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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

How to Teach Kids to Be Independent Thinkers

Esther Wojcicki (mom of Susan, Janet, and Anne) on how to foster creativity in kids.
Source: Wired

Why Is Facebook Abetting Trump’s Reckless Foreign Policy?

Facebook and other big tech platforms seem ready to do the Trump administration’s bidding when it comes to how foreign governments use social media.
Source: Wired

Tencent promises its technology will ‘do good’

Tencent, one of Asia’s most valuable companies with a current market cap of around $460 billion, has introduced a new motto after co-founder and CEO Pony Ma said this week he wanted ‘tech for good’ to be part of the company’s vision and mission in the future.

The company has not yet officialized the new corporate philosophy and it’s unclear how the “don’t be evil”-like slogan will manifest in Tencent’s business strategy. Nor do we know if it will replace the old mission, which is still emblazoned on its website:

Tencent’s mission is to “improve the quality of life through internet value-added services”. Guided by its “user oriented” business philosophy, Tencent achieves its mission via the delivery of integrated internet solutions to over 1 billion netizens.

Episodes of recent events can probably provide some hints to what the new slogan might entail. The old mission, which focuses on the individual user rather than the wider society, has led Tencent to supremacy in video games and social media; the company is the operator behind the billion-user messager WeChat and several top-grossing video games. But these segments of businesses are under growing pressure as China’s changing regulatory environment and industry rivals create challenges for the 21-year-old behemoth.

A months-long gaming freeze last year put a squeeze on Tencent’s gaming revenues, wiping billions of dollars from its market cap. Rising short-video app Douyin, which is TikTok’s local version, threatens Tencent’s dominance in the social and content realms.

To stay competitive, the company underwent a sweeping re-organization last October to place more focus on enterprise businesses, such as cloud computing and other digital infrastructure for industries ranging from finance, healthcare, education to government services.

The new focus to upgrade entrenched industries not only opens up more revenue streams; these sectors also provide the testing ground for Tencent to put its ‘tech for good’ mission into practice.

As Ma pledged at the government-run industry conference Digital China Summit on Monday, Tencent believes “technology can bring benefits to the human race; humans should make good use of technology and refrain from its evil use; and technology should strive to solve the problems it brings to society.”

Ma pointed to three key areas where technology can generate positive changes: traditional industries, where Tencent could provide big data capabilities to beef up efficiency in production; government units, where Tencent could leverage its apps to digitize a slew of civil services such as applying for visas and renewing drivers’ licenses; and society, which is a broad and arguably vague definition but has seen efforts like tracing missing children using Tencent’s face recognition solutions.

“Looking at parallels across the globe, Google proposed ‘do no evil’ as its code of conduct ahead of its initial public offering 20 years ago. I think this kind of elevated mission is evidence of the amount of influence a company has accumulated,” Zhong Xin, a former Qualcomm engineer who founded the artificial intelligence-powered medical imaging startup 12 Sigma, said to TechCrunch.

“Technology is a double-edged sword. A company needs a guiding principle to determine its proper use, so I believe the purported mission to do good with technology is inevitable,” added Xin.

From the government’s standpoint, a corporate motto that focuses on doing good is clearly music to the ears. Tencent’s new code of conduct comes as China’s tech darlings face mounting public and government criticisms for their adverse impact on society, a movement mirroring Silicon Valley’s tech backlash. The charges range from video games’ role in causing bad eyesight among children, which put Tencent in the crosshairs; to clickbait content running rampant on Bytedance’s popular news app, Toutiao.

“‘Doing good’ should be an inherent value to all technology companies, including venture investors,” Wang Jing, partner at venture capital firm Sky9 Capital, suggested to TechCrunch. “When companies have to single out ‘doing good’ on a special occasion, it may be that something has already gone wrong.”

Many tech heavyweights in question have responded to backlashes by imposing stricter policies over their products. Tencent, for example, launched an underage-protection mode for all its gaming titles that would allow parents to monitor children’s play time. Toutiao, too, has hired thousands of auditors to root out content deemed inappropriate by the authority.

This is not the first time Tencent has weighed in on its own ethics. The phrase ‘tech for good’ was first unveiled by Tencent co-founder and former CTO Tony Zhang in early 2018, but it has probably garnered more attention among the executives after an essay titled “Tencent has no dream” sparked heated debate in the Chinese tech circle. Penned by a veteran journalist, the article argued that Tencent was fixated on seeking investment-worthy products rather than inventing its own.

“People argued that Tencent has no dream. By bringing up the slogan ‘tech for good’, Tencent seems to be proclaiming to the public that it does have a dream,” Derek Shen, who is chairman at shared housing startup Danke and formerly headed LinkedIn China, told TechCrunch. “And its dream is big, which is to do good things to people’s lives.”

Source: TechCrunch

Hubtype raises $1.1M to help developers build richer chat support

Barcelona-based Hubtype has raised a €1 million (~$1.1M) seed round led by Madrid-based early stage VC firm, K Fund. The team last raised when the business was founded, back in February 2016, when they took in €235,000 in a mix of public and angel funding.

Hubtype targets enterprises and developers with customer service focused tools to help build and scale what it describes as “conversational messaging experiences” — aka messaging interfaces that go beyond more basic chatbot-style offerings to support richer interactions and ‘smart’ automation, such as knowing when to hand off to a human agent.

“We know very well that chatbots aren’t enough on their own, as we’ve been building bots for three years. To provide effective and meaningful interactions, companies need to go beyond bots and provide conversational experiences: Micro-apps within the messaging channels that everyone uses daily,” say co-founders, Eric Marcos and Marc Caballé, explaining the wider context around the space as they see it.

“Conversational experiences take the best of chat (conversational user interfaces) and combine elements of graphical user interfaces like websites, apps, etc. Effective ones aggregate AI, decision trees, webviews, human agent hand-off and more. Furthermore, enterprise companies need integration with other APIs and systems, from back-end inventory and order tracking to booking engines, analytics, NLP services and more.”

They argue that orchestrating all these different elements can be “extremely difficult and time-consuming” for businesses lacking a dedicated tech team to handle building and maintaining smooth chat-based customer interactions.

That’s where Hubtype sees an opportunity to elbow in, starting with a b2b focus but aiming to tilt fully at developers over the long term.

Hubtype’s opensource framework for building conversational apps, called Botonic, is based on React.js. Using this it claims a single developer can build, deploy and scale conversational apps across multiple messaging channels (including webchat) — doing away with the need for a full dev team to build and maintain everything.

The team’s goal is to become “the reference platform” for developers to create conversational apps using React.js. Some of the seed funding is therefore pegged for building out Hubtype’s developer relationship program, as well as ploughing into product development and scaling the sales team.

“We’re currently a b2b company and our target customers are enterprise-level companies mainly in banking, insurance and e-commerce/retail,” the co-founders note, adding: “Eight out of more than 20 customers are in the Forbes Global 2000 List, with some ranking in the top 20 such as Volkswagen, Inditex, HP, and Bankia.”

“With this funding round we’re investing in further developments of our framework, including AI capabilities which will allow clients to train their chatbot in one language and roll out automatically in about 100 languages. We’ll also be building our developer relationship program and scaling our sales team,” adds  Caballé in a statement.

Hubtype tells us it expects to reach 100 customers this year — though they’re not disclosing exact customer numbers yet.

“We have a strong presence in the Spanish enterprise ecosystem and within international brands that operate in Europe. We provide our service globally but we’re currently focused on the EU and testing some emerging markets where WhatsApp is prevalent, as we are one of the few official solution providers for the platform globally,” the co-founders add.

Asked about the competitive landscape, Hubtype names Accel-backed Rasa as an “AI centric” bot-builder framework rival with a similar “bottom up” focus on marshalling developers to build adoption.

Another competitor the co-founders point to is Botpress, saying it has a somewhat similar approach while flagging a different business model (focused on “consulting/services centric”).

Microsoft Bot Framework and Dialogflow are two other rival frameworks they name — but again the suggestion is both are AI centric, rather than supporting a richer mix of conversational components.

“The difference between us and our closest competition is that we have a very clear niche (React developers) and we are pioneers in advocating for conversational apps (text+GUI and using NLP and AI as elements) rather than AI or NLP-centric experiences. Most of our competitors are focused on AI and NLP,” they add.

“Our tools focus on building applications that sit at the intersection between text-based and graphic interfaces. We take into account NLP, AI, interactive messages, webviews, managing context, human handoffs and multichannel integrations. Additionally, we aggregate more messaging channels than all or most competitors.”

Commenting on the seed raise in a statement, Jaime Novoa, associate at K Fund, added: “The chatbot industry has undergone a major transformation from text to conversational apps, and Hubtype is leading enterprise companies to build the best customer experiences in a scalable way by using automation. Companies must move from traditional phone and email communication and into a new era of multichannel conversational messaging. Hubtype is an important addition to our investment portfolio, and timing is key.”

Source: TechCrunch

Announcing the Corvid by Wix Challenge at the TC Hackathon at VivaTech

Hey there hackers, il n’y a pas de temps à perdre! You heard it here first, there’s no time to lose. Today’s the last day you can sign up to compete in the TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech 2019 on 17-18 May — days two and three of the conference — in Paris.

Come and join hundreds of the best hackers, coders and programmers in the world to design, hack and create something fantastic in less than two very short, intense days. Who knows? You might even help humanity in the process.

We have multiple sponsored hack contests from which to choose, each one offering its own substantial prize for the best hack (more on that below). Prizes may include cash, incubation, hardware and swag. What’s more, TechCrunch will award a €5000 grand prize to the one team it deems the best overall hack.

Here’s how it all works. Teams of 4-6 people select a challenge during registration. If you don’t already have a team, we’ll find one for you in the onsite matchup session. Teams have just 24 hours to produce a working product, and then they get just 60 seconds to present it onstage to a panel of judges. Keep those caffeine levels amped up.

The judges rank team hacks on a scale of one to five, and the team with the highest score wins the prize associated with the sponsored hack. All teams that receive a combined score of three or higher also win tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2019 and VivaTech 2020.

You’ll need all your skills and stamina to make it across the finish line. It won’t be easy, but it will be fun. And we even provide food — breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks — throughout the event. That includes plenty of water, tea, coffee and Red Bull, too. Want more details? Read the hack FAQ, and check out the hackathon agenda.

Here’s the latest sponsored challenge you can tackle at the TC Hackathon — Corvid by Wix Challenge:

There are plenty of community, collaboration and project management tools available for developers to use. But how do we make these essential assets better? In this challenge, the team with the best hack that uses Corvid by Wix, an open development platform that lets you build, manage, deploy and scale advanced web applications, will receive a prize worth €5000.

Plus, you can still sign up to hack on one of the other challenges by EDHEC, Eramet, SanofiCegedimIBM and Galeries Lafayette / Publicis Sapient.

The TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech 2019 takes place on 17-18 May. Don’t miss out and register for your free ticket. Il n’y a pas de temps à perdre! There’s no time to lose!

Source: TechCrunch

Gett raises $200M at $1.5B valuation for its B2B ride-hailing service, aims for 2020 IPO

As Uber gears up for an IPO, one of its smaller rivals has raised some money as it prepares to take its own turn on the public market. Gett — the ride-hailing startup that focuses primarily on the business market, currently in Israel, the UK, Russia and New York — has picked up $200 million in a mix of debt and equity at a post-money valuation of $1.5 billion. Gett’s founder and CEO Dave Waiser said in an interview that this will likely be the last round the company takes before an IPO by Q1 of 2020.

He also projects that the company will be operationally profitable — Ebitda positive and breakeven — by the end of this year.

“We are still thinking about the venue,” he said of the IPO. “It might be London, or it might be New York.”

(Gett talked about an IPO earlier this year as well; the 2020 date Waiser mentioned to me is later than what was previously reported, as is the target for when it would become profitable, which had originally been projected to happen by the beginning of this year.)

This latest round of funding — which would bring Israel-based Gett’s total raised to $790 million — comes from all of the company’s existing investors. These include carmaker VW, Access and its founder Len Blavatnik, Kreos, MCI and more. It is an extension and closing of the round that we reported back in June 2018 at a $1.4 billion valuation: the expansion to $200 million from $80 million is why the valuation has also gone up.

With operations in cities across just four countries — the UK (where in contrast to Uber it provides a service for London’s traditional black cab drivers to pick up in-app rides to complement classic on-street hailing), Russia, Israel and New York in the US — Gett’s pared-down approach is overshadowed by Lyft in the US and Uber globally in terms of size. But the latter two companies’ growth stories come with massive losses: Uber’s racked up $1 billion in losses in just the previous quarter, for example. That’s one reason why Waiser believes that Gett’s proposition to the market remains a unique and compelling one.

“A year ago, profitability was not a very popular topic,” he said. “In Uber and Lyft we see two great companies, but even as they grow revenues, their losses are growing. What is really unique for Gett is that our success, and our improvements in revenues, are in parallel with our Ebitda improving.” As Gett itself gears up to go public, it’s also releasing more figures, which mark this as a three-year trend:

Within its smaller footprint, meanwhile, Gett is less intent on being “number-one” as it is about continuing to see traction and usage from the higher-end customers that it targets. Waiser declined to provide any numbers to me on total number of rides or drivers, which is not a surprise, since these metrics would easily look tiny compared to numbers from its bigger rivals.

But he notes that as of Q4 2018, Get Business Solutions had 20,000 companies on its books, up 63 percent on a year before; and that the New York business, branded as Juno, remains a “solid number three.”

There have been various rumors swirling about the company over the last several months, so I took the opportunity of this fundraise to ask Waiser about some of them.

Last December, the German media reported that Volkswagen was preparing to write down $300 million of its Gett investment in an increasingly competitive market in Gett’s wheelhouse, where it is not the only one targeting corporates and other business users. Waiser described the report as “bad journalism.”

“There were no audit reports to support those claims, and it was damaging to report that,” he said, pointing out also that VW participating in this round is a mark of its ongoing support.

Some months before the VW rumor, it was reported that Gett was looking to sell off Juno, the ride-hailing service that it acquired in 2017 for $200 million, to move out of the US market. Waiser dismissed this report, too:

“There is no plan to sell Juno,” he stated, noting that the US — which is essentially only New York right now — has been a crucial part of the company’s growth story. “It’s the only player in the US that might become national while remaining financially disciplined.” He added that Juno has been one of the strongest performers within the Gett footprint, “already contribution margin positive.”

However, when I asked him if that is just as likely to be a sales pitch to a prospective buyer as it is his own description of the company today, he declined to answer specifically. His response does leave the door open for different outcomes.

“I don’t want to say anything that will come across as speculation,” he said. “The business right now looks different from Uber’s and Lyft’s, and that gives options to us and others about the US opportunity.”

Source: TechCrunch

US consumers are willing to pay a lot more for 5G, Ericsson study shows – CNET

And they believe smartphones won’t be the primary device taking advantage of 5G.
Source: CNET

Tourlane raises a $47M C round led by Sequoia and Spark Capital

There still exists an old-fashioned problem in travel: group travel which requires individuals and groups to plan and book personalized, multi-day tours online.

Tourlane is a major player in this sector and has today announced it’s raised $47 million in a round led by Sequoia and Spark Capital alongside investors from the B round, including DN Capital and HV Holtzbrinck Ventures. This Series C funding comes 6 months after the B, and will be used for further international expansion, hiring and product development.

Julian Stiefel, Co-CEO & cofounder of Tourlane said in a statement: “The additional capital will help us strengthen our position and continue our international growth to create the best experience in travel. We’re thrilled to continue working with our high-class investors and are extremely proud of the hard work, commitment and effort of our great team at Tourlane.”

Tourlane works directly with service providers and offers customers flights, accommodations, tours, activities, and transfer options in one place, thus saving time when coordinating multiple bookings from different vendors or working with offline travel agents. The platform provides real-time pricing, availability, instant trip visualization, and drag-and-drop adjustments to make multi-day trip planning easier.

Andrew Reed, Partner at Sequoia, said: “Tourlane’s impressive growth and passionate community of users reinforce the uniqueness of what they’re doing. Tourlane is truly redefining the way people experience travel.”

Tourlane employs more than 200 people.

Source: TechCrunch

Brankas wants to bring Southeast Asia’s banks and e-commerce into the digital era

Fintech continues to be among the biggest topics driving startups and investment in Southeast Asia. The region’s ‘internet economy’ is forecast to grow massively as its 600 million people increasingly come online — already Southeast Asia more internet users (350 million) than the U.S. has people but developing a robust payment landscape underpins those heady growth forecasts.

Beyond the most prevalent consumer brands — such as ride-hailing giants Grab and Go-Jek — and the outsiders pouring money into the region — including Tencent and Alibaba — fintech startups take a different approach to other parts of the world. Unlike Europe or the U.S, where disruption is the name of the game, Southeast Asian fintech is about third parties working with the system to make it more efficient and wide-ranging. That’s because credit card ownership is low double digits, and transfers from bank accounts — which aren’t universally operated by all consumers — represent an estimated [PDF] half of all online purchases.

The most visible niches attracting investor attention and capital is the data-play — companies that operate as super aggregators of financial services, such as insurance or loans — but there’s also an increasing number of startups that enable banks to kickstart their digital strategy.

Brankas, an Indonesia-based startup that operates regionally, is one such young company — it operates a platform that gives banks and financial companies the tech to roll out digital products and embrace online services.

The company takes its cue from Western success stories — U.S-based Plaid (a Disrupt alum no less) is valued at $2.65 billion while, in Europe, Tink and Bud have both raised big sums from investors — to offer a service that essentially provides the digital plumbing to ease Southeast Asia’s financial incumbents into the digital era.

“What we’re doing is similar to banking API infrastructure,” Brankas CEO and co-founder Todd Schweitzer told TechCrunch in an interview. “The difference being that in Southeast Asia it is very early days and little to no regulation.”

A selection of the Brankas team with CEO and co-founder Todd Schweitzer (seated fourth from right)

Former management consultant Schweitzer founded the startup in 2016 with Kenneth Shaw, his former classmate in California who had been CTO of Southeast Asian online marketplace Multiply.com. They describe themselves as “now longtime Southeast Asia residents.”

Brankas — which means safe in Indonesia’s Bahasa language — graduated Plug And Play’s first incubator in Southeast Asia and it grew from being a service managing multiple bank accounts to a platform that digitizes banking. Today, it is headquartered in Jakarta with 25 staff — 15 of whom are engineers — across that office and another in Manila, Philippines.

The company raised an undisclosed investment from investors, including Singapore fintech fund Dymon Asia, earlier this year and now its founders have their eyes on growth.

The service is currently operational in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Schweitzer said the plan is to expand to Thailand and Malaysia around the middle of 2019.

“We are excited to partner with Todd and Kenneth as they build out open banking infrastructure in the region. Brankas enables seamless connections between financial institutions, merchants and fintechs. This is critical for the next stage of growth of the digital ecosystem in Southeast Asia,” Dymon Asia partner Chris Kaptein told TechCrunch.

So what does the plumbing service for financial organizations actual entail? Brankas focuses on two distinct audiences at this point: banks and financial companies, and companies providing online services, predominantly e-commerce.

For banks, Brankas uses its APIs and systems to essentially slot new services into their platform.

Schweitzer said banks are aware that they need to offer “more open” services. Even in the event that they can figure out what that means in terms of product, they typically don’t have the in-house team to build and manage the tech stack, let alone make it “productized” — i.e. usage by their customers.

“Banks here in Southeast Asia aren’t investing in consumer banking,” he explained,” because the bulk of their revenue comes from traditional corporate lending.”

Brankas co-founder Kenneth Shaw (left) and Todd Schweitzer (right)

For those using banks and collecting money from consumers, the end play is different. The challenges are often similar. For example, most consumers in Southeast Asia use bank transfers to pay for online. That works for collecting payment in theory, but there is no system that optimized for that — actually making sure the correct amount money is in from the correct customer.

Schweitzer recalled a story of how he visited an unnamed (but high profile) e-commerce company’s office and noticed “a whole floor of people who hit refresh on online banking systems to figure out who had made the transfer.”

The Brankas system helps handle that local complexity, and other areas like direct payouts without middlemen, or batched and real-time payments for gig workers and others who receive daily payouts. Other products in the pipeline include credit scoring, a much-needed resource across the region.

To date, Brankas has picked up partnerships with six banks in Indonesia, three in the Philippines and one in Vietnam, where it is in talks to add others. Schweitzer said it has “dozens” of customers across e-commerce, consumer finance and insurance verticals. The startup is also a part of Indonesia’s Open API Sandbox hosted by the country’s Central Bank.

“Today, we address the domestic, non-card payments market in ASEAN,” he told TechCrunch. “That includes everything from bank transfer fees to domestic remittance fees, POS merchant fees, payment aggregator fees and more.”

That alone, he estimates, is worth $7.8 billion in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Then there’s the rest of the region to factor in, too.

Source: TechCrunch

Google I/O 2019 Liveblog: All the News as It Happens

Google’s developer conference kicks off on May 7 at 10 am Pacific. Follow along with us for analysis and commentary from WIRED’s editors.
Source: Wired