Kahoot, a ‘Netflix for education’, launches an accelerator to tap gaming and education startups

On the back of Disney increasing its shareholding in Oslo-based Kahoot to four percent last week, Kahoot today announced a new initiative that helps to position the popular startup — which already has 60 million games and has seen over 1 billion players engage on its platform over the last year — as the “Netflix for education apps.”

It’s launching Kahoot! Ignite, a new accelerator for like-minded startups that are pushing the boundaries of education through gaming and other means.

In addition to that, Kahoot today also said it would move stock exchanges in its home market of Norway, going from the smaller OTC exchange to the Merkur Market, which CEO and co-founder Åsmund Furuseth explained in an interview is also an exchange for private companies, but one that will be able to provide more transparency to the startup’s bigger investors en route to an eventual full public listing. As of last week’s Disney news, the startup is now valued at $376 million.

Participating in the Ignite accelerator, Furuseth said, will give Kahoot the option to invest in startups in each cohort, and if it makes sense for the startup in question, they will build content that will be usable on the Kahoot platform.

“We have close to $30 million in the bank and are in a financial market where we can get more capital,” he said. “We don’t need to invest, but if we want to, we can.” 

The startup today has some 60 million games on its platform, with a good portion of those created by users themselves (making it more like a YouTube than a Netflix). The idea is that bringing in outside developers (in this case, by way of the accelerator) could inject more innovation and interesting takes on the concept of “educational gaming” — not unlike how Netflix and Amazon engage outside studios to develop originals for its platform, alongside what they develop themselves or buy in through deals with rights holders.

In addition to the carrots of investment and distribution on the Kahoot platform — which is likely to hit 100 million monthly active users this month (Furuseth said he was confident of the number today) — Kahoot is offering mentorship to potential cohorts in areas like monetization and product development. Given the fact that educational aides can come in all shapes and sizes, that might not take the form of a piece of content for the Kahoot platform.

“Putting something on Kahoot could be an outcome, but we’re also interested in ‘network products,’ which have the same desire to enable learning,” Furuseth said.

The company today has a double focus, with games for K-12 students as well as for enterprise environments. “Learning is the main topic,” he added. “We like to have the mix.”

Bumble now lets you filter potential matches on Bumble Date, Bizz and BFF

Bumble has come up with a new way for its dating app and related businesses to generate revenue. The company this week launched filters – a way to sift through potential matches by a set of specific criteria. For example, Bumble Date users can now filter matches by astrological sign or relationship type, among other things, while those on Bumble BFF or Bumble Bizz, could filter matches by interests or industry, respectively.

The new feature is meant to save users time by limiting their selection of potential matches to those who are more relevant to their own interests.

A dating app user may want to filter out those who are only looking for casual situations, while a business user may want to filter matches based on whether they’re looking for a job, mentor, or collaborator, Bumble explains. And on Bumble’s friend-finding platform, Bumble BFF, people may want to filter for people who enjoy the same things they do – like fitness or photography.

“We’ve been working internally and with our users to create just the right mix of filters that allow for deeper, more meaningful connections and we’re very pleased with what we’ve developed,” said Alexandra Williamson, Bumble Chief of Brand, in a statement about the launch. “Whether you’re looking for a new job in media, a new mom friend or a date with a Sagittarius who loves live music, Bumble Filters enable you to tailor your experience in a way that ultimately gives you more control of the kinds of relationships you’re looking to build,” she said.

Filtering matches by specific criteria isn’t anything new to dating apps. Other more traditional dating sites, like Match and OKCupid, have offered ways to filter matches, too. But Bumble’s more direct rival Tinder has focused less on filtering and more on speed of moving through matches. It doesn’t let users specify preferences beyond some basics – like location, distance, gender and age.

Whether or not filtering actually helps in delivering a good match, however, is less clear. But it’s certainly something people want.

Today, many women on dating apps ask men for their height, for instance – so often, in fact, that men began volunteering this information on their profiles, even if the profile doesn’t have a field for height. Often, sober people don’t want to match with people who say they drink regularly. Non-smokers generally want to date the same. And so on. But over-filtering could lead to users missing out – after all, how important is the star sign, really, or whether they have pets? (Allergies notwithstanding, of course.)

On the dating side of Bumble, the new filters include height, exercise, star sign, education, drinking, smoking, pets, relationship type, family plans, religion, and political leaning.

Bumble BFFs can filter for drinking, smoking, exercise and pets, too, as well as type of friendship, relationship status, whether they have kids, or if they’re new to the area.

And Bumble Bizz users can filter by industry, networking relationship type, education, and years of experience.

Bumble hopes filters will be an additional stream of revenue for its business, which it said in September was on track for a revenue run rate to $200 million per year. Bumble now claims 46 million users.

The company says all users will receive two free filters in Bumble Date, Bumble BFF, and Bumble Bizz, but additional filters will have to be purchased through Bumble Boost – the premium upgrade that also allow you to see who liked you, extend your matches, and rematch expired connections. (Boost’s pricing varies based on the time frame – a week, a month, etc. Its weekly plan is $8.99/week, currently).

Bumble’s filters are available on both iOS and Android.

 

A month after $70M, Clearbanc raises $50M fund to front startups ad money

Clearbanc is disrupting startup funding by providing companies cash to buy ads in exchange for a revenue share so they don’t have to sell as much equity to venue capitalists. That idea has proven so appealing that 1000 companies seeking up to $1 billion total hit up Clearbanc since we reported it raised $70 million last month. So to meet the demand of the most eligible startups asking for marketing cash, Clearbanc has just raised a $50 million fund from Seamless co-founder Jason Finger’s new firm Upper90.

If a company’s Facebook ads and Stripe sales metrics show it’s a sure bet, Clearbanc can provide $5,000 to $10 million in funding to pour fuel on the fire. Startups invest that into ad spend, and then split the revenue with Clearbanc from the sales triggered by those ads until it’s paid back plus six percent. Essentially, Clearbanc offers an alternative to selling valuable equity and control to VCs by offering capital based on new data sources traditional banks aren’t looking at.

“In 2018, Clearbanc has funded over $100M into 500 different companies. Our portfolio companies are putting that capital to work and growing at over 100% year over year on average” co-founder and CEO Andrew D’Souza tells us.

Clearbanc co-founder Michele Romanow

To back the investments, Clearbanc raises sub-funds from LPs who earn a return through a slice of the revenue sharing deals. Part of the last $70 million was used to set up the first Clearbanc fund, and the whole $50 million being announced today is the second fund. Clearbanc expects the funds to mature and pay out after just two years, offering LPs a faster but lower-stakes return then typical eight-year VC funds. Upper90’s goal is just those sort of steady gains. “This deal literally came together in 3 weeks from first meeting to close, which was unheard of” D’Souza notes.

He wouldn’t say exactly how much Clearbanc has raised in traditional equity for itself, but revealed most of the $70 million round’s investors were buying standard equity and it has some flexibility in how it applies some of the funding. D’Souza tells me “We have been largely focused on ecommerce companies and subscription ecommerce, but have started doing some deals with enterprise companies.  In 2019 we plan to expand internationally beyond the US and Canada, introduce new verticals, and launch new financial products to help entrepreneurs.”

Previously at McKinsey, D’Souza had raised over $300 million in venture for startups before teaming up on angel investments with Michele Romanow, an investor from Canada’s Shark Tank-style TV show Dragons’ Den. The two have become a romantic couple amidst Clearbanc’s start in 2015. It’s now taken cash from Emergence Capital, Social, Social Capital, CoVenture, Founders Fund, 8VC and others. Groupon co-founder Ranjen Ruparell and Third Point hedge fund partner Keri Findley are now joining Clearbanc’s board. “We may take on more traditional equity in the future but we don’t need it right now” D’Souza reveals. “We will raise an additional 250-300M in LP capital next year to continue to meet demand.”

We are witnessing an evolution of the growth capital business – entrepreneurs do not want to be forced to choose between restrictive equity or debt arrangements to fund their business growth” Cleabanc’s new board member Findley says. “Clearbanc is building a new asset class that is compelling for entrepreneurs as well as investors looking for strong risk-adjusted returns.”

The business model depends on Clearbanc accurately assessing demand for the products for which it’s funding ad buys. If products flop and the startups don’t have much revenue to share, its influx of LPs will dry up. Clearbanc is also vulnerable to changes in the ad market and platforms like Facebook or Google. If ad prices go up or new content formats like Instagram Stories don’t work as well for direct response ecommerce ads, that could also put the squeeze on Clearbanc. “We’re funding customer acquisition across platforms (it just happens to be primarily on Facebook and Google right now)” D’Souza counters. “We’re looking at data across our portfolio and building relationships with emerging platforms to help our companies stay ahead of the curve”

Given the explosion of direct to consumer brands in the wake of successes like Dollar Shave Club’s acquisition for $1 billion, there may be plenty of startups clamoring for Clearbanc’s capital.

Atari teams up with some startup to pretend to make blockchain-based games

Animoca Brands will produce and publish blockchain-based versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon and Goon Squad worldwide (excluding China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau); the new titles will feature the integration of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The term of the Agreement extends through to 31 March 2022.

In honor of this exciting announcement I’d like to propose the following blockchain-based products available for license to those hunting for a quick buck:

Blockchain! The Musical
Blockchain Cereal
Blockchain Brand Kombucha
Blockchain & Me, An Alien Adventure
Blockchain Whiskey
Blockchain Soda
Blockchain The Miniseries
Blockchain Lingerie – Shake His Merkle Tree
Blockchain Brand Firestarters
Blockchain Pessaries For Her
Blockchain French Ticklers
Blockchain Getaway Cars
Blockchain Killer Apps (rumored not to exist)
Blockchain Airlines
Blockchain Margarita Mix
Blockchain Cowboy Hats
Blockchain Burgers
Blockchain Dance Studios
Blockchain Pants

As adult content ban arrives, Tumblr clarifies and refines rules

Let’s talk about the grown-up stuff — the adult content that Tumblr says it’s banning starting today. The wording of the company’s initial plans was admittedly confusing, upsetting both artists and sex workers who have begun to rely on the platform as a kind of safe place for self-expression.

The site issued a blog post today clarifying what had initially appeared to be a scorched earth approach to the explicit content as Tumblr frantically attempted to work its way back into Apple’s good graces. The note is a bit of a retread of earlier statements, while offering a much clearer vision of what things will look like on Tumblr’s end.

Of course, for some, this clarification might be coming too late. Many have already abandoned Tumblr for greener — or at least less family-friendly pastures. That’s due in no small part to the fact that it went on a kind of banning spree, following the reports of child pornography that caused it to be pulled from Apple’s App Store.

Tumblr relied on a machine algorithm that flagged posts at a rapid clip, resulting in frustrating and sometimes hilarious misfires. “[T]his is a complex problem,” the company writes, “and over the coming weeks we will gradually, and carefully, flag more adult content. (Yes, we will still make mistakes, but hopefully fewer and fewer.)”

The service also clarifies its appeals process, wherein users can protest posts they believe were incorrectly flagged. Content that is flagged will be hidden from view, but not deleted, according to the company.

Tumblr also correctly notes the important role the LGBTQ+ community has played in buoying the service over the past several years. Communities like this have found a home on the service and many now feel threatened by what appears on the face of it to be a bit of a Draconian new ruling.

Per Tumblr:

LGBTQ+ conversations, exploration of sexuality and gender, efforts to document the lives and challenges of those in the sex worker industry, and posts with pictures, videos, and GIFs of gender-confirmation surgery are all examples of content that is not only permitted on Tumblr but actively encouraged.

And just to drive the point home, it offers a few examples of images that ought not be flagged by the service, ranging from life drawings to medical procedures to topless protesting. Of course, under its current algorithm, many of these have already been flagged.

It’s a nice gesture, but more to the point, it’s a site finally acknowledging a core audience that feels betrayed by the new rules. Tumblr’s own approach to them now feels fluid because it has to be. The company is toeing a difficult line between the openness users have come to expect and regulations put in place to please walled content gardens from the likes of Apple and the strict structures of its (and, for that matter, TechCrunch’s) corporate owner, Verizon.

It’s going to be a hard line to walk, but the future of Tumblr might very well depend on it.

UK workplace rights reform doesn’t look disruptive to gig economy giants

The UK government has set out a labor market reform package it bills as a major upgrade to workplace rights in the era of disruptive gig economy platforms.

The reforms, which include new legislation, are intended to take account of changes in working practices including those flowing from tech platforms.

But despite some gig economy platforms standing accused of exploiting workers, the government’s package does not look set to require a radical reworking of existing business models — and unions have attacked the reforms as weak and lacking substance, pointing out that, for example, a right to request a more stable contract doesn’t add up to much of a rights advance.

Among the measures being announced today (some of which have been trailed before) are:

  • a day one statement of rights for all workers setting out leave entitlements and pay, and also including detail on rights such as eligibility for sick leave and pay; and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity leave
  • introducing a right for all workers, not just zero-hour and agency, to request a more predictable and stable contract, providing more financial security for those on flexible contracts
  • plans to bring forward proposals for a new single labour market enforcement body to ensure workers rights are properly enforced; and more resource for the Employment Agency Standards (EAS) Inspectorate
  • an end to the legal loophole which enables some firms to pay agency workers less than permanent staff (aka the ‘Swedish derogation’)
  •  an extension to the the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks, to “ensure workers in seasonal or atypical roles get the paid time off they are entitled to”
  • enforcing vulnerable workers’ holiday pay for the first time
  • ensuring tips left for workers go to them in full

The government also says it is committed to legislate to improve the clarity of the employment status tests to “reflect the reality of the modern working relationships” — though it does not provide any detail on how exactly it intends to reform such tests.

The labor market package comes ten months after it unveiled a plan slated to expand workers rights. It also kicked off a number of consultations at that time.

With today’s package, the government is drawing heavily on an independent review of modern  working practices it commissioned, which was carried out by Matthew Taylor and published last summer.

It says it’s taking forward 51 of the 53 recommendations in the Taylor review — agreeing with him that banning zero hours contracts in their totality would “negatively impact more people than it helped”.

It has also accepted Taylor’s view that the flexibility of ‘gig working’ — where platforms distribute paid tasks via apps, and use digital technology to remotely manage what can be tens of thousands of individuals providing a service for the business — is “not incompatible with ensuring atypical workers have access to employment and social security protections”; and that platform-based working offers opportunities for “genuine two way flexibility”, as well as opportunities for those who may not be able to work in “more conventional ways”.

That’s likely music to the ears of gig economy giants that have built massive businesses by claiming to offer flexible work opportunities for the ‘self-employed’, using algorithms to distribute jobs and remote-manage a distributed workforce, thereby enabling them to massively shift employment risk onto the individuals who actually provide the core service.

Though the government also claims to be going further than Taylor in some instances.

Business secretary, Greg Clark, said the government’s intention is to build “an economy that works for everyone”, while also lauding what he dubbed “an effective balance between flexibility and worker protections” — which he credited for helping the UK have “the highest employment rate on record”.

Yet, at the start of this year, the government also committed itself to being “accountable for good quality work as well as quantity of jobs”.

And today’s package reiterates that the secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will take a new responsibility to the ensure the “quality of work”.

So expect a lot of hot air to be expended in the future over what does — and does not — constitute ‘quality’ work. (Albeit, measuring working time is hard enough, from a legal point of view, let alone determining work “quality”… )

“The UK has a labour market of which we can be proud. We have the highest employment rate on record, increased participation amongst historically under-represent groups and wages growing at their fastest pace in almost a decade,” Clark said in a statement.

“This success has been underpinned by policies and employment law which strikes an effective balance between flexibility and worker protections but the world of work is changing, bringing new opportunities for innovative businesses and new business models to flourish, creating jobs across the country and boosting our economy.

“With new opportunity also comes new challenges and that is why the government asked Matthew Taylor to carry out this first of a kind review, to ensure the UK continues to lead the world, through our modern Industrial Strategy, in supporting innovative businesses whilst ensuring workers have the rights they deserve.”

“Today’s largest upgrade in workers’ rights in over a generation is a key part of building a labour market that continues to reward people for hard work, that celebrates good employers and is boosting productivity and earning potential across the UK,” he added.

Last year two parliamentary committees urged the government to close gig-economy employment law loopholes — saying they had enabled “dubious business practices” by letting digital work platforms use flexibility as a tool to circumvent workers rights and entitlements.

The committees went on to call for companies with a self-employed workforce above a certain size to be required to treat individuals as workers by default.

Today’s reform plan certainly does not look to be going so far.

Much will rest on how exactly the government changes the law around employment status tests — and that’s still tbc.

Rachel Farr, a senior professional support lawyer in the Employment, Pensions & Mobility group at law firm TaylorWessing, told us it’s also rather easier said than done — suggesting it’s difficult to see how the government will “truly improve clarity”.

This element of the reform is a key consideration where gig economy businesses are concerned, as they typically allow for so-called ‘multi-apping’ — meaning those providing a service on one platform can be logged into multiple (rival) platforms simultaneously available to work. So the issue — for employment law purposes — is how to determine what constitutes working time in a platform context. (Which you need to be able to measure in order to determine employment status.)

“Simply codifying the existing case law tests will still mean each case is dependent on its specific facts, so is the government proposing to change the boundaries with some ‘check box’ style tests as they have in other EU jurisdictions?” wondered Farr. “This means greater clarity through simplifying the law but would probably mean we lose the nuances of existing U.K. tests and that some people who are currently genuinely self-employed will find that they may become workers (or vice versa).”

Uber was back in court in the UK two months ago for its latest appeal against a 2016 employment tribunal ruling which found that a group of Uber drivers were workers, not self-employed contractors as it contends.

The company has previously suggested it would cost its UK business “tens of millions” of pounds if it reclassified the circa 50,000 ‘self-employed’ drivers operating on its platform as workers.

So the devil will be in the detail of the commitment to clarify employment status tests — and where those tests end up drawing the line.

But the government’s embrace of the overarching notion of a “balance” between flexibility and worker protections looks very friendly to current-gen gig economy business models.

A decision on Uber’s latest tribunal appeal is rumored to be due this week, though it’s not clear that it will provide much clarity on the multi-apping/working time issue. TaylorWessing litigator Sean Nesbitt also told us the tribunal has not been able to spend much time debating those elements.

Responding to the government’s reform package today, the ride-hailing giant sounded pleased. An Uber spokesperson said: “We welcome more clarity from the Government and look forward to working closely with them to make sure drivers can keep all the benefits that come from being your own boss.”

“The majority of drivers choose to partner with Uber because of the freedom and flexibility on offer. A recent Oxford University study found that most drivers want to choose if, when and where they drive,” it added.

At the same time UK unions offered a downbeat assessment of the reform package.

Reuters reports the Unite Union making critical comments. “People on zero hour contracts and workers in the insecure economy need much more than a weak right to request a contract and more predictable hours,” it quoted Unite general secretary Len McCluskey responding to the reform package.

While the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain general secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee, tweeted that “exploited workers are sick of press releases, rhetoric and self-congratulatory announcements”. He added that a “real update in rights and a serious enforcement regime” does not seem to be on offer with the government’s package.

The IWGB union has supported a number of legal and protest actions by gig economy workers in recent years, including a (so far unsuccessful) human rights challenge to Deliveroo’s opposition to collective bargaining for riders.

This summer an inquiry into pay and conditions for Deliveroo riders, carried out by UK MP Frank Field, likened the model to casual labor practices at British dockyards until the middle of the 20th century — finding a dual labour market that he said works very well for some but very poorly for others.

In its response to Field’s report, as well as claiming Deliveroo riders choose flexibility, the company emphasized it had been pushing the government to update employment rules to end what it dubbed “the trade-off between flexibility and security and enable platforms to offer riders even more benefits without putting their employment status at risk”.

Responding to the government’s reform package today, a Deliveroo spokesperson reiterated this line, saying: “Court judgements have consistently found Deliveroo riders to be self-employed. However, Deliveroo has consistently said that we would like to see the rules change to end the trade-off between flexibility and security that currently exists in employment law, to allow companies such as ours to offer more benefits to riders.”

“Independent research has shown riders are consciously choosing to opt out of traditional employment in favour of new ways of working where they have more control,” the spokesperson added. “On-demand working is set to grow as people want to fit work around their lives, not vice versa, and we will work with the Government to ensure the interests of Deliveroo riders can be advanced.”

Cydia shuts down purchasing mechanism for its jailbreak app store

Years after becoming one of the go-to destinations for iOS jailbreaks, Cydia’s app store is disabling purchases. Users will be able to access existing downloads through the store and access purchases via third-parties, but beginning this week, they’ll no longer be able to buy apps through the store.

Founder Jay “Saurik “ Freeman revealed the news via a Reddit post this week recommending users remove PayPal accounts from their profile. Freeman notes his initial plan to shut the service down by year’s end, before ultimately opting to close down the purchasing mechanism this weekend over the PayPal issue.

The software engineer cites the toll running the service has taken on his personal life and finances in making the decision. “[T]his service loses me money and is not something I have any passion to maintain: it was a critical component of a healthy ecosystem,” he writes, “and for a while it helped fund a small staff of people to maintain the ecosystem, but it came at great cost to my sanity and led lots of people to irrationally hate me due to what amounted to a purposeful misunderstanding of how profit vs. revenue works.”

Cydia was launched 10 years ago, shortly after the first iPhone was jailbroken. The service has offered users a way to bypass Apple’s own App Store lockdown, building up a rabid fanbase in the process. Ultimately, however, jailbreaking’s popularity has waned in the intervening users.

The exact future of the Cydia community remains unclear, though Freeman has promised a “more formal post” about his plans next week. We’ve reached out for further comment.

The limits of coworking

It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @[email protected].

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

The co-working of everything

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

… Or just the co-working of some things

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

Tony Hawk goes mobile

For three years, Tony Hawk has been conspicuously absent from the video store shelves. For most game developers, that’s little more than a blip between titles. When your name and face are attached to 16 titles in 15 years, however, everyone starts to notice when you’re gone.

“It’s usually the first topic of discussion with me,” Hawk laughs. The first, that is, once the world’s most famous skateboarder’s identity has been firmly established.

That question was finally answered this week with the arrival of Skate Jam, the first of Hawk’s titles created exclusively for a mobile platform. The game also marks the skater’s first collaboration with mobile app acquisition group Maple Media — marking a split with longtime publisher Activision.

It was a partnership that ended with a whimper, with the arrival of 2015’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5. The final installation of the beloved series was heavily criticized for being uninspired and rushed, and Hawk ultimately opted to move on from a relationship that helped turn his name into a $250 million a year brand at its peak.

The unceremonious end of the Activision deal left the future of the franchise in jeopardy, with Hawk exploring his options. “My contract with Activision ended, and I was exploring a few options, including some VR stuff,” he tells TechCrunch. While he says he’s still open to a future Tony Hawk virtual reality title, the medium ultimately proved too tricky for the first skater to land a 900. “It’s a pretty daunting task to figure out how to make skateboarding work in VR without people getting sick.”

Advances in mobile platforms, on the other hand, have made a smartphone version far more appealing than it would have been at the height of the franchise’s success. “Maple Media came and said they would like to expand on their skate games,” says Hawk. “When I played their most recent engine, I felt there was something there, akin to what I felt when I first played the THPS engine. I felt that, with my input and expertise, we could make something that would be truly authentic for gamers and skaters alike, for a new generation.”

As far as whether Skate Jam’s release portends the rebirth of the franchise, Hawk is ultimately a bit more cagey. He explains that the team is more focused on building out the current title than committing to Pro Skater’s annual release schedule.

“We’re going to see a lot more development in terms of growing this title,” Hawk says. “It’s much more streamlined and we can do it on a regular basis. We’re not planning to develop a new title, per se, but are planning to grow and develop this one.”

Skate Jam is now available for Android and iOS.

Propel raises $12.8M for its free app to manage government benefits

Propel, maker of the Fresh EBT app for managing food stamps and other benefits, announced today that it has raised $12.8 million in Series A funding.

Fresh EBT (the EBT stands for the Electronics Transfer Benefit card, which is how food stamp participants receive their benefits) allows users to check their food stamp/SNAP balance and find stores that accept food stamps. Users can also track their spending. The app is free for consumers and government agencies — the company makes money through digital coupons and a job board.

Propel says Fresh EBT is now used by more than 1.5 million Americans each month, and that more than 30,000 people have applied for jobs this year that they discovered through the app. For example, the announcement quotes one user, Tracy B. from Fairland, Virginia — she described Fresh EBT as her “personal financial adviser,” and also said she used it to find discount zoo tickets, and even her current job.

When Propel raised its $4 million seed round last year, founder and CEO Jimmy Chen described his mission as building “a more user-friendly safety net.” He argued that there’s no conflict between Propel’s social mission and its structure as a for-profit business, a position he reiterated in today’s announcement.

“Our investors are world-class experts in their respective fields,” he said. “They share an understanding of the challenges of low-income Americans and a belief that Propel can build a massive business by fighting poverty.”

Those investors include Nyca Partners, which led the round. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Omidyar Network, Alexa von Tobel and Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures also participated.

“It’s not hard to see the huge opportunity in building better financial services for low-income people,” said Nyca Managing Partner Hans Morris in a statement. “We just haven’t seen many companies in this space that have an opportunity to have such a large impact at massive scale. That’s why we’re so excited to invest in Propel.”