Art on Blockchain pioneer Verisart raises $2.5M for art and collectibles certification

A lot of talk has been made about verifying valuable items on an immutable blockchain, but the main pioneer in this space has been Verisart, which appeared a few years ago to use a blockchain to create certification for the fine art and collectibles market. But despite the blockchain hype of the last few years, Verisart eschewed the fund-raising bonanza, preferring instead to perfect its model and build partnerships.

That changes today with the news that it has raised $2.5 million in seed financing in a round led by Galaxy Digital EOS VC Fund. Further investment has come from existing investors Sinai Ventures and Rhodium. The funding will be used to expand Verisart’s commercial platform for authentication and further expand in the art world.

Co-Founder and CEO Robert Norton commented: “With this new round of funding, we’re able to scale our business and ramp up our partnership integrations. The art world is quickly realizing that blockchain provides a new standard in provenance and record-keeping and we’re looking forward to extending these services to the industry.”

The $325mm Galaxy EOS VC Fund is a partnership between Galaxy Digital, a blockchain-focused merchant bank, and Block.one, the publisher of EOSIO, the blockchain protocol.

The funding will go towards extending the product and engineering team and launching a suite of premium services aimed at artists, galleries and collectors. The company recently appointed Paul Duncan, formerly the founding CTO of Borro, the online lending platform for luxury assets, to lead the engineering team.

In 2015, Verisart was the first company to apply blockchain technology to the physical art and collectibles market. It’s also working with some of the world’s best-known artists including Ai Wei Wei and Shepard Fairey to certify their works of art. In 2018, Verisart won the ‘Hottest Blockchain DApp’ award at The Europas, the European tech startup awards.

It’s also been the first blockchain certification provider on Shopify to offer digital certification for limited editions, artworks and collectibles.

Other players are now entering this growing blockchain-for-art market. Codex Protocol is a new startup also putting art on the blockchain.

Target’s personalized loyalty program launches nationwide next month

Target today announced its new, data-driven loyalty program, Target Circle, will launch nationwide on October, 6th, following a year and a half of beta testing in select markets. The program combines a variety of features including 1% back on purchases, birthday rewards, and personalized offers and savings designed to make the program more attractive to consumers.

It also includes a way for customers to vote on Target’s community giving initiatives, which helps directs Target’s giving to around 800 nonprofits in the U.S.

Voting

The new program is designed to lure in customers who have yet to adopt Target’s store card, REDcard. While REDcard penetration today is around 23%, that number has remained fairly consistent over time — in fact, it’s down about one percentage point from a year ago.

With Target Circle, however, the retailer has another means of generating loyalty and establishing a connection with its customers on a more individualized basis.

A big part of that is the personalized aspect of the Target Circle program. In addition to the “birthday perks” (an easy way to grab some demographic data), customers will also get special discounts on the categories they “shop most often” — meaning, Target will be tapping into its treasure trove of customer purchase history to make recommendations from both in-store and online purchases along with other signals.

“As guests shop, Target leverages information about their shopping behaviors and purchases to share relevant offers that create an even more personalized, seamless shopping experience,” a company spokesperson explained, when asked for details about the data being used. “For example, a guest who frequently shops Target for baby products may receive a special offer on their next purchase of baby items.”

TargetCircle NonBeta 19 Brand RGB Logo Red

According to a recent retail study from Avionos, 78% of consumers are more likely to purchase from retailers that better personalize their experiences and 63% are more open to sharing personal information if retailers can better anticipate needs.

And as some may recall, Target is already scary good at personalization.

In one notable case, the retailer figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did, and sent her coupons for baby items. The dad, understandably, was angry — until he found out that Target was right.

That story was a high-profile example of the data collection and analysis big retailers are doing all the time, though. Target Circle simply formalizes this into an opt-in program instead of an opt-out experience.

As part of the changes, Target’s Cartwheel savings are rolling into Target Circle where they’ll be rebranded as Target Circle offers. 

TargetCircle inApp

Circle members will also get early access to special sales throughout the year — that is, the events people line up for, like they did for the Lilly Pulitzer fashion line or more recently, the quickly sold out Vineyard Vines collection.

Target says, in time, it will come up with “even more personalized, relevant ways” to make shopping easier for its customers.

The new program is meant to complement the REDcard, which will increase the cashback to 5% when used. But REDcard holders can still join Circle to take advantage of the other perks.

WalletRedeeming

“Our guests are at the center of everything we do, and we’re always looking for ways to create even easier, more rewarding shopping experiences that give them another reason to choose Target,” said Rick Gomez, Target executive vice president, and chief marketing and digital officer, in a statement. “We worked directly with guests to develop Target Circle, and the program includes the benefits and perks they told us were most important to them, from earning on every trip to having the opportunity to help Target make a positive impact in their local communities,” he said.

The loyalty program had been in testing in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Phoenix over the past 18 months.

Though not having Amazon’s scale, Target has done well at quickly innovating to keep up with today’s pace of e-commerce. In short order, it has made over its stores to make more room for order pickups and online grocery, and has launched and expanded new services like Target Restock (next-day), Shipt (same day delivery) and Drive Up (same day pickup). The changes have been paying off with Target beating on its latest earnings with $18.42 billion in revenue and profits of $938 million.

 

Target’s personalized loyalty program launches nationwide next month

Target today announced its new, data-driven loyalty program, Target Circle, will launch nationwide on October, 6th, following a year and a half of beta testing in select markets. The program combines a variety of features including 1% back on purchases, birthday rewards, and personalized offers and savings designed to make the program more attractive to consumers.

It also includes a way for customers to vote on Target’s community giving initiatives, which helps directs Target’s giving to around 800 nonprofits in the U.S.

Voting

The new program is designed to lure in customers who have yet to adopt Target’s store card, REDcard. While REDcard penetration today is around 23%, that number has remained fairly consistent over time — in fact, it’s down about one percentage point from a year ago.

With Target Circle, however, the retailer has another means of generating loyalty and establishing a connection with its customers on a more individualized basis.

A big part of that is the personalized aspect of the Target Circle program. In addition to the “birthday perks” (an easy way to grab some demographic data), customers will also get special discounts on the categories they “shop most often” — meaning, Target will be tapping into its treasure trove of customer purchase history to make recommendations from both in-store and online purchases along with other signals.

“As guests shop, Target leverages information about their shopping behaviors and purchases to share relevant offers that create an even more personalized, seamless shopping experience,” a company spokesperson explained, when asked for details about the data being used. “For example, a guest who frequently shops Target for baby products may receive a special offer on their next purchase of baby items.”

TargetCircle NonBeta 19 Brand RGB Logo Red

According to a recent retail study from Avionos, 78% of consumers are more likely to purchase from retailers that better personalize their experiences and 63% are more open to sharing personal information if retailers can better anticipate needs.

And as some may recall, Target is already scary good at personalization.

In one notable case, the retailer figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did, and sent her coupons for baby items. The dad, understandably, was angry — until he found out that Target was right.

That story was a high-profile example of the data collection and analysis big retailers are doing all the time, though. Target Circle simply formalizes this into an opt-in program instead of an opt-out experience.

As part of the changes, Target’s Cartwheel savings are rolling into Target Circle where they’ll be rebranded as Target Circle offers. 

TargetCircle inApp

Circle members will also get early access to special sales throughout the year — that is, the events people line up for, like they did for the Lilly Pulitzer fashion line or more recently, the quickly sold out Vineyard Vines collection.

Target says, in time, it will come up with “even more personalized, relevant ways” to make shopping easier for its customers.

The new program is meant to complement the REDcard, which will increase the cashback to 5% when used. But REDcard holders can still join Circle to take advantage of the other perks.

WalletRedeeming

“Our guests are at the center of everything we do, and we’re always looking for ways to create even easier, more rewarding shopping experiences that give them another reason to choose Target,” said Rick Gomez, Target executive vice president, and chief marketing and digital officer, in a statement. “We worked directly with guests to develop Target Circle, and the program includes the benefits and perks they told us were most important to them, from earning on every trip to having the opportunity to help Target make a positive impact in their local communities,” he said.

The loyalty program had been in testing in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Phoenix over the past 18 months.

Though not having Amazon’s scale, Target has done well at quickly innovating to keep up with today’s pace of e-commerce. In short order, it has made over its stores to make more room for order pickups and online grocery, and has launched and expanded new services like Target Restock (next-day), Shipt (same day delivery) and Drive Up (same day pickup). The changes have been paying off with Target beating on its latest earnings with $18.42 billion in revenue and profits of $938 million.

 

How early-stage startups can use data effectively

It is a commonly held belief that startups can measure their way to success. And while there are always exceptions, early-stage companies often can’t leverage data easily, at least not in the way that later stage companies can. It’s imperative that startups recognize this early on — it makes all the difference.

In this piece, I draw on my experiences using data to take Framer from seed round to Series B. More concretely, I’ll describe what to (not) focus on, and then, how to get real results.

There are good and bad ways for startups to use data. In my opinion, the bad way unfortunately is often preached on saas blogs, a/b test tool marketing pages, and especially growth hacker conferences: that by simply measuring and looking at data you’ll find simple things to do that will drive explosive growth. Silver bullets, if you will.

The good way is comparable to first principles thinking. Below the surface of your day to day results, your startup can be described by a set of numbers. It takes some work to discover these numbers, but once you have them you can use them to make predictions and spot underlying trends. If everyone in your company knows these numbers by heart, they will inevitably make better decisions.

But most importantly, using data the right way will help answer the single most important – but complex – question at any moment for a startup: how are we really doing?

Let’s start with looking at what not to do as a startup.

Table of Contents


Common pitfalls

Don’t measure too much

Technically, it’s easy to measure everything, so most startups start out that way. But when you measure everything, you learn nothing. Just the sheer noise makes it hard to discover anything useful and it can be demotivating to look at piles of numbers in general.

My advice is to carefully plan what you want to measure upfront, then implement and conclude. You should only expand your set of measurements once you’ve made the most important ones actionable. Later in this article, I provide a clear set of ways to plan what you measure.

A/B tests are anti-startup

To make decisions based on data you need volume. Without volume, the data itself is not statistically significant and is basically just noise. To detect a 3% difference with 95% confidence you would need a sample size of 12,000 visitors, signups, or sales. That sample size is generally too high for most early-stage startups and forces your product development into long cycles.

While on the subject of shipping fast and iterating later, let’s talk about A/B testing. To get reliable measurements, you should only be changing one variable at a time. During the early stages of Framer, we changed our homepage in the middle of a checkout A/B test, which skewed our results. But as a startup, it was the right decision to adjust the way we marketed our product. What you’ll find is that those two factors are often incompatible. In general, constant improvements should trump tests that block quick reactionary changes.

Understand your calculations

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles children’s data and safety

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles the safety and personal data of underage users. According to the Guardian, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary committee that the probe started in February, after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission levied a $5.7 million fine against TikTok for breaking children’s privacy law.

Denham told the Guardian that the commission is examining how TikTok collects private data and concerns about the open messaging system, which may allow adult users to contact children. “We are looking at the transparency tools for children. We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space,” she said.

The investigation will also examine if the popular app, owned by ByteDance, violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires companies to put special protections in place for underage users and provide them with different services than adults.

The FTC’s investigation, which began when TikTok was still known as Musical.ly, ruled that the app broke the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other personal information from users under 13. The ruling resulted in an age gate being added to an app that prevents users under 13 from filming and posting videos on it.

ByteDance, the Chinese media startup now valued at $75 billion, told the Guardian in a statement that “We cooperate with organizations such as the ICO to provide relevant information about our product to support their work. Ensuring data protection principles are upheld as a top priority for TikTok.”

Fungible raises $200 million led by SoftBank Vision Fund to help companies handle increasingly massive amounts of data

Fungible, a startup that wants to help data centers cope with the increasingly massive amounts of data produced by new technologies, has raised a $200 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners and its existing investors. As part of the round, SoftBank Investment Advisers senior managing partner Deep Nishar will join Fungible’s board of directors.

Founded in 2015, Fungible now counts about 200 employees and has raised more than $300 million in total funding. Its other investors include Battery Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Redline Capital and Walden Riverwood Ventures. Its new capital will be used to speed up product development. The company’s founders, CEO Pradeep Sindhu and Bertrand Serlet, say Fungible will release more information later this year about when its data processing units will be available and their on-boarding process, which they say will not require clients to change their existing applications, networking or server design.

Sindu previously founded Juniper Networks, where he held roles as chief scientist and CEO. Serlet was senior vice president of software engineering at Apple before leaving in 2011 and founding Upthere, a storage startup that was acquired by Western Digital in 2017. Sindu and Serlet describe Fungible’s objective as pivoting data centers from a “compute-centric” model to a data-centric one. While the company is often asked if they consider Intel and Nvidia competitors, they say Fungible Data Processing Units (DPU) complement tech, including central and graphics processing units, from other chip makers.

Sindhu describes Fungible’s DPUs as a new building block in data center infrastructure, allowing them to handle larger amounts of data more efficiently and also potentially enabling new kinds of applications. Its DPUs are fully programmable and connect with standard IPs over Ethernet local area networks and local buses, like the PCI Express, that in turn connect to CPUs, GPUs and storage. Placed between the two, the DPUs act like a “super-charged data traffic controller,” performing computations offloaded by the CPUs and GPUs, as well as converting the IP connection into high-speed data center fabric.

This better prepares data centers for the enormous amounts of data generated by new technology, including self-driving cars, and industries such as personalized healthcare, financial services, cloud gaming, agriculture, call centers and manufacturing, says Sindu.

In a press statement, Nishar said “As the global data explosion and AI revolution unfold, global computing, storage and networking infrastructure are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Fungible’s products enable data centers to leverage their existing hardware infrastructure and benefit from these new technology paradigms. We look forward to partnering with the company’s visionary and accomplished management team as they power the next generation of data centers.”

Fungible raises $200 million led by SoftBank Vision Fund to help companies handle increasingly massive amounts of data

Fungible, a startup that wants to help data centers cope with the increasingly massive amounts of data produced by new technologies, has raised a $200 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners and its existing investors. As part of the round, SoftBank Investment Advisers senior managing partner Deep Nishar will join Fungible’s board of directors.

Founded in 2015, Fungible now counts about 200 employees and has raised more than $300 million in total funding. Its other investors include Battery Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Redline Capital and Walden Riverwood Ventures. Its new capital will be used to speed up product development. The company’s founders, CEO Pradeep Sindhu and Bertrand Serlet, say Fungible will release more information later this year about when its data processing units will be available and their on-boarding process, which they say will not require clients to change their existing applications, networking or server design.

Sindu previously founded Juniper Networks, where he held roles as chief scientist and CEO. Serlet was senior vice president of software engineering at Apple before leaving in 2011 and founding Upthere, a storage startup that was acquired by Western Digital in 2017. Sindu and Serlet describe Fungible’s objective as pivoting data centers from a “compute-centric” model to a data-centric one. While the company is often asked if they consider Intel and Nvidia competitors, they say Fungible Data Processing Units (DPU) complement tech, including central and graphics processing units, from other chip makers.

Sindhu describes Fungible’s DPUs as a new building block in data center infrastructure, allowing them to handle larger amounts of data more efficiently and also potentially enabling new kinds of applications. Its DPUs are fully programmable and connect with standard IPs over Ethernet local area networks and local buses, like the PCI Express, that in turn connect to CPUs, GPUs and storage. Placed between the two, the DPUs act like a “super-charged data traffic controller,” performing computations offloaded by the CPUs and GPUs, as well as converting the IP connection into high-speed data center fabric.

This better prepares data centers for the enormous amounts of data generated by new technology, including self-driving cars, and industries such as personalized healthcare, financial services, cloud gaming, agriculture, call centers and manufacturing, says Sindu.

In a press statement, Nishar said “As the global data explosion and AI revolution unfold, global computing, storage and networking infrastructure are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Fungible’s products enable data centers to leverage their existing hardware infrastructure and benefit from these new technology paradigms. We look forward to partnering with the company’s visionary and accomplished management team as they power the next generation of data centers.”

Google launches auto-delete controls for Location History on iOS and Android

Google has always argued that the data it collects does more than provide power for its targeted ad empire — it also makes its services more useful. But not everyone thinks that Google should be able to suck up a never-ending stockpile of personal data on its users. Today, Google is taking a step towards giving users more control over some of their data with the launch of a new feature that automatically deletes Location History data on iOS and Android devices.

The company pre-announced the feature back in May, just ahead of its annual developer conference Google I/O.

Google had said at the time that location history could help it make better recommendations — like suggesting a restaurant you may like, for example. However, Google amasses what some would say is a “creepy” amount of user data, right down to a map of everywhere you’ve ever been.

The new controls will allow you to set Google to erase its collection of location data on your every 3 months or every 18 months, depending on your preference.

To do so, you’ll first visit your Google Account‘s My Activity section and tap the new “choose to delete automatically” option in the Location History area.

From the screen that appears next, you can choose which time frame you prefer — 3 or 18 months. You can also opt to delete data manually — something you can do at any time. This is the default setting.

The controls are rolling out today on iOS and Android, says Google.

These rollouts take time so you may not see the settings for yourself right away.

If you’d rather stop Google from gathering any data in the first place, you can still choose to entirely toggle off its various data collection settings one-by-one — including Web & App Activity, Location History, Device Information, Voice & Audio Activity, YouTube Search History, and YouTube Watch History.

 

With Tableau and Mulesoft, Salesforce gains full view of enterprise data

Back in the 2010 timeframe, it was common to say that content was king, but after watching Google buy Looker for $2.6 billion last week and Salesforce nab Tableau for $15.7 billion this morning, it’s clear that data has ascended to the throne in a business context.

We have been hearing about Big Data for years, but we’ve probably reached a point in 2019 where the data onslaught is really having an impact on business. If you can find the key data nuggets in the big data pile, it can clearly be a competitive advantage, and companies like Google and Salesforce are pulling out their checkbooks to make sure they are in a position to help you out.

While Google, as a cloud infrastructure vendor, is trying to help companies on its platform and across the cloud understand and visualize all that data, Salesforce as a SaaS vendor might have a different reason — one that might surprise you — given that Salesforce was born in the cloud. But perhaps it recognizes something fundamental. If it truly wants to own the enterprise, it has to have a hybrid story, and with Mulesoft and Tableau, that’s precisely what it has — and why it was willing to spend around $23 billion to get it.

Making connections

Certainly, Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff has no trouble seeing the connections between his two big purchases over the last year. He sees the combination of Mulesoft connecting to the data sources and Tableau providing a way to visualize as a “beautiful thing.”

MP Tom Watson wants UK competition authority to investigate Amazon’s Deliveroo stake

European restaurant delivery giant Deliveroo this morning announced that Amazon would be gobbling up a share in the company, by leading a new $575 million round of funding in it. But it looks like the e-commerce giant may be facing a little indigestion ahead.

Tom Watson, MP and deputy leader of the Labour Party, today announced that he will be asking the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate the investment, opening the door to either imposing stronger conditions on the deal, or blocking it outright.

“It’s called surveillance capitalism,” he said today of Amazon’s approach to how it uses data from customers to build and sell products. “It’s a digital dystopia, and I shall be writing to the Competition and Markets Authority demanding they launch an investigation into this ‘investment.'”

We have contacted Watson directly to elaborate on which violation(s) he would cite in the referral and we will update as and when we hear back. Areas that the CMA might investigate could involve whether the deal would result in unfair competition, or a misuse of data.

Watson’s announcement came via a series of tweets on Twitter, in which he laid out his concerns in more detail. His words are a concise take on the key to Amazon’s business model: its focus on Deliveroo is not just to invest in new services to expand its e-commerce and logistics business, but to leverage the data generated in one operation to grow other parts of its business, too.

“Deliveroo’s CEO Will Shu welcomes a land grab by Amazon because ‘it is such a customer-obsessed organisation,'” he said, citing an interview Shu gave to the BBC about the investment. “He’s right, Amazon is obsessed. Obsessed with tracking tools, micro-targeted ads, extracting billions through monetising our personal data.

“They don’t want to get their mighty claws on a food delivery system. They want Deliveroo’s tech and data. They don’t just want to know how you eat, what you eat, when you eat. They want to know how best to extract your cash throughout your waking and sleeping hours.”

The CMA — and regulators in general — have had a mixed record when it comes to putting the foot down on large deals. On one hand, in the past European reguators approved major takeovers by Facebook of Instagram and Whatsapp — takeovers that now many are now questioning. On the other, it recently moved to block a $10 billion acquisition of Walmart’s ASDA by Sainsbury’s — effectively kicking the deal into touch.

The difference between these past cases and Amazon/Deliveroo is that the latter is an investment rather than an outright acquisition. However, there is an argument to be made that one can lead to the other, specifically in this case.

In September 2018, it was reported that Amazon had made at least two attempts to acquire Deliveroo, around the same time that Uber was also considering a bid for the company to bolster its Uber Eats business. (Deliveroo and Uber Eats have been in protracted competition to dominate higher-end, app-based food delivery services in key cities like London.)

At the time, Deliveroo was valued at around $2 billion; its valuation now is likely to be closer to $3 billion.

It’s worth pointing out too that another major acquisition that Amazon has made in Europe, of LoveFilm (to build eventually its Netflix competitor Amazon Prime Video), also started with an investment.

Amazon has had mixed success so far when it comes to food in London: it launched Amazon Restaurants in 2016 as one of the first markets for its move into food delivery, but closed it in 2018 (this is reportedly around the time that it first started to take an interest in Deliveroo).

Amazon has meanwhile been gradually expanding Amazon Fresh, Amazon Pantry and other grocery delivery in the UK, but has yet to really utilise its relatively recent ownership of Whole Foods to expand that business beyond a few retail locations in London.

In the UK, there have also been rumors that Amazon has considered snapping up real estate from failing brick-and-mortar superstores, although so far nothing has materialised.

In that context, a stake in Deliveroo could well be one development in what is a very long-term play for Amazon, a company known for pulling off tenacious, long-term plays. Whether the CMA chooses to investigate both the deal as well as that wider context will be an interesting one to chew on.