Discover the next messaging giant at Disrupt Berlin

Truecaller may already be a familiar name, but many of you probably don’t know that it’s slowly becoming a significant messaging app. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Truecaller co-founder and CEO Alan Mamedi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam.

The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India.

With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills.

Eventually, Truecaller wants to open up its platform to third-party services. Back in April, the company reported that it had 100 million daily active users.

If you’re impressed by Truecaller’s growth strategy, you should buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.

Alan Mamedi

CEO & Co-founder, Truecaller

Alan Mamedi is the CEO and Co-founder of Truecaller. Truecaller is one of the leading communication apps in the world with services in messaging, payment, caller ID, spam detection, dialer functionalities, and has more than 300 million users globally. In this position, Alan focuses on product development and innovation, and charting the strategic roadmap for the company’s success. To date, Truecaller has raised 80 million USD from Sequoia Capital, Atomico, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Facebook Lasso app lead Brady Voss leaves for Netflix right after launch

Facebook Lasso has a steep uphill climb ahead as it hopes to chase the musical video app it cloned, China’s TikTok (which merged with Musically). Lasso lets you overlay popular songs on 15-second clips of you lip syncing, dancing, or just being silly — kind of like Vine with a soundtrack. It’s off to a slow start since launching Friday, having failed to reach the overall app download charts as it falls from #169 to #217 on the US iOS Photo and Video App chart, according to App Annie.

Forme Facebook Lead Product Designer Brady Voss

And now one of the Lasso team’s bosses Brady Voss is leaving Facebook for a job at Netflix. He’d spent five years as a lead product designer at Facebook working on standalone apps like Hello and major feature launches like Watch, Live, 360 video, and the social network’s smart TV app. He previously designed products for TiVo and Microsoft’s XBox.

“After five life-changing years at Facebook, my last day will be this Friday, 11/16” Voss wrote on Facebook. “Following our launch of our new app, Lasso, a project I’ve been working on for a while now, the timing works well to explore what’s coming next . . . As for what’s next? I have accepted a position at Netflix in Los Gatos, California.” A Facebook spokesperson responded that “Yes, I can confirm that Brady is leaving Facebook.”

Voss added some color about joining Facebook, noting  “There was actually a discussion about whether or not I’d be a great culture fit because I wore a tie to my interviews–which is funny because we don’t believe dressing like that is what enables people to bring their best everyday. Thankfully, they saw past the common clichés–because suits and ties are not me.” As for Facebook’s troubles, he wrote that “I was even there for the big freak out moments along the way–we’ll keep them unnamed 🙃”, which could refer to his work on Facebook Live that spawned big problems with real-time broadcasts of violence and self-harm.

While it’s reasonable for anyone to want a change of pace after five years, especially after the brutal year Facebook’s had in the press, his departure just a week after Lasso’s launch doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the app’s trajectory. It might have been a sensible stopping point haven gotten the app out the door, but you’d also think that if Lasso had a real shot at popularity, he’d have wanted to stick around to oversee that growth.

Lasso’s First Rodeo

TechCrunch first broke the news that Lasso was in development last month, citing Voss as one of the team’s heads. But in the meantime, the world’s highest valued private startup Bytedance managed to push its TikTok app past Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube on the download charts. It’s now at #5 on the US iOS overall charts and #1 in Photo and Video. Facebook seems to have shooed Lasso out a little prematurely before losing more ground, given it lacks many of the augmented reality features and filters found in Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok .

Facebook Lasso

TechCrunch asked the company for some more details about the Lasso roadmap. A spokesperson told me that Facebook will be evolving Lasso and adding new features with time, and may test a feature for uploading videos instead of being restricted to shooting them in-app right now. In fact, Voss’ departure post includes a “Made With Lasso” video featuring an augmented reality effect with him conjuring Facebook Like thumbs-ups out of his hand.

As for monetization, Facebook tells me there are no plans to show ads right now. Typically, Facebook tries to build products to have hundreds of millions of users before it potentially endangers growth by layering in revenue generators. I asked if users might be able to pay their favorite video creators with tips, and the company says that while that’s not currently available, it hopes to explore ways to allow creators to earn money in the future. Instagram said the same thing about IGTV when it launched in June, and we still haven’t heard anything on that front. Facebook likely won’t be able to lure creators to new platforms with smaller audiences than their main channels unless it’s going to let them earn money there.

If Facebook is truly serious about challenging TikTok, it may need to build closer ties between Lasso and Instagram. Facebook left its previous standalone video apps like Slingshot and Poke out to dry, eventually shuttering them after providing little cross promotion. Given the teen audience Lasso craves is already on Instagram, it will be fascinating to see if former VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri who’s now running Instagram will insert some links to Lasso. A Facebook spokesperson says that Facebook may investigate promoting Lasso on its other apps down the line.

And one final concern regarding Lasso is that Facebook isn’t doing much to prevent underage kids below 13 from getting on the app. Tweens flocked to Musically, leading to some worrisome content. 10-year-old girls in revealing clothing singing along to the scandalous lyrics of pop songs frequently populated the Musically leaderboard. That prompted me to question Musically CEO Alex Zhu on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 about whether his app violated the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that prohibits online services from collecting photos or videos of kids under 13. He denied wrongdoing with flimsy excuses, claiming parents were always aware of what kids were doing, and stormed out of the backstage area after our talk.

So I asked Facebook how it would prevent such issues on Lasso, where all content is public and adults can follow children. A spokesperson told me that you need a Facebook or Instagram account to sign up for Lasso, and those services require people to be 13 older. But “require” isn’t exactly the right word. It asks people to state they’re of age, but doesn’t do anything to confirm that. Lasso does have a report button for flagging inappropriate content, and the company claims to be taking privacy and safety seriously.

But if the tech giants are going to build apps purposefully designed for young audiences, asking for kids to merely promise they’re old enough to join may not be sufficient.

Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better.

To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever they want.

This study, led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department, is the latter — which despite intense interest in this field and phenomenon is quite rare. The researchers only identified two other experimental studies, both of which only addressed Facebook use.

One hundred and forty-three students from the school were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media usage was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.

The results are clear. As the paper, published in the latest Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:

The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.

Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.

It’s not the final word in this, however. Some scores did not see improvement, such as self-esteem and social support. And later follow-ups to see if feelings reverted or habit changes were less than temporary were limited because most of the subjects couldn’t be compelled to return. (Psychology, often summarized as “the study of undergraduates,” relies on student volunteers who have no reason to take part except for course credit, and once that’s given, they’re out.)

That said, it’s a straightforward causal link between limiting social media use and improving some aspects of emotional and social health. The exact nature of the link, however, is something at which Hunt could only speculate:

Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.

When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.

The researchers acknowledge the limited nature of their study and suggest numerous directions for colleagues in the field to take it from here. A more diverse population, for instance, or including more social media platforms. Longer experimental times and comprehensive follow-ups well after the experiment would help, as well.

The 30-minute limit was chosen as a conveniently measurable one, but the team does not intend to say that it is by any means the “correct” amount. Perhaps half or twice as much time would yield similar or even better results, they suggest: “It may be that there is an optimal level of use (similar to a dose response curve) that could be determined.”

Until then, we can use common sense, Hunt suggested: “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

Rakuten has SoftBank in its sights

This week, I’ve tried to do something new at TechCrunch with this experimental column — getting obsessed about a topic broadly in tech and writing a continuous stream of thoughts and analysis about it.

With my research consultant and contributor Arman Tabatabai, we’ve covered two topics: Form Ds, the filing that startups usually submit to the SEC after a venture round closes (although increasingly do not), and SoftBank, which faces all kinds of strategic pressure due to its debt binging. If you missed the other episodes, here are links to the editions from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at [email protected] or Arman at [email protected] if you like or hate something here.

Today, one final round of thoughts on SoftBank and Rakuten (heavily written by Arman) and a lengthy list of articles for your weekend reading.

The Rakuten factor complicates SoftBank’s strategy

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Understanding SoftBank’s competitive strategy requires a bit of a deep dive into Japanese e-commence giant Rakuten.

Rakuten has been struggling to compete with Amazon and others like SoftBank’s Yahoo! Japan. So at the end of 2017, Rakuten announced it would be entering the telco space, hoping that operating its own network could generate user growth through better incentives around mobile shopping, streaming and payments.

Today, Japan’s telco space is a relatively cozy oligopoly dominated by NTT DoCoMo, au-KDDI and SoftBank. A major reason why Rakuten feels it can succeed where others have failed to break in is because it has the government on its side.

Rakuten’s plan to offer prices at least 30 percent lower than incumbent rates has led to favorable treatment from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which has been looking for ways to stimulate market competition to force lower the country’s high phone prices.

Though a new entrant hasn’t been approved to enter the telco market since eAccess in 2007, Rakuten has already gotten the thumbs-up to start operations in 2019. The government also instituted regulations that would make the new kid in town more competitive, such as banning telcos from limiting device portability.

Rakuten’s partnerships with key utilities and infrastructure players will also allow it to build out its network quickly, including one with Japan’s second largest mobile service provider, KDDI.

Just last week, Rakuten and KDDI announced an agreement where Rakuten will help KDDI utilize its payment and logistics infrastructure as KDDI turns its head toward e-commerce and payments, while KDDI will give Rakuten access to its network and nationwide roaming services, allowing Rakuten to provide nationwide service as its builds out its own infrastructure.

The agreement with KDDI is especially scary for SoftBank, the country’s third biggest telco and one of Rakuten’s e-commerce competitors, and whose customers seem most vulnerable to churn. The partnership also makes it seem even more likely that SoftBank’s competitors are looking to push it out of the market or turn into a dud its upcoming mobile segments IPO.

While Rakuten’s head-first dive into the market won’t ease investors into an IPO, it’s important we note that Rakuten is targeting a much smaller market share than the incumbents, targeting 10 million subscribers by 2028, a number lower than the company’s original 15 million subs goal and significantly lower than the 76 million, 52 million and 40 million subscribers NTT, KDDI and SoftBank (respectively) hold currently. And even with its agreements, Rakuten faces a serious and expensive uphill battle in building out its network infrastructure quickly enough to compete.

Ultimately, Rakuten’s telco initiative is a splash, but one that seems like it will merely make its competitors wet and not drown them. For SoftBank, it is an annoying distraction on its telco IPO roadshow, but a distraction that is easily explained to potential investors.

SoftBank growth over the past two decades

Rajeev Misra. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Changing gears from Rakuten, emails from readers this week asked us to look deeper into SoftBank’s performance over the last two decades. As we did so, it became clear that SoftBank has had a long history of price competitions and new entrants across its businesses, and it has proven its ability to operate and consistently grow earnings.

Since 2000, SoftBank has grown earnings at a ~30 percent CAGR and experienced revenue growth in all but one year. When eAccess did enter the telco market and picked up four million subscribers, SoftBank bought it and integrated it into its own system.

As we discussed earlier this week, despite having always held on to a clunky amount of debt, SoftBank has managed to deliver consistent growth by making sure its revenue and operating growth outpaced the upticks in its debt and interest expense.

A great example of this came after SoftBank’s acquisition of Vodafone in 2006, when it saw a huge spike in its interest expense, but also in its operating income.

Over the following five years, SoftBank managed to reduce its interest expense at an annual rate of 12 percent while growing its operating income at 16 percent. And regardless of its debt balances, SoftBank has always seemingly been able to secure funding one way or another, as shown by its ability to raise $90+ billion for the Vision Fund in less than a year from when plans for the fund were first reported.

The Vision Fund itself started as a way for SoftBank to continue to invest while its balance sheet was tight due to nearly back-to-back massive acquisitions of Sprint and Arm. Just look at how Rajeev Misra, who oversees the Vision Fund, discussed its creation in an interview with The Economic Times:

We had just bought ARM in June for $32 billion and Masa felt we are on the cusp of a technology revolution over the next 5-10 years with machine learning, AI, robotics and the impact of that in disrupting every industry – from healthcare to financial services to manufacturing.

We felt the world was going through a new industrial revolution. We were constrained financially given that we just did a $32-billion acquisition.

SoftBank, historically over the last 20 years, has invested from its own balance sheet. So, we had two options.

Either monetise some of the gains we made in Alibaba which we decided has a lot more upside… Alibaba has more than doubled in the last 12 months. So we decided to keep it which turned out to be good decision. The second option was to go out and raise money and co-invest with others. We prepared a presentation, went out, and by god’s grace we raised the fund.

Even before the Vision Fund, SoftBank has always had a strategy to make big bets in industries of the future. And while many have failed, the several that have paid off, like its $20 million investment in Alibaba, had massive cash outs that have driven consistent earnings growth for decades. SoftBank seems to be banking its future on the same strategy and, frankly, it’s unclear how much they even care about how competitive their telco is, as shown by this exchange in the same interview with Misra:

Question: What about sectors like telecom?

Misra: Let the dust settle.

What’s next

Our obsession with SoftBank this week is probably going to subside, and we are in the market for our next deep dive topic in tech and finance. Have ideas? Drop us a line at [email protected] and [email protected]

Thoughts on articles (i.e. weekend reading)

Photo by Darren Johnson / EyeEm via Getty Images

The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise. It started in Iran. This is a great follow-up from Yahoo News’ Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin on one of the most important espionage stories this past decade. The CIA, using an internet-based communications system to connect with spies and sources in the field, failed to keep the security of the system intact, leading to the dismantling of its Iranian, Chinese and potentially other espionage rings. This article advances the story as we know it from the New York Times’ original piece, and Foreign Policy’s excellent follow up also written by Zach Dorfman. Definitely worth a read from a security/technical audience. (3,200 words)

The $6 Trillion Barrier Holding Electric Cars Back. Don’t read — the answer is infrastructure. (1,000 words, but should be one)

The Rodney Brooks Rules for Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success. A a good reminder that some technologies are much closer to reality than others, and that the key difference between them is our collective experience handling the technology. Rodney Brooks is the right person to cover this subject, although one can’t help but feel that every example is Musk-inspired. (2,800 words)

Uber’s economics team is its secret weapon by Alison Griswold & Soon there may be more economists at tech companies than in policy schools by Roberta Holland, both in Quartz . Griswold does a great job giving an overview of how Uber is using economists not just to improve its product for end users, but also to shape the discussion of public policy around the company. Clearly, Uber is not alone; as Holland notes in her piece, academic economists are very popular in Silicon Valley right now, with salaries that can match the top machine learning experts. (2,750 words and 1,200 words, respectively)

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear blinders. A short piece by Nicholas Carr fighting back against the notion that computing is still “at the beginning.” Many of our devices and pieces of software are already decades old — if they haven’t had an effect on human behavior or productivity, when are they going to? A useful antidote to some ideas we hear from the Valley every single day. (900 words)

The future of photography is code. Yes, yes, I am very late to this — blame Pocket disease. TechCrunch’s own Devin Coldewey writes a candid essay on the transition from improving photography through hardware like lenses to improving photos through computation. The future is looking very bright for beautiful photos, indeed. (2,400 words)

Freedom on the Net 2018 | Freedom House. And if you are looking for some depressing news, Freedom House’s report (which I am also a bit late to) is dreary. China is now increasingly the source of authoritarian internet control technology, and countries across the world are backtracking on internet freedom (including the U.S.). Sobering, but with so much riding on the openness of the internet, we all need to pay attention and build the kind of future for this technology that we want. (32 page PDF with exec summary)

Reading docket

What we are reading (or at least, trying to read)

Articles

Books

Lydia launches mobile phone insurance

French startup Lydia is launching an insurance product for your mobile phone. For €4.29 per month ($4.89), you can insure your phone from the Lydia app.

Lydia is one of the most popular peer-to-peer payment apps in Europe with 1.5 million users. Think about it as a sort of Venmo or Square Cash for Europe. More recently, the company started offering more options to manage your money with a premium subscription and additional features.

While Lydia doesn’t want to replace your bank and insurance company, the company is offering an insurance product for the first time. Lydia is partnering with its investor CNP Assurances — having an insurance company as an investor has a few advantages.

So here’s what you get. You’re instantly covered against cracked screens, liquid damage and accidental damage. There’s no excess but you’re limited to one claim per year. Phones now cost a small fortune, but you’re limited to €500 ($570) per claim.

Optionally, you can subscribe to a better insurance product for €9.99 per month ($11.39). In addition to phone insurance, your laptop, tablet, Nintendo Switch, Kindle, camera and other electronics are covered. You can make two claims per year and you can get back up to €500 for your phone and €1,800 for other devices. More importantly, you’re also covered against theft.

Many phone carriers sell mobile phone insurance. But they usually cost more than that. In most cases, you also need to subscribe for at least one year. In Lydia’s case, you can cancel your subscription whenever you want in the app.

If that product sounds familiar, it’s because Revolut offers a similar feature with some drawbacks. You can subscribe to mobile phone insurance from Revolut’s mobile app.

Pricing isn’t as straightforward with Revolut as Premium subscribers get a discount. For an iPhone X, the insurance product costs as much as €9.58 per month ($10.92) without a Revolut Premium account, or as little as €6.67 per month ($7.60) if you pay upfront and you have a Revolut Premium account.

It’s a 12-month contract with a €125 excess and no theft protection. You also need to start insuring your phone quickly after buying (within six months) otherwise you aren’t covered. Revolut works with Allianz and Simplesurance for this insurance product.

Lydia may have borrowed the idea from Revolut, but I’m not sure why you’d choose Revolut’s insurance product over Lydia’s product.

It’s interesting to see that fintech companies are creating alternative revenue streams with insurance products. Subscribing to an insurance product is quick and painless as they already manage your money and have your card on file.

Facebook reorganizes Oculus for AR/VR’s long-haul

Facebook is again looking to whip Oculus into shape for its 10-year journey towards making virtual reality mainstream. According to two sources, Facebook reorganized its AR and VR team this week from a divisional structure focused around products to a functional structure focused around technology areas of expertise. While no one was laid off, the change could eliminate redundancies by uniting specialists so they can iterate towards long-term progress rather than being separated into groups dedicated to particular gadgets.

Facebook confirmed the reorg to TechCrunch, with a spokesperson providing this statement: “We made some changes to the AR/VR organization earlier this week. These were internal changes and won’t impact consumers or our partners in the developer community.” Oculus CTO John Carmack and Oculus co-founder/newly-promoted Head of PC VR Nate Mitchell will remain in their leadership positions within VP of AR/VR Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth’s hardware wing of the company.

The shift obviously communicates that Facebook believes Oculus could be running more effectively. Organizing the company around areas of expertise rather than broader divisions is probably more appropriate for a moonshot effort that can’t afford redundancies, on the other hand, keeping expertise siloed could isolate new approaches and advancements from reaching other teams. As the company builds out its first full lineup of headsets, there seems to be significant overlap in the tech problems and products bring tackled by those working on mobile and PC products.

TechCrunch reported earlier this week that the company is planning to release a new Rift headset as early as 2019, possibly called the Rift S, which will featured upgraded displays and an inside-out tracking system. The company’s “Rift 2” project, codenamed Caspar, was left behind in the reorganization, a source tells us. We can’t confirm whether any other products or concepts have been shelved.

While an immersive virtual world that users can hang out and communicate in certainly seems to fit Facebook’s broader mission, the company has spent the better part of the past few years deciding how a costly, ambitious venture like Oculus fits into its corporate structure.

First, things went smoothly. The company and its empowered co-founders were building out a developer network and prepping for the launch of their Rift headset after creating a successful partnership with Samsung for the Gear VR. Then, the company’s good fortune turned as the Rift headset was racked by expensive delays and Oculus failed to ship the company’s Touch motion controllers at launch losing some initial ground to HTC. 

By the end of 2016, it was announced that co-founder Brendan Iribe was out as CEO and that the company would be reorganizing around divisions focused on things like PC VR, mobile and content with Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra coming aboard as VP of VR to lead the new effort working directly beneath CEO Mark Zuckerberg. An additional layer of oversight has been built in since then, with Bosworth was put in charge of the company’s consumer hardware ambitions with Oculus as a central pillar. His title is now VP of AR/VR.

The absorption of Oculus deeper into Facebook’s corporate structure was a trend that soon replicated itself as the company looked to rein in the independent teams under a more cohesive vision. The culmination of this was a major executive reshuffle earlier this year that changed the landscape for how divisions within the company were managed.

Now, they’re changing things up even more.

Oculus Go

The new structure sounds like it could coordinate efforts around more general lines like hardware and software allowing insights to flow more intuitively across Facebook’s planned devices.

Given the slow adoption of VR and engineering challenges of AR headsets, which at TechCrunch’s LA conference last month Facebook’s head of AR Ficus Kirkpatrick confirmed it was building, this structure could help Oculus iterate its way to long-term success rather than just getting the next product out the door.

If Facebook is going to beat companies solely focused on AR like Magic Leap, and potential incumbent invaders like Apple if it so chooses, it needs to maximize efficiency. And if it’s going to get both developers and users excited about these next-generation computing platforms, it will have to produce products that make cutting-edge technologies feel unified and accessible. That’s a lot easier when everyone’s not stepping on each other’s virtual shoes.

The iPhone is reportedly getting 5G in 2020

The first 5G phones are set to start arriving next year. Motorola plans to bring next-gen connectivity via a Mod for the Z3, and companies like LG and OnePlus have promised to deliver the tech baked into handsets at some point in 2019. iPhone users, on the other hand, may have to wait a bit longer.

The technology is, of course, an inevitability for Apple (along with everyone else, really), so it’s just a question of when. A new report from Fast Company (via the Verge) puts the timing around a year and half out.

The “source with knowledge of Apple’s plans” put the 5G iPhone’s arrival at some point in 2020, with Intel supplying the tech this time out. Apparently Apple and Intel are going through a bit of a rough patch of late, courtesy of heat/battery issues with the 8060 5G modem. Of course, things aren’t rough enough for the company to hit up Qualcomm again.

Given the on-going battle between the two companies, that’s probably a bridge too far. Instead, Apple’s holding out for Intel’s 8161 chip. 5G presents a solid opportunity for Intel to regain some of the substantial ground it ceded to Qualcomm in the mobile market the last time out.

Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped, or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices, and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate, and with its added markup you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of work, frustrated homeowners who don’t know enough to set up the contractors for success, and frustrated contractors who have to come back multiple times.”

Setter is now available in Toronto and San Francisco, with seven-plus jobs booked per customer per year costing an average of over $500 each, with 70% repeat customers. With the fresh cash, it can grow into a household name in those cities, expand to new markets, and hire up to build new products for clients and contractors.

I asked Laliberté why he cared to start Setter, and he told me “because human lives are made better when you can make essential human activities invisible.” Growing up, his mom wouldn’t let him buy video games or watch TV so he taught himself to code his own games and build his own toys. “I’d saved money to fix consoles and resell them, make beautiful foam swords for real live action games, buy and resell headphones — anything that people around me wanted really!” he recalls, teaching him the value of taking the work out of other people’s lives.

Meanwhile his co-founder David Steckel was building high-end homes for the wealthy when he discovered they often had ‘home managers’ that everyone would want but couldn’t afford. What if a startup let multiple homeowners share a manager? Laliberté says Steckely describes it as “I kid you not, the clouds parted, rays of sunlight began to shine through and angels started to sing.” Four days after getting the pitch from Steckel, Laliberté was moving to Toronto to co-found Setter.

Users fire up the app, browse a list of common services, get connected to a concierge over chat, and tell them about their home maintenance needs while sending photos if necessary. The concierge then scours the best vendors and communicates the job in detail so things get done right the first time, on time. They come back in a few minutes with either a full price quote, or a diagnostic quote that gets refined after an in-home visit. Customers can schedule visits through the app, and stay in touch with their concierge to make sure everything is completed to their specifications.

The follow-through is what sets Setter apart from directory-style services like Yelp or Thumbtack . “Other companies either take your request and assign it to the next available contractor or simply share a list of available contractors and you need to complete everything yourself” a Setter spokesperson tells me. They might start the job quicker, but you don’t always get exactly what you want. Everyone in the space will have to compete to source the best pros.

Though potentially less scalable than Thumbtack’s leaner approach, Setter is hoping for better retention as customers shift off of the Yellow Pages and random web searches. Thumbtack rocketed to a $1.2 billion valuation and had raised  $273 million by 2015, some from Sequoia (presenting a curious potential conflict of interest). That same ascent may have lined up the investors behind Setter’s $2 million seed round from Sequoia, Hustle Fund and Avichal Garg last year. Today’s $10 million Series A also included Hustle Fund and Maple VC. 

The toughest challenge for Setter will be changing the status quo for how people shop for home improvement away from ruthless bargain hunting. It will have to educate users about the pitfalls and potential long-term costs of getting slapdash service. If Laliberté wants to fulfill his childhood mission, he’ll have to figure out how to make homeowners value satisfaction over the lowest sticker price.

Bumble drops its $400M lawsuit against Match, but this battle isn’t over

Bumble and Match’s ongoing legal battles are continuing today. According to a statement released by Match Group this morning, Bumble is dropping its $400 million lawsuit against Match, which had claimed Match fraudulently obtained trade secrets during acquisition talks. However, Bumble is preparing to refile its suit at the state level, we’re hearing.

If you haven’t been following, the two companies have been doing battle in the court system for some time after Match Group failed to acquire Bumble twice — once in a deal that would have valued it at over $1 billion.

Bumble claimed Match then filed a lawsuit against it to make Bumble appear less attractive to other potential acquirers. Match’s suit claims Bumble infringed on patents around things like its use of a stack of profile cards, mutual opt-in and its swiped-based gestures — things Tinder had popularized in dating apps.

Bumble subsequently filed its own lawsuit in March 2018, this one claiming that Match used acquisition talks to fraudulently obtaining trade secrets. It says this is not a countersuit, but its own separate suit. (This is the one being discussed today by the companies.)

Match says it wasn’t served papers for Bumble’s suit. But Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe had said they delayed serving papers to give Match a chance to settle.

After a failure to settle, Bumble announced on September 24, 2018 that it would be serving Match, and shared news of its IPO plans. The $400 million suit claims Match had asked for “confidential and trade secret information” in order to make a higher acquisition offer for Bumble, but that no subsequent offer came as result.

Match says Bumble asked the courts to drop its lawsuit just a few weeks after this announcement, and believes the whole thing is just a PR stunt around Bumble’s IPO.

Match today says it’s not opposed to the lawsuit being dropped. But it is now seeking declaratory judgements that will force these issues to be litigated in the right forums, it says. Match is looking for a judgement that would force this suit to be litigated in the Court of England or Wales.

It points out that Bumble had filed its state petition in Dallas County, rather than respond with counterclaims to Match’s suit in the Western District of Texas — “less than 100 miles from Bumble’s Austin headquarters.”

It asked the case to be transferred to federal courts in the Western District, where its IP case is pending.

Now, Match says that Bumble is asking the courts to drop its claims against Tinder’s parent company.

“We’re not opposing their request to dismiss their own claims, but we’re seeking declaratory judgements that will force these issues to be litigated in the right forums,” says a Match spokesperson. “As we say in section 132 of the amended counterclaim: ‘Match will not simply wait until Bumble decides whether or not it wants to pursue these claims – likely in connection with Bumble’s next media blitz. Match intends to litigate these baseless allegations now, and Match intends to conclusively disprove them.'”

Bumble responded this morning by saying it plans to continue to defend its business against Match.

“Match’s latest litigation filings are part of its ongoing campaign to slow down Bumble’s momentum in the market. Having tried and failed to acquire Bumble, Match now seems bent on trying to impair the very business it was so desperate to buy,” a Bumble spokesperson says. “Bumble is not intimidated and will continue to defend its business and users against Match’s misguided claims.”

It declined to comment on how, but we understand that the change from a state court system to federal courts is in play here. Bumble wanted to litigate at the state level, which means it has to dismiss its claims in the federal courts. Match could then accurately say Bumble’s lawsuit is being dropped, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Bumble’s plans have changed.

We understand that Bumble is preparing to refile its case in the state court system, but it hasn’t done so yet, because the court has to allow them to first dismiss this suit.

Apple News will launch a real-time election results hub on November 6

Apple is preparing to launch a new way for its customers to track election results. The company, on 8 PM ET on November 6, will swap out the existing Midterm Elections section in the Apple News app, and replace it with a new Election Night section instead. This section will also replace Apple News’ Digest tab at the bottom-center of the app, in order to lead users directly to the special section where they’ll be able to track the live results, updates on key races, latest developments and more.

The company is partnering with the Associated Press for its real-time election results, as do many news organizations thanks to AP’s history and experience with verifying results.

Here, Apple will use that AP data to inform a number of dynamic infographics as well as offer a complete list of federal election results in every state, including House and Senate seats.

These results will update every minute, or you can just “refresh” the page manually to force the update at any time.

If the balance of power in either the House or the Senate is determined by way of the incoming results, Apple News will publish a special alert at the top of the feed and a pop up notification, as well.

The Key Races section, meanwhile, offers another set of live updating infographics, showing the live results from the most interesting House, Senate or Gubernatorial races.

Another section will focus on the latest developments – meaning breaking news headlines and stories related to election night coverage. This will feature news from a variety of sources including Axios, Politico, The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, CBS, and others.

CBS News, CNN, and Fox News will also contribute video clips to the Election Night hub, while ABC will offer a live video feed. Another live video feed from NBC News will appear in a widget alongside the Live Results infographic.

Apple says users won’t have to authenticate with their TV provider on election night to watch the videos in the hub.

A diversity of news sources was important to Apple, which wanted to have a range of options for people to read, as well as a way to present the news so people could see how it’s being processed across the ideological spectrum.

More importantly, all the news coverage in the hub isn’t being driven by algorithms. For Apple News’ team, Election Night is an all-hands-on-deck type of situation involving real human editors. In fact, human editorial oversight is a key difference between Apple’s approach to news aggregation and curation, compared with competitors like Google, Twitter and Facebook – all of which have come under fire for their outsized roles in the spread of information, and, at times, disinformation.

Apple has been taking the opposite approach, by staffing up an editorial team of former journalists, insteading of leaving news curation to technology.

Apple News is available across iPhone, iPad, and as of this year, Mac devices.