Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a young mother supporting the family while his father worked long hours led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

Facebook to restore news sharing in Australia after government amends proposed law

Facebook said it will begin restoring news sharing to Australian users’ feeds in “the coming days” after reaching an agreement with the country’s government. The social media giant made the drastic move of restricting news content in Australia last Wednesday after a dispute over a proposed media bargaining code that is expected to be voted into law soon. The code would have forced Facebook, and other major tech companies like Google, to make revenue-sharing agreements with publishers for content posted to their social media platforms.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said changes have been made to the code to “provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” reported Seven News.

The amendments mean the code now includes a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms like Facebook and publishers to agree on deals before they are forced to enter into arbitration. The Australian government will also consider commercial agreements tech platforms have already made with local publishers before deciding if the code applies to them, and give them one month’s notice before reaching a final decision.

William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the company was “satisfied” with the changes, adding that they addressed Facebook’s “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

Facebook’s restrictions last week meant Australian publishers were restricted from sharing or posting content from Facebook Pages, and users in Australia were unable to view or share Australian or international news content.

The Australian government announced in April 2020 it would adopt a mandatory code ordering Google, Facebook and other tech giants to pay local media for reusing their content, after an earlier attempt to create a voluntary code with the companies stalled.

As it lobbied against the proposed law, Facebook first threatened to restrict the public sharing of news content in Australia last September. Google also claimed that user experience in Australia would suffer and suggested it may no longer be able to offer free services in the country.

Talking tech’s exodus, Twitter’s labels, and Medium’s next moves with founder Ev Williams

Earlier today, we had the chance to talk with Twitter and Medium cofounder Ev Williams, along with operator-turned investor James Joaquin, who helps oversee the day-to-day of the mission-focused venture firm they separately cofounded six years ago, Obvious Ventures.

We collectively discussed lot of venture-y things, some of which we’ll publish next week, so stayed tuned. In the meantime, we spent some time talking specifically with Williams about both Twitter and Medium and some of the day’s biggest headlines. Following are some excerpts from that chat, lightly edited for length and clarity.

TC: A lot of tech CEOs saying have been saying goodbye to San Francisco in 2020. Do you think the trend is attracting too much attention or perhaps not enough?

EW: I moved away from the Bay Area a little over a year ago, with my family to New York. I’d lived in San Francisco for 20 years, and I had never lived in New York, and thought, ‘Why not go? Now seems like a good time.’ Turns out I was wrong. [Laughs.] It was a very bad time to move to New York. So I was there for for six months, and quickly came back to California, which is a great place to be in a world where you’re not going into bars and restaurants and seeing people.

TC: You moved when COVID took hold?

EW: Yes. In March, Manhattan suddenly seemed not ideal. So now I’m on the peninsula.

I’m from San Francisco. It was really, for me, just honestly looking for a change. But an enabling factor that could be common in many of these cases is the fact that I no longer have to be in the office in San Francisco every day, [whereas] for most of 20 years [beforehand], all my work life was in an office in San Francisco, generally with a company I had started, so I thought it was important to be there.

This was pre COVID and remote work. But remote work was becoming more common. And I noticed in 2018 or so, with this massive number of companies that were in San Francisco —  startups and large public companies and pre IPO companies — the competition for talent had gotten more extreme than it had ever been. So it got me —  along with a lot of founders and CEOs — thinking about maybe the advantage of hiring locally and having everybody in the same office [was a pro] that was starting to get outweighed by the cons. . . And, of course, the tools and technology that make remote work possible were getting better all the time.

TC: As a cofounder of Twitter, I have to ask about this presidential transition that is maybe, finally happening. In January, Donald Trump will lose the privileges he enjoyed as president. Given the amount of disinformation he has published routinely, do you think Twitter should have cracked down on him sooner? How would you rate its handling of a president who really tested its boundaries in every way?

EW: I think what Twitter has done especially recently is a pretty good solution. I mean, I don’t agree with the the notion or that he should have been removed altogether a long time ago. Having the visibility, literally seeing, what what the President is thinking at any given moment, as ludicrous as it is, is helpful.

What he would be doing if he didn’t have Twitter is unclear, but he’d be doing something to get his message out there. And what the company has done most recently with the warnings on his tweets or blocking them is great. It’s providing more information. It’s kind of ‘buyer beware’ about this information. And it’s a bolder step than any platform had done previously. It’s a good version of an in between where previously [people would] talk about just kicking people off, [and] allowing freedom of speech.

TC: You started Blogger, then Twitter, then Medium. As someone who has spent much of your career  focused on content and distribution, do you have any other thoughts about what more Twitter or other platforms could be doing [to tackle disinformation]? Because there is going to be somebody who comes along again with the same autocratic tendencies.

EW: I think all of society gets more information savvy — that’s one hope over the long term. It wasn’t that long ago that if something was in “media,” it was accepted as true. And now I think everyone’s skeptical. We’ve learned that that’s not necessarily the case and certainly not online.

Unfortunately, we’re now at the point where a lot of people have lost faith in everything published or shared anywhere. But I think that’s a step along the evolution of just getting more media savvy and knowing that sources really matter, and as we build both better tools, things will get better.

TC: Speaking of content platforms, Medium charges $50 per year for users to access an unlimited amount of articles from individual writers and poets. Have you said how many subscribers the platform now has?

EW: We haven’t given a precise number, but I can tell you it’s in the high hundreds of thousands. It’s been a been a couple years now, and I’m a very firm believer in the model — not only that people will pay for quality information, but that it’s just a much healthier model for publishers, be they individuals or companies, because it creates that feedback loop of ‘quality gets rewarded.’

If people aren’t getting value, they unsubscribe, and that isn’t the case with an advertising model. If people click, you keep making money, and you can kind of keep tricking people or keep appealing to lowest-common-denominator impulses. There were a couple of decades where the mantra was ‘No one will pay for content on the internet,’ which obviously seems silly now. But that was that was the established belief for such a long time.

TC: Do you ever think you should have charged from the outset? I  sometimes wonder if it’s harder to throw on the switch afterward.

EW: Yes, and no. When we first switched to this model in 2017, we created a subscription, but the vast majority of content was — and actually still is — outside of the paywall. And our model is different than most because it’s a platform, and we don’t own the content, and we have an agreement with our creators that they can publish behind the paywall if they want, and we will pay them if they do that. But they can also publish outside the paywall if they’re not interested in making money and want maximum reach. And those those models are actually very complimentary because the scale of the platform brings a lot of people in through the top of the funnel.

Scale is really important for most businesses, but for a paywall, it’s especially important because people have to be visiting with enough frequency to actually hit the paywall and be motivated to pay.

TC: Out of curiosity, what do you make of Substack, a startup that invites writers to create their own newsletters using a subscription model and then takes a cut of their revenue in exchange for a host of back end services.

EW: There’s a bit of a creator renaissance going on right now that is part of a bigger wave of a people being willing to pay for quality information, and independent writers and thinkers actually breaking out on their own and building brands and followings. And I think we’re going to see more of that.

TC: Medium has raised $132 million over the years. Will you raise more? Where do you want to take the platform in the next 12 to 24 months?

EW: We’re not yet not yet profitable, so I anticipate that we will raise more money.

There’s a very big business to be built here. While more and more people are willing to pay for content way, I don’t think that means that most people will subscribe to dozens of sources, whether they’re websites with paywalls or newsletters. If you look at how basically every media category has evolved, a lot of them have gone through this shift from free to paid, at least at the higher end of the market. That includes music, television, and even games. And at the high end, there tend to be players who own a large part of the market, and I think that comes down to offering the best consumer value proposition — one that gives people lots of optionality, lots of personalization, and lots of value for one price.

I think that the same thing is going to play out in this area, and for the subscription that’s able to reach critical mass, that’s a multi-billion dollar business. And that’s what we’re aiming to build.

This is how police request customer data from Amazon

Anyone can access portions of a web portal, used by law enforcement to request customer data from Amazon, even though the portal is supposed to require a verified email address and password.

Amazon’s law enforcement request portal allows police and federal agents to submit formal requests for customer data along with a legal order, like a subpoena, a search warrant, or a court order. The portal is publicly accessible from the internet, but law enforcement must register an account with the site in order to allow Amazon to “authenticate” the requesting officer’s credentials before they can make requests.

Only time sensitive emergency requests can be submitted without an account, but this requires the user to “declare and acknowledge” that they are an authorized law enforcement officer before they can submit a request.

The portal does not display customer data or allow access to existing law enforcement requests. But parts of the website still load without needing to log in, including its dashboard and the “standard” request form used by law enforcement to request customer data.

The portal provides a rare glimpse into how Amazon handles law enforcement requests.

This form allows law enforcement to request customer data using a wide variety of data points, including Amazon order numbers, serial numbers of Amazon Echo and Fire devices, credit cards details and bank account numbers, gift cards, delivery and shipping numbers, and even the Social Security number of delivery drivers.

It also allows law enforcement to obtain records related to Amazon Web Services accounts by submitting domain names or IP addresses related to the request.

Assuming this was a bug, we sent Amazon several emails prior to publication but did not hear back.

Amazon is not the only tech company with a portal for law enforcement requests. Many of the bigger tech companies with millions or even billions of users around the world, like Google and Twitter, have built portals to allow law enforcement to request customer and user data.

Motherboard reported a similar issue earlier this month that allowed anyone with an email address to access law enforcement portals set up by Facebook and WhatsApp.

Amazon’s Alexa becomes a better conversationalist and can now ask you questions, too

At its annual hardware event, Amazon today announced new capabilities for its Alexa personal assistant that will allow it to become more personalized as it can now ask clarifying questions and then use this personalized data to interact with the user later on. In addition, Alex can now join a conversation, too, starting a mode where you don’t have to say ‘hey Alexa’ all the time. With that, multiple users can interact with Alexa and the system will chime in when it’s appropriate (or not — since we haven’t tested this yet).

As Amazon VP and head scientist Rohit Prasad noted, the system for asking questions and personalizing responses uses a deep learning-based approach that allows Alexa to acquire new concepts and actions based on what it learns from customers. Whatever it learns is personalized and only applies to this individual customer.

When you ask Alexa to set the temperature to your ‘favorite setting,’ for example, she will now ask what that setting is.

In addition, Alexa can now adapt its speaking style depending on the context, based on the team’s ability to better understand how to generate a natural-sounding voice for Alexa. In an example today, Amazon showed what that means when you ask it to play music for example, with Alex having a bit more pep in its voice compared to its regular, somewhat monotone voice.

The real breakthrough, though, is the conversation mode. In today’s demo, the company showed how Alexa could work when you’re ordering a pizza, for example. One of the actors said she wasn’t that hungry and wanted a smaller pizza. Alexa automatically changed that order for her. The team calls this ‘natural turn taking.’

Shopify says two support staff stole customer data from sellers

Shopify has confirmed a data breach, in which two “rogue members” of its support team stole customer data from at least 100 merchants.

In a blog post, the online shopping site said that its investigation so far showed that the two employees, who have since been fired, were “engaged in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said it had referred the matter to the FBI.

The employees allegedly stole customer data, including names, postal addresses, and order details, from “less than 200 merchants,” but financial data was unaffected.

Shopify said that it does not have any evidence to suggest that the data was used, but that it had notified affected merchants of the incident.

One merchant shared a copy of Shopify’s email notification with TechCrunch, which said the company first became aware of the breach on September 15, and that the two employees obtained data that was accessible using Shopify’s Orders API, which lets merchants process orders on behalf of their customers. The email also said that the last four-digits of the customers’ payment card was also taken in the incident.

Shopify did not say how many end customers were affected by the theft of data from merchants, but the email sent by Shopify contained the specific number of customer records taken in the breach. In this merchant’s case, over 1.3 million customer records and over 4,900 were accessed.

A spokesperson for Shopify didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Just last month, Instacart admitted two of its third-party support staff improperly accessed the information for shoppers, who deliver grocery orders to customers.

Taboola and Outbrain call off their $850M merger

Online advertising is a game of scale, but one attempt to consolidate two competitors to better take on Google and Facebook has fallen apart. Taboola and Outbrain, startups that each provide publishers with ad-based content recommendation platforms, have called off a planned $850 million merger that would have valued the combined company at more than $2 billion. The news of the cancellation had been rumoured in the Israeli press, and TechCrunch has now confirmed it with both companies, too.

“We’ve seen changing conditions in the market due to COVID-19, and we decided to terminate the deal,” said a person close to the merger, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s been such a long road, and it’s not great…but walking away is the right move.” We understand that a formal announcement will be made in the next couple of days.

The deal had been years in the making but was only finally pulled together about 11 months ago, in October 2019. However, in the interim, a combination of factors got in the way of it progressing.

The first of those was the global health pandemic. Both Taboola’s and Outbrain’s businesses are based around widgets that they integrate with publishers’ sites, which provide a way for publishers both to recirculate their own content, as well as share it, alongside sponsored content and ads, on other sites that also run the widgets. But in the last eight months, the world of ad-based media has taken a nosedive as many large brands reined in their ad budgets, and that had a knock-on effect on other players within the ecosystem.

And that has impacted financing prospects. The merger between the two was originally intended to have cash and stock components — specifically 30% of the value of Outbrain for $250 million in cash to be paid to Outbrain’s shareholders and employees — but in the contracting market, the financiers who were providing the capital for the cash component stalled. That deal ultimately expired in August, and it didn’t get extended. And then, attempts to convert the deal into an all-stock transaction were unpalatable to Outbrain, we understand. “The cash was a critical factor in the deal,” said a source.

On top of that was what was described to me as a “challenging cultural fit” between the two companies, something that only became more apparent as the closing of the deal dragged on. That again pointed to the cash element of the deal being important: “If you get the cash, you reduce the risk, so without that we grew even more uncomfortable,” the source said.

The third hurdle was ongoing regulatory issues. While it appeared that the U.S. regulators nominally approved the deal, the merger was still being investigated both in the U.K. and in Israel, investigations that were due to go on for several more months. In the U.K., the companies currently do not have any significant competitors, raising antitrust concerns.

The two companies, both founded out of Israel but headquartered in New York, had described their planned deal as a merger, but the combined entity would have been called Taboola, with Taboola’s founder Adam Singolda taking the CEO slot. Both Taboola and Outbrain were profitable going into the deal, each claiming some $1 billion in annual revenues. Taboola has raised some $160 million from investors that include Comcast, Fidelity and Pitango. Outbrain had raised $194 million, with investors including Index, HarbourVest and Lightspeed.

From what we understand, both companies will continue looking at ways they can continue to grow, even if it’s not as a team. That will include weighing up other strategic acquisitions and other opportunities, since some truisms remain in the worlds of media and advertising. “Scale and reach are critical to being successful in this market,” said our source.

The journey of a kids book startup that tackles topics like racism, cancer and divorce

Jelani Memory, an entrepreneur and father, had been wanting to write a kids book for years. While in the midst of raising a Series B round for his startup Circle Media, he started to feel burned out and wanted to start doing something more creatively fulfilling, Memory told me. That’s what led Memory to create A Kids Book About, a book publishing platform to help parents tackle tough topics and conversations with their kids. Its first book was “A Kids Book About Racism.”

“It was really me as a dad trying to keep that conversation going with my kids, and my kids thought the book was cool,” Memory said. “And it caused them to ask all sorts of new questions that I hadn’t heard them ask before around the topic of racism.”

Memory then shared that book with friends and colleagues, who suggested he write more books about other topics.

“So that’s really when the seed was planted,” he said. “When you find yourself waking up in the morning thinking about something and going to bed at night thinking about it, and in the middle of your workday, when you’re supposed to be doing work, sort of obsessing over it, I just sort of intuitively knew that these books needed to exist — at the very least for my own kids — because I knew that some conversations really are too hard to have. And while I consider myself a pretty open dad and talk about a lot with my kids, some of those conversations are just too hard to bring up, or if you’re ready to bring them up, you don’t know what to say.”

That seems to have struck a chord with the masses. The day after George Floyd was killed by police, A Kids Book About did as much in sales at it had the whole previous month. And it didn’t slow down, Memory said. The following day, sales went up 2x, and the day after, went up another 2x and held steady. So, within the span of 10 days, A Kids Book About saw north of $1 million in revenue.

“And to be quite honest, we had enough inventory that was supposed to last us the rest of the year,” Memory said. But we sold out of every single one of our titles except for two.”

At a certain point in June, there were abut 50,000 books on backorder.

“Grownups were really stepping up to have these meaningful conversations with their kids,” Memory said. “And while our book on racism did really well, our customers are just remarkable and they were snagging our book on cancer and feminism and empathy and mindfulness. It was really cool to watch.”

A Kids Book About officially launched in 2019 with 12 titles released in October. Today, there are 25 titles available, with plans for more on the way. The startup is primarily a direct to consumer business with a “fairly unique and novel publishing model,” Memory said.

A Kids Book About writes all of its books via a workshop in a single day. The company brings in an author, talks through the vision and mission as a company and then co-writes the book with that author. A Kids Book About intentionally looks for folks who have not yet published books, though, there are authors on the platform who have previously published books.

“It just tends to be that if you’ve already published, you almost always are certainly a straight, white male,” Memory said. “So for us, we look for folks with a deep personal story and someone who knows their topic inside and out through their lived experience.”

a kids book about books

Image Credits: A Kids Book About

On the publishing side, A Kids Book About gives authors no less than 10% of the revenue from book sales, while traditional publishers may give around 6%, Memory said. It also takes, on average, 45 days to go to market, as opposed to 18 months in the traditional publishing world, Memory said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, A Kids Book About realized it needed to tackle this topic. So it green-lit and created a book within four days with a social epidemiologist as a free e-book. The physical book is available on pre-order for next month.

Meanwhile, amid the massive social movement sparked by Floyd’s death, the company realized it needed additional books on the topic of race.

“While my book is a great conversation starter on racism, we realized there are a couple of others books we really need to make,” Memory said. “So we’re fast-tracking a book about white privilege that will come out this fall and a book about systemic racism as a way to sort of round out that conversation.”

Another untraditional aspect of the business is A Kids Book About’s approach to fundraising. Part of that process meant choosing his investors as much as them choosing him, Memory said.

“That means avoiding a lot of conversations, it meant saying no to some checks,” Memory said. “But it really meant going out and finding more Black and brown investors.”

Memory also sought out investors where this deal would be its first investment in a startup.

“That was really important that I wasn’t just taking accredited investors but making room for unaccredited investors as well, knowing that if the wealth loop just keeps going the way that it is, only people with money get to make more money,” he said.

A Kids Book About raised $1 million from a handful of seed funds, including Cascade Seed Fund, Color Capital and Black Founders Matter.

“And I can tell you, pitching a direct consumer kids book startup that tackles topics like cancer and racism is not super hot in the venture,” Memory said. “And being a founder of color, even as a second-time founder, you know, I can’t tell you how many folks recommended that I should talk to impact investors. And I was like, ‘I don’t think you understand what I’m doing here. This isn’t a charity.’ But it was very easy to avoid and say no to those investors.”

Overall, Memory said his business resonated pretty well with investors, with the exception of e-commerce or consumer-focused funds. Sometimes it came down to the investors not having a strong grasp on the publishing industry or to how new the business was, he said.

“I think most investors fancy themselves as risk takers, but I think investors are the most risk-averse on the planet,” Memory said. “And also, the game of fundraising really is about finding those true believers who really get what you’re up to. I am still a little bit amazed we raised $1 million for this business knowing that half of the money was raised right smack dab in the middle of quarantine lockdown in the pandemic. But, you know, I don’t think it hurt that we started to post just remarkable numbers. And a lot of those folks we were already in conversation with at the time. And by the time we were doing half a million every few days, I ended up saying no to quite a few investors who I either thought weren’t a fit for us or simply we didn’t have the allocation for.”

Amazon won’t say if its facial recognition moratorium applies to the feds

In a surprise blog post, Amazon said it will put the brakes on providing its facial recognition technology to police for one year, but refuses to say if the move applies to federal law enforcement agencies.

The moratorium comes two days after IBM said in a letter it was leaving the facial recognition market altogether. Arvind Krishna, IBM’s chief executive, cited a “pursuit of justice and racial equity” in light of the recent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

Amazon’s statement — just 102 words in length — did not say why it was putting the moratorium in place, but noted that Congress “appears ready” to work on stronger regulations governing the use of facial recognition — again without providing any details. It’s likely in response to the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that would, if passed, restrict how police can use facial recognition technology.

“We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” said Amazon in the unbylined blog post.

But the statement did not say if the moratorium would apply to the federal government, the source of most of the criticism against Amazon’s facial recognition technology. Amazon also did not say in the statement what action it would take after the yearlong moratorium expires.

Amazon is known to have pitched its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to federal agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Last year, Amazon’s cloud chief Andy Jassy said in an interview the company would provide Rekognition to “any” government department.

Amazon spokesperson Kristin Brown declined to comment further or say if the moratorium applies to federal law enforcement.

There are dozens of companies providing facial recognition technology to police, but Amazon is by far the biggest. Amazon has come under the most scrutiny after its Rekognition face-scanning technology showed bias against people of color.

In 2018, the ACLU found that Rekognition falsely matched 28 members of Congress as criminals in a mugshot database. Amazon criticized the results, claiming the ACLU had lowered the facial recognition system’s confidence threshold. But a year later, the ACLU of Massachusetts found that Rekognition had falsely matched 27 New England professional athletes against a mugshot database. Both tests disproportionately mismatched Black people, the ACLU found.

Investors brought a proposal to Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting almost exactly a year ago that would have forcibly banned Amazon from selling its facial recognition technology to the government or law enforcement. Amazon defeated the vote with a wide margin.

The ACLU acknowledged Amazon’s move to pause sales of Rekognition, which it called a “threat to our civil rights and liberties,” but called on the company and other firms to do more.

Marketing data platform Adverity raises $30M Series C led by Sapphire Ventures

In the time many of us live in now, we all know our online media consumption is — to state the obvious — going through the roof. Subsequently, the amount of data pertaining to online marketing is, equally, reaching stratospheric heights and in recent years tech companies like Datorama and Funnel.io, SuperMetrics and Adverity have appeared to give marketeers a data intelligence platform to deal with the welter of spreadsheets and reports necessary to track everything.

Last year, Vienna HQ’d Adverity closed an €11 million Series B funding round for its AI-driven platform to produce actionable insights in real-time for marketers.

Today it’s announcing a Series C financing round of $30 million, bringing the total amount it has raised to $50 million. The latest funding round is led by Valley-based Sapphire Ventures . Also participating is Mangrove Capital Partners, Felix Capital, SAP.iO and aws Gründerfonds who have all re-invested in this latest round. 

The Series C funding will be used to accelerate Adverity’s business growth, office network and R&D. Adverity’s clients include IKEA, Red Bull, Unilever, MediaCom and IPG Mediabrands.

Alexander Igelsböck, CEO and co-founder of Adverity, said in a statement: “Our platform plays a crucial role in helping enterprises become agile, empowering digital teams with intelligent insights. It is imperative we invest in evolving and developing new solutions, improving access and quality, and tackle the challenges of data complexity.”

Nino Marakovic, CEO and managing director at Sapphire Ventures commented that Adverity has “the opportunity to help all companies become more data-driven in their marketing.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, long-time Adverity investor Frederic Court of Felix Capital said: “We backed them as marketing is becoming a science with increasing complexity, we see this across all our consumer investments. Take Farfetch, where there is a dedicated team just for marketing. Adverity enables brands and ad agencies to aggregate their marketing data and extract intelligence automatically. I describe it as having a data scientist in a box, where a brand can understand its marketing data and get smart insights effortlessly. Their technology is very strong and their sales have taken off strongly.”

Speaking to this latest round of investment, he told me: “We were not fundraising but Sapphire was a very compelling partner. Post COVID-19, e-commerce is going to grow even faster (as we see with Shopify, Amazon and across our portfolio) and the company can benefit from this accelerated transition to e-commerce.”