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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Apple Event Liveblog: iPhone, Apple Watch, iOS 12, and More

Follow Apple’s September 12, 2018 iPhone event in Cupertino with our live news updates.
Source: Wired

2019 Lexus UX first drive review: Just what new premium shoppers want – Roadshow

The smallest Lexus crossover SUV isn’t exciting to drive, but it’s tailor-made for first-time luxury buyers.
Source: CNET

Five things you need to know about the 2019 Lexus UX video – Roadshow

Lexus launches a smaller, more affordable crossover called the UX in hopes of attracting young, urban drivers.
Source: CNET

Scientists discover new fish species in ocean's terrifying depths – CNET

Also seen: Backward-swimming spider crustaceans the size of your hand.
Source: CNET

The Family raises $17.4 million to support European startups

The Family has always been an ambitious startup accelerator. But it has always felt like the company never had enough money to grow as quickly as it wanted. The Family is raising a new $17.4 million funding round (€15 million).

Private banking and asset management group LGT Capital Partners is leading the round, with HummingBird Venture, Project A, eVentures and others also participating.

“It’s the first time an investor understands The Family’s business model. It’s the first time an investor isn’t trying to turn us into a VC fund,” The Family co-founder Oussama Ammar told me.

According to him, The Family is basically going to do more of the same. Except that this funding round “makes [The Family] virtually immortal.” The Family had to double-check its bank account many, many times to make sure that there was enough money to pay all its employees. This funding round should let the company catch its breath.

The Family has fine-tuned its fellowship program over the years. Here’s how it works today. Every quarter, around 20 startups join The Family. They will attend onboarding sessions in Paris, Berlin and London.

In Paris, The Family’s team is focused on product and engineering. In London, The Family can help you raise money. And in Berlin, The Family’s team is all about operations and execution.

After the onboarding stuff, companies can still seek for advice and connections. There’s no demo day and end of batch. The Family plans to support startups when it comes to funding, product, hiring and more.

Being part of The Family is not free of course. Startups need to be willing to give away 5 percent of their equity in exchange of this support system. This isn’t for everyone and many entrepreneurs are already surrounded by a supportive ecosystem. So if you don’t think you’re getting enough value, you can ask for your shares back within a year.

I’ve covered some of The Family’s startups over the years, such as Agricool, Algolia, Clustree, Comet, Doctrine, Fretlink, Heetch, Nestor, Payfit, Side, Stanley Robotics, Trusk and more.

With today’s funding round, The Family plans to invest in every funding round after a startup joins the fellowship. As a startup, if you can find a lead investor, The Family will automatically join the round with the same valuation and conditions.

But the fellowship is just one side of the story. “Our goal with the fellowship is that we never exit because we want to maximize the returns on investment,” Ammar said.

In order to support a staff of 60 people around 3 countries, The Family had to find a way to make money before those long-term exits. That’s why the company has launched other products.

For instance, Pathfinder helps big companies become digital companies, Lion educates startup employees and Kymono sells startup sweatshirts. The Family has spun off all those products into their own companies. They all have a dedicated CEO and team, but The Family retains at least 60 percent of the shares.

And The Family wants to create more side businesses like those. It seems like The Family is leveraging this model to finance all the fellowship activities.

Eventually, The Family’s dream is to be able to follow portfolio companies at every step of the way. It’s clear that you don’t need as much external support if you’re a Series C company. But The Family wants to become an infrastructure company that lets you build European tech giants.

Source: TechCrunch

Deliveroo will enter Taiwan, its fourth market in the Asia-Pacific so far

Food delivery service Deliveroo is making headway in its Asian expansion strategy. The London-based company announced today that it will launch in Taiwan in the coming weeks, starting with Taipei, the country’s capital, before heading to other cities. This marks Deliveroo’s fourth market in the Asia-Pacific region (the others are Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore) and is also a launch with personal significance for founder and CEO Will Shu, whose family is Taiwanese.

In a press statement, Shu said “Our launch in Taiwan is also a personal milestone for me, my parents were born in Taiwan and much of my family still lives in Taipei. Taiwan is the market with my favourite food in the world—my personal favourite is a big bowl of 牛肉麵 [beef noodle soup] and a huge piece of 炸雞排 [fried chicken]. From a personal standpoint, It’s an amazing feeling to launch Deliveroo in Taiwan.”

Once its Taiwan business starts, Deliveroo, which is reportedly eyeing an IPO to take place in the next two years, will operate in a total of 13 markets around the world. The company already faces stiff competition in Taipei, however, where its rivals will include Foodpanda, Uber Eats and Honestbee. Foodpanda was the first, launching five years ago, but Uber Eats quickly became a formidable rival when it entered Taiwan in 2016. Honestbee, a grocery and food delivery service, is also popular, and during lunch and dinner times riders carrying these services’ cooler bags on the backs of their scooters are a ubiqutious sight on Taipei’s streets.

Like other food delivery startups, all three offer costly incentives like discount codes, flash sales and free delivery to entice customers. The resulting war of attrition has forced food delivery services in other markets to withdraw or consolidate. For example, Foodpanda sold off its Vietnam and Indonesia operations, before the company itself was sold by Rocket Internet to larger rival Delivery Hero at the end of 2016.

Deliveroo has the advantage of a large war chest, however, and its funding (its Series F last year raised about $480 million at a valuation of more than $2 billion) will help it with the high cost of competition as it expands into new markets.

Source: TechCrunch

Follow the new iPhone reveal along with CNET on social media – CNET

From Twitter to Reddit and Facebook Live, there are plenty of ways to watch the biggest Apple event of the year.
Source: CNET

I watched HBO’s Tinder-shaming doc ‘Swiped’ so you don’t have to

Have you ever wanted to see one of your “hate-reads” stretched out to feature-film length? If so, you’ll want to watch HBO’s new documentary, “Swiped,” which takes a depressing, trigger-inducing and damning look at online dating culture, and specifically Tinder’s outsized influence in the dating app business.

The film evolved from journalist Nancy Jo Sales’ 2015 Vanity Fair piece, entitled “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse,” which was criticized at the time for its narrow focus on 20-something, largely heterosexual women in an urban setting. The piece had extrapolated out their personal dating struggles and turned them into condemnation of the entire online dating market.

But the VF piece was actually more memorable for Tinder’s response.

The company – well, it went off.

In a 30-tweet tirade (that’s still some of the best of the internet, mind you), the company lost its ever-lovin’ mind on both Vanity Fair and Nancy Jo Sales alike.

One sample tweet from the Tinder meltdown: “@VanityFair: Little know fact: sex was invented in 2012 when Tinder was launched.”

Ah, take that! Right?! Right?

Despite the complete PR buffoonery, Tinder had a point.

The VF piece wasn’t representative of Tinder’s larger user base, only a sliver. And the complaints from a few users couldn’t be used to make a point about the entire industry.

Besides, what exactly was unique about those complaints?

Was it truly swipe culture to blame for the mistakes made in dating and sexual experimentation, when you’re young? Don’t you at least once or twice have to choose the wrong person, so you can begin to triangulate on what’s right?

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fully correct the article’s problem in terms of its demographic samplings.

It still mostly relies on anecdotes told by (usually drunk) 20-somethings, which are then spliced up by the occasional expert commentary.

And the subjects are often really, really drunk.

There’s one scene where a young woman is so wasted, it’s hard to believe she gave the filmmaker informed consent to use her footage.

(Not the one below. But I’m pretty sure those Solo cups aren’t filled with lemonade.)

Meanwhile, the expert commentary has its highlights, too.

There’s one expert – April Alliston, a Princeton professor – who breastfeeds her baby on camera while giving her commentary on pornography. (Oh yes, please discuss rape porn while the baby suckles your breast, thank you very much.)

Look how cool and progressive we are! is the unspoken subtext, even as the film continues to subtly vilify casual sex among young adults, or act as if Tinder itself is somehow entirely responsible for the callous behavior of its users.

Unlike the magazine article, the film does slightly expand its cast of characters to include gender non-conforming and other LGBTQ people, more people of color, and – well, it’s Tinder! – a couple interested in threesomes.

But the general slice of the Tinder user base interviewed remains young, urban, and, in some cases, fairly vapid.

As for “Swiped’s” milieu,  much of its action is in the city.

Specifically, scene after scene in the film is labeled, “New York, New York,” as if the experiences of people in this competitive and unique market – a place where leveling up to something better is a way of life – could somehow represent a universal truth applicable to all of Tinder’s estimated 50 million users.

The film does, however, cover nearly everything that’s awful about dating apps – from young men ordering girls to their door as if it’s a meal from Seamless, to the overwhelming sense of dread and the depression that results from being on dating apps – or really, the internet itself – for too long.

There are also scenes touching nearly every Tinder trope:

The sending of dick pics; men posing with fish in their profile photos; that supposedly happy couple “looking for a third” (spoiler alert: they’re not happy and are broken up by end of film); the “DTF?” come-ons; and basically every other reason people delete these apps in the first place.

Where the film is somewhat stronger is when it talks about the very real psychological tricks Tinder and other dating apps have adopted to keep users engaged and addicted to swiping.

Tinder, it’s pointed out, uses gamification techniques: Brain tricks like intermittent variable rewards that are proven to work on pigeons, no less!

You see, if you don’t know when you’re getting the reward – a treat, a match, etc. – you end up playing the game more often, the psychologists explain.

One of the better quotes on this topic comes from Tinder co-founder and CSO Jonathan Badeen, where he essentially compares the act of using Tinder to doing drugs or gambling.

“We have some of these game-like elements, where you almost feel like you’re being rewarded,” says Baden. “It kinda works like a slot machine, where you’re excited to see who the next person is, or, hopefully, you’re excited to see ‘did I get the match?’ and get that ‘It’s a Match’ screen? It’s a nice little rush,” he enthuses.



Of course, these are concerns that extend beyond the online dating app industry.

Social media apps, in general, have been more recently called out for similar behaviors – that is, for leveraging psychological loopholes to addict their users in unhealthy ways.

The ramifications of our smartphone addictions are only now being examined, in fact.

Apple and Google, for example, have just launched screen time controls aimed at giving us a chance at fighting back at the dangerous dark patterns and brain hacks these apps use. (Apple’s toolset is only arriving in iOS 12 – which is just now getting to the public.)

It’s certainly fair to criticize companies like Tinder and Bumble for bringing these gamification tricks into delicate areas like those where the focus is supposedly on forming real human connections or “finding love.” But it’s disingenuous to act as if this is something unique to Tinder (et al) and not just, generally, the god-awful state of the tech industry as a whole at present.

The only other worthwhile part to “Swiped” is where the film points out that no one knows if any of these addictive apps actually succeed in helping people find real relationships.

Dating app companies don’t have any data on how many lasting relationships result from their app’s usage, “Swiped” finds. It’s odd, as tech companies are usually data hungry beasts. And success rates would seemingly be the exact kind of metric a company claiming to solve issues around relationship-finding would want to track.

Though everyone today seems to know someone who “met on an app,” it’s unclear what portion of the user base is actually finding long-term success with those relationships. The dating app companies have no idea, either, the film proclaims.

Asked how many people who met on Tinder got married or ended up in committed relationships, Jessica Carbino, a sociologist at Tinder, tells the filmmaker: “we do not have that information available.” She then adds she’s “inundated with emails” from Tinder users getting married and having babies.

(She also hilariously defends casual hookups as something that people go to church to pursue, too, so don’t blame Tinder for that! I mean, sometimes this film is just comedy gold, I swear.)

Of course, with a user base in the tens of millions, a good handful of happy emails should be expected. It’s definitely not evidence that Tinder is any better than the alternative – bars, blind dates, introductions through friends, etc.

The film then drives this particular point home by citing user studies by both Tinder and the more relationship-focused dating app Hinge, which seem indicate that swiped-based dating doesn’t work.

“80% of Tinder users are looking for a serious relationship,” says one Tinder survey. The text then fades, and the next statistic, this time from Hinge, appears.

“81% of users have never found a long-term relationship on any swiping app,” it says.

By the end of the film, it’s clear you’re expected to delete Tinder and all the other dating apps off your phone and get on with your life.

However, as with Facebook and social media, backlash doesn’t mean abandonment.

Tinder’s swipe culture is the new normal. It’s right to hold it accountable in areas it can do better – reporting and abuse, for example – but it’s not going away anytime soon.

Source: TechCrunch

Chinese Tesla rival Nio trims IPO target: now aims to raise up to $1.5B

The U.S. IPO window may be wide open for Chinese tech firms, but electric vehicle maker Nio has conservatively cut the target for its NYSE listing to $1.5 billion after it released a price range for its shares.

The company plans to sell 184 million shares between $6.25-$8.25. That range would yield a total raise of $1.518 billion, which is down from the initial target of $1.8 billion from the firm’s first filing in August. The range is, of course, subject to change and it doesn’t include income from the green shoe option — which allows underwriters to take an additional allocation of shares — but nevertheless, it is a notable development.

Nio also revealed in its newest filing that its existing investors have committed to investing $250 million into the IPO which, at the middle of the range, would account for 22 percent of the allocation.

There are plenty of possible explanation as to why Nio has cut its overall fundraise estimate.

The most fundamental may be around sales. The company has only just begun to generate revenue. It opened sales for its ES8 vehicle last year but it only began shipping in June. So, thus far, it has fulfilled just 481 orders but it does claims that there are 17,000 customers who reserved a model and are waiting in the wings to purchase it.

That’s meant that the company has recorded hefty losses — a negative $759 million in 2017 and minus $503 million this year to date — as it went pedal to the metal on R&D and preparation. Just a month of revenue makes it hard to gauge that potential, even though Nio has plans to scale up and open its own manufacturing plants.

Also, however, it may also be related to general concerns around China.

Nio is an international firm which develops technology in Silicon Valley and has design teams in Germany and the UK, but China is the only market it is focused on for sales. That makes a lot of sense since China is the world’s largest market for consumer EV sales, but there is, of course, a disconnect between the country and U.S. IPO investors. While Chinese firms have performed well on U.S. public markets — Alibaba holds the record for the world’s largest IPO and the window is very much open for Chinese tech companies right now — but EVs still remain a new concept, even in the world of technology.

Then there’s also the ongoing issue of politics. In particular, there’s President’s Trump continued trade war with China — the U.S. doubled down with a range of new tariffs last week — and some concern around Beijing’s interference with China’s top technology companies.

Tencent, the $500 billion giant, had a rare earnings miss last quarter on account of government interference in some of its core business, while arch-rival Alibaba has taken criticism about the way it dressed up its latest financials, which were good on paper. Indeed, both companies — which are China’s top tech firms — have seen their share prices drop: Alibaba’s current price is down by 15 percent from what it was on January 1, while Tencent is down by 25 percent.

All those concerns gathered together have likely caused Nio to price more conservatively, but we’ll have to wait for the list price to know for sure. Still, we’re looking at a billion-dollar IPO for the company which is seen by many as the closest competitor to Tesla — even if it currently has no U.S. sale plans.

You can read more about the Nio business from our original story on the IPO filing below.

Source: TechCrunch

MasterClass is mastering scale as a media business

MasterClass’ $80M Series D announced last week marks a triumph in validating the potential venture-scale of content businesses in an era when many are founded with equal parts tech and media DNA.

The platform for online video courses on topics from film directing to tennis taught by iconic figures in each field (like Martin Scorsese and Serena Williams) launched in 2015 and has raised $160M from top VC firms like IVP, NEA, and Atomico while gaining brand recognition among millions of Americans. Neither education nor content startups have been particularly hot spaces for Silicon Valley investors over the last few years, so Masterclass’ breakout status calls attention to its strategy.

High-quality original content cuts above the noise

Due to the user inputs of subscription streaming services, a platform focused on its own high-quality original content can gain an advantage against the crowded field of quantity-over-quality competitors in monetization and defensibility while still achieving scale.

It’s a common tech industry mistake to treat all content the same – to focus on the engineering challenges of a platform but not enough on the creative challenges of captivating users (the classic Silicon Valley versus Hollywood cultural divide). Netflix’s current position as the dominant force in global film/TV stemmed from its own evolution from solely aggregating third-party content to aggressively investing in its own Originals.

From the start, MasterClass has taken a different path from other startups in the online courses segment of media (often called MOOCs, or massively open online courses) by specializing in capital-intensive, high-production-quality video series with the biggest names. Like a small film studio, much of its $1.9M in seed funding was used on recruiting the initial talent (Dustin Hoffman) and producing their first class (on acting).

Similar to starting a company in an industrial or highly regulated industry, starting a media startup focused on high-quality productions is capital intensive. But if the entrepreneur’s thesis is right and execution is strong, those big upfront investments can lock in competitive advantage. True in the case of MasterClass, they sold 30,000 course sign-ups within four months of launching.

Quality lets you build big franchises, makes it easier to attract the top creative talent while giving up less economics, and makes the business the center of gravity within its market such that consumers naturally choose it over any competitor as the main service to subscribe to…there’s just enough must-see content to keep coming back to.

This is the driving force behind the recent acquisitions of top studios and TV conglomerates like 21st Century Fox and Time Warner by companies who have a distribution platform they want to defend against Netflix (and it’s why Netflix is willing to strike nine-figure deals to lock in Hollywood’s top producers to years of creating Netflix Originals as Disney and others launch competitors). Once they have hit critical mass, it’s very tough to directly compete with such businesses even when you’ve billions to spend like Disney does.

The ROI of investing in top talent

MasterClass’ focus on bringing in top talent creates a positive cycle between viewers and the company. (Image from MasterClass)

When it comes to the educational content sector, quality doesn’t just mean production budget and storytelling ability. There’s a categorical difference between learning a skill from the very best talent in a field versus learning it from a wider class of practitioners who are just good or great. The very best typically have a fundamentally different approach. Consumers recognize this, and they also struggle to evaluate the value of courses taught by people they haven’t heard of. If educational content from the biggest VIPs can be accessed for a price point within grasp, it’s the sensible economic decision.

This dynamic drives word of mouth marketing for MasterClass courses (“My screenwriting class is taught by Shonda Rhimes!”), accelerated by the large social media followings of the instructors and the free publicity their course generates in the news. Whether it’s music, gaming, television, and book publishing, media is a hits-driven business and the reason the biggest names command big paydays is because they can deliver outlier value.

By comparison, other VC-backed MOOCs (like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, and others) focused on the quantity of courses over the quality of courses, resulting in large libraries of lower production quality videos from less well-known instructors that may be helpful, but struggle to stand out from other resources online. Nearly all the MOOCs pivoted as a result: first from pitching their content to pitching consumers on the certification they could get for completing all the content, and then a second time in switching focus to sell to corporates (for internal training and employees’ continuing education) because MOOC credentials weren’t gaining mainstream respect fast enough.

You have to be the most trusted brand to win as a premium subscription

Describing MasterClass as merely “celebrity courses” misses the point. By anchoring in big-budget, carefully produced video series – which includes only partnering with the biggest names in a field – they are building consumer confidence that their future offerings will all meet the same standard – the sort of trust Pixar built by starting slowly with a steady stream of high-quality, big budget animated films.

With a direct-to-consumer streaming platform, this trust for the underlying brand opens the door to a payment model that reflects it: a premium subscription. MasterClass is already moving beyond selling access to individual courses: 80% of revenue now comes from users paying a $180/year all-access subscription. The company looks ever less like a MOOC and more like a Netflix-style SVOD (subscription video on demand) platform for educational video series.

MasterClass launched with just three courses, and still has only 39, but the financial impact of each course is substantial. CEO David Rogier told TechCrunch’s Kate Clark last week that the company’s revenues were just shy of the leading MOOCs, Udacity and Coursera, which are understood to be in the $70-100M range. The MasterClass video library will have a longer shelf-life than educational videos from unknown names as well: people two decades from now will still care how Werner Herzog thought about film directing techniques and how Marc Jacobs thought about fashion design even if technology and culture have changed dramatically.

It is worth noting by comparison that while Netflix is spending more than ever on content – a whopping $13 billion this year – its library is shrinking substantially, not expanding. It too is anchoring itself in better content – expensive, must-have original shows instead of licensed re-runs from other networks – because it’s the exclusive, must-see shows that make consumers consider it the must-have subscription.

Each subscriber makes a streaming service stronger

The more subscribers who sign up for must-see content by the celebrities they look up to, the more MasterClass can invest in the next slate of courses to ensure more hits, and the more data it collects on user engagement to improve their productions. This dynamic can give direct-to-consumer streaming services network effects…each additional user’s data marginally enhances the experience of every user, and the more active they are, the more personalized their experience can become.

The data MasterClass, Netflix, and other SVOD services collect from users informs their understanding of the elements that constitute a hit show and enable them to more wisely allocate resources, tripling down on what works best while cutting investment in what doesn’t. This feedback loop empowers them to grow faster than competitors can keep up.

Neither Netflix nor schooling: the edutainment market is open

The key strategy question in the educational content space is often whether to expand deeper or broader. MasterClass offers quality in terms of talent and production value but has made big investments into adding introductory courses across a wider range of skills from a wider range of VIPs rather than creating more advanced course material for users to keep progressing in one skill area. MasterClass sparks users’ interest and gives them an insightful grounding, but it’s not a training program to advance people already pursuing that skill professionally.

Going far deeper into topics with a world famous instructor could be just as, if not more, lucrative but the dramatic differences in the right user experience and price point for each niche – think bike racing tactics versus hedge fund investing strategies – make it unlikely this can be pulled off effectively by one platform.

Such a strategy does present opportunity to prestigious digital media brands though (whether it’s The Financial Times in finance, Vogue in fashion, or Billboard in music); they could leverage their prestige in a given niche to partner with the biggest VIPs and craft premium-priced, best-in-class courses for practitioners (perhaps with a credential that carries weight due to the brand recognition and brand prestige of the media company).

Where MasterClass is gaining traction is in targeting a mass audience of more casual learners, and it is succeeding at getting them to pay a substantial price by the standards of media or consumer internet platforms. It is operating in a territory that offers people more concrete learning (and more interactivity) than a Netflix documentary while not being so specialized as to be a professional course. It may go a level deeper than it has thus far, but it doesn’t seem to be targeting the opportunity to be an in-depth online course provider.

What MasterClass is becoming is a Netflix for “edutainment” – a media company native to the SVOD era that could own the turf Discovery Inc. seized in the cable era.  By expanding across interest areas and regularly collaborating with icons who appeal to different demographics, they may build the must-have subscription of interactive video series for humans’ wide-ranging intellectual curiosity.

Source: TechCrunch