance behind our numbers,” Lantto said, adding that FPC has held talks with a handful of big potential smart card clients since last autumn.

Most suppliers of fingerprint sensors, including FPC, use 3D imaging technology for recognition of a fingerprint, while Next Biometrics in Norway uses heat sensing technology.

IDEX, another Norwegian competitor, roughly shares FPC’s forecasts for segments beyond smartphones for the coming few years, Chief Financial Officer Henrik Knudtzon said.

IDEX, which last summer entered a partnership with an unnamed global payments company for biometric applications, is integrating its sensors into smart cards with partners and expects shipments to start toward the end of this year, Knudtzon said.

(Reporting by Olof Swahnberg; Editing by Eric Auchard and Keith Weir)

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Vente-Privee buys Spanish fashion ecommerce site Privalia

Privalia Barcelona has just clocked up its biggest ever exit — albeit the price-tag on the sale of veteran Spanish ecommerce player Privalia, headquartered in the city, to France’s Ventee-Privee has not been disclosed. Recent rumors swirling about a possible exit for Privalia pegged the price being discussed at up to €500 million. Read More

More Startups Are Getting Lower Valuations Than Joining the Billion-Dollar Club

According to a new report from KPMG International and CB Insights, 2016 has seen a larger number of startups taking new lower valuations than those earning the billion-dollar badge. "The first quarter of 2016 has borne witness to high-profile unicorn company issues, layoffs, down rounds and mutual fund valuation markdowns," according to the report.

Google for Entrepreneurs adds People Squared, its first partner in China

shutterstock shanghai Many of Google’s services are blocked in China, but the company is still finding ways of maintaining ties with startups there. Today People Squared, which runs tech hubs in Beijing and Shanghai, announced that it has joined the Google for Entrepreneurs program. That means it will get financial backing for operational expenses from Google and its startups will have access to the… Read More