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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Garmin adds menstrual cycle tracking to devices

Garmin announced today that it will be adding menstrual cycle tracking to its line of trackers and smartwatches. The new feature gives users the ability to log symptoms, track cycles and offers up additional context by way of Garmin Connect, the company’s mobile app.

The addition follows a similar feature instituted by Fitbit, roughly this time last year. It’s since become a mainstay across the company’s tracker and smartwatch offerings. In spite of still being associated with GPS, Garmin has become a major wearable player in its own right, generally rounding out the global top five, courtesy of devices focused on sports and outdoor functionality.

Garmin’s offering sounds pretty similar to Fitbit’s primarily focused on offering users a way to log this information in a centralized location along with the rest of the health data Garmin’s devices track. The contextual information, meanwhile, continues tidbits such as,

  • Once your period starts, you might find it easier to push yourself physically. In 2002, Paula Radcliffe broke the world record for the fastest marathon in Chicago while dealing with menstrual cramps.”
  • Your body naturally craves high amounts of protein at this point in your cycle. Lentils, seeds or lean meats are great options to keep you going.”
  • During the first 2 weeks of your cycle, your body is primed for maximum strength, speed and power. This is the best time to focus on more challenging strength training.”

The new feature comes as Garmin is looks to expand its wearables’ appeal by offering additional smaller sizes of its devices. The new menstrual cycle tracking feature is available to users starting this week via Garmin Connect. A number of devices will get a widget for the feature, including the Forerunner 645 Music, vívoactive 3 and Fenix 5 Plus Series. A handful of additional devices will be getting it soon.

Source: TechCrunch

UiPath nabs $568M at a $7B valuation to bring robotic process automation to the front office

Companies are on the hunt for ways to reduce the time and money it costs their employees to perform repetitive tasks, so today a startup that has built a business to capitalize on this is announcing a huge round of funding to double down on the opportunity.

UiPath — a robotic process automation startup originally founded in Romania that uses artificial intelligence and sophisticated scripts to build software to run these tasks — today confirmed that it has closed a Series D round of $568 million at a post-money valuation of $7 billion.

From what we understand, the startup is “close to profitability” and is going to keep growing as a private company. Then, an IPO within the next 12-24 months the “medium term” plan.

“We are at the tipping point. Business leaders everywhere are augmenting their workforces with software robots, rapidly accelerating the digital transformation of their entire business and freeing employees to spend time on more impactful work,” said Daniel Dines, UiPath co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “UiPath is leading this workforce revolution, driven by our core determination to democratize RPA and deliver on our vision of a robot helping every person.”

This latest round of funding is being led by Coatue, with participation from Dragoneer, Wellington, Sands Capital, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Accel, Alphabet’s CapitalG, Sequoia, IVP and Madrona Venture Group.

CFO Marie Myers said in an interview in London that the plan will be to use this funding to expand UiPath’s focus into more front-office and customer-facing areas, such as customer support and sales.

“We want to move into automation into new levels,” she said. “We’re advancing quickly into AI and the cloud, with plans to launch a new AI product in the second half of the year that we believe will demystify it for our users.” The product, she added, will be focused around “drag and drop” architecture and will work both for attended and unattended bots — that is, those that work as assistants to humans, and those that work completely on their own. “Robotics has moved out of the back office and into the front office, and the time is right to move into intelligent automation.”

Today’s news confirms Kate’s report from last month noting that the round was in progress: in the end, the amount UiPath raised was higher than the target amount we’d heard ($400 million), with the valuation on the more “conservative” side (we’d said the valuation would be higher than $7 billion).

“Conservative” is a relative term here. The company has been on a funding tear in the last year, raising $418 million ($153 million at Series A and $265 million at Series B) in the space of 12 months, and seeing its valuation go from a modest $110 million in April 2017 to $7 billion today, just two years later.

Up to now, UiPath has focused on internal and back-office tasks in areas like accounting, human resources paperwork, and claims processing — a booming business that has seen UiPath expand its annual run rate to more than $200 million (versus $150 million six months ago) and its customer base to more than 400,000 people.

Customers today include American Fidelity, BankUnited, CWT (formerly known as Carlson Wagonlit Travel), Duracell, Google, Japan Exchange Group (JPX), LogMeIn, McDonalds, NHS Shared Business Services, Nippon Life Insurance Company, NTT Communications, Orange, Ricoh Company, Ltd., Rogers Communications, Shinsei Bank, Quest Diagnostics, Uber, the US Navy, Voya Financial, Virgin Media, and World Fuel Services.

Moving into more front-office tasks is an ambitious but not surprising leap for UiPath: looking at that customer list, it’s notable that many of these organizations have customer-facing operations, often with their own sets of repetitive processes that are ripe for improving by tapping into the many facets of AI — from computer vision to natural language processing and voice recognition, through to machine learning — alongside other technology.

It also begs the question of what UiPath might look to tackle next. Having customer-facing tools and services is one short leap from building consumer services, an area where the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft are all pushing hard with devices and personal assistant services. (That would indeed open up the competitive landscape quite a lot for UiPath, beyond the list of RPA companies like AutomationAnywhere, Kofax and Blue Prism who are its competitors today.)

Robotics has been given a somewhat bad rap in the world of work: critics worry that they are “taking over all the jobs“, removing humans and their own need to be industrious from the equation; and in the worst-case scenarios, the work of a robot lacks the nuance and sophsitication you get from the human touch.

UiPath and the bigger area of RPA are interesting in this regard: the aim (the stated aim, at least) isn’t to replace people, but to take tasks out of their hands to make it easier for them to focus on the non-repetitive work that “robots” — and in the case of UiPath, software scripts and robots — cannot do.

Indeed, that “future of work” angle is precisely what has attracted investors.

“UiPath is enabling the critical capabilities necessary to advance how companies perform and how employees better spend their time,” said Greg Dunham, vice president at T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., in a statement. “The industry has achieved rapid growth in such a short time, with UiPath at the head of it, largely due to the fact that RPA is becoming recognized as the paradigm shift needed to drive digital transformation through virtually every single industry in the world.”

As we’ve written before, the company has has been a big hit with investors because of the rapid traction it has seen with enterprise customers.

There is an interesting side story to the funding that speaks to that traction: Myers, the CFO, came to UiPath by way of one of those engagements: she had been a senior finance executive with HP tasked with figuring out how to make some of its accounting more efficient. She issued an RFP for the work, and the only company she thought really addressed the task with a truly tech-first solution, at a very competitive price, was an unlikely startup out of Romania, which turned out to be UiPath. She became one of the company’s first customers, and eventually Dines offered her a job to help build his company to the next level, which she leaped to take.

“UiPath is improving business performance, efficiency and operation in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Philippe Laffont, founder of Coatue Management, in a statement. “The Company’s rapid growth over the last two years is a testament to the fact that UiPath is transforming how companies manage their resources. RPA presents an enormous opportunity for companies around the world who are embracing artificial intelligence, driving a new era of productivity, efficiency and workplace satisfaction.” 

Source: TechCrunch

How to Land a Plane in 'Non-Normal' Situations

Print this out and bring it with you on your next flight. Just in case.
Source: Wired

Kickstarter Celebrates 10 Years of Funding Your Crazy Ideas

The platform has helped artists and founders collectively raise over $4 billion for a variety of art projects, movies, hardware startups, and naughty board games.
Source: Wired

F8 2019: How to Watch Mark Zuckerberg's Keynote Live

On Tuesday, Facebook’s F8 developer conference will kick off with a Zuckerberg keynote. You can watch it right here.
Source: Wired

Nigerian startup Tizeti launches WifiCall.ng IP voice call service

Nigeria based startup Tizeti, an internet service provider, today launched WifiCall.ng—an internet voice-calling platform for individuals and businesses.

WifiCall is a VoIP—or Voice over Internet Protocol—subscription service that allows unlimited calls to any phone number, even if that number isn’t registered on WifiCall’s network.

Tizeti will offer the product in Nigeria for now, with plans to open it up to phone numbers outside Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy in 2020.

WifiCall was influenced by popularity of WiFi enabled voice services such WhatsApp, in Africa, and the continent’s improving digital and mobile profile.

With its new VoIP product, Tizeti looks to contend with the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, and major telcos.

“On the low end we’re competing with the mobile providers. WifiCall gives you a real number and it’s cheaper. But we’re also offering enterprise options you would not get with a mobile connection or even WhatsApp,” Tizeti co-founder and CEO Kendall Ananyi told TechCrunch.

In addition to individual users, businesses and startups can use WifiCall for internal communications or open it up to developers to customize APIs for white-label, customer applications.

WifiCall is available online or for download for free under the “Basic” package. The entry level commercial “Business Unlimited Pro” package—that offers up to 10 users, call recording, and call analytics—goes for ₦15,000, or around $35 a month. 

Nigerian trucking logistic startup Kobo360 is already is a client. Ananyi sees prospective market segments for WifiCall as startups, educational institutions, hotels, gated communities, and “regular users anywhere they have tower coverage,” he said.

That last group ties into Tizeti’s core business, which is building solar powered towers that offer WiFi service packages and hotspots in and around Lagos and Ogun State, Nigeria. Since its launch from Y Combinator’s  winter 2017 batch, the company has installed over 12,000 public WiFi hotspots in Nigeria with 500,000 users. The startup packages internet services drawing on partnerships with West African broadband provider MainOne and Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi

Tizeti raised a $3 million Series A round in 2018, led by 4DX Ventures, and has $5.1 million in investment from firms including Golden Palm Investments, YC, and Social Investments.

4DX Ventures co-founder Walter Baddoo sees Tizeti’s voice calling as a strategic extension of its connectivity business (noting WifiCall can be used with any IP).

“The core of the company’s mission is to bring down the cost of connectivity on the continent by leveraging mobile internet and data networks, WifiCall is a step in that direction” Baddoo told TechCrunch. “Africa is going to leapfrog a lot of the traditional call infrastructure…and WiFi calling…is giving individuals, small-businesses, and large businesses one-stop for much cheaper data-service alongside voice.”

Though Sub-Saharan Africa still stands last in most global rankings for smartphone adoption (33 percent) and internet penetration (35 percent), the continent continues to register among the fastest growth in the world for both.

Mobile providers in Nigeria—such as MTN and Glo—are shifting customers from buying anonymous data-bundles to registered sim cards and subscription services. WiFi voice services are also commonly used across the continent for calls. Per We Are Social’s 2018 Digital Report, WhatsApp is the most downloaded messenger app across Africa.

On its internet service business, Tizeti has already expanded to Ghana with a consumer facing brand, Wifi-Africa, and looks to offer WifiCall there as soon as it gains regulatory approval—something in process, according to CEO Kendall Ananyi.

The startup is building an LTE network, to compliment its IP network, and plans to expand further into Nigeria with 5G offerings in the near future, according to Ananyi.

Tizeti also plans to open up its WifiCall product to phone numbers outside of Nigeria starting in 2020.  “The way Africa skipped landlines and went straight to mobile, this is us saying the next level for our voice communications is to move toward voice IP networks,” Ananyi said.














Source: TechCrunch

Vault Platform raises $4.2M to fix workplace misconduct reporting

Vault Platform, a London-based startup that has built software to “re-imagine” workplace misconduct reporting, has raised $4.2 million in seed funding. Leading the round is Kindred Capital, with participation from Angular Ventures, System.One, Jane VC, and ex-Mosaic Ventures Partner Mike Chalfen.

Founded in 2018 by Neta Meidav and Rotem Hayoun-Meidav, Vault is attempting to create a new and better way for company employees to report misconduct, such as workplace bullying or harassment, and in turn replace existing “hotline” systems, which it reckons are underused and often ineffective.

The so-called “TrustTech” offering lets employees easily record incidents in a diary-like space, with the option to only action those complaints when others also come forward. The SaaS consists of an employee app, corporate case management hub, and data and analytics. The latter claims to be able to help enterprises identify repeat problems and manage issues internally before they escalate.

“It’s undisputed that the world of work is going through a rapid change in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements — we realised that one of the underlying reasons for this cultural revolution is the fact that reporting mechanisms are completely broken and what we really witness here is a deficit of trust,” Vault Platform co-founder and CEO Neta Meidav tells TechCrunch.

“Bullying and harassment are prevalent, however only 25 percent of misconduct is reported. This is a long-standing problem, but nowadays the risk lies with the enterprise not just the individual. Companies are waking up to the need of doing things differently”.

To tackle this, Meidav says Vault was created as an “employee-centric” platform that provides employees with a safe diary-like space to record incidents and save related evidence. If and when they choose to report it to their employer, they can do so by choosing “GoTogether,” a feature that allows them to file the report on the condition that they are not the only ones raising the same issues.

“GoTogether is a viable alternative to anonymous reporting, and it ensures that people are coming forward… with substantiated, evidence-based reports,” explains the Vault Platform CEO. “With the prevalent legacy hotline solution, abuse is much more of a possibility, since employees can just ‘tip’ anonymously without any accountability for what is being said”.

Meidav describe’s Vault Platform’s main competition as the “business as usual” solutions: anonymous reporting hotline operators that are traditionally the default for most employers. “They provide very little value for employees and employers beyond ticking the compliance and ethics box,” she says. “Alongside them, we compete with other startups who by large took the idea of anonymous reporting, digitised the same old methodology and turned it into an app”.

Meanwhile, Vault says it will use the funding to scale and expand its presence in North America and Europe. The company says target customers are organisations and enterprises from every sector and industry, typically with more than 1,000 employees. “Our client pipeline is varied, however, the most overwhelming interest has come so far from emerging tech companies,” adds Meidav.

Source: TechCrunch

India unseats China as Asia’s top fintech funding source

China’s massive fintech industry took a beating in recent months as the government continued to wind down online lending nationwide, rattling investor confidence.

Funding for fintech startups shrank 87.6 percent year-over-year to $192.1 million during the first quarter of 2019, a new report from data provider CB Insights shows. India, which recorded $285.6 million raised for fintech startups in the period, overtook China to be Asia’s top fundraising hub for financial technology. Both countries clocked in 29 fintech deals, suggesting a cooling investor sentiment in China which saw its height of 76 deals just three quarters ago.

cb insights china q1

Chart: CB Insights

The plunge in China has followed on the heels of tightened regulation around online lending, suggests CB Insights . Over the past few years, China has rolled out a flurry of measures to rein in financial risks arising from its fledgling online lending industry. Peer-to-peer lending, which matches an individual looking for a loan with someone looking to invest, has been the top target in a wave of government crackdowns.

This kind of service offers credit to unbanked individuals who cannot otherwise get loans in a country without a mature unified credit system. But a lack of oversight led to rampant frauds across the board. Thousands of peer-to-peer lending sites shut down due to increased regulation, which is estimated to leave as few as 300 players on the market by the end of 2019, Shanghai-based research firm Yingcai forecasted.

Like China, India’s enthusiasm for finance technology is in part a result of the country’s lack of financial infrastructure. Lending startups are gathering steam as they, like their Chinese counterparts, tailor services to the country’s large unbanked and underbanked consumers and enterprises. Moves from tech leaders are also set to send ripples through the rest of the industry. Amazon finally followed its rivals Paytm, Google Pay and PhonePe to start offering peer-to-peer payments in the country. Walmart is closely watching how Flipkart, which it bought out last year, applies data to payments solution.

cb insights china q1

Chart: CB Insights

Despite the setback in online lending, a new form of consumer-facing financing vehicle — so-called mutual aid platforms that let patients crowdfund for serious diseases — is enjoying an early boom in China, CB Insights noted in its report. As with peer-to-peer lending, internet-powered mutual aid is trying to fill gaps in a traditional industry. Though most Chinese people are part of a national public insurance scheme, surgical bills can easily bring down an average family.

The top two performers in the sector are unsurprisingly from the top two opposing camps in China’s tech world. Shuidihuzhu, which translates as “water drop mutual help” in Chinese, counts Tencent as a major investor. Users contribute as little as half a cent to a pool of funds that pays out when a patient needs financial aid. The three-year-old platform, which leverages Tencent’s billion-user WeChat messenger to sign up members, claims it has attracted 78.8 million users and paid out nearly 440 million yuan $65.34 million to more than 3,100 families so far.

Shuidihuzhu’s rival, which is called Xiang Hu Bao and means “mutual protection”, is run by Alibaba’s affiliate e-wallet Alipay. Launched only last September, the service said it had acquired over 50 million users by April and had set itself up for an ambitious goal: to reach low-income groups who can’t afford the premiums and advance payments attached to traditional health insurance and to acquire 300 million users in the next two years. That means almost a third of Alipay users, most of whom live in Chia. By the end of 2018, the digital wallet had over 1 billion annual users worldwide.

Source: TechCrunch

Perkbox, the employee experience platform, raises £13.5M

Perkbox, the London-based startup now calling itself an “employee experience platform,” has raised a further £13.5 million in funding. The round is led by existing investor Draper Esprit, alongside a number of previous Perkbox angels. Prior to this, the company, which launched in 2015, had raised £11 million.

Targeting companies of all sizes, from SMEs to larger businesses, Perkbox’s platform lets employers give employees a number of benefits and rewards to enrich their work and personal life. The broader aim, of course, is to improve retention and staff well-being.

The offering now spans several products beyond its “perks” origins, including card-linked loyalty and medical provision. In addition, Perkbox enables companies to measure employee sentiment to help break down silos between management and teams, and to let employees give recognition to one another. This can either be peer-to-peer or top down from management.

“With this new suite of products, we transitioned from an employee ‘engagement’ platform to an employee ‘experience’ platform,” Perkobox co-founder and CEO Saurav Chopra tells me. “[All] with the aim of helping employers enrich the personal and working life of employees by catering for the full spectrum
of employee wellbeing: financial, physical and emotional”.

Headquartered in London but also with offices in Sheffield, Paris and Sydney, Perkbox says the new funding will be used to finance the company’s expansion operations in Australia and France.

longside this, it will invest in scaling the development and distribution of Perkbox’s new products: Perkbox Medical, Perkbox Insights and the platform’s card-linked PerksGo feature — all of which were launched late last year.

Source: TechCrunch

Prisma Labs raises $6.7M for its AI-powered approach to visual editing

Remember Prisma? The Moscow-based team behind the app that sparked a style transfer craze in 2016 has raised a €6 million (~$6.7M) Series A, led by early stage artificial intelligence focused VC firm, Haxus.

While two of Prisma’s original co-founders left the company in the middle of last year, to work on building a new social app — the still, as yet, unreleased Capture — co-founder Andrey Usoltsev stayed on to keep developing Prisma Labs, taking up the CEO role.

The Series A funding will go towards expanding Prisma’s 21-strong team and scaling the business by spending on marketing to grow uptake of its apps’ premium subscription offers. These include a subscription layer for its eponymous app which gives users access to styles not available in the free version.

“We’re going to grow rapidly. We’re going to double our team this year and set up the impressive marketing budget,” says Usoltsev.

Late last year the team released a new freemium selfie retouching app, called Lensa, hoping to capture a slice of the beauty filter/photo-editing market. Their twist was to bake in AI smarts that power automatic adjustments — smoothing skin tone, whitening teeth, brightening eyes and so on, at the touch of the in-app camera button — as if by technomagic.

Their pitch for the selfie retoucher is ‘natural’ looking enhancements. And Prisma claims it’s seeing “very high” retention rates for Lensa, more akin to a sticky social network than photo-retouching software.  

They argue the app’s face-retouching machine learning algorithms have benefited from the heap of data amassed from Prisma’s multi-millions of selfie-submitting users. And while there’s certainly no shortage of rival apps out there claiming to make selfies look better, Lensa’s AI-powered retouching does offer — at a glance — less crude/more plausible results than plenty of gimmicky ‘beauty filter’ apps also touting reality-editing wares.

“There is competition [for selfie retouching] and we think that it is good because it shows the size of the market,” says Usoltsev. “It’s huge. There are millions of people using apps like Facetune and what our advantage is is that we have a great technical team, R&D team that creates the best technology on the market in some areas… that trained building Prisma.

“We’re focusing on the quality and the natural look of the results. And some apps on the market didn’t pay as much attention as needed to these two things. We’re going to focus on this. We are not the first in this space but we are going to be the best in this space.”

“Automation is the key,” he adds. “We can now provide users with new kind of product, new kind of photo- and video-editors that automate the routine and requires less effort from the user side to get awesome results.”

Lensa, which launched in December with a subscription offering right off the bat, now has more than 100,000 users, according to Usoltsev — though it’s not breaking out paying subs yet.

The early userbase skews female and young — without, according to Usoltsev, Prisma doing any overt targeting — the main group being 18-24 year old women, somewhat unsurprisingly for a selfie beautifying app.

“The product is not viral, like Prisma, and most of the users are acquired from paid sources like Facebook ads and so on so. We strongly control the amount of users we acquire and now the product is not ready for the real scale,” he continues, noting they’re in the process of tweaking the app to expand the features and improve product market fit.

They’re also playing with the business model, with the initial subscription offering definitely feeling a bit underwhelming vs the core free AI-powered edits. (You can read our first look at Lensa here.)

“Right now we’re very close to start scaling it,” he adds. “We need a couple of more releases to be ready 100% and then we start scaling.

“We’re going to expand the range of features. We’re going to add a video feature because our primary feature — retouching — works in real-time and we tested it even on livestreaming and it works well. We’re working on optimizing it even more, to work faster, and in better quality.”

Other ongoing dev work to polish Lensa’s proposition includes tweaking the auto-adjustments it makes by determining the best settings for portrait-influencing factors, such as exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows. “For each adjustment we use a neural network,” he notes. “They work together… to find the best output result.”

Prisma is also monetizing its namesake original app — which grabbed around 70M downloads in a few months back in 2016, with Usoltsev saying they’re still relying mostly on organic/viral downloads rather than active promotion, riding the Prisma craze’s long viral tail.

They now have more than 100,000 paying subscribers for Prisma, though they’re not breaking out active usage — beyond saying it runs into the “millions”. (Back in 2017 they were reporting active monthly usage for the app of around 10M.) A premium sub offering was switched on in Prisma in January 2018.

“The paying audience is actually diverse. The major group by age I think it’s 24-35 year olds. And men and women is about the same proportion,” he adds.

Last year’s launch of Lensa came despite an earlier focus shift for the startup to b2b, after the style transfer craze that had powered its namesake app’s 2016 virality appeared on the cusp of being crazed (and, well, cloned) to death.

The plan, as it was in 2017, was for Prisma Labs to offer an SDK for computer vision-powered effects that developers could use to enhance their own apps. But the team kept its hand in the consumer space, maintaining their apps as testing grounds. A decision that set them up for what now looks a full reverse pivot back to consumer.

Usoltsev tells us the earlier b2b switch was “mostly” at the behest of Prisma’s investors — and wasn’t something the wider team was keen on.

They’re fully stoked to get back to their consumer roots, he adds.

“It didn’t really resonate with our team experience and our company DNA,” he adds of the b2b phase. “But in the process we figured out this is not what we want to do. We came up with the idea for the new product in the process and came up with the broader vision for the entire company and what we want to do.

“The core team was all about consumer products and b2b was not seen as interesting topic at all.”

So what’s on the slate for the future, as the team thinks about other features and/or consumer apps it might want to launch this year?

“Right now we’re thinking a lot about video,” he says. “Video is so fast growing space right now and we see a lot of new apps that break into the market — like TikTok — that grows insanely and based on video. And we’re going to provide users with automated tools to enhance their videos.

“Videos is more complicated to edit than photos because it requires more skill… to learn how to edit videos. And if your clip is longer than one minute it’s so hard to create it because montage could be a boring process and the longer the video is the more complicated the process is. So we’re going to fix this — and provide users with automated tools to help them create great videos quickly and with no effort, or as little as possible.”

AI-enabled auto video editing is “probably” going to be a standalone app, he says, rather than a feature baked into one of Prisma’s existing apps. But, well, watch this space.

Source: TechCrunch