ZmURL customizes Zoom link previews with images & event sites

Sick of sharing those generic Zoom video call invites that all look the same? Wish your Zoom link preview’s headline and image actually described your meeting? Want to protect your Zoom calls from trolls by making attendees RSVP to get your link? ZmURL.com has you covered.

Launching today, ZmURL is a free tool that lets you customize your Zoom video call invite URL with a title, explanation, and image that will show up when you share the link on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere. zmurl also lets you require that attendees RSVP by entering their email address so can decide who to approve and provide with the actual entry link. That could stop Zoombombers from harassing your call with offensive screenshared imagery, profanity, or worse.

“We built zmurl.com to make it easier for people to stay physically distant but socially close” co-founder Victor Pontis tells me. “We’re hoping to give event organizers the tools to preserve in-person communities while we are all under quarantine.”

Zoom wasn’t built for open public discussions. But with people trapped inside by coronavirus, its daily user count has spiked from 10 million to 200 million. That’s led to new use cases from cocktail parties to roundtable discussions to AA meetings to school classes.

That’s unfortunately spawned new problems like “Zoombombing”, a term I coined two weeks ago to describe malicious actors tracking down public Zoom calls and bombarding them with abuse. Since then, the FBI has issued a warning about Zoombombing, the New York Times has written multiple articles about the issue, and Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan has apologized.

Yet Zoom has been slow to adapt it features as it struggles not to buckle under its sudden scale. While it’s turned on waiting rooms and host-only screensharing by default for usage in schools, most people are still vulnerable due to Zoom’s permissive settings and reused URLs that were designed for only trusted enterprise meetings. Only today did Zoom concede to shifting the balance further from convenience to safety, turning on waiting rooms by default and requiring passwords for entry by Meeting ID.

Meanwhile, social networks have become a sea of indistinguishable Zoom links that all show the same blue and white logo in the preview with no information on what the call is about. That makes it a lot tougher to promote calls, which many musicians, fitness instructors, and event producers are relying on to drive donations or payments while their work is disrupted by quarantines.

ZmURL’s founders during their only in-person meeting ever

Luckily, Pontis and his co-founder Danqing Liu are here to help with zmurl. The two software engineers fittingly met over Zoom a year ago and have only met once in person. Pontis, now in San Francisco, had started bike and scooter rental software companies Spring and Scooter Map. Liu, from Beijing but now holed up in New York, had spent five years at Google, Uber, and PlanGrid before selling his machine learning tool TinyMind.

The idea for ZmURL stemmed from Liu missing multiple Zoom events he’d wanted to attend. Then a friend of Pontis was laid off from their yoga instructor job, and they and their colleagues were scrambling to market and earn money from hosting their own classes over Zoom. The duo quickly built a beta with zero money raised and tested it with some yoga gurus who found it simplified promoting events and gathering RSVPs. “We’re all going through a tough time right now. We see zmurl as our opportunity to help” Pontis tells me.

To use the tool, you generate a generic meeting link from Zoom like zoom.us/ji/1231231232 and then punch it into ZmURL. You can upload an image or choose from stock photos and color gradients. Then you name you event, give it a description, and set the time and date. You’ll get a shorter URL like https://zmurl.com/smy5m or you can give it a custom one like zmurl.com/quidditch.

When you share that URL, it’ll show your image, headline, and description in the link preview on chat apps, social networks and more. Attendees who click will be shown a nicely rendered event page with the link to enter the Zoom call and the option to add it to their calendar. You can try it out here, zmurl.com/aloha, as the startup is hosting a happy hour today at 6pm Pacific.

Optionally, you can set your ZmURL calls to require an RSVP. In that case, people who click your link have to submit their email address. The host can then sift through the RSVPs and choose who to email back the link to join the call. If you see an RSVP from someone you don’t recognize, just ignore it to keep Zoombombers from slipping inside.

Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any other tools for customizing Zoom call links. Zoom paid enterprise customers can only set up a image and logo-equipped landing page for their whole company’s Zoom account, not for specific calls. For now, ZmURL is completely free. But the co-founders are building out an option for hosting paid events that collect entry fees on the RSVP site while ZmURL takes a 5% cut.

Next, ZmURL wants to add the ability to link your Zoom account to its site so you can spawn call links without leaving. It’s also building out always-on call rooms, recurring events, organizer home pages for promoting all their calls, an option to add events to a public directory, email marketing tools, and integrations with other video call platforms like Hangouts, Skype, and FaceTime.

Pontis says the biggest challenge will be learning to translate more of the magic and business potential off offline events into the world of video calling. There’s also the risk that Zoom will try to intercede and force ZmURL to desist. But it shouldn’t, at least until Zoom builds all these features itself. Or it should just acquire ZmURL.

We’re dealing with an unprecedented behavior shift due to shelter-in-place orders that threaten to cripple the world economy and drive many of us crazy. Whether for fostering human connection or keeping event businesses afloat, Zoom has become a critical utility. It should accept all the help it can get.

Experience Disrupt SF online with the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass

Earlier this month we announced the launch of the Disrupt Digital Pass for TechCrunch’s flagship Disrupt SF event (September 14-16) as a way to help ensure that, no matter what, TechCrunch fans everywhere would be able to enjoy the big interviews at the show. We also hinted that we were working on a Pro edition of the Digital Pass for people who really want to engage as fully as possible with Disrupt SF, including all the programming on the four primary stages and lots of real-time interaction with fellow attendees, founders in Startup Alley, engaging Q&A sessions and our all important exhibitors and partners. That was trickier to figure out, but we’re there. 

Today we’re happy to unveil the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass that we’ve been working hard to finalize. Here’s what you get with your Disrupt Digital Pro Pass, starting at $245: 

  • Live stream and VOD (video-on-demand) from the Extra Crunch Stage. Live and on-demand access to TechCrunch editors’ discussions with top experts — growth marketers, lawyers, investors, technologists, recruiters — on topics critical to founders’ success. Pass holders, in-person and virtual, may submit questions in real time to the moderator onstage.
  • Live stream and VOD from the Q&A Stage. Virtual pass holders can submit questions during live Q&A sessions with speakers after they have appeared with TechCrunch editors on the Disrupt and Extra Crunch stages. 
  • VOD from the Showcase Stage. Watch top founders exhibiting in Startup Alley pitch and take questions from TechCrunch editors. 
  • Interact with early-stage startups in Startup Alley virtually. Browse the hundreds of exhibiting startups, organized by category, and watch their product demos on demand. Digital Pro pass holders can arrange 1:1 meetings with founders whether they be virtual or exhibiting on the show floor in-person.
  • Video conference networking with CrunchMatch. TechCrunch’s hugely popular platform to connect like-minded attendees will be accessible to Digital Pro pass holders as well as in-person attendees. Find attendees, request a meeting and connect via a private video conference. 
  • Virtual sponsor engagements. We love our sponsors, and they will be front and center for Digital Pro pass holders, whether that’s opportunities to set up 1:1 meetings virtually with sponsor reps or watch sponsors’ presentations. 

In addition, of course, Pro pass holders also have access to the features of the free Disrupt Digital Pass:

  • Live stream and VOD from the Disrupt Stage. Live and on-demand access to all the great interviews TechCrunch’s editors conduct with the biggest names in tech. 

You can expect to see the TechCrunch team at San Francisco’s Moscone Center during Disrupt, but now attendees can join us in person and/or virtually

Innovator, Founder, Investor and Startup Alley pass holders (except Expo Only passes) will also have access to all the Disrupt Digital Pro Pass features, as well as the opportunity to be present with us in San Francisco. 

Sign up for Disrupt SF today. 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of Disrupt SF, and we hope you will join us to celebrate, online or at Moscone. We would love to have you, either way.

Google cancels I/O developer conference in light of COVID-19 crisis

Google announced on Twitter today that it was canceling its annual I/O developer conference out of concern for the health and safety of all involved. It will not be holding any online conference in its place either.

“Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with recent ‘shelter in place’ orders by the local Bay Area counties — we sadly will not be holding I/O in any capacity this year,” the company tweeted.

This is not a small deal, as Google uses this, and the Google Cloud Next conference, which it has also canceled, to let developers, customers, partners and other interested parties know about what new features, products and services they will be introducing in the coming year.

Without a major venue to announce these new tools, it will be harder for the company to get the word out about them or gain the power of human networking that these conferences provide. All of that is taking a backseat this year over concerns about the virus.

The company made clear that it does not intend to reschedule these events in person or in a virtual capacity at all this year, and will look for other ways to inform the community of changes, updates and new services in the coming months.

“Right now, the most important thing all of us can do is focus our attention on helping people with the new challenges we all face. Please know that we remain committed to finding other ways to share platform updates with you through our developer blogs and community forums,” the company wrote.

Where top VCs are investing in remote events

The novel coronavirus pandemic has rapidly moved companies into a remote-first world.

Nearly all of the world’s largest events have been canceled, put on pause or pivoted to online-only. In the tech world, event cancellations thus far have included SXSW, GDC, Mobile World Congress, Google I/O, Facebook F8, E3 and others.

As more and more hosts consider staging fully remote events as possible alternatives, we decided to take a deeper look into the venture-backed startups focused on supporting large-scale virtual gatherings, like Hopin and Run The World. To further understand the impact of COVID-19, we asked five leading VCs who have invested in or have knowledge of startups focused on remote events to update us on the state of the market and to share where they see opportunity in the sector:

Sarah Cannon, Index Ventures

Which trends in remote events/conferencing excite you the most from an investing perspective?

Google cancels Cloud Next because of coronavirus, goes online-only

Google today announced that it is canceling the physical part of Cloud Next, its cloud-focused event and its largest annual conference by far with around 30,000 attendees, over concerns around the current spread of COVID-19.

Given all of the recent conference cancellations, this announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially after Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference only a few days ago.

Cloud Next was scheduled to run from April 6 to 8. Instead of the physical event, Google will now host an online event under the “Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect” moniker. So there will still be keynotes and breakout sessions, as well as the ability to connect with experts.

“Innovation is in Google’s DNA and we are leveraging this strength to bring you an immersive and inspiring event this year without the risk of travel,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

The virtual event will be free and in an email to attendees, Google says that it will automatically refund all tickets to this year’s conference. It will also automatically cancel all hotel reservations made through its conference reservation system.

It now remains to be seen what happens to Google’s other major conference, I/O, which is slated to run from May 12 to 14 in Mountain View. The same holds true for Microsoft’s rival Build conference in Seattle, which is scheduled to start on May 19. These are the two premier annual news events for both companies, but given the current situation, nobody would be surprised if they get canceled, too.

GDC 2020 has been canceled

Well, after what I’m sure was a hectic few days for the folks planning the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the team announced today that they have officially decided to cancel the event happening this March, saying in a blog post that they hoped they would be able to reschedule an event for “later in the summer.”

In recent days, nearly all of the event’s top corporate sponsors announced that they would not be sending employees to the event due to concerns surrounding coronavirus. Microsoft, Unity, Epic, Amazon, Facebook and Sony had all bowed out of the event. GDC’s statement did not reference the virus.

The company behind GDC detailed that they will be refunding conference and expo attendees in full, though a blog post details that the group hopes to host a GDC event later in the summer, noting, “We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.”

GDC is just the latest tech conference to be shuttered in the wake of worldwide concern surrounding the outbreak of coronavirus. Yesterday, Facebook announced it would be canceling the in-person component of its F8 conference and we have already seen the cancellation of GSMA‘s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Amazon is the latest to ditch GDC this year

GDC’s top sponsors continue to pull out of attending the San Francisco gaming conference. Today, Amazon announced it would no longer be sending employees to the event.

In an update, the team shared that they would instead be hosting a “global online event” to share news that they had been planning to detail at the conference.

Amazon Game Tech is a “diamond partner” at the Game Developers Conference this year, a designation that signifies sponsors “who play an integral role in the success of GDC,” the conference says on its website. At this point, the only diamond partners who have not officially withdrawn are Intel, Nvidia and Google.

Facebook, Sony, Microsoft, Unity and Epic Games have all pulled out of the conference over concerns surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, Amazon joins them.

TechCrunch has reached out to the other remaining sponsors at the event.

Grab your ticket: Only one week to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020

It’s T-minus one week to the big day, March 3, when more than 1,000 startuppers will convene in Berkeley, Calif. for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020. We’re talking a hefty cross-section representing big companies and exciting new startups. We’re talking some of the most innovative thinkers, makers, researchers, investors and influencers — all focused on creating the future of these two world-changing technologies.

Don’t miss out on this one-day conference of interviews, panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and demos dedicated to every aspect of robotics and AI. General admission tickets cost $345. Snag your ticket now and save, because prices go up at the door. Want to save even more? Save 15% when you buy four or more tickets. Are you a student? Grab a ticket for just $50.

What do we have planned for this TC Session? Here’s a small sample of the fab programming that awaits you, and be sure to check out the full TC Session agenda here.

  • Q&A with Founders: This is your chance to ask questions of Sébastien Boyer, co-founder and CEO of FarmWise and Noah Ready-Campbell, founder and CEO of Built Robotics — some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage.
  • Disney Robotics: Imagineers from Disney will present state-of-the-art robotics built to populate its theme parks.
  • Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry’s VCs: Dror Berman, founding partner at Innovation Endeavors, Jocelyn Goldfein, managing director at Zetta Venture Partners and Eric Migicovsky, general partner at Y Combinator will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

And — new this year — don’t miss watching the finalists from our Pitch Night competition. Founders of these early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have just five minutes to present their wares.

With just one more week until TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 kicks off, you don’t have much time left to save on tickets. Why pay more at the door? Buy your ticket now and join the best and brightest for a full day dedicated to all things robotics.

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis talks 3D-printed rockets at TC Sessions: Space in LA

The launch industry is undergoing a number of major changes, among them the shift from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing — which Relativity Space is spearheading. The company plans to build 95% of its rocket using the world’s biggest 3D printers, and could launch as early as next year. Co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis will be on hand at TC Sessions: Space in Los Angeles on June 25 to talk all about it.

Relativity has been on our radar for a couple of years now, and to be honest we were all a bit skeptical when the proposition of 3D-printing a rocket was revealed. After all, additive manufacturing is known for its speed, not the strength or detail of its products. But our recent visit to the company’s bustling headquarters near LAX was an eye-opening one.

The challenges of this approach to rocketry are substantial, but the team has gone into it with their eyes open, and the results are hard to argue with. Less mass, more strength, faster turnaround — and any drawbacks have been quantified and mitigated over countless tests and analyses.

Although the resulting components are in a way mechanically simpler than hand-assembled alternatives, the process of creating them is by no means simple itself. Ellis has been there for everything from the first wonky prints during their Y Combinator days to the latest high-precision, large-format ones going through live testing. He’ll be onstage at TC Sessions: Space on June 25, sharing insights on the startup journey, technical details and plans for the company’s future.

You can get early-bird tickets right now, and save $150 before prices go up on May 22 — and you can even bring a fifth person for free if you bring a group of four from your company. Special discounts for current members of the government/military/nonprofit and students are also available directly on the website. And if you are an early-stage space startup looking to get exposure to decision makers, you can even exhibit for the day for just $2,000.

This event will also feature a space startup pitch-off featuring five early-stage founders selected by TechCrunch editors. Applications open today; apply here.

Is your company interested in partnering at TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.

A team of Imagineers will discuss Disney’s tech breakthroughs at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI, March 3 at UC Berkeley

With TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 a little over a week away, you likely thought we were finished with our big announcements. Understandably. We have top executives from Amazon and Toyota Research, and some of the hottest startups and biggest VCs. But there’s still some excitement left to announce.

On March 3, Disney will be returning to the event to discuss some of the breakthroughs the entertainment giant has been making around robotics for its theme parks. We’ll be joined by Disney Imagineers Dawson Dill, Selina Herman and Joe Mohos.

The trio have been working on using robotics to enhance rides at the park, blending physical trackless vehicles with other physical and virtual tools to transport riders both figuratively and literally. The team will discuss their latest breakthroughs in the space and the applications such technologies will have in entertainment and beyond.

Tickets are now available for $345 right here. Take advantage of this discounted pricing now, as prices will go up soon! Students, book a super-discounted $50 ticket right now and get in on the action.

Join the TechCrunch team and 1,000+ of today’s leading minds in robotics and artificial intelligence for this single-day conference. The event will feature great panels and fireside chats, breakout sessions and plenty of networking opportunities. There also will be an expo hall packed full of startups looking for their big break, and awesome hands-on demos for you to interact with.