Inside StockX’s authentication center

Joshua Luber runs a sneaker empire valued at more than $1 billion, but he thinks they’re just now scratching the surface. The consumer marketplace recently expanded to include a fifth category (collectibles). “It’s an evolution of eBay that works similar to the stock market,” Luber states, “but at the core, it’s around the concept of true market price.” 

We visited StockX’s 15,000-square-foot facility in Detroit to get a peek into their authentication process, and sat down with Luber to chat about humble beginnings, business expansion and sneakers.

Tinder’s interactive video series ‘Swipe Night’ is going international next year

Tinder’s big experiment with interactive content — the recently launched in-app series called Swipe Night — was a success. According to Tinder parent company Match during its Q3 earnings this week, “millions” of Tinder users tuned into to watch the show’s episodes during its run in October, and this drove double-digit increases in both matches and messages. As a result, Match confirmed its plans to launch Tinder’s new show outside the U.S. in early 2020. 

Swipe Night’s launch was something of a departure for the dating app, whose primary focus has been on connecting users for dating and other more casual affairs.

The new series presented users with something else to do in the Tinder app beyond just swiping on potential matches. Instead, you swiped on a story.

Presented in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style format that’s been popularized by Netflix, YouTube, and others, Swipe Night asked users to make decisions to advance a narrative that followed a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure.”

Swipe Night ChoiceThe moral and practical choices you made during Swipe Night would then be shown on your profile as a conversation starter, or as just another signal as to whether or not a match was right for you. After all, they say that the best relationships come from those who share common values, not necessarily common interests. And Swipe Night helped to uncover aspects to someone’s personality that a profile would not — like whether you’d cover for a friend who cheated, or tell your other friend who was the one being cheated on?

The 5-minute long episodes ran every Sunday night in October from 6 PM to midnight.

Though early reports on Tinder’s plans had somewhat dramatically described Swipe Night as Tinder’s launch into streaming video, it’s more accurate to call Swipe Night an engagement booster for an app that many people often find themselves needing a break from. Specifically, it could help Tinder to address issues around declines in open rates or sessions per user — metrics that often hide behind what otherwise looks like steady growth. (Tinder, for example, added another 437,000 subscribers in the quarter, leading to 5.7 million average subscribers in Q3).

Ahead of earnings, there were already signs that Swipe Night was succeeding in its efforts to boost engagement.

Tinder said in late October that matches on its app jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night, and messages increased 12%.

On Tinder’s earnings call with investors, Match presented some updated metrics. The company said Swipe Night led to a 20% to 25% increase in “likes” and a 30% increase in matches. And the elevated conversation levels that resulted from user participation continued for days after each episode aired. Also importantly, the series helped boost female engagement in the app.

“This really extended our appeal and resonated with Gen Z users,” said Match CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “This effort demonstrates the kind of creativity and team we have a tender and the kind of that we’re willing to make.”

Swipe Night

The company says it will make Season 1 of Swipe Night (a hint there’s more to come) available soon as an on-demand experience, and will roll out the product to international markets early next year.

Swipe Night isn’t the only video product Match Group has in the works. In other Match-owned dating apps, Plenty of Fish and Twoo, the company is starting to test live streaming broadcasts. But these are created by the app’s users, not as a polished, professional product from the company itself.

Match had reported better-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, with earnings of 51 cents per share — above analysts’ expectations for earnings of 42 cents per share. Match’s revenue was $541 million, in line with Wall St.’s expectations.

But its fourth-quarter guidance came in lower than expectations ($545M-$555M, below the projected $559.3M), sending the stock dropping. Match said it would have to take on about $10 million in expenses related to it being spun out from parent company IAC.

 

 

Amazon’s Prime Video app disappears from the App Store [Updated]

In what we understand was a “technical issue”, the Amazon Prime Video app disappeared from the Apple App Store, making it unavailable for new downloads or updates to users both on iOS and Apple TV. Twitter users began to tweet to Amazon for help about the problem on Friday morning, to which Amazon’s support channels have yet to reply.

[Update: we’ve learned the issue is technical in nature, but we have no further information as to the details of the problem. The app should be back shortly.]

[Update 2: Amazon has now offered a comment on the disappearance.

“Earlier today, there was a technical glitch that impacted the Prime Video app on iOS and tvOS devices,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “The issue has been resolved, and the Prime Video app is now once again available in the App Store.”

Earlier post continues below:

The app’s disappearance was earlier reported by AppleInsider, iMore and others.

The most likely reason for the app’s removal is a technical one — an issue with the update could have caused it to be temporarily pulled, perhaps.

What’s not likely is that Amazon Prime Video is gone for good.

The company just released an X-Ray upgrade to the app across platforms, including iOS, allowing users to get more information about what they’re streaming, including Amazon’s run of Thursday Night Football games.

Nor is it likely that Apple has for some reason booted out Prime Video, given the anti-competitive nature of such a move (Apple TV+ is soon to launch), at a time when the tech giants are under increased regulatory scrutiny.

The issue isn’t only impacting users in the U.S., nor is it limited to iPhone, as Apple TV is also affected.

According to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the app was removed today in all regions except Australia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.

Amazon has not responded publicly to users asking for help.

TechCrunch has also reached out to Amazon for comment and will update when we hear back.

How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh’, won the local video streaming market with just $10M

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with just $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people in Bangladesh who are online today, 75 million of them are subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Mohammed said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Mohammed to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

Zuckerberg misunderstands the huge threat of TikTok

“It’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in leaked audio of him describing TikTok during an all-hands meeting. But it’s not. TikTok represents a new form of social entertainment that’s vastly different from the lifelogging of Instagram where you can just take a selfie, show something pretty, or pan around what you’re up to. TikToks are premeditated, storyboarded, and vastly different than the haphazard Stories on Insta.

That’s why Zuckerberg’s comments cast a dark shadow over the future of the Facebook family of apps. How can it beat what it doesn’t understand? He certainly can’t ignore it. Facebook’s copycat Lasso has been installed just 425,000 times since it launched in November, while TikTok has 640 million installs in the same period outside of China. Oh, and TikTok has 1.4 billion total installs beyond China to date.

TikTok Screenshots

TikTok

Casey Newton of The Verge today published two hours of audio and transcripts from two internal-only all-hands Q&As held by Zuckerberg at Facebook in July. His comments touch on the company’s plan to fight being broken up by regulators, especially if Elizabeth Warren becomes President. He thinks Facebook would win, but on resorting to suing the government, he says “does that still suck for us? Yeah.” Zuckerberg also describes how Facebook is working to launch a payments product in Mexico and elsewhere by year’s end as Libra deals with regulatory scrutiny.

But beyond his comments on regulation, it’s his pigeonholing of TikTok that’s most alarming. It foreshadows Facebook failing to win one of the core social feeds that its business depends on. Perhaps his perspective on the competitor is evolving, but the leak portrays him as thinking TikTok is just the next Snapchat Stories to destroy.

Zuckeberg’s Thoughts On TikTok

Here’s what Zuckerberg said about TikTok during the internal Q&A sessions, (emphasis mine):

So yeah. I mean, TikTok is doing well. One of the things that’s especially notable about TikTok is, for a while, the internet landscape was kind of a bunch of internet companies that were primarily American companies. And then there was this parallel universe of Chinese companies that pretty much only were offering their services in China. And we had Tencent who was trying to spread some of their services into Southeast Asia. Alibaba has spread a bunch of their payment services to Southeast Asia. Broadly, in terms of global expansion, that had been pretty limited, and TikTok, which is built by this company Beijing ByteDance, is really the first consumer internet product built by one of the Chinese tech giants that is doing quite well around the world. It’s starting to do well in the US, especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India. I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale. So yeah, it’s a very interesting phenomenon.

And the way that we kind of think about it is: it’s married short-form, immersive video with browse. So it’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram, which is today primarily about feed posts and highlighting different feed posts. I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for stories, and that were the whole app. And then you had creators who were specifically working on making that stuff. So we have a number of approaches that we’re going to take towards this, and we have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones. We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.

We’re taking a number of approaches with Instagram, including making it so that Explore is more focused on stories, which is increasingly becoming the primary way that people consume content on Instagram, as well as a couple of other things there. But yeah, I think that it’s not only one of the more interesting new phenomena and products that are growing. But in terms of the geopolitical implications of what they’re doing, I think it is quite interesting. I think we have time to learn and understand and get ahead of the trend. It is growing, but they’re spending a huge amount of money promoting it. What we’ve found is that their retention is actually not that strong after they stop advertising. So the space is still fairly nascent, and there’s time for us to kind of figure out what we want to do here. But I think this is a real thing. It’s good.

To Zuckerberg’s credit, he’s not dismissing the threat. He knows TikTok is popular. He knows it’s growing in key international markets Facebook and Instagram depend on to keep user counts rising. And he knows his company needs to respond via its standalone clone Lasso and more.

Facebook Lasso Screenshots

Lasso

But while TikToks might look like Stories because they’re vertical videos, and TikTok might algorithmically recommend them to people like Instagram Explore, it’s a whole ‘nother beast of a product and one that may be harder than it seems to copy.

To crystallize why, let’s rewind to Snapchat. With the launch of Stories, it started to blow up with US teens. Facebook’s attempts to clone it in standalone apps like Poke and Slingshot never gained traction. In fact, none of Facebook’s standalone apps have succeeded unless they splintered off an already-popular piece of Facebook like chat and users were forced to download them like Messenger. It wasn’t until Zuckerberg stuck his clone of Stories front-and-center atop Instagram and Facebook that Snapchat’s user count went from growing 18% per quarter to shrinking. There, Facebook used the same strategy laid out in Zuckerberg’s comments — push its good-enough clone in countries where the original isn’t popular yet.

But Facebook was fortunate because Stories really wasn’t that dissimilar to the content users were already sharing on Instagram — tiny biographical snippets of their lives. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had originally invented Stories as a vision of Facebook’s News Feed through the lens of an ephemeral camera. All users had to know was “I take the same videos, but shorter and sillier, posted more often, and then they disappear”. The concept of Instagram and Facebook didn’t have to change. They were still about telling friends what you were up to. Choking off TikTok’s growth will be much more complicated.

Why TikTok Is Tough To Clone

TikTok isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life. It’s about inventing characters, dressing up as someone else, and acting out jokes. It’s not about privacy and friends, but strutting on the world stage. And it’s not about originality — the heart of Instagram. TikTok is about remixing culture — taking the audio from someone else’s clip and reimagining the gag in a new context by layering it atop a video you record.

TikTok Remixes

That makes TikTok distinct enough that it will be very difficult to shoehorn into Instagram or Facebook, even if they add the remixing functionality. Most videos on those apps aren’t designed to be templates for memes like TikToks are. Insta and Facebook’s social graphs are rooted in friendship and augmented by the beautiful and famous, but don’t encompass the new wave of amateur performers TikTok elevates. And since each post to the app becomes fodder for someone else’s creativity, a competitor starting from scratch doesn’t offer much to remix.

That means a TikTok clone would have to be somewhat buried in Instagram or Facebook, rebuild a new social graph, and retrain users’ understanding of these apps’ purpose…at the risk of distracting from their core use cases. This leaves Facebook hoping to grow its standalone TikTok clone Lasso which TechCrunch scooped a year ago before it launched last November. But as we’ve seen, Facebook struggles growing brand new apps, and that effort is further hindered by its increasingly toxic brand and sheen of uncoolness. Nor does it help that Facebook must divert development resources to comply with all the new privacy and transparency obligations as part of its $5 billion FTC fine and settlement.

The Next Feed

Facebook’s best bet is to assess the future value of the ads it could run on a successful TikTok clone and apply some greater fraction of that grand sum to competing directly. It’s already made some smart additions to Lasso like tutorials for how to remix and the option to add GIFs as sections of your video. But it’s still failing to gain serious traction in the US. While typical TikTok homepage videos have hundreds of thousands of Likes, the top ones I saw in my Lasso feed today received 70 or fewer.

I had Sensor Tower run some analysis comparing TikTok with Lasso since its launch last November, and found that Lasso gets 6 downloads for every 1000 for TikTok in the US. Some more stats:

  • US Total Downloads Since November: Lasso – 250,000 // TikTok – 41.3 million
  • US Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 760 // TikTok – 126,000
  • Average US Google Play Social App Chart Ranking: Lasso – #155 // TikTok – #2

Beyond the US, Lasso has only launched in one other market, Mexico in April, where it’s been faring better but could hardly even be considered a competitor to TikTok. They won’t even coherently fit together on a graph. Facebook needs to lean harder into Lasso:

  • Mexico Total Downloads Since April: Lasso – 175,000 // TikTok – 3.3 million
  • Mexico Downloads Per Day Since November: Lasso – 1,000 // TikTok – 19,000

Facebook Lasso Logo

Zuckerberg may need to find a coherent place for TikTok style features inside Instagram and potentially Facebook. That could be another horizontal row of previews like with Stories and/or a header on the Explore page dedicated to premeditated content. Certainly something more prominent than a single button like IGTV that still no one is asking for. One opportunity to best TikTok would be building a dedicated remix source browser into the Stories camera to help users find content to put their own spin on.

Facebook will also need to buy out top TikTok creators to make videos for it instead, and even quasi-hire some of the most prolific video meme or challenge inventors to give users trends to jump on rather than just one-off clips to watch. Its failure to offer IGTV stars monetization has led many to ignore that platform, and it can’t afford that again.

If Zuckerberg approaches TikTok as merely an algorithmic video recommender like Explore, Facebook will miss out on owning the social entertainment feed. If he doesn’t decisively move to challenge TikTok soon, its catalog of content to remix will grow insurmountable and it will own the whole concept of short form performative video. Snapchat’s insistence on ephemerality makes it incompatible with remixing, and YouTube isn’t nimble enough to reinvent itself.

If no American company can step up, we could see our interest data, faces, and attention forfeited to an app that while delightful to use, heralds Chinese political values at odds with our own. If only Twitter hadn’t killed Vine.

Not all is predictable on Facebook’s social Horizon

Most of the people I spoke with at Facebook’s Oculus Connect see the proliferation of virtual reality as a foregone conclusion, one that’s just a matter of timing at this point. For Facebook, the conference’s “The Time is Now” catchphrase showcased that they feel their hardware is ready for everyone.

But despite the success, they feel like they’ve tapped into when it comes to hardware iterations, the company’s bread and butter social networking prowess feels like it’s barely improved in-headset in the past several years of VR experimentations.

“On the social side, looking back, it’s kind of embarrassing all of the stages we’ve gone through at Oculus,” Oculus CTO and veteran programmer John Carmack conceded onstage during his signature rambling annual keynote, noting that his own social APK was followed by Oculus Rooms, Oculus Venues, Facebook Spaces and now the company’s latest shiny pearl Facebook Horizon.

Horizon’s debut this year included a flashy trailer for what quickly seemed to be the company’s biggest gamble and first potential social hit, a massive multi-player online world. In introducing the software, Zuckerberg talked about people-centric software as Facebook’s “bread-and-butter,” noting, “We build a lot of the best social experiences for phones and computers, and we want to do this for virtual reality as well.”

But Facebook does not actually appear to hold that much of an advantage over much smaller game studios in terms of understanding how to make social virtual reality experience take off.

What’s the right way to sponsor a YouTube influencer?